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For The Millionth Time
Where are you going?” Carla steps out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a dishrag. Sitting proudly atop her head are the coat hanger reindeer antlers Cassie made for her. I look past them, past her, directing my words to the wall behind her.
“Out. You don’t have to wait up.” I wait for her answer, straining to stay polite when I want to be anything but.
“Okay, dear. Be careful.” She doesn’t argue that it’s Christmas. They’ve long since given up on me being a part of their family. I just can’t forget; can’t ease into this new life with them as easily as Cassie has. I’m proud of her though. She should forget. I hope she has truly forgotten.
I cannot. I have not. I will not.
I must be ready, prepared for the next time I need to protect her or anyone else.
As I shut the front door behind me and head into the streets, I feel the need to run; long for the ache of tired muscles waking up, for the sensation of mile after mile burning in my lungs.
But there’s icy snow on the ground, and what feels like pounds of fleece covering my body, making the exercise I so crave completely out of the question.
I stifle the need and settle for speed walking, letting my feet carry me where they want, as usual, letting my mind wander where it wants.
How will it torture me today? More images of Cassie and Jay? Carla, Robert and Cassie sitting around the Christmas tree, perhaps?
My thoughts turn to Ellen, my mother, instead. As if I haven’t dwelled on her long enough.
I wonder what drove her to drugs, for the millionth time. What was so terrible about her reality -- us, her children -- that she had to plunge into another one? It wasn’t the lure of Jay -- I refuse to believe that she truly loved him. No, he provided her with drugs, so she was bound to him by her addiction. In return, she gave him a place to live, and other things she refused to see.
I wonder, for the millionth time, where she was when he was home and she was not. When he had time to carry out his vile acts. I find the scar on the back of my left arm with chilled fingers -- long and jagged, even whiter than my normally pale skin. Where was she to stop this from happening? And the deeper, unseen scars that both Cassie and I bear? The images permanently imprinted, burned into my mind?
Bile starts rising in my throat, burning like the flames and I force myself back into the present, swallowing and straining for control. It isn’t hard to collect myself -- my shaking hands still and my jaw unclenches almost instantly, used to being restrained in the presence of my foster parents. However, the sick feeling in my stomach is beyond all my careful control, and it obnoxiously shoves my thoughts back to my mother, forming more impossible questions. Were she still alive, I’d visit her in prison for the sole purpose of prying these answers from her, and nothing more. I feel no remorse for the woman who took her own life, too cowardly to deal with the aftermath of her destructive choices. My mother had become a stranger to me. She wasn’t my mother anymore. My mother died the day she met Jay -- and that was the woman I grieved. The one who’d take us for ice cream every day in the summer, and hot chocolate every day during the winter. The one who’d taught Cassie and I to make leaf angels in the patches of grass behind our apartment, who’d sung Cassie to sleep when she was being difficult. Even the one who’d prohibited my entry into a secret, other world. A world that felt more like a dream to me now, years later. I pushed those thoughts of better times out of my mind temporarily, not in the mood for more pleasant memories.
Instead, I wondered, for the millionth time, what part of us had been so unbearable for her. Why she’d tried drugs in the first place. Over and over again. Why, why, why? Why had she allowed herself to become a stranger to those who loved her, those who needed her?
A gust of icy wind tears at my hair and stings my face, alerting me to the presence of hot, traitorous tears spilling from my eyes. I wipe them away hastily, furiously.
I refuse to cry for her. Tears are wasted on a stranger.
I need no one.
I turn around and head back for “home”. I’m reluctant to refer to my foster…house…as home. It doesn’t feel like home. By that, I don’t have a home. I have a house, a place where I live for a few months of the year, and nothing else.
I wonder, for the millionth time, if that will ever change for the better.