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.