Dorian J. Sinnott
Brown eyes stare back at me through the glass. They live in my reflection, but I know they’re not mine. For as long as I’ve remembered, they were a light blue grey; but over the last month of living with the Yates’ family, I’ve watched them change.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve heard stories of eyes that fall into the hazel spectrum, changing color in the differing light or colors surrounding. “Chameleon eyes” I always called them—only they seemed to stand out more when contrasting colors complimented them. But for me, this was not the case. I did not have hazel eyes. Yet, here I stood before the bathroom mirror, picking apart the deep, chocolate brown that took over my once light eyes.
And that’s when the panic set in.
There had been other slight changes I’d noticed over the last few weeks, all signs I had taken as growing older. More mature. For one, the freckles that lined my cheeks vanished beneath the milky surface of my skin, never rearing themselves again. Not even in the strongest sunlight. As for another, I’d shrunken about two inches. I brushed it off as an error on the pediatrician’s part. The doctors called to Marble Oaks Children’s Home weren’t the most thorough, and I had heard numerous adoptees having changes in height after being settled into their new homes. But now, I wasn’t so sure.
There always were rumors about Marble Oaks being a shady place—an orphan asylum that practiced techniques from the “dark ages” as they’d say. I’d never seen anything questionable during my three years there. If asked, the only thing that came to mind was the floors were too creaky and in winter, it was too cold and damp. But the caregivers did all they could to keep us comfortable and help us get placed in our forever homes. Most of the time, we all did. It was rare having any child “age out” there. They simply seemed to know which families would be the right fit.
But maybe I fit too well, I think to myself as I continue staring at my reflection. Maybe I was the perfect solution to the Yates’ childless home. I’d been receiving comments from family friends I’d meet, saying how “hard it was to tell I was even adopted”, that I “could pass as a biological Yates so well.” I always thought it was flattery. Everyone knows the first few weeks after adoption are awkward—especially when you’re thirteen like me.
The more I come to think of it though, the more I realize how right people were.
Some of my features seemed more like Christine and Jonathon Yates’ as each week went by. I’d heard it was common: adoptees tend to mold into their new families over time. But never like this, I think. Since when would my parents’—biological—light eyes turn into the Yates’ dark brown?
I uncap my pill bottle and remove my focus from the image in the glass. There are only a few chalky white pills left since my dose had been upped.
I’d always suffered from chronic headaches over the years—shooting pain through the temple and down into my eye. It was almost unbearable at times. I’d taken the medication for a while now, but once my adoption came closer, the migraines became worse. So, upon being sent home, I was ordered a heavier dose.
“Two pills in the morning, two at night.”
It was a prescription the doctor said, in case the pain returned. He knew I didn’t want that, and my new family certainly didn’t either. Illness is failure in the life of a child like me—in the system. The healthy get homes and keep them. The sick age out and are returned. The last thing I wanted was to be dropped back off at Marble Oaks like a defective toy.
“May I get a refund? Or maybe make an exchange?”
I know the Yates’ would never actually do that, but fear sometimes got the best of me.
With a gulp of water, I wash the pills down. I dry my mouth on the back of my hand, glancing to the doorway when I hear a rapping against it.
“John, dear, aren’t you coming down for dinner?”
My adoptive mother looks in at me cautiously and I nod my head after a moment’s hesitation. It’s so weird hearing her call me that… “John”, not “dear”. Prior to my adoption, my name had been “Thomas”—one I actually preferred. But with the legal changing of my last name to their family name, they pleaded I take the name they chose to give me. A “tribute” to my adoptive father. Jonathon.
“He always wanted a child named after him,” my adoptive mother chirped.
I didn’t want to cause controversy, especially so soon after everything became official. So, I did as they wanted and changed my name.
The only real struggle was getting used to being called “John” instead of “Thomas”.
“Be sure to be down soon. You don’t want your plate getting cold.” I could tell she was trying too hard in her kindness. “Your father already ate… he said he wasn’t feeling too well, but everything is still set up for you.”
Again I give her a nod. Sometimes I’m at a loss for words, and my adoptive family was the hardest to speak to. It was just awkward, and I wanted everything to be right. Perfect. No returns…
The light must have hit me just right in that moment. From her throat I could hear a little gasp of enthusiasm, followed by a comment I wasn’t expecting.
“Your eyes look lovely this evening,” she says. “There’s just something about them… oh, I must sound ridiculous…”
I take a moment before I respond. “Thank you…”
Even in the dim bathroom light, she knows they’re brown. I feel it.
