The lights are bright and hot and I feel little beads of sweat form along my hairline. I don’t touch my face, though. I might ruin the makeup that someone just spent the last thirty minutes carefully applying, so I dip my head and wring my hands together instead, noting how clammy my palms are, though my fingers are like ice. A fitting contradiction, considering how I feel.
Nervous. Excited. Terrified. I make no sense. What I’m doing makes no sense, especially to my family.
I’m about to go on camera. Ready to tell my story.
The reporter is one I’ve seen on TV since I can remember. She’s famous. Everyone knows her name. She’s pretty in that broadcast news way. Perfectly coiffed dark blond hair, bright blue eyes heavily made up. Slashes of peachy pink define her cheeks and her lips are a subtle berry color. She’s efficient and knows exactly what she wants. I can tell by the way she commands the room, by how fast the network employees do her bidding. She’s strong. Confident. Flawless.
Reminding me that I am most definitely not. All of my flaws mock me, remind me that I’m not perfect. At one point in my life I thought I was pretty close to it, when I was young and ignorant and believed myself untouchable. But perfect is hard to obtain. And once you lose all sight of it, it’s impossible to gain back.
“Are you ready, Katherine?” The reporter’s voice is soft and even and I glance up, meeting her sympathetic gaze. Humiliation washes over me and I sit up straighter, schooling my expression. I don’t need her pity. After feeling hollow inside for so long, unable to dig up even an ounce of bravery, unable to face . . . any of this, I finally feel strong enough and I can’t forget that.
Only took me eight years and my father’s death to make it happen, but I’m doing it.
“I’m ready,” I tell her with a firm nod. I hear Mom off to the side, murmuring something to Brenna, and I refuse to look at them, too afraid my strength will evaporate. They came with me, I told them I needed their support, but now I’m wondering if that was a mistake. I don’t want to hear Mom’s sobs while I’m trying to talk. I don’t want to see them watching me spill all of my painful, ugly secrets with horrified expressions and tears in their eyes.
Everyone’s shed enough tears over this tragedy that is my life. I should celebrate that I’m alive, not hide in the shadows. I haven’t been allowed to talk for so long and I feel almost . . . liberated. Yes, despite the awful things I’m about to reveal, I’m relieved. Free. From the moment I came home, Dad demanded our silence. Particularly mine. He was too embarrassed, too ashamed that he’d failed his daughter.
I heard him say that once, when he and Mom got into a huge fight pretty soon after I came back home. They thought I was sleeping safely in my bedroom but their yelling woke me up, not that I slept much back then. I still have a hard time. But I remember that moment like yesterday, it’s burned so deep in my brain. The despair in Dad’s voice, that’s what drew me out of bed first. That and my name being mentioned again and again, their voices rising.
I slipped out of bed and crept down the hall, my heart racing. I pressed my body against the wall of the hallway and listened, unable to turn away when I realized they weren’t just talking about me—they were fighting about me.
“You can’t keep her under lock and key,” Mom had said. “I know I was always the overprotective one, but I think . . . no, I know you’re taking it too far.”
“I failed her, Liz. I failed our baby girl and there’s nothing I can do to change that.”
But he could have changed that, if he’d just accepted me. Hugged me like he hugged my older sister, Brenna, without thought and with plenty of affection. If he’d stopped looking at me with so much shame and humiliation filling his eyes, as if I were some sort of mistake returned home to them, sullied and disgusting. I went from being Daddy’s girl to the daughter Daddy didn’t want to touch, all in a matter of days.
It hurt me then. It still hurts me now. And he’s been dead for over six months.
“We can stop taping at any time if you need a moment to compose yourself while you’re telling your story,” the reporter reassures me in her smooth, professionally comforting voice, and I smile and nod, thinking in my head that won’t be necessary.
I need to tell it, and I don’t want to stop, or come back at another time. I need to purge it from my soul once and for all.
More than anything, I need to set the record straight.
There have been endless reports on what happened to me. Countless one-hour documentaries devoted to my case. Two made-for-TV movies and about a bazillion true crime shows. My face was on the cover of People magazine when I was first found eight years ago. Wearing a drab gray sweatshirt and matching pants a female police officer gave me that were two sizes too big, my eyes full of tears as I stared at the camera while they escorted me out of the police station. They were taking me to the hospital so I could be examined.
A shiver moves down my spine at the horrific memory.
I kept that magazine, stashed away in a box. I saved it. My so-called claim to fame. Why I don’t know. Not like it documents a pleasant memory.
But it’s mine. My life. I can’t change it, no matter how much everyone who loves me wants me to.
People magazine wants to talk to me now, especially once they found out about this interview. They want to put my face on the cover again, but I haven’t said yes. I don’t think I will. Publishers want me to write a book about my experience, but I don’t think I’ll do it. This one time, I will tell my story from start to finish. The scheduled interview will air for one hour, but I’ve already been reassured that if I have more to say, the network will give me two.