A Light in the Attic

I needed a break.

While the stories thus far have shown little more than a regular pruning of my innocence, none of the experiences I have mentioned are the cause of my panic or flinching at an unexpected touch.  These, my friends, are just the opening credits to a very long story.  Save your horror and your shock for a few months down the line.  Strange situations were just the birth place of who I have become.

There were also moments in time that were not strange, negligent, or abusive.  In fact, I look back at them as some of the best and most shining memories of my childhood.  Climbing the cliffs in Cannon Beach with my sister and finding a hidden cove where the waves crashed hard into white sand…  Spending the day at the beach with my brother, each of us with our own pallet rafts and long seaweed ropes salvaged from the tide.  We rode up and down the D River until we were both bright red and blistering with the best sunburns of our lives.  We had trips through Yellowstone where we watched bear and bison cross the road in front of us.  I fed baby tigers at the West Coast Game Park, and rode elephants in a Safari land zoo.  We went camping, and fishing, and played with fire when we weren’t supposed to.  We had a house surrounded with climbable trees and a tree house built by my grandpa and father. We had campfires and s’mores and an adorable puppy black lab collie named Sasha.

I grew up with the most wonderful life.

My life was two sides of a coin.  Some days were filled with breathtaking beauty and marvel, and some were suffocated by the dirt, grime and disgust that held thick in the air around those choice people.  The days were not always bad.  Some days they were just… different.

Before the end of fifth grade, we had one of those nights when my stomach tried to turn me inside out.  It started with one of those phone calls.  Those calls were the worst.  They always started with a warm and pronounced hello, and quickly resolved into hushed tones, “Oh. My. God,” “Really!?” and a definite “Okay.”  We hated those calls, but we feared more for the one we expected. Tonight there was a frantic father on the other end of a phone and my mom saying yes, she’d go, where are they?

As soon as she hung up the phone, Mom was giving very specific orders to make sure all of the doors and windows were locked – she was leaving us home alone.  We were given express instructions to go to bed at nine pm, and keep Sasha inside with us.  The knock came at the door – KNOCK.KNOCK.KNOCK.  Each sound was distinct and firm.  My mom was at the door in half of a second.  She pulled it open and a man stepped inside.  He wore a black leather jacket that added bulk to his already muscular build, light-blue jeans and black boots.  He had a head shaved clean, and looked to be in his early forties.  His pale face was showing spots of red, from rage I guessed.  Sasha growled and crouched to attack the man and my brother snagged her collar and pulled her back before she could get close enough.

“I’m sorry, she doesn’t like men,” my mom explained.  “Where is she, again?”

His jaw was tight and his voice sounded strained as spoke.  “She’s at the Ramada Inn.  She said she’s there with your daughter and some guy named Lupe.”

Mom pulled her coat on gave us both a look of uncertainty.  She closed the door behind herself firmly with final words of going to bed on time, and left to go deal with the trouble my sister was undoubtedly getting herself into, again.  I watched her pull the van out of the driveway after and head in the direction of the man’s taillights.

My brother took initiative and jumped on his video game as soon as the cars pulled away.  My stomach turned in knots and I ran to the bathroom and lost my dinner.  I hated throwing up, but it happened every time something bad was going to happen, like that night at the mall right before I went home and she got arrested for assault, and at the hockey game before I went home and she got in trouble for provoking an assault, and most nights when my mom had worked over and my sister was in charge.  My stomach always knew when something bad was going to happen, and this night was no different.

It clock struck eleven before I told my brother we had better go to bed.  He was tired enough not to fight it, and I was tired of waiting and nervous to find out what tomorrow would bring.  I fell asleep with a nightmarish frolic of ideas of what could possible be taking Mom that long to get back.  I cried.  I rolled over.  I cried some more.  I hated this.  Eventually, I wore myself out and fell asleep.  I woke up in the morning to my mother, still in her pajamas, obviously not going to work, as she woke us two hours later than usual.  She wore exhaustion heavily upon her face.  It showed in the bags under her eyes and the way her mouth was turned down hard.

“What happened?”  I said as she raised me from my sleep.

“Get up, you need to get ready for school,” She said, ignoring my question.

I sat up straight and looked at her, suddenly wide awake.  “But what happened?”

