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January 10, 1987
Avery Jones - 8 years old
Today at school I learned how to divide my numbers. I still have trouble adding and subtracting, but I really like school. I like all my classes, especially English. I really like reading. Right now, Mr. Goodwin is reading us stories every day and we follow along with him out of this big book. When we finish the stories, he asks us questions about them. I always know the answers and sometimes I even get called on. I think I like school so much because I don’t have to be at home with Robert. I’m scared to come home sometimes, even though I know he doesn’t get home until a few hours after I get home. That’s when I make sure the house looks nice. Someday, I’ll move away with Alan. We’ll live in a huge castle and have tons of servants. I bet my mom will be waiting for us in the castle. Today, I wore my best red dress and all the teachers gave me compliments. I don’t have many friends at school. That’s okay though, I like talking to the teachers more anyway. They listen to me better.
My right cheek caught his harsh fist. The bruise was already forming. Another from my left connected with my eye. Blood rushed down my face as if there were a hose turned on full blast. I thought the house was clean and pretty. I thought that would put Robert in a good mood. Why did I have to interrupt him? Of course, I only did because I thought he was done speaking. He had a mean streak and it seemed like I was always testing it. The blood felt warm and thick on my cheek. I perpetually wished they would just leave and let me go clean myself up. If it wasn’t cleaned, it would be more noticeable and the teachers would ask questions. They always scarred but at least if it were clean, it wouldn’t be infected and it would go away quicker. I learned that the hard way when Robert hit me the year before, causing the first wave of questions. It was only a year ago, but it felt like it had been an eternity.
The first time he hit me was last winter when my mother was out of the room. It was a quick backhand but the look on Robert’s face said that he just had to test the water before doing more damage. This was before moving to the small town of Camden, Maine from New York, New York. His eyes screamed danger, and I was scared. I was only seven at the time and didn’t know what to do or who to tell about the incident. Robert said nobody could know how I got my bruises and scrapes. My soft, ivory cheek felt different after that day. Permanently scarred from those piercing eyes looking down at me, I was never the same. That day, I knew that everything would change with a sort of urgency, like the change couldn’t come quickly enough. The next day, he hit me harder, causing me to bleed. My mother was too far gone in her own reality to realize her child was bleeding and left me to deal with it myself. I thought I’d seen a hint of regret in her eyes, but they seemed to cloud back over when I thought she would come and rescue me. I began to hate my “new” mother. At the time, I thought my real mom had gone away and was replaced with this one right after my brother was born. Robert always said that she was useless, my “new” mother, but still pretended to love her. Maybe he really did love her deep down, just like I did, but I didn’t want to think Robert and I agreed on anything. My face was hot from the sting of the monster’s fist. I didn’t know what to do or how to clean it, so it became ferociously infected, taking weeks to heal. I learned, after that experience, to keep the wounds hidden under long sleeves and pants so people wouldn’t notice and ask what had happened. Robert told people that I had fallen off of my bike. The lies confirmed that the worst was yet to come.
Sitting in the kitchen, waiting for my mother and stepfather to leave, I got the lowdown of how the night would be played out.
“We’re going out and will be back later,” Robert said annoyed.
“Where are you going?”
“I said out, dammit! Honey, let’s go!”
She just stared blankly and started walking to the door. That was the shell that my mother had become. I knew to stop talking and keep my eyes down when Robert started to yell, knowing the retaliation could be bad if I showed any sort of a challenge. His mood could change as fast as the flick of a lightswitch and looking back now, I was the one turning that light on more often than not. It took me a long time to learn this, because I had always been a fighter. I never knew quite when to leave situations at what they were.
Robert took a long drag off of his cigarette and blew it in my face before leaving the house. After they left, I knew I had to go clean the blood off of my face so it wouldn’t seep into my mouth or eyes. My mother, when I was little, would always take care of me when I scraped my knees or bloodied an elbow. She had always washed it off and used some sort of antibacterial on it before securing it with a band aid. This was before I had lost my real mother and had to settle for this sorry excuse of a replacement. As a smaller version of me though, I had to do what I knew how to do. All that consisted of was hot water and a washcloth, but I always made sure that the washcloth was red. This was to keep Robert from getting angry, because if I dared stain a towel, I’d be beaten on the spot.
I knew that the cuts would always scar over, so I never bothered to try anything to really make them go away. They didn’t hurt very bad after the first few hours. When Robert hit the same place twice, it would be excruciating. Cleaning them the best I could made them go away a little faster and helped prevent that occurrence. It was always hard to keep them clean because I was always worrying about Alan instead of myself, making sure he was safe, clean, and protected by me. He was the only one in the family I really cared deeply for. I loved my mother before she “went away”, when the replacement came, I started to despise her.
