Especially him. But he was at work over 30 minutes away, and I kept reminding myself of that hopeful fact while Mom cleared the jagged glass away from the window frame. It was early afternoon and not too hot yet, especially since we were on the shaded side of the house. I wondered if the older neighbors next to us were home, and if we ran into trouble, would they call for help.
"Okay, honey," Mom whispered to my sister. "You're the only one who can fit through the window. Once you get inside, go open up the front door for us. Be quick about it, too."
He had already changed the door locks, which wasn't a big surprise to us, and Mom had anticipated that we'd have to break in. I couldn't even begin to fathom how much fear coursed through my sister at that very moment. But even if it pulsed through her little heart as it did mine, she didn't show it. Mom laid an old towel over the bottom of the window frame and then hiked my sister up through the window.
"I love you, honey. Just go straight to the door and open it."
And that's exactly what she did. Before going inside, I turned quickly to see if anyone on our street was watching, but all was quiet. Once inside it felt darker than I remembered just a few days prior, the air heavy and stale. It pressed in on us from every direction, changing atmospheres with every step.
Mom handed us each a trash bag. "We have to be quick about this, so look for anything we missed and put it in your bag. Take only what you can carry and then we're leaving."
The house was immaculately clean, which was unsettling considering how much of a mess it was only a few days earlier as we moved our stuff out with five officers in the driveway ensuring our safety. One of those officers was the man I'd eventually call Dad, and it took every single ounce of his police professionalism to remain calm while the crazy one shouted horrible obscenities at Mom. My "almost dad" knew just as his fellow officers knew there was nothing they could do, except keep us safe.
I opened the refrigerator and gazed inside. There was really nothing I wanted, considering we were never allowed anything more than bologna for sandwiches, mustard and Miracle Whip. We hadn't starved living with him, but we weren't allowed anything more than a few staples most of the time. Bologna has very few creative variations and I had experimented with all of them. I actually smiled for a minute.
But then a car drove by and again the wildfires of constant fear returned. I imagined that, as soon as I closed the refrigerator and turned around, he'd be standing there holding a gun and smiling his crazy smile, the same gun he'd pointed at Mom many times before. He'd already tried to kill her, more than once, including poisoning her, and he'd already abused me more than once, my sister absorbing it all like furniture nailed to the floor in a perpetually flooded room.
He wasn't there, though. Only Mom and my sister, full trash bags in hand.
"I love you," Mom said. "Time to go. We're going to be okay now."
And for the most part, we were. Bryce is right, although the washing can take decades, which is why the Mama and I thankfully have some control over the "heartbreaking," at least until both girls are on their own as young adults.
This day after Christmas I again remember and renew my vow to help educate and end domestic violence and sexual abuse. A nice thought if we could ever get there, but at least we can try. This holiday season, the next time you’re in a room with 6 people, think about the following (according to statistics compiled by NOMORE.org):
- 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience violence from their partners in their lifetimes.
- 1 in 3 teens experience sexual or physical abuse or threats from a boyfriend or girlfriend in one year.
- 1 in 5 women are survivors of rape.
- 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives.
- 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18.
Help give a voice to those who can't find their own, so that maybe someday the most wonderful time of the year will be everyday.