Mom sighed and resigned to my interrogation, “She was at the hotel with that guy, Lupe.”  She spat his name in the way I had wanted to spit in his face.

“What about that guy’s daughter?”

“She was fine.  She was waiting in the bathroom.”

“Oh.”  It sounded like something I would do.

I was too tired to have more questions, so I kept my mouth closed as I processed what was going on. Except one more –

“Where is she now?”

“She’s downstairs, sleeping.”

At least she’s not in jail, I thought.

I went through the rest of the routine of getting ready for school and my mom dropped my brother and I off in front of the school.  At the end of the day, my brother and I walked the two and a half blocks home from school and found my grandparents waiting in front of the house.  My grandpa informed me that we were staying with them because Mom was taking her up to a special facility where she should get better.  We packed our things and stayed with my grandparents.  They had the best desert and board games, and my brother and I always managed to get along while we were there.

The next day after school, my mom was home.  She explained rehab.  Pioneer Trails in Oregon said she could stay there for twenty eight days.  Rather, the insurance said she could stay for twenty eight days and then she’d come back home.  I thought that sounded like a long time for her to be away.  While she was gone, life was normal.  Soccer, piano lessons, camping, and one weekend we were allowed to go up and see her.  She told us how some people smuggled in cigarettes and put toothpaste on them to try to get high.  That was desperation.  We heard about the ex-Seahawk who was one of the counselors.  She told us she was getting better in there.  I believed her.

Two weeks later, she got out.  My mom went up and retrieved her and they spent the weekend in the city shopping and doing fun stuff.  When she got home, I heard about the stories of that night, and the police busting in while her and Lupe tried to smoke a whole brick of crack cocaine.  Lupe went to jail, much to my relief.  She said she thought he was going to the state penitentiary.  I knew the difference between state and county was the time served.  The idea that he was guaranteed to be out of our lives for at least a year was a major relief.  There was nobody worse out there, right?

After she got out, she immediately started counceling.  She spent time at SARC (sexual assault response center) and the advocates occasionally came over to talk to her.  She and I researched sexual assault statistics and the justice centers.  We had a small book of information provided by different advocacy centers.  Together, she and I were going to start a movement to show how terrible the justice system was in regards to actual prosecution and conviction.  We were going to focus on changing things so she didn’t have to hurt anymore. At eleven, I had already known enough to understand rape culture in my community and country.

Things finally went back to normal in a good way.  She started hanging out with next door neighbor best friend again.  She was home all of the time.  I heard stories about her day at school instead of parties she was crashing.  She was also going to regular AA and NA meetings.  A couple of times, she brought me with her.  My mom allowed it, but my dad absolutely refused.  I thought he was just being mean.  I didn’t understand that he was trying to keep me from being exposed to the stories people told in there.

Then I heard a story about a meeting she attended with out me… Some guy was trying to convince her to try heroin with him, and another member slammed the guy against the wall and beat the hell out of him.  Apparently, there were some people in there who were protective in my sister.  I wish she would have kept going.

Instead, she made friends with some kid named Moe.  Moe was just another dude in a long list of dudes I knew she had used for a ride here and there.  They’d come to my soccer practice and sit in his black Ford Bronco and blast music.  I think they stayed because my mom wanted them in known places, rather than out doing whatever it is kids did in that time.

Eventually, she grew tired of her friends from school and started hanging out with my oldest sister and her friends.  One night, everything changed for good.

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Cold Snap: Part Four

I thought taking a minute to myself would have prepared me for anything.  More Jesse, more Chadwick, more tequila.  Instead, that one step into the hallway showed me more than my ten year old mind could have imagined. 

 She was completely naked.  Fat Dillon had his shirt off and his pants around his ankles as he pushed himself into her over and over.  I want to say that I shrugged and walked away, unphased by yet another sexual escapade in the span of less than two hours.  She met my eyes with a smile and a laugh, as if to say, “Oops, caught again.”

I lost it.

I screamed at her and I immediately regretted it.  Letting one part of myself go meant letting everything go.

“GOD, why are you such a fucking slut!?”

It came from my voice, no longer tiny and muted.  It came from my mind, no longer innocent and kind.  It came from my heart, no longer afraid and hidden.  It came from my eyes as hot tears rolled down my checks like they were all that was left of me.  My throat went tight and I couldn’t breath.  My only option was to run.

