by Melissa (Missy) De Graff
My life took a drastic turn last week when mother left. My little brother, Nick, is scared but not me. I am finally free of the iron grip that devil of a woman had over my heart and soul.
“You are pathetic,” mother would always say. “Can’t you ever do anything right? How did I get such a stupid child!”
And from the revolving door of mother’s boyfriends, they would say, “A worthless little runt,” followed by a punch to my stomach, or a slap to the face. Mother’s high pitched laugh after each insult and hit still rings in my ears.
Today is the first day in seventeen years that I have not heard those words. Relief washes over me, but at the same time I am conflicted. I am weary of this new found freedom and what other horrors it may bring. But I know nothing can be worse than what I have already endured. Maybe I will have a chance at a normal life one day, but I know it will not happen overnight, not for me.
For years I worked on being stronger and tougher in every way. But I built a wall around my heart and closed my mind to the ugly things that were said to and about me. Words are only that, words. I learned to shield the hurtful words from cutting deep into my soul by ignoring them completely, and thinking of the good things that life had to offer. Which always proved hard, because my life had only one good thing to offer- Nick, my little brother.
He is my beacon of hope during the hardest times. I will do anything and take any abuse to keep Nick safe and free from the agony in life.
But the pain from the physical abuse carved jagged scars all over my body, which proved harder to ignore than the emotional ones. I stopped looking at myself in the mirror, because seeing the scars always served as a reminder.
A wave of utter relief washed over me at the thought of never seeing my mother or her boyfriends again.
I found myself stronger. When a hand is raised in my direction, I do not flinch or bat an eye. Of course this would infuriate my mother and her friends. They would only strike harder to teach me a lesson, one I would never forget. Fear. Only the one who caused it considered it a lesson; overtime the lesson I learned is to never show fear. And with the continued abuse, my fear turned to anger and fueled hatred.
But to be this strong and this fierce, a part of me – the part that made me who I am- had to die. I no longer smile or laugh. I have no enjoyment in life. I am a human punching bag with one purpose, to protect Nick so that he can grow up unscarred and lead a normal life.
Flipping through mother’s address book, it did not take long to find Aunt Mildred’s phone number because their aren’t many entries.
“Hi Aunt Mildred, it’s Katrina, your niece,” There is an awkward silence, “I didn’t know who else to call.”
“Are you and Nick okay?” Aunt Mildred asks.
“Yes, we are fine,” I say. “But Mother left last week and hasn’t returned, and I don’t think she plans to.”
We discuss plans and she is preparing for our arrival. This will be the first time Nick and I have ever met Aunt Mildred. Mother didn’t like her much, but she always sent Nick and I birthday and Christmas cards in the mail. I am pretty certain that cash was usually included, though mother made sure to remove it.
I was only four years old when Dad got sick, and Nick was just a baby. Before Dad died he made me promise to always look out for Nick because he was special.
Nick is a good boy with a gentle heart and would comfort and tend to me after a round with mother and her friends. I have always worried about when the time came for him to step out into the real world, because he is unprepared for reality.
Then suddenly, just like that, the real world came crashing into our world, changing it forever.
“Hurry up Nick!” I yell up the stairs. Aunt Mildred wanted to come get us, but I refuse to leave Dad’s car behind. The black 1967 GTO is the only thing I have left from him. My lips curl into my signature sassy smirk as I palm the keys.
“Hey Kat,” Nick says from the stairs.
“Do you think we’ll ever come back here?”
“Of course we will,” I lie, knowing full well I will never step foot in this hell-hole of a house again. “Now come on let’s get on the road.” I give Nick’s head a rub as we walk out the door.
The drive was unmemorable. I watched the sunset, but I knew we would arrive before dawn. Nick slept most of the ride, when he wasn’t sleeping he was crying. Fear of the unknown I. I understand, I am afraid to. I want nothing more than to hide under the covers, but I need to be strong for Nick.
“Hey Nick, wake up,” I say as we pull into Aunt Mildred’s driveway.
“Are we here?” he rubs his eyes and yawns.
“Yup, come on,” I close the car door behind me and head for the front door.
Aunt Mildred took the liberty of signing us up for public school. Mother never allowed us to attend school, too much trouble for her. We were suppose to be homeschooled, but the responsibility fell to me. I taught myself and Nick to the best of my ability using Google and the small town local library as my only resources.
“Here is your lunch kids,” Aunt Mildred said, handing us each a brown paper bag and flashing a smile. Butterflies swirl in my stomach as I reach for the bag with a shaky hand. She opens her arms to Nick for a hug, and reaches for me, pulling me in for a group hug. A strange sensation tickled throughout my body as she held us both in a tight embrace. After Dad died, the only person that I’ve let get so close is Nick. I shake off the queasy feeling and step off the porch.
“See you after school,” she yells after us as we head to the GTO.
Turning the key, the engine rumbles and a renewed energy washes over my body. I can do this. I repeatedly tell myself during the drive to school. I can do this!
My hands tremble on the steering wheel, as I pull into the parking lot. I can do this. I continue chanting to myself.
“Ready?” Nick asks with a wide grin.
“As ready as I’ll ever be, let’s do this,” I say as I step out of the car.
Breathing in a new sense of freedom, I lock arms with Nick, and with a great sense of purpose, together we head toward the school’s main entrance and our new future together.