This story is by Jasmine LaMothe and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Mommy, wake up! It’s a big day, today is picture day in school.”
I groan, rolling over. Just five more minutes, I keep thinking.
“Mommy, mommy, mommy,” Jaden continues.
I snap my eyes open, grabbing him and tossing him onto the bed. He erupts into a fit of giggles as I tickle him.
“I surrender, I surrender!” My son says smiling.
The sun peaks through the curtains of our small studio apartment, illuminating the barely furnished room. I’m lost in thought as Jaden’s tiny fingers run over the scars and fading bruises on my arms.
As I get him ready for school I look around and think about how different things were before.
Two months ago
I struggle to unlock the door, my arms filled with groceries, and my work bag.
“I hear mommy!” Jaden squeals, probably jumping up and down on the other side of the large oak door.
I try to hurry and open the door before Craig loses his patience, which seems to be at an all-time low lately.
“Would you stop jumping up and down? What the hell is wrong with you?” Craig shouts.
I open the door and the groceries come tumbling out of my hands, the quart of milk hits the ground with a thump and the white liquid escapes the bottle obscuring the beautiful polished hardwood floors.
Craig sucks his teeth in annoyance and leaves the room, walking up the stairs and slamming the bedroom door.
“Mommy, that’s a bad word.”
“It is baby, mommy made a mistake, we don’t use words like that,” I say hurrying into the kitchen to grab the mop.
“Remember mommy, we don’t cry over spilled milk.”
I looked up at Jaden, smiling. “No baby, we don’t.”
I quickly clean up the mess and try to get started on dinner. Jaden scurries into the kitchen to help.
After I put the groceries away, I put Jaden onto the counter and ask him how his day was as I prepare lasagna for dinner.
“Today I painted pictures and they let us use our hands, oh and we read stories and played and Jenny told me she loves me.”
“Mhmm,” Jaden says distracted by the box of pasta. “I told her love is complicated.”
“You what?” I laugh. “What do you know about love sweetie? You’re still so young, you’re only five.” I open the cabinet, searching for the lasagna pan.
“That’s what you told your friend on the phone yesterday when she asked you about daddy.”
My hand stops short grabbing the pan, you don’t realize just how much your kids pay attention, even when you think they’re not.
When I turn back around Jaden is shaking the pasta box and smiling at the noise that it makes, completely unaware that my world feels like its crumbling around me. I hate how trapped I feel being with Craig but leaving him is scarier. Could I care for Jaden alone?
I take Jaden down from the counter when I’m finished preparing dinner and sit him on the living room couch.
“Stay right here, okay?”
I kiss Jaden on his head and slowly make my way up the steps, knowing exactly what’s waiting for me in the bedroom by the disgusted look Craig gave me when the milk spilled.
After I finish getting Jaden ready for picture day, I watch as he distracts himself with a few of his favorite toys on the floor and I check my phone for any emails or missed calls.
“Jaden please put your shoes on, we have to leave soon.”
I have an email from Jane, the woman from the park.
Hey Sharlene, hope you and Jaden are settling in nicely. If you need anything please go down to the center at 40 Sycamore street, it should be within walking distance from your apartment, and ask for Rachel. She’s the friend that I was telling you about, she’ll be expecting you. We have food and other resources available including a daycare if you need somewhere for Jaden to stay while you go on your job interviews and such. Call or email me if you need anything else.
It must have been fate meeting Jane in the park . Craig and I had just gotten into a fight, I got Jaden ready and we left. I needed some air. While Jaden was playing on the slide a lady came and sat next to me as I was drying my eyes.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I responded curtly.
“Well, If you ever want to talk, you can email me. My name’s Jane.” Jane reached into her bag and pulled out her card.
I took it hesitantly.
The card read,
Domestic Violence Center.
“I’m sorry, I think you’re a little confused. I don’t—
“I was once in your situation and it’s especially hard when kids are involved,” Jane says interrupting me.
I looked over at Jaden instinctively, he was laughing and playing with another kid in the park.
“I saw the marks on your arms and I don’t mean to pry or make you uncomfortable but if you ever need anything you can email me or call even, whichever is easier. Our centers can help you do anything, from relocating to support groups.”
I was at a loss for words. If this random lady could figure out what was going on so easily I can only imagine what Jaden may or may not have seen in that house. I try to keep him busy whenever Craig gets into his moods but I’m always worried that he’ll notice or hear something. Kids his age are incredibly impressionable and I’m worried that I’ve stuck him in a horrid environment and he’ll never grow up knowing what a stable and loving relationship looks like.
“I hope you use the card, enjoy your day.”
Jane stands up and walks towards her child. I watch as she gathers her up into her arms and walks out of the park.
I decided to email Jane a few weeks later. We had been planning my move but I was still very hesitant.
Craig and I had been together for so long and things weren’t always like this. At first, it was the drinking after he lost his job. Then the drinking turned into yelling and the yelling occasionally turned into hitting. Then the occasional became more frequent. Whenever I’d mentioned him looking for a job, he would storm out of the house. Later, he’d come home drunk and angry breaking things. I told myself he would do things on his own time and that he just didn’t need me nagging constantly.
The majority of the time I figured it was my fault that he was always on edge but even when I left him alone he would still find things to get mad at me for.
When Jadens school called saying that he hit a girl in the face I sat him down and asked him why he would do such a thing and his response broke me. He said that he saw daddy do it to me so he thought it was okay.
I called Jane crying, wondering how I could ever allow Jaden and even myself to live in such a toxic environment. I was bound and governed by Craigs moods, constantly second guessing myself and the decisions that I made. I felt like a horrible parent. I let my fear of starting over keep Jaden in this house and in turn exemplify this terrible idea of what a loving relationship looked like.
She mentioned that she had an available apartment three towns over that I could move into with Jaden as soon as I was ready.
Later that night, while Craig was passed out, I snuck out of bed and grabbed our hidden bags that I had packed at Jane’s suggestion. I picked up my sweet, sleepy little boy and crept out to the car. It wasn’t until about five miles later that I remembered to breathe.
We haven’t looked back since.
Three months later
Jaden started in a really good school in our new hometown. He made a ton of friends, and he’s at the top of his class. Most importantly there has not been another hitting incident. I stopped living my life in fear and finally went after that journaling job I wanted. I got the position! When I’m not working, the girls from the support group and I go out for drinks and dinner and we talk. The kids also have playdates.
For the first time in a long time, I’m looking towards the future without fear. Jaden and I are happy in our peaceful, tiny little apartment.
There isn’t anything holding us back.
And when I come home and accidentally drop the milk I don’t worry anymore, because Jaden and I don’t cry over spilled milk.