On nights like tonight, when the thunderstorms keep me awake later than the shouting outside, I look at the stars on my ceiling, the ones I put there as a reminder that life’s bigger than the double-wide I’m living in. They light up just enough that I pretend I’m lying in a field of wildflowers instead of on top of this lumpy mattress. When I’m low, I talk to them, wondering if Dad’s among them or if heaven’s someplace entirely different. Someplace so far away and unique, it’s neither up nor down. It’s not an existence, but a choice. Maybe even a gift.
Nothing about the trailer is giving. Not the people inside or the ones who lurk in the pathetic patch of grass by the mailbox, hoping to get a glimpse of Tess through the bathroom window.
Like every other night, the front door slams, rattling the bells tied around my doorknob. I didn’t have to worry about bells when we still lived in the apartment. But Tess couldn’t keep up with the rent on her own, and we were evicted from the closest place to home I’d ever known.
Moving was like losing Dad all over again, especially when I was forced to leave all of his belongings behind. All the things that reminded me of him were tossed in bags and sent down the garbage chute like they didn’t matter. Like Dad’s existence could be erased if we didn’t have to look at his things anymore.
As soon as we moved to the trailer, Tess’s trashy friends invaded every room, making it next to impossible to fall asleep at night. More often than not, they’d wander into my room, looking to quench their thirst.
When I couldn’t keep staying up all night and still make it to school in the morning, I ripped the little bells off my Christmas stocking and tied it around my doorknob. It’s the only thing that saves me when my eyelids grow heavy and my head hits the pillow before the house clears out. That little jingle wakes me before it’s too late.
Because I learned my lesson the hard way. More than once.
Some would touch.
Some would watch.
Some would just talk to me.
They all had their vices, and I became their toy.
“Jesus, what do we have here?” I heard his gruff voice and realized I was still on top of the bed, not underneath where it was safe.
His rough knuckles ran down the side of my cheek, and his clothing reeked like he’d washed them in alcohol. The warm breath that crept across my face made my nostrils burn. I wanted to gag, but if he knew I was awake, he’d take whatever he wanted. I had a better chance of being left alone if I pretended to sleep.
It took what little energy I had left to keep still. I had no idea what he looked like. One twitch or flicker of my lashes, and I’d give myself away. I had to stay still. But, if he tried to do more, I’d break his fingers and punch him in the face. He was so wasted, he’d never see the fist coming until it connected.
But this guy was different than most.
He wasn’t rough, and he didn’t force me to open my eyes and touch him back. He let me lay there with my eyes closed, never acknowledging him.
That didn’t mean he didn’t scare me. I was still petrified of what I couldn’t allow myself to see.
I heard the teeth of his zipper part, and with one hand, he gently trailed his fingertips down my stomach, toward the waistband of my cotton shorts. The other hand he used to stroke himself.
As hard as he was breathing, I knew it wouldn’t last long, but I was already transported to the beach, imagining my toes sinking in the sand as the waves crashed over my ankles. Surrounded by blue sky, I was blanketed by sunshine, and for a few minutes, the rough pads of his fingers felt like a gentle breeze caressing my skin.
Eventually, the breeze stopped, and the ocean was replaced by maddening darkness. I was back in bed, alone, and as soon as the door closed, I scurried onto the floor until I was underneath the frame and as far away from him as I could get.
I was lucky—lucky he’d only touched and not taken. He could have gone further, so much further. And it could have been worse.
Since those nights began, I’ve become a prisoner in my own body, held captive by my thoughts. Without a TV, there’s not much to do besides write, draw, and think. When I run out of paper, I get antsy, and I talk to Dad, praying he’s watching over me. Because, no matter how hard I try to block out the noise, the inside of my brain feels like a cluttered junk drawer full of odds and ends that don’t matter. A bunch of trash that’s stuck in a small space with no purpose.
Sometimes, the voices are so loud, I pace in circles until the ratty carpet fibers stop laughing at me. If I don’t, I’ll end up in the bathroom with the blade against my thigh. On days when I can’t get the chatter to stop, I run the smooth metal over my skin and watch the blood seep out.
Blood—the lifeline that unites a family.
All my family is dead or gone.
God, I hate the sight of blood. The smell. The consistency. The way it smears and stains everything it touches. But, once the blade touches my skin, I forget about Tess and how little I have. Suddenly, that little cut is all I can think about, and I love the way it silences the screaming inside my head.
For those few seconds of peace, I forget that Dad’s not coming back, that Trey is gone, and how Tess isn’t ever going to be the mother I need her to be. I’m no longer lonely and afraid. I’m the girl who looks in the mirror and likes what she sees.
I am me. Nobody else.