Look Closer

April 4, 2013
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“What the..?” I moan as I sit up, looking around. My room slowly comes into focus through the blinding light searing my soul from the window. It is trashed. Clothes everywhere, books swept out of place, posters losing their grip on the wall. I slip out of bed, quickly throw on a sweater I saved from drowning in this mess, as I had slept in a cami, and run out of my room in a manic state.
“Damen! Why did you trash my room?!” I yell.

“It was too clean! I had to fix it for you!” He giggles as he runs past me with snot slowly making its long journey from that little nose of his. The only thing he is wearing are his too-small superman toddler shorts.
“It was fine the way it was! Clean! The way it should be!” I run towards him, he’s pretty slow, still. I snatch him up from his epic slow jog, and toss him on to the fluffy couch.

I nearly give him a whole lecture. I know I have to be kind to him, though, so I don’t. “You can’t do stuff like that. It’s not nice to disrespect other peoples’ stuff. Now I have to spend my Sunday cleaning my room.” Damen looks away shyly.
“Sorry, I was just bored.”
“It’s fine. Just don’t do it again.” I turn around to see my mother behind us. What is she doing up before noon?

“Pft, like you were doing anything, anyway. We all know you’re antisocial.” My mom says slyly as she slithers past. Wow. Okay, thanks, mom. The flesh around my eyes heating up, turning dark pink, then red. I don’t have to look in a mirror, I can feel it.

I don’t say a word as I dismally return to my room. I know better, I can smell the whiskey on her breath. If I say anything more, I’ll regret it.
Sitting down on my bed, I sulk as I take it all in. Everything, which isn’t very much, but still, it all somehow manages to cover my floor completely. My prized collection of Beatles music is strewn about on my ancient desk. At least that wasn’t thrown on the ground. Every piece of thrift-shop clothing and hand-me downs from my nearly nonexistent cousins, my Queen poster, WoodKid CDs, everything that is mine. United at once on the floor. I start with the Beatles. Stack, place. I continue on like this until all of my things are picked up. Clothes on the hanger, music tucked safely in its home, books on the proper shelves. Cleaning everything only takes me about 20 minutes. I grab a book, throw in my earphones and lay down on my matress. One of the (only) things I like about my parents is that I could stay in my room, or go out, for hours, and they wouldn’t care. Maybe it’s because they don’t miss me. Maybe they're just too drunk or high to notice. Probably the latter.
As the sound of The Goo Goo Dolls fills my ears, I delve into the wonderful world of Tolkien. My sweet little hobbit paradise doesn’t last long, though. About an hour later, Damen comes sprinting in on his stumpy legs.

“Your room looks weird clean.” He chuckles and flops his fat butt on the ground. I often wonder why some people like Damen have absolutely no preference for clean things or areas. Whatever, his loss. He doesn’t realize yet that you have to respect the things you have.
“Momma says you have to watch me. She’s going to party.”

“Fine. Come tell me when she leaves. Now get out. I just got this place clean.” I say. Damen jumps up and runs out as fast as his legs can carry him. For the first time, I notice an unnatural bruise on the back of his shoulder. I recognize that kind of bruise. He started hitting him now, too? The only things I can concentrate on for the rest of the afternoon are my book and my music.

My homework goes undone until after my mom leaves. I get Damen hooked on watching Diego while I work. After I finish, I start making dinner. It’s late, and I don’t think Damen has eaten anything since noon. As I search the pantries, the only thing I can find are old cans of beans, whiskey, more alcohol, and a bag of something that looks suspiciously like weed. It doesn’t surprise me. I move all of the alcohol up to a higher shelf, so Damen won’t see it. I’m sure he already has, though. He may only be five, but he knows what those things are, and what they do to to our parents. I give up in the pantry and move to the fridge. I find enough meat to make two decent sandwiches. Going through the cabinets, I triumphantly steal away a bag of unopened chips. Perfect. We’ll be eating decently tonight.

I bring Damen his bologna sandwich, which I put extra meat on, and he scarfs it down within what seems like seconds. He takes his time on the chips, slowly munching as Diego finds the baby animal and rescues it from a treacherous lake. We have both seen this one fifty times, but somehow, it still entertains him. I stand at the counter and savor every bite. Hopefully dad will come home with something to eat for tomorrow.
After Damen has finished his sandwich, he throws his plate in the rusted sink and runs towards the closet. He comes back with a blanket. He looks like he is drowning in the quilt, heaving it over his head, meaning to throw it onto the couch, but his little arms aren’t strong enough yet. He ends up with the blanket hanging over his head like a little ghost-kid in sheets on Halloween. He tries to walk forward, but since he can’t see, he doesn’t make it far. He trips over the end of the blanket and lands face-first on the floor. Damen hits his elbow hard on the edge of the T.V. stand. He gets right up and jumps onto the couch with might only a child could have.

