WARNING: This chapter (and only this chapter) contains non-graphic depictions of child abuse.
Author's note: I've decided to try something different, and write a story about Alice. Alice is one of the most complex characters on DBM. Arrogant and socially clueless to the point that some have said she has Aspergers, she has had an unhappy life and it is not clear how much of her condition is by birth or a reaction to early trauma. Yet despite this, she is perceptive of those around her, compassionate, and loyal to her friends. Above all, she is very proud. She is every bit as self aware and meticulous as Jean, but she knows she doesn't fit in with the world around her and doesn't like it.
"What on earth am I doing here?" Alice stood alone in the lobby. She was wearing a pale blue chiffon gown. The hem of the gown brushed against the floor in a manner she could only describe as inefficient. She was clutching her matching purse so hard she had already bent the frame. Her long black hair was swept up in a high bun and she felt exposed. Music could be heard seeping through the door of the next room, a string quintet. All around her people were bustling past, coming and going, but she felt alone. Or maybe she wished she was. Alice was sure people were staring at her as they went past. "I should leave. I don't belong here."
Alice's recent life had been peaceable. She worked hard and loved what she did, and otherwise kept mostly to herself. Some people would have called it a lonely life but Alice would say it was uncomplicated. Alice rarely got on well with other people or, more accurately, they never seemed to get on with her and somehow blamed her for it. Keeping to herself was much less painful. At work, she would have gotten on much better if she could have kept to herself as well but her pride forbid it. She was smart, a good doctor, and was not going to tolerate fools just for the sake of keeping the peace. Alice reminded herself that if she had followed her own rules - do good work, go home, keep to yourself - she would not be in the horrible situation she found herself in now.
Things hadn't always been this way. Alice was a happy child. The youngest with three brothers, her life was not unusual. She would spend her days trying to keep up with the boys or playing with neighborhood children. Like any little girl, she dreamed of a husband, a family, and a large mansion where she would throw beautiful parties like the girls did in her story books. The one difference is that from an early age she was extremely clever. Some children were upset that she was the smartest in their class but it never bothered her. However when she began to correct the teacher in second year both the children and adults started to drift apart from her. Many began to tease her. Her mother was upset by this.
"Boys don't like a girl that is smarter than them." she would admonish. She often scolded Alice to keep her thoughts to herself. She was teased for being a know-it-all, her mother said. She threatened to stop buying Alice any books. However her father and brothers were proud of her and encouraged her to show off. "That's my smart girl," her father said to her, grinning. "Don't let anyone tell you you're wrong."
That was one of the last kind things her father had ever said to her. At least, it was the last kind thing he said that she ever believed. She could not have been older than nine the first time her father came into her room. It was the middle of the night and he reeked of cheap gin. He stroked her hair and told her how pretty she was, how he'd always protect her. That first night, he only touched her hair and her back, but something deep inside of Alice was already scared. It was the first of many long, dark, terrifying nights. Sometimes he would hurt her, badly. Sometimes he would just lie there, telling her how much he loved her. When she was eleven the door swung open in the middle of the night and there were two shadows instead of one. Her father had brought her oldest brother with him.
It was more than she could bear. One night, while her mother was washing up after dinner, Alice told her everything. She begged her mother for help. Instead her mother turned on her.
"Just because you're smarter than everyone doesn't give you the right to treat your family that way! You're an ugly little girl. You're always going to be overlooked, you're always going to be ignored, no matter how many horrid lies you make up!"
Alice knew she was truly alone. She began to withdraw from the world. She kept her distance from the few friends she had, convinced they would only turn on her in the end. She stopped correcting teachers, or speaking to them at all if she didn't have to. Adults could not be trusted. She was a complete outcast from school but it didn't matter. Being overlooked was better than being a target. Her one refuge was her studies. She delighted in science, math, even literature. On her worst mornings when she could barely walk she still found solace there. With her studies as an excuse she could hide at school or the library or anywhere but home. Despite everything, her grades never slipped. Her pride forbade it. Her mind was the one thing she had that no one could take from her.
By the time she was thirteen, Alice was tall, and becoming strong enough to defend herself. The first few times she put up a fight her father and brother were able to overpower her, but it left bruises. Eventually this attracted the notice of a teacher. Alice told the teacher it was injuries sustained working in the store rooms of her father's shop. The teacher came by the house one night to talk to Alice's mother. He was worried that Alice was spending too many late nights working and not enough time devoted to her studies. "She's such a clever girl, I would hate to see so much potential go to waste." Alice remembered the stony look on her mother's face as she nodded in agreement with the teacher. After that, no one ever entered her room at night again. But she was now equally ignored at home and at school. When spoken to, both her mother and father would growl angrily at her as if she were a perpetual source of shame on the family.
When she was seventeen one of her teachers asked her to stay after class and presented her a letter. It was the same teacher that had come to her house all those years ago. Alice had been accepted to a prestigious girl's college, on full scholarship. Alice protested, she had not applied to any college. The teacher acted as if spontaneous university acceptances happened all the time and urged her not to question it. It didn't take long for Alice to realize that this was the escape she had been waiting for. If someone else had sent in the application on her behalf, so be it. Her parents did not react to the news, they did not care one way or the other. Alice was relieved. However the teacher insisted on taking her to the bus stop himself and seeing her on her way. It wasn't until many years later, when Alice could bear to think about those times, that she realized he must have known. Everyone must have known. They all just let it happen.
College was the dream Alice never knew she had. Free from harm, free to study all she wanted, she found a measure of happiness she hadn't had since she was a little girl. She kept to herself, and if the other girls found her haughty or just ignored her Alice wasn't bothered by it. Medical school was more problematic. One of the few women on campus, she was despised by half the campus and treated as a toy by the other half. She had to fight viciously with professors and fellow students for them to concede she had the bare minimum competence to be there. She earned a reputation for being combative and difficult to work with. Despite this, her grades and work spoke for themselves and she earned a top residency and eventually a placement at Ballarat Hospital. Her abrasive manner was ingrained in her now, a manner of professional survival. The nurses disliked her and the doctors dismissed her. But she was a doctor now, living independently, away from anyone who could harm her. That was what she thought until a popular surgeon with wandering hands found her in his sights. Suddenly she was a terrified girl again, trapped by an old man stinking of gin. When she made a complaint against him to the hospital administration she was confident that there would be recourse this time. She wasn't a girl anymore, she was a respected doctor. Instead she found herself banished to the morgue, where her mere existence could not offend anyone. It upset her at first to be treated that way but in the end decided that it was for the best. The dead didn't convince the nurses they were sleeping with to lodge false complaints against her. The dead kept their hands to themselves.