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In Need of a Hero
In Need of a Hero
I plopped my heavy book sack on the kitchen counter top and announced, “I’m home!” to the residents of the house. I glanced up to find my mother right in front of me with a devastated expression painted on her pale face. Surprised, I took a step back.
“Oh, hey, mom. I didn’t see you there.” I said nervously, dread washing over me.
“Hello, Maria, darling.” She said, but her voice cracked. Confused and alarmed, I dropped my lunch box. I’d never seen my mother cry before.
She clenched her phone as if it were a lifeline as she tried to form a smile, but a tear rolled down her cheek, leaving a gleaming wet trail behind it, ruining any chances of covering up her sadness.
“Mom?” I asked, startled.
“It’s nothing really, dear. It’s just that your brother got in a small accident today.”
My heart dropped as the words echoed through my mind. I stared at her, letting this news sink in. Anger flooded my veins and I clenched my fists. “Where is he?”
“He’ll be away for a while, dear. Are you hungry? I made you a-“
“Where is he?” I asked again, fiercer than before.
Instead of answering, mother sank to her knees. Covering her eyes with her hands, she began to weep. “It’s my fault!” she yelled hysterically. I stood, frozen, unable to do anything but watch as my mother crumbled into a mass of anguish. “It’s my fault!” she screamed again. A shaky pale hand reached out to me as she wept. “Maria, I’m so sorry…”
I took her hand gently but felt no sympathy toward the woman who’d broken my bones. I took a deep breath, composing myself, hiding my hatred for this horrible woman. This monster who’d let her anger out on my fourteen year old brother and myself. The coward.
“What did you do?” I asked, but cruelty seeped through my words, making mother cry even harder.
She looked up at me with her pathetic teary eyes. “I didn’t mean to.”
My grasp tightened around her cold hands. “What did you do?
An hour later, I found myself sitting on my bed, tapping my foot nervously against the wooden floor as I awaited my father to come home. Mother refused to bring me to the hospital to see Mark. She ignored every question I asked about him, leaving my mind frantically avoiding the assumption that had haunted my thoughts the moment she told me of her mistakes. Was my brother dead?
I could hear the crying of my mom from her bedroom across the hall, but the sounds brought me no sorrow. She deserved whatever guilt she was feeling.
I lie on my bed, studying the ceiling. She’d gone too far this time. Father would have to do something now. Once dad got home from work, he’d bring Mark and me somewhere safe. He’d leave this small town forever. I’d never have to see mother’s angry face again.
The front door shut, interrupting my day dreams of running away. He was home. I jumped from my bed and bolted for the kitchen where I found father sitting at the table, rubbing his tired eyes. He looked at me with a grim expression and sighed. “Get in the car.”
For a moment, I sat alone in the dark truck, watching the house and waiting for father to join me in the car. Was he actually going to do it? Was he going to take us away forever? Was that too much to assume?
My heart raced as I awaited his arrival. I began to imagine him with suitcases full of both our clothes, but immediately erased the thought from my mind. That was too much to hope for.
He joined me in his truck and with nothing more than his wallet and phone and started the engine without a word. I glanced out the window at my neighborhood with something like anger.
They knew. Everyone knew. They knew Mark and I were being hurt every night. They didn’t do a thing about it. They were too involved in their daily lives to say anything. My situation simply didn’t apply to their lives, so why try to get involved?
As we passed, I watched my neighborhood rush by me. Each house was white with blue window frames and perfectly cut grass, each window darkened. There was nothing unique about the houses or their residents, nothing special about his area but the nightmares that took place here. The lamp posts shut on in unison, illuminating the sidewalk.
I should’ve said something before this, I thought. This was just as much my fault as it was my mother’s. I could’ve saved him.
Father and I never spoke to each other during that long car ride. I kept my eyes on the road, counting down the miles until we would finally arrive at the white hospital.
I tried not to be angry with father too. I was already angry with mother, myself and even the neighbors. Couldn’t I find sanctuary in not being angry with father?
It was hard not to be. So many nights, he sat back and pretended he didn’t hear our screams. So many nights he would look away and turn the volume up on TV to drown out mother’s fierce bellows as she hit us. For so long, he watched us go to school in long sleeves to cover up the cuts and bruises we’d received the night before.
Finally, I caught a glimpse of the white building in the distance and took a deep breath.