It’s amazing how he never complains about things like that; getting hurt, being hungry, or even feeling sick. As annoying and obnoxious as he is, I have hope for him. He’s a fighter, I can tell. Maybe he will grow up to have the courage to stand up to my parents like I never had. I’ve let it get too far. As for now, It’s my job to avert the blows from my little brother. If that means taking them, fine. But I want him to have a chance.

He deserves at least that.
When it becomes late enough, and we’ve had all we can take of Diego for today, I tuck my little brother into his mattress. I make sure his window is locked, and his blanket covers his feet. He hates it when the blanket isn’t long enough to cover him. He grew out of his baby blanket, so I took my baby blanket and hand sewed it onto his. Now it’s big enough. I make sure he is okay, one last time, and head to bed. Just because our parents have never said, “Goodnight, I love you. Sweet dreams.” doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to hear it. I tell him that. Damen smiles and closes his eyes.

That night, when I hear my father coming in past 1, I slip into Damens tiny room and roll up on the hard mattress with him. My father coming in woke him up, too. He looks up at me.

"Is daddy going to hit you again?" He has a truly concerned look on his face.
"Not tonight, Damen. Now go to sleep."

“Okay.” He whispers. We both hear the footsteps. We both know I lied. We can hear the stumble of my drunk father at the top of the stairs. He’s been gone for 3 days and now he decides to come back, drunk. He starts swearing at nothing. Damen moves closer to me, if that is even possible in his tiny bed. Our father momentarily stops at Damens door. Damen and I both clench our jaws. We are both thinking the same thing. Hoping, wishing, he won’t fall through the creaky, stained door. Though he is only a young boy, Damen knows. He knows what my father does. He knows how he treats my mother and me. He knows. I wish he didn’t have to. I wish he could go on in life never knowing that his sister and mother were abused by the same man that brought him to this world.

We wait, as we hear our father stumble past, finally. He stops at my room. He opens the old door, ranting about something, I can’t tell what. Something that I did, is what I could understand out of his drunk slurring. I guess he figures that I’m not in there after all, because he comes back to Damens room. A moment before the drunk man whom I have seen many times before opens the door, I whisper as quick as I possibly can to Damen,
“Be strong. I love you. Never give up. I love you.” I say. A tear forms at his left eye. Beautiful. My father comes barreling in. He falls at the foot of the mattress. I give Damen a squeeze. He knows what I am telling him. This is our chance. We lunge out of his mattress quicker than we’ve ever moved before. We run. We run to somewhere. Anywhere. Before we sprint out the door, I grab our old sneakers and a few oversized jackets. We can hear our father standing up, knocking things over as he triumphs in holding himself steady for a moment. I open the front door and step out, pulling Damen out behind me. He pauses. Turns around, and takes a look at our house. At the stairs in which our father is now at the top of, screaming. He looks up at him, and whispers something that only I can hear.
“Goodbye.” The tears are now flowing out of both of our eyes. He shuts the door. Five years old. Damen shuts the door. We run to my only friends house, Bay. I don’t bother to ring or knock, not at one in the morning. I know they don’t usually turn on the security system in their house at night. Damen and I sprint up the front steps. He opens the door for me. Five years old, and he opens the door. The door to help. I can only wish for the courage my little brother has.

Everyone in her house hears us, of course. Bays dad comes running down the stairs with a baseball bat in hand, but drops it once he sees it’s just us. Bay and her mom come down the stairs after he shouts to them that its okay. Bays parents are utterly confused, as is Bay, when I tell them about tonight. I had never told anyone.

They all embrace Damen and me when we are finished sputtering out what happened. We told them that we needed help, that we were not going to live in fear of our parents anymore. We didn’t give them all the details, not tonight. Tonight, we just needed a safe place. They made sure all their windows and doors were locked, and they turned their security system on just in case. We would explain better in the morning. For now, we are okay. Bays parents agree that they will take us to the police station tomorrow. For tonight, we sleep in the guest room. Damen and I. Together, in no harms way.

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