Her name was Courtney. She was tall with long brunette hair that was always pulled back in some sort of intricate braid. When I was little, I was intrigued by the way she tossed one strand over another to get a beautiful plait in her hair. I vividly remember sitting on her tall bathroom counter in the early New York mornings and watching her get ready. This was when she would occasionally let me skip school and come to work with her. On those mornings, I would try and get up earlier than normal to make sure I could see Courtney put her elegant makeup on. It was always so beautiful. Now, looking back, I realize my mother and her replacement were the same person, but she had changed. As I grew up, I had learned that my mother had something called postpartum depression. It happened after Alan was born and at the time I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around why.
Back when Alan was my first priority, I took care of him more often than not. He was smaller than he should have been because he was born prematurely. The doctors didn’t think he would make it, but he was a fighter, just like me. I loved that we had that in common, thinking I’d passed on one of my best qualities to my brother. Fighter or not though, when Robert began drinking, I would cower to my room hoping to avoid his angry fists.
My room was mostly bare with a bed, a dresser, a nightstand, and a few old and mostly broken toys to keep me occupied on the days I wasn’t at school. The “bed” was only a thin strip of padding on the bars of a bed frame. I had two sheets and a flimsy pillow that looked like it had barely survived World War Two. I had often gone to sleep with trickles of blood running down my head and face, too scared to clean it because I was afraid of being caught. Robert liked seeing what he had done to me. The thin sheet was tattered and torn in a few places. My bedding was rarely washed, so the blood always stained. Sometimes, I would dream of being able to stay in my mother’s room, with my old mother of course. I was convinced it was made for a queen. Her bed, now hers and Roberts, was large and plush with a comforting blue comforter set. How I longed to be able to cuddle up next to my mom again and have her tell me that everything would be okay. After she had Alan, I couldn’t even get her attention, let alone the old her come back to me. She met Robert a while before having the boy and married him. He seemed nice at first, later showing his true colors. I guess we didn’t know who he truly was until he was impossible to get rid of.
That night, after wiping the blood off of my face and double checking that my parents, if you could even consider them parents, were gone, I looked at the clock and it was almost 10. I knew the baby needed to be fed so I headed to the living room where Robert put Alan’s playpen to get him. I knew that Robert hadn’t even acknowledged him when walking out, but I wasn’t sure if anything had happened to him earlier. I checked my baby brother for bruising and welts but couldn’t tell what was dirt or injury. Picking him up, I realized I’d never bathed anyone else before. The food could wait like it had so many times before. If my parents were home, we wouldn’t get dinner most of the time. It wasn’t too bad, but sometimes it was unbearable. Deciding to wait, I took him to the bathroom and prepared it for his bath. I knew he used the baby shampoo in the yellow bottle and had to sit on this “bathtub bed” as I called it.
Back in the bathroom, the water rushed from the faucet. I made sure it wasn’t too hot or too cold, just like when my mother used to bathe me. The water went only a couple inches from the bottom of the porcelain bathtub. As I placed Alan in the water, it was instantly clouded by the immeasurable amounts of dirt on him. I grabbed the small yellowish bottle of baby shampoo and carefully squeezed a quarter sized pile of soap into my small hand. I massaged the soap into my brother's curly blonde hair cautiously, afraid I might get some in his grey blue eyes. I spread the soap all over his body, making sure to get under his arms and chin. At that moment, I felt like I was replacing my real mother until she could find the time to come back to us. It seemed like she never would.
I listened to my brothers laugh and smiled. It reminded me of when I was little and my mom would often tickle me and make sure I was enjoying myself. Bath time was always my favorite part of the day. I did love my old mother. At the time I was just confused on where she went and when she would be home. I was always convinced that she left because of me. To show me how to really care for someone else. I was determined to show my baby brother the same love I was given at his age. The bath I gave him was mediocre at best. I had no idea what I was doing but found a way to anyway. The soap ended up all over his face and almost in his eyes. I got water in his mouth and felt like a failure. When we finished, I dried him off and laid him in a blanket that I found in my bedroom on the bathroom floor so I could take a bath for myself and still keep an eye on him.
When I was done, I stepped carefully around Alan and dried myself with the same towel I’d used for him. Hiding the towel in the bottom of the laundry basket with the other towels I’d used that day, I went and found clothes that were relatively clean for me and Alan. His clothes were kept in my mother’s room, so this gave me a reason to pretend it was really my room. I crept in quietly as if I would see Robert sitting on the edge of the bed, with a beer in his hand as always. I was on edge, even when I knew they were gone. They could come home any minute and find me in there. I knew if that happened, Robert would punish me. Their room had always been off limits to me after my mother married Robert. When my mom was still with my dad, I would always crawl into bed with them on Sunday mornings and watch cartoons with my dad’s arm wrapped around my shoulders.
