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"Did You Finish All of Your Homework?"
“Did you finish all of your homework?” my sister, Hailey, asked me. We had just sat down to our usual dinner of Lean Pockets and French fries. I took one of my fries and popped it into my mouth.
“Yes,” I replied with a roll of my eyes. It was my signature annoyance move, as Hailey liked to call it.
“Don’t you roll your eyes at me,” she replied, flicking my elbow off the table. “You finished it all? Including the essay you had to write?”
“The essay isn’t due tomorrow,” I replied, taking a sip of my water, “but, yes, I did it anyway.”
Hailey smirked in that self-satisfied way she always did. I rolled my eyes again and took a bite of my pepperoni and cheese Lean Pocket. It didn’t taste particularly good tonight, but it was all we had, so I ate it anyway. Hailey didn’t have a great job and she was attending night school to get her GED, so we had to get by on what we could afford. During the bad spells all we’d have enough for was usually one box of cereal, which had to last us at least two weeks. It was tough sometimes, but I never complained.
“So, how do you think your grades are going to be this quarter?” Hailey asked. I was really getting sick of all this grades talk. Why couldn’t she just leave me alone?
“Same as they always are. Now can we please just drop it?” I snapped at Hailey, taking a big bite of my Lean Pocket in an effort not to look at her.
“I’m just looking out for you, Delia,” Hailey said, resting her hand on my forearm. I shook it away and crossed my arms over my chest.
“I never asked you to look out for me,” I yelled at Hailey. “You’re not my mother.”
I looked Hailey square in the eye, and I knew I’d hit a soft spot with her. That’s the problem when you’re so close to your siblings, you know exactly what hurts them the most. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t purposely try and go for the heart when I attack my sister, but sometimes I just can’t help it. It’s like when you want to say something that you know will get you in trouble, but you end up saying it anyway.
“You’re right,” Hailey practically whispered. She pushed her chair back and gathered her dishes, depositing the un-eaten food in the garbage and the plate in the sink. She headed to her room and shut the door behind her. I could tell this time I’d really hit deep, and I felt bad.
I got up and out of my seat, threw the rest of my food away and went to work on the dishes. We didn’t have a dishwasher, so I had wash them by hand. As I stood at my sink, scrubbing various dishes that had been left in it, I looked out the window in front of me. From the window I had a clear view of our street, Willow Place. As I watched all the cars zoom past my window, some with their horns blaring, I wondered where everyone else in the borough of Brooklyn was off to. Wherever it was it was better than where I was, I could guarantee it.
I finished the dishes and put them in the strainer to dry. I headed to my room, which was really just an alcove off our “living room”. It didn’t have a door so I set up this red polka-dot curtain to take its place. It worked well enough. I headed over to my bed and sat down, pulling out my Spanish book in the process. I didn’t have a test or anything, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to review the past tense of verbs.
I guess I must have drifted off to sleep, because I was awoken by the front door slamming shut. I looked over at my clock and it told me it was eleven thirty. I heard my sister walk into the kitchen and throw her keys on the table. I heard a clunk on linoleum which I assumed were her school bags hitting the floor. I could hear my sister dragging her feet as she moved around our kitchen. I heard what sounded like dishes banging together; I knew she was getting a mug out. I heard the water running and then her placing what I assumed was the tea kettle on our stove. I heard that clicking sound it always makes when it’s letting out the gas before it actually lights. I didn’t hear anything for a while, but then the kettle started to whistle. It stopped when she picked it up off the stove and poured the water into her glass. I heard her feet shuffle again and then I heard a drawer slam. There was scratching on the floor and then she must have sat down in her seat.
I heard the spoon clinking against the sides of the mug, and I debated whether or not I should I get up and go sit with her. Then I heard her sniffle, and soon I could hear her full-out crying. I knew tonight had been a bad fight, and I knew I shouldn’t go see her. I knew Hailey would stop crying the second she saw me, denying that anything was wrong. She never could show any sign of weakness in front of me, even before everything happened with our mom.
I listened to her cry for a long time, and then I tried to shut it out. I wanted to keep the image of my sister that I had: strong, always there for me and someone who doesn’t easily give up. I knew then what I had to do the next day. I just hoped I wouldn’t get there and then not be able to go through with it, like all the other times. I knew it needed to be done.
The next day I could barely sit still through AP Physics, which I had last period. The rest of the day seemed to go by pretty fast, but when fifth period showed up things seemed to slow down significantly. Part of me knew I needed the sense of extra time to gather myself for what I was going to do, but the other part of me just wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.
I had already decided earlier in the day that I wasn’t going to tell Hailey what I was planning on doing after school when I got home. I didn’t want to get into another fight with her, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand listening to her crying another night. Most of all though, I knew that if I told Hailey where I went, that she’d feel the need to go too. I knew she wasn’t ready, that she’d need a lot more time than I did, and I respected that. For some people it was just harder than others.
