“I’m going to destroy your life,” my boyfriend said, just before throwing the acid in my face.
The next thing I remember is lying in bed in hospital, attached to tubes and wires, and feeling a great weight on my cheeks and mouth, which I later realised were dressings and bandages.
“And the plastic surgery wasn’t very successful, was it?” asked my psychiatrist, kind Dr Philby, who had helped me so much through the dark months of misery after it had happened.
“They did as much as they could,” I went on, remembering my recent life. “But as you can see, the scarring and discolouration is horrible, and it always will be. I look pretty much like a gargoyle.”
“But you’ve got kind, lovely eyes,” he told me, “and remember, the eyes are the window to the soul.”
Dr Philby wanted me to record this tape for our last session together, and I was so glad that things had turned around so much for me that helping him document my case for his research was the least I could do to thank him for his support and help.
Because you see, before Darren destroyed me I used to have it all.
I had a marvellous job in a PR agency, wining and dining important clients, and was on the fast track for promotion and big money. And I had the best boyfriend ever. Darren was tall dark and handsome and fun to be with. He was a ‘young professional’ just like me, and we lived together in a lovely flat in town and were planning to buy a house.
However, there was always one bone of contention between us. “You’re too soft for your own good,” Darren would always say to me, whenever I gave a tenner to a down-and-out person we passed on the street. We often rowed about how I hated to see someone down on their luck, and that I insisted on working for the local food bank at weekends and generally always told him that I hated to see people who were struggling and wanted to help them whenever I could. He always maintained that “People living on the street, or who’ve got no money, are in that position for a reason, Karen, they’re losers, you don’t owe them a thing. You and I are special people. We’re rich, we’re clever and we’re good looking. We’ve got it all.”
But the arguments between us just got worse, and in the end I moved back in with Mum, and told Darren we were finished. I even went out on a date with another guy. When Darren found out about it, he went crazy and, well, you know the rest. . .
Afterwards he went to prison for two years. But he’d put me in a different kind of prison.
Because after I came out of hospital and moved back home with Mum, the first time I went out with her, a little boy pointed up at me and said to his mother, his face twisted with horror: “Why has that lady got such a horrible face? Why is her mouth and nose all twisty and her cheeks all red and blotchy?”
Adults who saw me, obviously thought the same thing. And although they didn’t say it, their expressions said it all.
So I stayed in the house, unable to set foot outside the door. Let me tell you, don’t ever jeer at someone with agoraphobia, because it is the worst thing you can imagine. It’s when you panic in a public place, for no logical reason, you want to run and scream and shout in fear and do anything to get away from people. I found out just what it was like, because every time I made the effort to take a walk down our road, my heart started thudding, I panicked inside, and I raced back for the safety of home, to my tears and the telly, and Mum’s kindness and compassion.
Of course there’s no question that the terrible pandemic of Covid 19 that’s sweeping the world is an absolute nightmare and it’s the most awful thing next to a war that could have happened.
But oddly enough, for me, although maybe it’s selfish to say it, strangely enough it was my salvation.
Because everyone started wearing masks. And when I wore a mask, no one stared at me, I was just like everyone else. I went out and about, doing normal things like walking and running in the park, and shopping. And although all the job prospects in our area were hopeless, it seemed that the local supermarket were advertising for staff, so I went along, not expecting to get a job, but I did.
It was great to be back at work, mixing with other people and making friends. I realised I’d never really fitted in with that ‘fast track life’ as an executive and I much preferred a job like I was doing now. The manager told us it was up to us whether we wore masks, about half of us did, but wearing a mask all day suited me down to the ground.
Of course in the canteen, I knew my workmates well enough to take off the mask, and they all knew what I looked like and after a few curious initial stares, nobody noticed or cared.
I’ll never forget the day I met Darren again.
John, our security guard, was moaning about being told to ask a beggar to move away from the store entrance, because he was bothering customers, and he asked me to go with him to help him try to reason with the poor bloke. By then I’d got a bit of a reputation for defusing difficult situations, and sorting out trouble.
My heart nearly skipped a beat when I almost didn’t recognise the weather-beaten features of Darren. Prison had obviously not suited him. His looks had gone completely and he’d prematurely aged. Now he was completely bald, with a vivid purple scar on his cheek, he had no teeth at all, and he smelt like a pig farm. Worst of all there was a cold deadness in his eyes, which I now realised had always been there, the kind of horrid cold emptiness you could almost drown in.
And since I was wearing my mask and trying to keep my distance, thankfully he didn’t even recognise me. I got closer to surreptitiously slip him a tenner, some sandwiches and a can of drink, as he hobbled off down the road.
“Karen you know we’re not supposed to give them anything,” John said to me, shaking his head and smiling as we walked back into the shop. “You know you’re too soft for your own good. But don’t ever change. It’s why we all love you.”
(image by 3centista from Pixabay)