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Keeping My Head Up
I never imagined myself walking into a courtroom, scared half to death, getting cold, hard stares from the prosecutor and attorney the way I did. The first time I would ever walk into a courtroom, I hoped I’d be standing with them or on their side; however, that hoped was shattered. Never had I ever felt as sick to my stomach when that old building smell came under my nose. Even though no windows were open, it was freezing cold. Chills over came my body, and I bet even my face was covered in goose bumps. Hand in hand, I sat beside my sister. Our eyes were wide-open, tears rolling down our blank, pale faces. She was still in eighth grade, and I was a freshman, causing me to have to be the stronger of us two. Having never thought I’d have to do that, it all changed when my parents were sentenced.
My dad was not so involved with his family because they all lived so far away. Then the day came, the one that changed my life forever. We were moving my grandma back to Ohio to live with us. She was with us for over a year, and her Alzheimer’s became worse as time progressed. My grandma went from showing me how to crochet and make old family recipes, to not remembering my name and saying that she had never seen the recipes in her life.
On a dreary day in March, it wasn’t even six a.m. yet, and I jolted up from the sound of pounding at the door. I went and woke up my mom. At the door was a sheriff, and he explained to us that my grandma slipped out of the house and tried to walk to my neighbor’s house. She told them my parents had beaten her. She had fresh scrapes on her from falling. She said she was tied up with duct tape and zip ties, and said her shoes, clothes, and money were taken. My dad was in disbelief that she said that after all that we helped and given her. He said, “If she wanted out that bad, I don’t know why she didn’t just ask. We gave her what she needed and took care of her. I would have gladly helped her find a nursing home to take our place, but I don’t know what else I could have done.” Because of my grandma’s accusations, my parents had a court date set for them to be on trial for their actions.
At first the court date seemed distant, but then it suddenly jumped right in front of us. I was not prepared at all. That night was the basketball game against our rivalry, and when the time came to leave the school, my worries took over my body. I kept telling myself, ‘Try not to think about it. Keep your head up. Focus. Act like it doesn’t bother you. You don’t need this. You’re stronger than you think.’ We had to wait at least an hour before we were finally able to go in. Then the prosecutor pulled my mom aside and offered her a plea bargain. Another half an hour passed before my mom came to a decision. The plea bargain offered her six months of incarceration against going on trial and risking up to eighteen years behind bars. We all helped decide that the plea bargain was the least risky. Although we came to a decision, the courtroom was waiting patiently for us. In my entire life, I had never been so scared. Honestly, I think it’s the worst fear. I’d rather have a billion needles stuck in my arm or sleep with spiders than go through that again.
The trial started off well. Everyone was calm, waiting for the judge’s next decision. Of course, it was my turn to go take a seat on the heavy, punctilious chair that was holding its breath, waiting for me to sit down so that it could invisibly chain me to its rough essence. When I sat, the chains didn’t attack me because they knew I was going to be asked to stand. As in all trials, well maybe not exactly the same, the judge asked me, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
I replied, “I do.” For the first five minutes, I sat there silently in the mute room with sweaty palms. The judge finally spoke, “Please state what you know and what you saw.”
I told him, “She was fine at first. Then it rose to the point where we had to make her food and watch her eat, making sure she showered and dressed herself, and we bought her groceries and pills. She has short term memory loss too, and here you’re believing her over five people that saw what went on every day.” Then he took the stack of pictures that was in front of him and threw them on the table in front of me. When they smacked against the cold, inanimate table, I took a short glance and looked off into the distance. I didn’t have a choice but to look at them. They were pictures from the day she left the house when she fell and stumbled on the road and in the yards. Anyone could tell they were fresh cuts and bruises, but he said those were marks from my parents. I didn’t want to be up in that seat anymore, but I didn’t have a choice. I was so distraught; I just wanted it to end. Tears formed on the ends of my eyes. I was so numb inside and out like I was in a frozen tundra cornered by bears. My head was empty, and I sat there like a porcelain doll, stagnant and lifeless.
None of us knew what was running through the judge’s head. We were sure it was decision time because we had gone through Mom’s and Dad’s side, The prosecutor’s and my grandma’s side, and my sister’s and my side. The judge finally spoke and said my mom was found guilty and had to serve her six-month sentence. Both parents were found guilty on three charges: stealing, kidnapping, and abuse to an elder. That was the last day for a long six months I would get to see my mom and be able to hug her, kiss her, talk to her when I needed her, get her support, and hear her tell me “I love you.”
Things around the house took a drastic turn. Jessie, my sister, and I had to take over cleaning the whole house, and we had to get up and go to bed by ourselves. Our mom sent letters about every day, but we wouldn’t get them until the end of the week. Our family worried about her, and she worried about us.
I was the oldest of three, putting most of the responsibility on me. At home I did four times what I normally did plus homework, cleaning, and cooking. Still staying at the top of my game in school, I helped out a tremendous amount. It didn’t help that my dad wasn’t home much either. He works in Toledo, and he is gone all week from five in the morning to maybe ten at night and sometimes even Saturdays. We never really were able to go anywhere either. I think it made matters worse because being at home alone in an empty house just reminded us of everything and made us more miserable.
The first day I went back to school, I felt like I was the center of attention. School was like a living hell: stares from people down the hall, silent classrooms when I walked in, and staying home Friday and Saturday nights because no one talked to me or wanted to hang out. It made the last month or so of my freshmen year the worst. I stopped playing volleyball over this, too. Mom was my support for that, and I didn’t have it. I miss playing it. Every day that passed, I felt more and more embarrassed, wishing I could go back home and cry. My only friend was God. He was one person I knew would never judge me like everyone else was.
Summer went by in a blur, and then my sophomore year started quickly. School was one of those numbers on my waiting list to eventually cross off and give up on. I was so scared to be embarrassed again, but the way people acted took a turn for the better. People were actually talking to me and understood how it felt. I was so surprised at people’s reactions and how they were acting around me. It was like they didn’t care about what happened and being my friend was more important. Not only did it make me a stronger, better person with my friends and myself, it also helped rebuild my family life and make us closer. Every day my dad apologized and my mom did in every letter. We let our parents know we were in it together, and they shouldn’t be apologizing for what happened.
Presently the situation still has its after effects at times. My parents aren’t aloud to go out of state, which kills the fun of vacation over the summer. It’s difficult for my mom to get a job because it’s hard to get one with a felony. We can’t get a foreign exchange student, can’t move or buy a car, and my parents have to be in the house by midnight. We work through most of them, but other times it’s difficult. I keep my head up and stay strong, thinking that it has to get better eventually, and it has.