So I ran.

I ran out of that disgusting house so fast, I was at the road before I remembered it was below freezing and I had no idea how to get home.  The door creaked open and I saw white and pink flesh tumbling into the fresh snow.

“Saaaaarrahh!”  Her drunken mumble came as she reached out for me.  I moved forward a couple of steps and stopped.  I was too angry to lend a hand right now, and I hoped that ice would magically make her sober.  It didn’t.

“Stephanie, go back inside!” I screamed through my tears.  I couldn’t deal with her when my emotions were so out of control.

A few seconds later, Jesse came through the door way and plucked her from the snow pile.  He sat her just inside the door and directed her to find her clothes while he “took care of it.” 

It being me.  It being my overreaction.  It being the little girl they stole from the warm house who had watched her sister suck and fuck every man she could get partially alone.  He was going to take care of it.

I crossed my arms and stepped sideways to keep the car between us.  I was angry at him.  He was a part of the problem. 

“I didn’t have sex with your sister.” 

“I appreciate that.”  I felt dumb as the words came out of my mouth.  Maybe he was telling the truth.  Why would he lie about it? 

“Do you know the difference between making love and having sex?”

No.  “Yes,” I said as I stared.  It was the same thing, wasn’t it?

“Then what is the difference?”  He said, knowing I had no idea. 

“Making love is slower.”

“No.”  I frowned hard.  I should have known I would be wrong.  “I don’t have sex with your sister.  We make love, and I show her I love her.”

“Ok.”  I felt like I had the right answer and couldn’t imagine why what he was saying was different than what I said.  Apparently, while sex comes in different speeds, none of it has to do with love.  My eyes dropped to my feet.  My toes were starting to get cold.

The conversation probably would have continued, but she appeared in the doorway once again, this time fully dressed.  Jesse came around the car and opened the door to the front seat and told her to get in.  She shuffled forward and sat down without her usual back talk and comments.  I waited for him to get to the driver’s side door before opening my own door and sliding into the back seat.  No seatbelt.  I didn’t want to be trapped if something went wrong.

As the car reversed, the tightness in my throat began to ease.  My hands were shaking, but I knew it wasn’t from the cold.  They did that sometimes when things got like this.  It probably meant I was broken.  I clenched my fists against the muscle spasms.  The silence and darkness in the car smothered my thoughts with a distant feeling of home and safety.  We were drawing ever closer to the warm flame of home.  Everything would be okay.

We were about half way home, I guessed, before I heard the warning of what the rest of my night would include.

“UUUgghhhcchh,” she swung open the door and her body lurched forward as a swirl of ice whistled through the car and a wet splat sounded on the slushy snow as Jesse pulled th car to side of the road.  Winter poured into the car and I suddenly wished I had brought a coat.  My own stomach threatened to join in with the sickly chorus, and I plugged my ears and looked away.  After a few more gags, she pulled herself into an upright position and we were headed back down the street.

The cycle repeated another two times before the car slid to a stop at the end of our block and I pushed the door open.  I needed to get as far away from this night as I could.  A moment later, she tumbled out of the door, finally gaining her balance.  I put my arm through hers and guided her down the street.  He had barely said good night before his car disappeared back around the corner.  That’s love, I thought.

The walk home was only half a block and felt like it had taken half of the night.  I was pretty sure my hands were shaking from the cold now.  We made it a few houses down before she lurched forward and her body attempted to banish the poison from her body yet again.  I knew people could die from drinking too much, but she hadn’t had that much, had she?

By the time we made it to the side door, I was barely able to keep myself standing. Let alone the both of us.  I reached out to open the side door.  The knob didn’t turn.  We had forgotten to leave it unlocked when we left, and now we were stuck.  The only other option was to try the window under my mother’s door.  It would be loud enough with the crunching of the leaves, not to mention if she had started puking again.

I told her she needed to be very, very quiet so we could make it to the window.  She gave me an exaggerated nod.  We were lucky enough the snow muffled the leaves beneath our feet, though a last stubborn cry of the brittle flesh reached into the air with each step.  I kept her in front of me, partially so I wasn’t in her line of fire if she got sick again, and partially so I could direct her appropriately. 

