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Marcus used to give me hugs after he hurt me. When he hugged me he would tell me that he loved me. He always said that what he did to me was normal, but not to tell because it was our secret and it would make others jealous. I was young, so I believed him, and even though I was constantly suffering because of what he was doing to me, I kept on believing him for a very long time. When I got older he became ­violent, and that's when I knew it wasn't normal. He would say that he did it because I deserved it. I believed that, too. I always blamed myself.

I hugged Maya and my aunt and uncle good-bye, and when it was Marcus's turn I hugged him too, trying to act as if it were the most normal thing in the world, but it wasn't normal at all. I felt trapped, just as I had during the years of unfettered abuse. The hug was just like any other to the people watching, but I felt years of emotions coming to the ­surface.

When he let me go I noticed I was shaking, but I knew nobody had ­noticed; they never did. As they headed toward the terminal they waved good-bye, and I saw a smirk on Marcus's face, as if he had conquered me and he knew it.

I tried to say good-bye, at least to Maya, whom I loved and would truly miss, but the knot in my throat made it impossible. My mom said good-bye for me, and I just waved. When we drove away I let out a breath I hadn't realized I had been holding. My mom was oblivious to my anxiety, trying to make small talk as we headed toward the freeway.

“Were you happy to see Maya?” she asked.

“Yes.” It was the truth.

“She was really happy to see you.”

I just shrugged, so she continued. “It's too bad you didn't get to spend a few more days together.”

I shrugged again. “Whatever.”

My mom gave up for a while. I knew she felt bad that I wouldn't talk with her, but I didn't care enough to try to make her feel better. I tried to sleep, but I couldn't get comfortable.

“Last night Marcus was acting ­really weird.”

I was careful not to show her how scared that made me. “What?”

She told me that last night Maya had done something that made Marcus angry. She said that Marcus and Maya were sitting together on the swinging bench, and although Mom didn't know what they were talking about, they were both raising their voices. Maya was telling him to calm down but he wouldn't. Next thing she knew, Marcus was kicking whatever he could find to kick, and then he walked into the house and started yelling, swearing, and throwing things. When Maya followed, he attacked her. She said that Maya was crying and looked scared.

Then my mom asked if Marcus had ever done anything strange around me. I couldn't look her in the eye, so I just nodded. She asked what. I was quiet. I pretended to pick lint off my shirt, but I was actually imagining what she would think if I told her my secret. I was afraid that she might not believe me or be disappointed that I hadn't told her earlier, but I knew it was now or never. I remembered what my friend Ty had said and knew that if I didn't say anything then he would.

Her eyes looked concerned but loving. I looked into those eyes and realized how much she cared, and that gave me the courage to tell the secret Marcus had made me promise never to tell.

Mom slammed on the brakes, pulling our SUV to the side of the road. For the first time I really knew that what Marcus did to me was wrong. My heart was pounding, but I ignored it and told my mom what I could bear to say, which wasn't much. I looked at the stains on the windshield so I wouldn't have to see her expression. My cheeks were burning with humiliation. She got very quiet when I finished. She hugged me, and I could tell she was doing her best not to cry. She told me it was going to be okay.

I felt a little relieved, but much more embarrassed and afraid. My mom kept saying how sorry she was. I knew she felt she had failed me because she hadn't protected me. Of course this wasn't true. At the time I blamed myself, and my mom blamed herself, but really the only person to blame was Marcus.

“Please don't tell Dad,” I whispered, afraid of what he would think if he knew that his little girl was damaged goods. My mom touched my hair. She was crying a lot and kept saying “Oh, sweetheart” and telling me she loved me. I felt more uncomfortable than I can describe.

“Please don't get Marcus in trouble,” I added. She didn't answer but seemed surprised that I would defend him. I couldn't explain that I wasn't defending him, but just couldn't shake the fear of his threats, specifically that he would hurt Maya the way he had hurt me. I didn't speak for the rest of the ride, just looked out the window and cried silently.

When we got home I went straight to my room, locked my door, and cried into my pillow. I hated myself for telling and wanted to take it back more than anything in the world. I was scared and confused, and I ­believed at the time that it really would have been better to keep it a ­secret.

My mom was knocking on my door and asking how she could help. I threw my pillow over my ears and screamed and cried until I finally cried myself into dark nightmares that for the first time didn't seem nearly as dark as my reality. F

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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