After dinner, I find myself pacing the halls. My mother has turned in and I know Father wasn’t feeling well. Being up and walking around takes my mind off the worry of my eyes—at least for the moment. Questions still fill my head as to why such a thing could have happened. Perhaps a side effect of my medication? Stress? Or maybe it really was just puberty setting in.
I continue with my mindless wandering until I spot a door I don’t recall seeing before. I know I’d only been living here for a little over a month, but some of the home’s layout I still wasn’t fully familiar with. It wouldn’t have caught my interest at all had it not been for the green and blue woodblock lettering hammered into the door.
My room is on the other end of the hall, right next to the bathroom. It was made clear to me on move in that that was where I would stay.
I approach the door, reaching out to give the knob a twist, when my adoptive father’s voice catches me off guard.
“John. What are you doing?”
I freeze, unsure what to say. While coming out and asking what was hidden behind the door clearly could have been an easy answer, part of me worried it was a private room. My father’s. After all, his name is Jonathon, too—only by birth. I remain still and quiet and he motions me over.
“Why don’t you get some rest, son? You look awfully tired.”
The physical exhaustion has yet to hit, but I can’t deny my emotional and mental drainage. There was only so much staring into a mirror at myself I could do in one right. And so, I nod to my father and return to my assigned room.
“John’s Room” never crossed my mind again for the next few weeks. I was too busy getting acquainted with other family members that came and went, and working to get into a school. The local schools were on break for the winter holidays, and filing for my new attendance was postponed—to my family’s displeasure anyway. The only thing I took note of during that time was my physical appearances, again slowly changing.
My eyes never went back to their original blue shade. They remained dark brown, my hair soon following. All my life the locks had been a honey chestnut shade, but as the weeks went on, the tints of red only became darker. Even my nose was turning up and my jaw line becoming more prominent. Puberty? The more I saw the changes, the less I could believe that’s what it truly was.
It’s getting to the point I don’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore.
I struggle carrying the last box of my belongings up the shaky attic stairs. One of my old sweaters almost slips from inside and I grunt as I tug it back in. The Yates’ had replaced my hand-me-down wardrobe and suggested I store it for further donation to those less fortunate—most likely back to Marble Oaks. I, however, could have argued otherwise. Some of the clothes were in bad enough shape the first time around. I pitied whichever child ended up with them.
The attic is dark and damp and I can feel the cold rake through me as I search for a place to set the box. Other piles of boxes line the corners, so I give in and decide to place it among them. I’m careful with my steps along the boards, shifting the box into place between a mess of others. With the force and angle, however, one of the others beside it tips over and I groan when the contents strew themselves across the floor.
I quickly begin gathering the items—baby toys—and tossing them back into the box. A collection of old memories, I assume, kept to remember the childhood. I continue placing the toys inside until I spot a photograph that had fallen out. My eyes skim over to it, steadily, and that’s when I feel the chill of the attic take hold.
It’s a portrait, of a boy no older than thirteen. His dark brown hair and eyes stare back at me through the photo and his smile is haunting. I run a shaky finger down the image of his face and swallow the knot forming in my throat.
The boy is me.
But, I don’t remember ever having taken that picture. Sure, Marble Oaks photographed us from time-to-time, keeping our records updated for potential families interested in us; but they were never this professional. And I never owned the clothing in the photo.
And that’s when it sunk in. My hair and eyes were never brown until I started living at the Yates’ house.
I tremble and quickly shove the photo back into the box of toys. I feel the acid sliding up my throat and my stomach twists and lurches. From over the box flap, I can see the backside of the photo now, a remark etched into it.
“John, March ‘93”
Eight months before I met the Yates’. I’ve only been living here since November.
I stand before the door I seemed to have forgotten about weeks ago, continuing to feel the knot inside me tighten. I know I can’t hold back any more, and I need to face my fears—all of which are my adoptive family discovering my snooping. But I don’t let it worry me. I turn the knob and push into the room, unsure of what I’ll find. More baby toys?
A mechanical beeping is what my ears are met with—a signal soon to flatline.
The room is decorated much like any child’s my age, the walls painted dark blue, allowing for little light to enter. Toys and school awards line the shelves along with happy family photos, framed for memory. But the machinery makes me sick—hospital equipment strung up to the bed. To a boy my age.
I slowly approach him, my heart beating rapidly against my chest. The closer I get, the better I can see his face. My face. At least what my face has become. It’s like looking down at your corpse after the soul leaves the body. A frightening, disgusting feeling. And I can’t shake it.