After physics ended, my best friend, Emile, cornered me at my locker. I was trying frantically to stuff my books in my bag and I dropped one. I bent to pick it up, but she already had it in her hand.
“Delia, are you okay?” she asked. It still scared me how well Emile knew me, it almost felt like she was this second part of me.
“Yeah, I’m fine, why?” I quickly lied. I guess I replied too quickly, because Emile gave me this questioning look. A look that felt like it burned right through me.
“Because your hand was shaking throughout the entire class,” Emile replied, motioning to the hand I had on my locker door. I looked down at it, and it was still shaking a little.
“Really? I hadn’t’ noticed,” I said, zipping up my backpack and slamming my locker shut. I slammed it a little too hard and it made Emile cringe. “Listen, I have to go. I’ll call you.”
“Okay,” Emile replied. I don’t’ know if it was something I said or if she could just tell from the look in my eyes, but she wrapped her arms around me and pulled me into a tight hug. It made me a little better, and it made my hand stop shaking for the moment. We pulled apart and I quickly made my way through the crowded halls and outside the school.
As I stepped outside and into the brisk November air, the wind bit at my cheeks, turning them pink. I turned left outside the school, instead of the right I normally take. I hurried to the 45th street subway stop and hopped on the green line. I had a forty-five minute ride to my stop and I had panned on doing some homework, but I was just too nervous to focus. I sat the entire ride fiddling with my hands and turning the ring on the middle finger on my right hand around over and over.
When I stepped above ground at the Park Place stop I looked around to take in the scenery. It was definitely different from Manhattan, where I’d gotten on the subway. This part was much more rough and tough looking, with groups of kids congregating on street corners, greeting each other with a hug or a high-five. I pulled my coat tighter around me as the wind started to pick up. I made my way up the five blocks I needed to go. I knew my way around this place that I visited so little but knew so well like I knew the back of my hand.
When I got to the street I needed to be at, I found the little non-descript building I was looking for. It was right smack in the middle of the street, with no buildings attached to either side of it. It stood alone, much like I was at that moment. I didn’t go in right away, but instead I just stood there and stared at it for a minute. I took a deep breath and headed up the stairs and into the building.
There was a sign-in desk for visitors to my right when I got inside. The desk wasn’t even really a desk. It was a counter surrounded by plexiglass and bars. There was a women sitting behind the counter, with a plaque in front of her that read: Hello! I’m Dolores!
“Hi sweetie, how can I help you today?” Dolores asked in a sweet tone of voice. I could tell she was surprised to see a girl like me in a place like this. She must have met some characters while working at the desk; I must have seemed like a nice change. Oh, how mistaken she was.
“Yes, hi, I’m here for Jeanine Carmichael,” I said, nervously drumming my fingers against the metal overhang.
“Sure, I’ll need you to sign the visitors’ log, though,” she said, passing me a clip-board with a sign-in sheet on it from the opening in the bars. I signed my name and handed her back the clipboard and pen with a withering smile. She beamed back at me and motioned for me to head through the double doors straight ahead. I went and a guard asked me who I was here to see. I told him and he said something into his radio. He led me to a booth and pulled the chair out politely for me. There was a thick layering of plexiglass in front of me and I could see a chair on the other side. Beyond that was a guard standing at a set of bars that looked like they opened. I got even more nervous by the second.
When the guard finally slid the door open, my throat caught. The women walking towards me looked older than I remembered. Her face had gotten wrinklier and her hair had gotten whiter. Her face looked tired, and there was no flicker of emotion cross it when she saw it was me waiting for her. She looked very bland in her navy blue uniform, which was a contrast to what I remembered her dressing like. She used to wear these beautiful dresses, with so much color and liveliness to them. They seemed to reflect her attitude on life. Now, as she approached the chair cautiously and sat down gracefully, I could tell her outlook on life had changed. The look on her face said it all. She picked up the phone on her side of the plexiglass, and I took a breath and did the same. Neither of us spoke for a minute, and I thought I saw a tear form in the corner of her eye.
“My Delia,” she whispered, pushing her hand up against the plexiglass, sort of like she was surrendering to me. I waited and then put my hand up to where hers was. I wanted so badly to be able to touch her then, to be able to hug her, to take in that familiar smell I had grown to love when I was younger. I definitely saw a tear in her eye now, they were filled with them. I could feel my throat close up, but I forced the lump back down. I was not going to cry.
“Hi mom,” I replied, in the same whispered tone of voice. I couldn’t stop them now; the tears just started rolling down my cheeks. I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed for crying, I felt free, like I had been holding them in for a while.