This story is by Christine Malek and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As Helen sat there, slumped down in the tub, not mesmerized, but more like daydreaming and wondering, the crimson droplets turned a darker brown. Eventually, the droplets began to flow a little heavier. The thoughts swimming through Helen’s head were many, but she kept coming back to, “How did I get here?” The thought that stood out above all else was, “Why me?”
She thought she was a good person. She always tried to do the right thing. So why did she have to endure things a child, no child, should ever have to endure: the abuse, physical and sexual all alone.
The atrocities she was subjected to as a child were unspeakable. Even to a therapist. She knew she could not ask for help from her parents. They would never believe that her Grandfather could ever do such evil acts. She was afraid of being sent away for lying, even though it was all true.
Still the blood flowed, and she did nothing about it. How could she? This is what she thought she wanted; what was necessary to finally be free from the torment and isolation that never left her mind.
Helen grew up like most of the kids in the neighborhood. She may have been the older sibling in her immediate family, but her Mom had two younger brothers that were only a few years older than her. The four of them did everything together, from the time they woke up in the morning till the time they went to sleep. The only difference was the classrooms they went into during school.
Her Grandmother was strict. Not only with her 2 young boys but with Helen and her little brother, too. But because Helen was the only girl, she was the one that got stuck doing the chores around the house every Saturday. The worst was doing the laundry. She hated going down in the basement. It was always dark, cold and musty. This is also where her grandfather kept his WWII trunk. She wanted nothing more than for that thing to burn. She tried not to look at it or think about it, but its stench was something she would never forget. As hard as she closed her eyes and tried to think other thoughts, that smell will be with her forever.
As Helen got older, she delved deeper into her books, reading everything from fairy tales to biographies. Her solace came with the fairy tales. She dreamt of a Prince that might take her away. The charming, handsome man on a white horse that just might ride into town looking specifically for her. She read all the books. They had to be true, right?
As much as she tried to do what she was told, when she was told, the bad things still happened, and the Prince never came.
Once, she was at a family birthday party from her Grandfathers side, trying her hardest to stay away from the adults as much as possible, when she saw him. “Who is this stranger?” “Could it finally be my Prince?”
All Helen saw was his silhouette, the sun behind him, and his cowboy hat. She still remembers his walk; the way he carried himself, and then his golden tanned face. He was gorgeous in her eyes.
As the strange man walked closer, coming into Helen’s full view, her Uncle whispered in her ear, “That’s Uncle Butch. He’s been away in California in the Army.”
As Helen stood there like a love-sick teenage puppy, the only words she heard come from those beautiful lips to her ears and that will forever scar her more, were, “How’s it goin’, squirt?”
If Helen could have screamed right then and there, she would have. However, the only two thoughts swimming in her head were, “Squirt?” and, “When I get older, I want my Prince to look like that!”
That day never came. But so many more dark days did.
As Helen continued to lay there, blood still dripping from her wrists and feeling the slight sleepiness of the pills, more thoughts and memories came flooding into her brain.
“This is my family”, she thought. “How can I have all these mixed emotions and feelings?”
She tried to think of all the good times she had. All the fun times. All the fun things she might have done. All she could think was, “No, not really.” School was ok. She got teased a lot. She was not one of the really pretty girls. She never got congratulated for her good grades.
There was one memory that stood out. It was a long time ago, but she remembers it like it was yesterday. It’s the only time she had her Daddy all to herself. It was their special time together. Nothing like when her Grandfather said it either.
Helen would be out on the back porch, waiting for her father to come home from work. She would be sitting on the chair, feet nowhere near the ground, but swinging casually. She would close her eyes and smell the air. She listened to all the sounds of the neighborhood along with the sounds of the sky. She could still feel the electric charge in the air. A summer storm on the horizon. The sky would have the most beautiful colors. The blues of the ocean. The grays of a dove. The white of cotton balls. And the black of the coal used to heat the house. But more spectacular than that are the sounds of all of these coming together, like a symphony of the sky, beautifully timed with the clashing of the thunder like cymbals and the flash of lightning like spotlights on Helen at the center of the universe, if only for those precious few moments.
Helen and her father sat together on the chair. He would lovingly caress her, hold her, let her know that if only for a few short minutes, the world was right. At least her world.
The two would sit together watching the light show, oohing and ahhing as if watching Fourth of July fireworks. And when it was all done, her father prepared her a bowl of chocolate ice cream along with a kiss on the top of her head.
A small, half smile came to Helen’s face as she remembered all those precious times with her Father. How she longed to tell him but knew better or maybe just too afraid.
Look at her now. Ready to float away from this world and receive the next.
Her peace and solace were broken by the sound of her younger brother hollering for her. “Helen, I’m hungry. Can we have a snack before Mom and Dad come home from work?”
How she managed to get herself together at that moment, she will never know. Maybe it was divine intervention, maybe it was her sheer will to make sure what happened to her never happens to her brother or anyone else.
“Give me a moment. I’ll be down in a second.” She yelled back at her brother. With all the strength she could muster, Helen rose. It wasn’t easy and she felt quite woozy. She grabbed some washcloths and towels. With despair in her heart yet again, she knew she couldn’t leave her brother like this. Not this way. She managed to get the tub clean. She splashed cold water on her face and did what she always did: take care of everyone else first.
Helen looked at the scars left on her wrists from all those years ago as she sat rocking in the chair, looking out over the vast land of the Tennessee mountains she now owned, holding her brand new granddaughter.
She made a choice that day that led her to this one. Had she not stopped the flow of blood, got herself together, she would not have had the beautiful daughter she did, to give birth to her granddaughter.
What a lovely bundle of joy she was holding. She swore at that moment that no one will ever harm this child. Helen will be in this child’s life for as long as humanly possible and for as long as her higher power would let her. She knew she would teach this child that even the darkest days will bring the brightest beginnings.
As the sun started to rise over the horizon, the light, smoke and fog of the mountains came into view. Helen looked down at the child with a loving smile, a small tear forming in the corner of her eye. This beautiful child was somehow looking at Helen, eyes open, a small smile on her face as if telling Helen, “Thank you, Grandma.”