In front of the window, she crouched down and pushed it open with no resistance.  A hole of milky darkness opened up into the house.  Before I could stop her, she dove head first into the pool of nothing.  It was a six foot drop onto solid concrete.

She was dead.  I knew it.  She had to be dead.  No one can survive a dive into solid concrete like that.  The blood was already starting to pool, I knew it.  I would have to crawl down through the same window, turn on the lights and see what I had done.  See what I had failed to stop.  This was all my fault.  I should have stopped her from going out.  I should have stopped her from drinking.  I should have stopped the guys from doing the things they were doing.  Now I was to blame for the death of my sister.  My heart had stopped and tears welled in my eyes again.  Damn tears.  I felt my voice crack as my whispers pleaded into that dark abyss that held the body of the person I was closest to in life.

“Steph… are you okay?”

I tightened my jaw against the expectation of silence, and validation of what I already knew.

“Yeah, I’m okay.” A shaky reply came.

 White hot breath in December night rushed from my lungs as I released the breath I was holding.  She’s okay.  She’ll be okay.  

It was my turn to crawl into her room.  I turned around and crouched, using my hands to balance as I stuck a leg through the window, swinging it around slowly until it hit the bookshelf that I knew was my salvation.  I let my other leg down to find another shelf, and gravity slowly pulled me back into the room.  My feet were on the floor.  In an instant, I was across the room flipping on the light switch.  My eyes darted around and landed on my sister lying down.  She had moved to her bed and looked like she had been there all night.  There was no blood, no bruising, nothing. I sat down next to her bed and asked her if her head felt okay and if I could get her anything.  She requested bread, a bowl, and aspirin. 

All of these items were upstairs, and while upstairs was hopefully still sound asleep, if I got caught, none of the sneaking would matter.  I knew what I had to do. 

I crept upstairs, leaving only enough light through the stair way to see the edges of the kitchen.  I found the bread on the counter, and pulled a stainless steel bowl out from under a cabinet.  I knew I would have to make an extra trip for the aspirin – that was in the bathroom next to my mom’s room, past all of the squeaky floorboards.  

I delivered the first two items to the side of her bed and coaxed her to have a piece of bread to make her stomach feel better.  She finally finished half a piece of cheap white bread before I headed back upstairs.  I took a deep breath and let my eyes droop into a natural sleepy state.  My feet hit every creak in the floorboards as if I had meant to do it.  The key to sneaking things past my mother, I had learned, was only lying about some stuff.  I stepped into the bathroom and turned the lights on without closing the door.  I wasn’t trying to be sneaky.  I knew better. 

“Sarah?”

“Yeah?” I let mental exhaustion of the day weigh heavy in my tone.

“What are you doing at this time of night?”  She was awake, but only halfway.  I could play through this conversation and she’d fall asleep without a clue.

“Steph has a headache.  I’m getting her Asprin.”

“Okay.  Go to bed.”  She called from her room. 

She hadn’t had any intention of getting up to see what was going on, and I was in the clear.  I stopped on my way through the kitchen to get a large glass of water.  Sitting with just the closet light on, I watched over her until I was sure she was asleep.  Occasionally, I walked over to make sure she was still breathing.  I couldn’t lose my sister.  Nothing she did would ever be bad enough that I could lose her.  

After a couple of hours of watching over her, I went upstairs and crawled in my own bed.  I couldn’t sleep and my eyes were sore from too much crying.  I didn’t understand the night I had seen.  I couldn’t be mad at her after she could have died right before my eyes.  And I was too young and dumb to understand whatever it was that Jesse was saying about making love. 

There was too much to process.  I clenched my teeth and turned into my pillow, hoping sleep would take me before those visions popped into my head again.  

Cold Snap: Part Three

I panicked and stepped back, but she wasn’t looking at me.  She pointed to Jesse, her fingers trailing lower and pulling him in by his belt.  He bent over and sucked on her, using his tongue to follow the trail of alcohol.  She tipped the bottle back and swallowed in big gulps – the bottle drained to half empty before I turned around walked back to my place on the couch.  I felt helpless.  There was nothing that I could do.  No one was in trouble, but this felt wrong.  This felt like trouble.  I needed to do something. 

