I guess it is time now for another story. I don’t know if these stories are doing anything for anyone else. They are helping me immensely to write down and share. I spend so much time trying to be positive, trying to not think about them.
I think it is good for me to focus on them and get them out. I worry that thinking about them too hard will damage me in some way. But then I realize that I am always thinking about them anyway. These stories are always inside me. Maybe if I let them out they will go away. Or at least be easier to contain.
I was 10 and we were living in a tiny house. There was only one bathroom and no dining room. My sister and I were in the kitchen. We were getting ready for school. It was still in that quiet grey light of dawn.
Mornings had been tense lately. My mother suffered from severe depression. And it was my job to get my sister and myself off to school.
A few weeks previously, my mother had called me into her bedroom and told me she wanted to die. It was science fair day. I had spent the whole day on the verge of tears wondering what to do. I wasn’t even really sure what she had meant. I wound up doing nothing, hoping it would pass. It did.
But this morning my sister was waiting to use the bathroom. My father was in there, getting ready for work. I was pouring a bowl of cereal.
She was wearing these slippers we had gotten only a few months previously. They were fuzzy dog slippers. When you squeezed the ear, they barked. She was 8 and was delighted with them. I secretly felt too mature for them, but knew better than to complain. Plus, I didn’t want her getting too cool too fast.
I normally was not very chipper. I wasn’t one for joking. I was so quiet and shy and secretive.
But that morning, I could see my sister was upset. She was getting impatient. And I could hear my father’s voice behind the door. He was agitated. My sister didn’t seem to recognize the danger. Not like I did.
I took the little plastic ring off the gallon of milk and threw it at my sister. It landed in her hair. She had thick, curly hair and the ring stuck. We both started cracking up laughing. Hard. It was the funniest thing that had happened in a long time.
I was on one side of the bar counter top and she was on the other, right in front of the bathroom door. That door swung open so wide and hard. I immediately stopped laughing. My sister didn’t.
My father stormed out of the bathroom. He saw my sister standing outside the door, laughing so hard she was almost bent over. He started screaming at us for being so loud.
I was too far away to intervene this time. He grabbed her by the wrist and shook her, hard. I can still see him yanking on her arm. She had always been smaller than me. She fell down and landed painfully on her ankle.
She cried out in pain and he took that as her talking back to him. I don’t even know what he was saying by this point. Scary things.
She started to cry and that seemed to satisfy him. He went back into the bathroom. My sister was bawling on the floor.
I went over to soothe her. Really, it hadn’t been so bad. He hadn’t hit her. Or thrown anything at her. She wasn’t bleeding, nothing was broken.
And that’s when she told me; she had gotten so scared she had urinated on herself. She had peed all over her slippers. They were one of her favorite things in the world. Part slipper, part stuffed animal and all little girl magic.
I tried to hand wash them for her. But couldn’t get the smell out. Her fear was soaked into the fabric of those sweet slippers. I wound up throwing them out and giving her mine. But I never saw her wear them ever again.
That day my father taught me that it didn’t matter what we did. It didn’t matter how good we were, how smart we were, how responsible we were. We were going to get punished if he felt like punishing us. He didn’t need to justify it to himself or to us. We were never going to be safe as long as he was around.
That day my father taught me to be a shadow. And I stayed a shadow for a long, long time.