Brooke's Escape

June 5, 2008
By Dawn Ely, Pelham, NH

I lean up against the hard wall, my back resting on its brick surface. A lone tear runs down my cheek, and I watch as it lands on my torn blue jeans. Another one comes, and I wipe it away with my hand. As I sit there on the ground, the light slowly dimming as the sun drops lower in the sky, I survey the damage of my beaten body. A large bruise on my left arm, a small bleeding cut above my eyebrow, a rip on my t-shirt sleeve, and an aching head are all that I suffered tonight. Thankful that it isn’t any worse, I lean my sore head gently against the wall, feeling my long brown hair brush against my cheek. At least for now I will be safe resting here in the alley, hidden from my uncle in case he wakes up and is still drunk. I sit there in the quiet of the evening and close my eyes, lost in my thoughts.

In order for me to describe how I got all bruised and cut, I should explain who I am. My name is Brooke Stanford, and I am sixteen years old. I live in the Bronx section of New York City with my uncle Shane in a hole-in-the-wall apartment building. It is just one of the things we can barely afford to have these days. Since my parents died in a tragic car crash on the way home from a dinner party a few years ago, I’ve had to live in this awful city with Uncle Shane. He is the worst relative anyone could ever want, and unfortunately, he’s my only relative still living. Even though Uncle Shane works at an auto repair shop and gets money from the state to help pay for my care, he has a bit of a drinking problem and spends most of his time and money on the alcohol he consumes. I try to make ends meet with my part-time job at the pizza shop down the street, but even that doesn’t allow me to have the nice clothes, hot showers, or even the good meals that I would like to have. Instead, I live with Salvation Army clothes, the occasional shower in the girls’ locker room at school, and whatever spare food I can manage to get from the pizza shop. I wish I could go back to the time when my parents were still alive and when I could actually live a decent life. But until time machines are invented, I’m stuck here with Uncle Shane, living a life that I wish wasn’t my own.

Before my parents died, Uncle Shane was so nice, and he and his older brother, my dad, were like best buddies. But since the accident, the Uncle Shane I once knew has disappeared. Instead joking around and smiling like he used to, he is now a moody and cross man. The fact that his only brother and friend is gone and that he is forced to take care of his brother’s child (me) has hit him hard. When I first arrived at his apartment a week or so after the accident, he barely talked to anyone, especially me, and he yelled and threw things whenever any problem, no matter how minor it was, came his way. I assumed that it was just Uncle Shane’s way of grieving and that he would be back to his old self in no time. I didn’t think that it would turn into something worse.
About a month after I came, he started drinking all the time, I think to try to escape his troubles. Instead of helping him, drinking only caused his emotions to be magnified times ten. Most nights (tonight included) he comes home from the bar in a rage after being kicked out for trying to start fights. He brings this anger home with him and yells at me for ruining his life and causing all of his problems. Then he hits me, yanks on my hair, and knocks me into things around the house in a fit of fury. I scream at him to stop, but he doesn’t seem to hear me. After letting all of his anger out on me, he passes out on the apartment floor. I take this opportunity to escape from him and sit in the alleyway next to my apartment like I’m doing now. I keep telling myself that he is just going through a rough spot in his life, and that one day he’ll realize what he’s doing to hurt both of us and stop. I just hope that day comes soon before something really bad happens.
Every day, I do my best to make sure that no one else knows about my difficult home life with Uncle Shane. At school and work, I try to hide the cuts and bruises I get under lots of clothes and makeup so that no one knows about the beatings caused by his wrath. I don’t get too friendly with anyone, either, so that they will never figure out my secret. It gets really lonely sometimes, but I keep reminding myself of what would happen if I told someone. If anyone did find out about Uncle Shane beating on me, I don’t know what he would do to me as a punishment for telling. Plus, I don’t want the government to take Uncle Shane away and destroy the last connection I have with my family. It scares me to think about these things, but I don’t know where I’d go or what I’d do if I tried to leave or get help. I feel so worthless, helpless, and depressed all at the same time, and sometimes I wish I could just escape all these feelings that overwhelm me.
As I sit here in the dark, dirty, and trash-smelling alley, I take a crumpled photo out of my pocket. It is the only picture I have left of my parents, the one of them at the dinner that I cut out of the newspaper the day after they died. I smooth it out in my hands, trying to get rid of the wrinkles. Seeing it brings back so many good memories of the life I had before this place, when I was truly happy. The sadness hits me suddenly like a wave, its impact hard on my heart. Just looking at the picture makes me cry, and I put it quickly back in my pocket. I feel so alone both in my heart and here in the alley. I pull my legs close to my chest and sit on the filthy ground curled up in a ball, quietly sobbing my eyes out and trying to forget about my terrible life.
Suddenly, I hear a noise coming from somewhere on the sidewalk near my house. I stand up and walk slowly toward it, not sure if I should run or try to hide behind one of the nearby trashcans. As I get closer, a woman’s face appears from around the corner. It is Miss Henry, one of my teachers from school, coming home from the grocery store. Shocked, I accidentally back up into a metal trash can, and the loud noise startles both me and Miss Henry. She looks into the alley and gasps when she sees me all bruised and bleeding. Realizing who I am, she puts her grocery bag on the ground, runs up to me, and gives me a huge hug. I am surprised by her kind gesture, but then I realize that maybe this is my chance to finally get some help. I have kept my problems a secret for too long, and they just seem to be getting worse as time goes on. I am reluctant to reveal my secret, but if I don’t do it now, I might never get another chance. Tired of hiding from her and the world, I start crying in her arms. She asks me what’s wrong, and I slowly break down and confess to her all the pain and hurt I’ve been feeling as a result of my uncle’s cruelty and my parents’ death. She stands there and holds me as I tell my story and cry, and from the tear drops on my shoulder I know that she is crying too.
When I finish my story, Miss Henry and I stand there quietly looking at each other, neither one of us wanting to break the moment. Then in a calming and gentle voice, Miss Henry tells me that together we can get some help for me so that I don’t have to live like this anymore. She also tells me that I never have to feel alone and that she is, and will always be, there for me. I stand there and nod, taking in Miss Henry’s words. She seems so hopeful, and I know by her words that I can be hopeful, too.
After a few minutes of standing in the alley talking, she leads me back to her grocery bag that is still sitting on the sidewalk. She picks it up carefully, and together we walk to the police station a few blocks away. Somehow, I know in my heart that everything is going to be alright. Maybe Uncle Shane can get some help for his drinking and anger so that he can change his life, too. Maybe he’ll even go back to being the nice person that he used to be. For now, I know that I need to get away from him and find someone else that will take care of me and treat me right. The thought of a new and better life makes me hopeful for the first time since my parents’ death. I walk away from the alley, the apartment, and my old life, never to return again.

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