“You’re sister’s kind of a slut.  I’m sorry,” the one to the right whispered when I sat down.  He looked at me with a hint of pity on their sedated faces as I glanced back in her direction.  I wondered how long until she was blowing them, too.  She had pulled her shirt back down and was pulling Jesse to the bedroom at the end of the hall.  They were not quiet.

My discomfort grew like the lump in my throat.  Maybe I didn’t even know her anymore.  She complained that people called her slut and whore.  She always said she felt like they said it because she was raped, but then this is how she behaved.  In one night, she went back and forth between these two men for as long as they paid her attention. My sister, my best friend, my hero, and the strongest person I knew… I was losing her and myself. 

The guy on my left pulled out a small weed pipe and took his time cleaning it before taking a long pull and holding it in.  He held the pipe and the lighter in front of me to pass it on and I took them before they could offer or refuse.  I took a long pull and the thin burnt taste filled my mouth as I sucked in slow and strong until I couldn’t anymore.  I held it, and held it, and held it, like I was under water and I would never breathe again.  I finally expelled the drug and watched the smoke blow across the room and form a small cloud near the ceiling.  The guys just watched, saying what a cool 10-year old I was.  Oh, I was cool.  Look at me.  Look at this place.  Look at my sister.  This is what it means to be cool.  My racing thoughts slowed a bit and I leaned back into the couch. 

The door in front of us swung open and a tall man in his early twenties walked in.  He looked a hint of Asian with a flat face and straight black hair that fell halfway down his face.  He was about six foot, but his chubby face made him look closer to 250 lbs, and covered in soft and squish.  He looked at me sideways, gave a half wave and announced his name as Dillon.  I shrugged a hello and watched him disappear into the door directly across from the bathroom. 

The boys on each side of me sunk back, melting into their seats and started to laugh over nothing.  I got up to see if the bathroom was free and was relieved to see the door wide open with no one occupying it.  I closed the door behind me and made sure it was locked before sitting down. 

I studied the dirt that had gathered in the cracks in the tile.  Everything here felt so dirty and disgusting.  Hot tears rolled down my cheeks before I took a deep breath and wiped them away. I couldn’t be the little kid at the party crying and making a scene, but I knew I had to let some of it go.  After a minute, I stood up and faced myself in the mirror.  My eyes were a little red, but it could be from the marijuana.  My pale face still light freckles dotting across my cheeks.  My pale blue eyes were glossy and my chin and forehead wrinkled with the warning of more tears to come.  I heard her piercing laughter from just outside of the bathroom door.  I took another long deep breath, wishing the world would end right there.  A few moments, it didn’t.

I put on my best plain face and opened the door.

Cold Snap: Part Two

The car was warm enough that I could no longer see my short breaths.  I strapped the stiff seatbelt across my chest and looked back at my sister with half a smile.  We were finally having another adventure together.

 “This is my sister, Sarah, and that is Jesse, and this is Chadwick.”

 I heard ‘nice to meet you’ from each of them before my sister snagged the attention of Chadwick with a wet sounding kiss.  Jesse tried to distract me with questions of age and school and the stuff adults usually ask children they don’t know.  I stared forward, feeling the car slide on the snow slick road as we made our way down the street.  After a few minutes, I looked back and saw my sister fussing with Chadwick’s pants.  I turned to look back at Jesse, but his focus was unwavering in his effort to keeping the car on the road.  In the corner of my eye, I saw her head bobbing in Chadwick’s lap and he started to moan his appreciation.  My face grew hot and at that moment I was appreciative of the dark car hiding my red face. I immediately turned to stare out of my window, begging to get sucked into the black and white background rushing by.

 I felt a twinge of icky at her inability to keep her sexual escapades remotely private or controlled.  You see, she was a victim.  I knew this because she told me she was over and over.  She told me I had to protect her from being a victim.  She never wanted to do anything in regards to sex ever.  But so far, all I had seen was her enthusiastic instigation of sexual acts. 

 It wasn’t long before the sounds of delight from him were drowned out by her gagging and disgust.   The window behind me rolled down and the chill air whipped through the car and stole what little heat was built up.  She spit out the window a couple times and told him it tasted nasty. I wondered if different penises tasted like different things.  I thought maybe it took awhile before it was too much bad taste, or he peed a little.  Gross.  You’d never catch me putting my mouth down there.  Nuh-uh.

