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They say all families work differently. But the truth is, some don’t work at all. Some, like mine, can’t even stand together in a room for five minutes without getting into a frenzy. We all loved something more than each other; for my mom it was weed, for my sister it was rebelling, for my brother it was change, for my dad it was anything containing alcohol, and for me it was silence. One day we all got what we wanted.
Being only 8 months apart, my brother Klaus and I were extremely close considering we were only half-siblings. We were the type of siblings you couldn’t separate. We had a connection that you might imagine only twins having. To each other, we weren’t who other people thought we were; we knew that it was all just a façade. When we were together, we could talk about anything, though most of the time we didn’t talk at all. We never called each other by our first names. I was “J” (standing for Joy, my middle name), and he was “Linc” (standing for Lincoln, which was his). No one else ever called us that, they weren’t allowed to. Neither of us were similar to our moms, we looked, acted, and thought exactly how our dad did.
Klaus and I were walking home from the 4th grade in complete silence when we heard the yelling and screaming of a man and a woman. Without even looking at each other, or saying anything at all, we concluded it was my mom and our dad having another fight in our house a block and a half away.
He turned to me, “What do you wanna do, J?” What in the hell are two ten year-olds supposed to do at four PM in Santa Cruz? We had already put off going home long enough. My dad picked up the bottle the moment he woke up, and didn’t put it down until he passed out in the evening. And when my dad drank he wasn’t the comedic relief of the family, he was the reason we needed it.
“Let’s go home, Linc.” I manage in a shaky voice that didn’t come close to portraying the fear flowing in my mind. It’s a daring move on my part. And I instantly regretted it the second we continued our venture home. My heart felt like lead in my chest, pulling me closer to the ground with every half-hearted step. My brother raised an eyebrow, but didn’t give me a chance to take back what I said like I hoped he would. He seemed more together than me, but surely 8 months seniority can’t make someone look as though they’ve been around for 100s of years.
As we ambled into our father’s trap we became fascinated by the ground like it was new to us, even though it was the same ground we had known since we were born. We studied it for comfort, a place to lose ourselves and never come back, but in the end it was just pavement. Remembering a rhyme that was often said by my peers, I started hopping from crack to crack, and from line to line, like my life depended upon it. Perhaps it did.
“J, what in the hell are you doing?” My brother asked, annoyed at me for breaking his concentration.
“Step on a crack, break your daddy’s back,” I huffed while stomping on a rift in the ground, “step on a line, break your momma’s spine.”
“Good luck with that. Lines don’t break people’s backs, big falls break people’s backs. It’s just pavement, J.” He mumbled, eyes glazing over once again.
“There’s no harm in trying.” I sighed, wishing there was.
The yelling only got louder as we approached our sad excuse for a home. He gave me a look you give someone before you tell them their son died in a drunk driving accident, or that they can’t be in your group of friends anymore even though you liked them. I could feel the negative energy engulf the air around us, making it painful and dangerous to breathe.
“Don’t do that, Linc.” I whine.
“You seriously believe we’ll be rays of sunshine after this, Stacie?” I got caught off-guard by his voice speaking my first name.
“Of course not!” I blurt way to quickly.
“Then why do we have to act like it?” He challenged. I felt my pulse pounding in my stomach; that was the question we asked ourselves since preschool.
“Because it’s what we know how to do.” I sighed admitting absolute defeat. But he didn’t have mercy and kept on going.
“We’re ten, J!” I looked at the ground again, unable to meet his gaze. It’s true, we were ten, in the fourth grade, and we didn’t even know how to write a proper essay yet. Sadness took me over with the realization that I had grown up much too quickly. I had lost my childhood to weed and Johnny Walker Black.
“J, I’m sorry, but you know what will happen when we go in there.” I did. It’s the reason we wore sweatshirts in the summer when it was ninety degrees out. And why we told the teachers lies about why our dad always smelt like booze. It’s the reason I had never gone to the doctors unless it was actually my fault I was there; even then I still had to lie about scars, broken bones, and bruises. I said nothing to him in reply.
“Can we just wait out here?” He asked, teary-eyed when we reached the house. Klaus was always the first to cry, I don’t mean he cried a lot, but in comparison to me he did. I sometimes wished he knew what it was like being the one no one wanted. I was an accident in the first place, but the last thing in the world my dad would ask for is a daughter. My mom and sister just ignored me the entire time, like I was transparent except for when the dishes, or some other monotonous chore needed to be done. Klaus was the son my dad almost wanted, and his mom at least liked him enough to take him in every once in a while, and he never returned with bruises or broken bones. He got better treatment than I did. I always tried not to hold it against him because his life sucked too. So I nodded okay.
We leaned against the chipping, off-white paint of our house doing our homework, testing each other on spelling words, and playing “rock, paper, scissors”. We did anything to take us anywhere but reality.
Eventually, my mom came storming out of the house, a burning, five-foot-four ball of fury. It was scary just to see her blue-green eyes full of anything but a pot-induced haze. The anger radiated out of them, making them hard to look at, sort of like the sun. Words were coming out of her mouth but I only heard pain.
My dad trailed her, stumbling out the door in a drunken rage, which was nothing less than normal. His muscles were tensed, and his jaw was clenched so tightly I could practically hear his teeth shattering beneath the pressure.
“I don’t want you in my fecking house anyways!” He roared in his Irish accent. “Don’t forget to pick up the trash on the way out!” He kicked me forward onto my stomach from where I was sitting. I heard a crunch. I looked up at my dad, thinking “what did you do?” He was saying something but I didn’t pay attention. I tried to find the source of the pain. So much hurt. My ribs had already been broken and re-broken three times, and were healing from a bad night with my dad one month before. But it wasn’t my ribs. It hit me again. It was his boot on my right hand.
“Dad…” I whimper. I felt Klaus’ eyes staring, lingering, doing nothing for me. But I wasn’t about to risk it for him by saying his name and drawing my dad’s attention to him. I wondered what my mom was thinking. Did she care? Did she even notice? Why didn’t she do anything?
“Well?” My attention was refocused to my dad. “Get the feck out of here!” I scrambled to my feet, but didn’t know where to go.
“Get in the car, Stac.” My mom growled without making eye contact. I spent a painfully long moment staring at my brother. We were both thinking “what now?” My mom wasn’t about to take my brother; she didn’t acknowledge him as family.
Needless to say, I jumped into the beat up ‘87 Honda civic and watched as I lost everything I had ever known. I could never have that twin-like connection with my only brother anymore. I couldn’t live in my hometown anymore. I didn’t have anyone to talk to. It was a fresh start, I could be anyone I wanted; except me. Fresh had never felt so bad. I knew I wouldn’t have to lie anymore. I could tell anyone how I got the scars, and how I broke bones. I didn’t have to worry about how much my dad drank. But I realized that I didn’t know anything but that. I had to learn everything over again. I had to become a different person, at least on the outside. It’s not easy, you know, to make your outside match your inside.
My brother and I saw each other on rare occasions, which were few and far between. Our connection was never the same though. He lived with his mom most of the time. He died March 27th of last year from a fatal fall off a cliff during a volunteer trip to help with a Boy Scout campout.
My dad went absolutely mental after word of his son’s death. He lost his job, got foreclosed upon, and lived on the streets for 8 months. He was recently diagnosed with liver failure, in addition to skin cancer. We’re trying our best to mend our relationship, because he doesn’t have long. My mom doesn’t know I have contact with him, and she probably wouldn’t approve. There’s a lot of guilt that lies between us, filling the cracks in the ground I once stepped on wishing him dead. “It’s just pavement” my ass.