I looked around and went through drawers to find where Alan’s clothes were kept. Once finding the small wooden dresser, I found a small blue onesie that wouldn’t fit him in the near future. I grabbed it and went back to the bathroom to pick Alan up from the nest like structure I’d built him out of towels to keep him from crawling away. It seemed to work alright and he was still there when I walked in. I got Alan dressed the way I had a million times before, making sure everything fit snug and he had a clean diaper on.
I remember looking in the mirror of the bathroom, having to stand on a stool in order to see myself. I saw the skin that was broken open and tried so desperately not to acknowledge it. Learning to cope with my scars was something I did a long time ago. I knew they were there but that didn’t mean I had to notice them. When I was young, I didn’t know they would eventually go away and I thought I was just stuck with them. It was always a fear of mine to have people ask what they were from when I got older. It was hard enough then to try and find reasons as to why they were there. Robert had always made it clear that no one was to know about how the cuts and scrapes came to be.
After cleaning up the mess in the bathroom, I headed to the kitchen to try and find a meal for myself and my brother. I often had to scavenge around the kitchen for something to eat. It usually consisted of things I didn’t have to cook or prepare considering I didn’t know how to use any of the appliances in the kitchen. Cold soup and crackers were always on the menu because I knew the baby could at least eat soup. Tonights meal plan was canned chicken noodle and stale saltine crackers. The soup was a struggle because my mom had moved the can opener and I had to find it before we could eat. It was in a small drawer on the left hand side of the sink. It was usually down the counter a bit in a spinning container that held spoons and spatulas of all different sizes. I always used to love helping my mother cook. I would sit at the dinner table and help mash potatoes or peel carrots. There was always a home cooked meal ready and on the table by six every night. My daddy always loved my mom’s cooking.
He would always sit in the kitchen with me and help mash and peel. My mother, on multiple occasions, would put us in charge of dessert. Pumpkin pie was always dad’s favorite, so that was what dessert was most of the time. Him and I would sit and smell the sweet aroma of the pie baking in the oven while eating dinner. When the oven would beep, he would jump up and take the pie out to cool. Most of the time, my mom would playfully scold him and tell him to be patient.
That was before Robert though. That night I had to make dinner for the little one and myself. Like I said, it was cold and canned chicken noodle with saltines. Sadly, this was what it usually was. I got used to it after a while. On second thought, I wanted to try and cook the soup. I had searched for at least a half an hour to find and reach the pots. I chose a medium sized pan and dumped the soup into it. I had to stand on a chair in order to reach the knobs of the stove to turn it on. It was a relatively new glass top stove which I had never used before.
I studied the “key” of the stove, showing me what burners were turned on by what. I found the one I was looking for, the right front burner, and turned it on to high. I gently placed the soup on the stovetop, making sure I didn’t spill so I didn’t have to clean it up. The cloudy soup began to simmer and thin itself as it was warming up. I grabbed a spoon to stir it and when I came back, the soup was practically boiling. Just then, at around midnight, Robert and my mom walked back in. I could tell he had been drinking because of the way he swayed when he walked and the slur of his words when he began to scream at me
“What the hell is this?!”
“Uhm...nothing...I was just hungry.”
“Oh, so now you think you can just eat the food out of MY house. Use MY dishes. Use MY stove?!”
“No sir. I’m sorry. I promise it won’t happen again.” I should have known answering was a bad idea.
Robert walked across the kitchen with a purpose, suddenly losing the wobble of his step. Right at the chair I was standing on, he stopped, and got so close to my face that I could smell the wretched alcohol that consumed him. He didn’t yell this time though. He whispered.
“What gives you the idea you can take care of yourself? You’re only a little girl.”
“Yes sir. I’m sorry sir.”
“Don’t forget, I’m the parent around here. Every thing in this house belongs to me, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“Well I’m more of a parent than you.” I shouldn’t have said that. I wasn’t thinking. It just flew out of my mouth without me thinking of the consequences.
His hand cocked back. It rushed toward me too quickly for me to cover my face. His fist felt like a brick hitting the side of my head. He hit me with such a force that I was knocked off of the chair I was standing on. I hit the floor hard and my head bounced off of the linoleum tiles. He picked me up by my hair. I could feel each individual strand being ripped out of its follicle in the same place it was bruising. My mother just sat in the living room and watched. I didn’t understand why she would let him do this to me. It wasn’t fair.
Robert threw me down the stairs of the basement we never used. Every step hit a different part of my body. All of the bruises would be visible but he was too drunk to care. He would have to make up reasons for them the next day. Tumbling down, I caught glimpses of him but it didn’t look like he was following. I could already feel the blood running from my nose and lips. When I hit the bottom with a thud, I looked up and saw him just standing at the top of the stairs, looking down at me. His expression was twisted and his feet were shoulder width apart, as if to show dominance. His dark hair was poking out of its normal uniform shape as if it were as defiant as I was. All he did was turn around and close the door. I heard the lock click a few seconds later. I would be spending the night in the basement.