 It wasn’t long before the car whined onto a dark side road with a row of small, dilapidated houses accented with overgrown bushes and old trees slumped over with the weight of winter.  I couldn’t have said where we were, or how to get home.  It felt worlds away from anything I knew.  When we finally pulled into a driveway, we could see the snow drifts were closer to a foot and a half around the house, and the driveway was just wide enough for this car to fit on it.  The door to the inside of the house was ten feet from my car door.

He turned the car off and opened the door.  I removed my seatbelt and stepped out, waiting to follow everyone else inside.

If I had to describe a bachelor pad, this is what I would call it.  The thin door creaked open and a few feet in front of us sat a long tall couch with two giant empty cable spools doubling as coffee tables.  Both of them were filled with beer and soda cans and bottles with a few ashtrays brimming with spent butts. 

There were two guys who looked to be Chadwick’s age sitting on a yellow couch that must have been older than my grandparents.  They were staring at a tiny screen across the room.  I was introduced, though I don’t remember their names.  They both scooted over and offered me an empty seat in between them.  Jesse, who had been the last to come into the house, closed the door behind him, walked off toward the hallway, and turned right, disappearing from view.  She and Chadwick both disappeared in the same direction.

I went through more of the same questions that Jesse had asked and I remember cracking jokes and making playful, insulting comments to the guys next to me.  They laughed at dry humor and told me I was a smart kid before they offered me a beer.  I told them thanks but no thanks, because beer was gross.  They offered me a soda instead and I took it without hesitation.  We spent the evening talking and watching TV and before long, I excused myself to the little girl’s room.  They gave me directions, which I followed.  The door was cracked open enough that I could see mint green tile and a pale sink coming from the dimly lit room.  I pushed the open the rest of the way and saw my sister.

She was on her knees facing the toilet.  Only Chadwick was sitting on the toilet and his pants were around his ankles.  She was blowing him.  Again.  I shook my head and closed the door, feeling disgusted and embarrassed.  I came back and sat down with the awkwardness plainly on my face. 

“Did you find it?” Guy one asked, seeing how quickly I had returned.

 “Yeah.  They’re busy.” I kept my face blank.  I didn’t know these guys and I didn’t want to seem upset.  I wasn’t sure if what I had seen was normal, and I didn’t want to give away my age by reacting.

“Ohhhhh…” they laughed and looked at each other and then looked down at me.  I pretended to be deeply engaged in the late show playing on the tiny, poorly contrasted screen. 

By the end of the show, I heard her open the door and Chadwick disappeared around the corner again.  She followed, but returned a minute later with Jesse.  Before she could put anything else in her mouth, I approached her and asked her how she was doing.  She said she was fine, but something had caught her eye.  It was a large bottle of tequila and she looked like she had been thirsty all of her life.  Jesse opened it and handed it to her.  She took a few chugs before pulling off her shirt and pouring a splash of it it on her chest.  The liquid dribbled over her nipples, down the center of her breasts and passed her stomach.

 “Your turn,” she said.

Cold Snap: Part One

Cold Snap

Darkness crept into the house as freezing air drove life into it’s warm hole for the evening.  My mother was curled up under her blankets with my brother nestled beside her as they shared the warmest and most comfortable bed in the house.  I was downstairs in my sister’s bedroom listening to her stories of men and her many adventures without me. 

The walls of her room where covered in names of boys and lovers, phone numbers, and declarations of love. Some were sliced with a single strike through, while others were decimated beneath swirls and scribbles, as if the ink could destroy the memory of the men.  Beneath the sharpie and marker was off-white paint suffocating under the lines of black, blue, and red.  These four walls sat directly beneath my mother’s bed.  We kept our voices down, as we had pretended we were going to sleep early ourselves.  But we were both wide awake.

A soft unnatural rattling of the glass came from the window above.  Tap.Tap.Tap. It was the sound of knuckles on glass.  She got up and climbed the empty bookcase beneath the window, cracking it open.  The crinkle of frozen fall leaves rustled as she pulled the glass forward revealing a face peering down at her.

“You want to come out tonight?”

Her smile grew, “Yeah, we’re coming.  Be quiet.” 

She pushed the window back in place and jumped own from the bookcase.

“Who’s that?”  I whispered.

“That’s Chadwick,” she said.