The boy’s eyes remain shut as I stand there, no trace of acknowledgement to my presence. He’s in a deep coma, that much I’m sure of, but why I don’t understand. There’s so much I don’t understand. I take a step back, unable to look any more, when I hear my adoptive mother’s fake, honeyed voice trail through the hall.
“John, dear, you haven’t taken your medication this morning. You know the doctor’s orders.”
I clench my fists at the thought. Those white pills I’d been tormented by for the last three months. They never did help my migraines. In fact, I swore they made them worse. The only thing I’d ever noticed them make amends to was my face. My body. My eyes, my hair, my skin. It was never migraine medication I’d been taking. And it was clear to me now.
When I look to the doorway, my mother is standing there, almost as pale as I am. She calls out for me again, motioning me over to her, but I remain still. I can feel my body shaking from anger and fear.
“My name’s Thomas,” I snap at her, correcting her for the first time. I don’t care if it’s no longer legal—that’s the name my parents gave me. And that was the name I was going to take with me to my grave.
“Oh, John, darling, don’t be angry. It breaks my heart to see you so upset…” My adoptive mother’s voice was getting more and more forced by the second.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I manage to choke out.
“Tell you what, dear?”
I point a shaky finger to the bed. To the boy hooked up to every machine imaginable. To John.
“We didn’t want to hurt you, baby. Why grow attached to a brother so little for this world? You don’t deserve that pain,” she says.
“Brother?” My fists clench again. “He’s not my brother!”
“Now, now… don’t say that…”
“No!” My voice is growing louder by the second. “He’s not. He’s the mold you used to turn me into your ‘perfect little child’. Just to replace the one you lost.”
“Oh, John…” My mother’s voice drops slightly. “Marble Oaks is fit for parents grieving over the loss of a child—or, a soon-to-be loss of a child. Adoption can help amend the heart’s wounds when—”
“This isn’t adoption!” I’m yelling now. “What you’re doing is sick.”
“We did nothing, dear. We simply went with what options were given to us, and Marble Oaks seemed like the best. They promised they could fit us with a child, one that would match perfectly to the family. Sure, they said you were all a bit ill and needed proper medication before you could come home… but it was worth it in the end. They needed to prepare you for the big change.”
I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
“You see, all we had to do was bring in a photograph of our dear John. They assured us they would find someone to fill his shoes, and they found you. You were practically the same height and build, and just the right age. Countless blood samples and graphing from our boy it took, but when they sent you home with your upped doses… My! You really were fitting right in. A true member of the Yates family.”
I shake my head.
“And before long, you’ll be completely adjusted. Perfect. No one will ever know.”
I open my mouth to say something, but my father is in the doorway, syringe in hand. I tense up, beginning to back away but he’s faster than I am, and he grabs onto my arm and holds me tight. I squirm but it’s not enough.
“It’s alright, dear. You just need some rest to sleep everything off. I’m sure you’ll be fine in the morning.”
The needle slips beneath my skin and I let out a cry of pain as the burning sensation pulses through my blood. The boy with the monitors hooked up to him is the last thing I see before I give in and sleep.
It’s been a year since my mother and father said I hit my head in the accident. They told me I was in a coma for a while, unaware of the world around me—trapped within my own. Most memories before my awakening are gone, living on only through photographs. But I tell myself I remember. Maybe it’s because I’ve really convinced myself that I do, or because I want to impress my parents and give them hope. Or, maybe I really am starting to recall memories of before. Amnesia is funny like that.
I hear my mother call for me downstairs and I respond back with a, “just a minute!”
I uncap the bottle of my daily vitamin pills, washing them down quickly, as not to hold Mother up any longer. We’re going shopping today with my aunt and she doesn’t want to be late. I hate taking them, but the doctor said the vitamins are rich and natural and may help me with my memories. I’m not sure how much I believe of it, but I keep taking them to make my parents happy. Give them hope.
I close the medicine cabinet and take a glimpse at my reflection in the mirror. My dark brown eyes stare back at me, full of life. They’re beautiful. Perfect. My father’s eyes. Yet, even in their bright glow, I always find myself questioning.
Why does it feel like I’m looking at a stranger in the mirror?
Dorian J. Sinnott is a graduate of Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program, currently living in Kingston, New York with his sassy munchkin-mix cat, Scarlette. When he’s not busy at his full-time job, he works as a cat adoption assistant at a local humane society– which he claims is more therapy than work. He enjoys English horseback riding, playing violin, and cosplaying his favorite childhood characters at comic cons. Dorian’s work has appeared in Crab Fat Literary Magazine, Terror House Magazine, Alter Ego, and The Hungry Chimera.