Usually when we met people after sneaking out, it was a couple of blocks away at the water park.  Sometimes we were lucky and we only had to walk a few houses down.  I looked down at my t-shirt and hoped this was a lucky night.  We turned off the lights and closed the bedroom door, making our way to the side exit without a word.  My mom was a deep sleeper, but we didn’t want to chance that she might still be awake and notice noise coming from below her window. 

Fresh snow lay several inches thick and squeaked below my feet.  We made our way out to the road as silently as we could, not wanting to raise the attention of anyone who might be awake.  As if on cue, our magic carpet ride in the style of a dark blue 80s Toyota with a bad paint job and accents of rust on the bumper pulled over four houses down the street.  The tail pipe threw gusts of warm carbon dioxide and a low rumble into the icy air.  I praised and cursed the smell of the polluted warmth. 

She reached the car first, the back passenger door popping open as if it was automatic.  I could see the disembodied voice from the window belonged to a young face with a trying mustache and long light colored hair in the back.  And yes, he had the business hair in the front.  She sidled into the seat next to him and I jumped into the empty front seat.  The man driving looked late twenties with a plain white t-shirt and a flannel jacket buttoned over the top.  His face was a little chubbier and the underside of average.  He smiled at me and checked his mirror and gave my sister the full smile and off we went into the night. 

Life Goes On…

The rest of the summer came and went, I started 5th grade, continued to smoke weed regularly when my sister was around, and occasionally snuck out with her when I was invited.  She left a lot, and she usually came back after a few days.  My mother enrolled her into Youth At Risk, a program that allows the state to jump in and put a kid in juvenile hall for running away and hanging with the wrong crowd.  Beyond that, they didn’t blame my mother, and my sister was afraid enough to enroll in her next year of school.  Lupe had disappeared from the picture. 

She started to stay home at nights and attended classes for most of the fall.  Her romantic life was no longer a risk to me.  She accompanied my brother and I to swimming lessons at the gym and landed herself a lifeguard boyfriend.  He was an attractive boy next door type with blonde hair, blue eyes and an innocent smile.  When he stopped by, it was always when my mother was home and he would also play a few tunes on the piano before dinner or taking my sister out or what-have you.  My mother loved him.  My father on the other hand, had nothing to say to him.  He was a piece of shit 24 year old trying to corrupt his 15 year old daughter and there was no place for that relationship.  That was the last time he tried to meet my dad.  I didn’t understand why there was such a problem with the age difference, especially since he was so nice.  Though, except for the times that they were at the house together and pretending to be a perfect teenage couple, I didn’t see much of their relationship.  It seemed happy and healthy, even if he was almost eight years older than her. 

One of my cousins used to hang out with both of them, and that was all of the supervision my mother required to ensure they were not having sex.  Apparently, my cousin would hang out in his living room and watch porn while my sister and her boyfriend would go back to the bedroom and have sex.  My mother’s family later decided my sister was a bad influence, and my cousin was barred from hanging out with her.  My mother, of course, took this to be a grave insult and it mostly destroyed the close-knit family feeling we had with our aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Eventually, the old boyfriend decided my sister was not the right teenager for him, so he moved on to one of her friends.  They ended up getting married and living happily ever after.  My sister ended up rifling through my mom’s nightstand and finding a picture of him next to her vibrator.  I’m sure it was a coincidence.  About a month after the breakup, my sister decided she couldn’t handle high school and started going to Tri-Tech, which seemed to work out better for her.

I had continued to have chronic bronchitis and ear aches and eventually they put tubes in my ears.  Mentally, I struggled with anxiety, though then I thought I was just sick to my stomach.  On a few occasions I had gotten sick and gone home just before my sister had run-in with one of her mortal enemies from high school and gotten in a fight.  It was the first I had heard of someone arrested for provoking an assault on themselves.  My sister reiterated that it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t have gone home early.  The bad things in her life continued to be my fault. 

In spite of the small dramas, life felt normal. Normal meant my sister had made friends from her school and had started ditching occasionally.  I couldn’t tell what drugs she was on, but she often spoke of a man named Jesse and his wife Amy.  She said Amy took good care of her, and she had sex with Jesse and sometimes Amy too, but liked them both.  I realized this was what it meant to be bisexual, and while I thought I would feel bothered by it, I wasn’t.  I was happy my sister was happy.  I didn’t feel like I would need to protect her from them. 

As the days cooled and time passed, we came to the second best part of the school year: Winter Break.   School was out for two weeks, no homework; Christmas was coming and shortly after was my birthday.  There was snow on the ground, and reruns on TV, and life was feeling pretty good.

It was time for another lesson in life.

Shadow of a Man: Lupe Part 5

“You wanna try it?”

My eyes darted back and forth between the tube and his face.  I could just say yes and try whatever it was that he was offering me.  But if I did, would I have to have sex with him, too?  There was no risk as great as letting him touch me.  This was bad, I knew.  This had to be bad.  It was barely a thought in my mind before I was shaking my head no and hearing my sister speak my answer out loud as she stepped up, as if to intercept her well paid for drugs.

“No, she doesn’t want to try it.”

He shrugged and took another pull off the pipe.  A wave of relief washed over me.  I knew if she had told me to do it, I wouldn’t be able to hold out.  I never could say no to her, no matter how hard I tried. 

He peered down the tube and shoved it back into his pocket where the baggie of white powder had been hidden.  We sat there for a moment silently.  I was trying to decide whether my sister was protecting me or being greedy.  She gave me a look that could have passed for either one.  At that time, I would have said she was protecting me.  Now, I’m not so sure.

We left the room without any consequence and most of the following encounters with Lupe were inconsequential.  But then, the first time I turned down crack became a memory fixed in my mind, as his kiss.

Over the remaining summer, my sister ran away again.  She would come back and tell me about how she had sex for seven hours with Lupe, and that was supposed to be a good thing.  A few occasions, she snuck out of the house, and she taught me how she got away with it all the time.  One time, we went to this party over by the middle school I would later attend.  I don’t remember much of the house, other than it was two stories with seventies more yellow than brown carpet, and the more brown than yellow privacy windows to match.  There weren’t a lot of people there, but there were a few.  Most of them seemed friendly to me, but I didn’t want to be left alone with any of them.

Lupe led my sister to a dark bedroom in the back, I followed.  From the bedroom he led us to a small, glowing white bathroom with a stand up shower, a toilet, and a sink.  The three of us crammed inside.  I had my back to the door as usual.  He took a seat on the toilet and pulled out the metal tube again.  After they passed it back and forth, each taking turns blowing their smoke into the overhead vent, he held the tube out to me.  I just shook my head and looked away. 

He didn’t push and simply slid the tube back into his pocket and reached for my sister.  Before I knew it, his pants were down and I had pushed myself outside of the bathroom before I could witness anything else.  I gazed around at the dark bedroom, my night vision adjusting from the brightness of the bathroom and taking in the details for the first time.  There was the ample space for the king sized bed.  The comforter was old and had the tacky pattern I’d expect of someone my grandparent’s age, and I could hear music drifting in from the crack in door.  I sat in the dark feeling awkward and unsure, staring in the direction of the music and wondering what would happen if the police showed up.  I’d have to hide under the bed, of course.  Or I might go to jail.

The moans from the bathroom started to drown out the music so I moved closer to the door and looked into the light glowing from beyond.  I could see a group of men and women passing around a cigar and the air hung heavy with the sent of weed I had smoked with my sister.  I grew bored of watching and turned around to sit on the corner of the bed.  Glowing red numbers pierced the darkness.  I was nearly midnight, which still felt early compared to some of the other nights we had had out.  I closed my eyes and listened for movement at either door.  A man stormed in and yelled for Lupe in Spanish and I jumped off of the bed, suddenly feeling like it was more of an offering table.  A moment later, Lupe came out of the door and walked up to the man.  The man looked at him and turned and walked out of the room.  He followed him through the door and closed it part way as he left.  My sister stepped out of the bathroom a moment later. 

“Who was that?” She asked.

“I dunno, some dude,” I shrugged the obvious answer.

A minute later, Lupe flung the door all the way open.

“Time to go.”

There was no room for disagreement in his voice.  He strode out to his car like he was late for something and we followed behind like good like girls.

For the longest time I thought of my sister as a victim only.  I thought she was simply being controlled by other people, and that she wasn’t making decisions for herself.  After the time of Lupe, I realized she was becoming the person she wanted to be, and no one and nothing would stop her.