Mark was hurt badly. With four broken ribs and a broken arm, he lay unconscious beneath the white sheets of the hospital bed. He seemed unnatural to me, so unlike the familiar strong older brother I knew before. He seemed so fragile. I studied his face, a black eye and split lip making him seem alien to me.
Dad sat in the chair next to him, his hand buried in his palm.
“Dad,” I said, starting the first conversation we’d had since we loaded into the car. “You have to leave her.” I said simply, eyeing him cautiously to catch his reaction. I’d been dying to get those words out for years, and this was probably the last chance I’d have before he stuffed us in that car and drove back to that house.
He looked up at me with guilty eyes. “I can’t do that, Maria. Your mom needs me.”
“She’ll kill us!” I yelled, entering a rage. “You think she’ll stop after this?” I gestured towards Mark’s broken body with teary eyes. “He could’ve died!”
Now it was father who wept. “You don’t understand…”
I realized I didn’t. I didn’t get it. Why my father would stay with such a woman was beyond me. “You’re right!” I screamed. “I don’t understand! I don’t understand how you could sit and watch your own children get abused by your wife! I don’t understand why you never offered a single word of comfort to us as we spent lonely nights wondering what it would be like to have a mother who never beat her kids! I don’t understand why you didn’t take us away before something terrible like this happened!” I felt the stinging of tears around my own eyes as my father’s mouth gaped.
“Maria, I’m sorry. I-“
“Enough!” I yelled while my father watched in amazement. I could finally let any words flow from my mouth without worrying about consequences. “Enough with the apologies! If you’re so sorry, do something about it!”
“Stop…” he muttered through fits of tears. “Stop, stop saying that.”
That’s when I realized that my father was a coward too. I stopped yelling and watched him cry, but I couldn’t bring myself to do the same. Not like this. I had too much anger for him to allow him the satisfaction of seeing me break down in front of him. I sat back down and ignored my father’s cries just as he’d ignored ours.
I scowled at my brother. None of this was supposed to happen. Mothers weren’t supposed to hurt their children. They were supposed to help them with their homework and kiss them goodnight. Fathers weren’t supposed to be cowards. They were supposed to be heroes who protected their little girls from any harm. So why did this happen?
It was my fault. It all started when I was born. If I wasn’t alive, Mark wouldn’t be unconscious right now. Father wouldn’t be crying.
A single tear streaked my cheek as these thoughts entered my mind.
Nurses came in and out of Mark’s room well into the night. Father had fallen asleep in a padded chair by the window while I watched as the minutes ticked by on the clock across from Mark’s bed. I’d taken off my shoes and pulled a chair by his bedside, watching my beloved brother breath for hours and contemplating our future.
Things would have to change after this.
It was well past midnight when I heard Mark’s groan and saw the twinkling of his eyes open, reflecting the light of the moon outside the window behind me. I couldn’t keep myself from gasping as he glared at me in the darkness. A lopsided smile slid across his bruised face. A smile that looked gruesome with a bloody lip and darkened eye.
“Hey, sis.” He said, but he sounded hoarse and unlike himself.
I couldn’t bring myself to answer him. I just watched as my brother coughed and winced.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered to him, taking a swift glance at father who was still fast asleep in his chair.
“My ribs.” He said simply, but he kept a smirk plastered on his face. “Don’t look at me like that,” he said jokingly when he saw my worried expression. “I don’t look that bad.”
My eyes started watering again, but I was tired of crying. I held them back for my brother and returned the favor of smiling. “Do you…Do you want me to call the nurse?” I asked.
“Nah, they’re really annoying.” He answered, chuckling. “It doesn’t hurt that bad, anyway.”
We didn’t speak for a moment, and the beeping of the machine keeping track of his heart rate filled the silence.
“Things are going to change now, Maria.” He said, looking at the ceiling. “It’ll be just like we said. We’ll have a normal family.” His eyes started to droop as he spoke, the smile faded from his lips. “I promise.”
I watched him fall asleep, his promise still ringing through my mind. He’d been making that same promise to me ever since I was eight years old. Things weren’t going to change. Dad would bring us straight back home after he healed, no doubt. Nothing will ever change for us.
The sound of Mark coughing woke me up the next morning. Startled, I sat upright in the chair and watched helplessly as he fought to stifle his coughs. Suddenly, the beeping of the heart monitor began to race. Mark continued to cough, his face turning red. Dad stood and called for a doctor and one bustled into the room without a word. Before I knew it, my father and I were being pushed out of the white room and into the hall, forced to flee the horrible scene. I could hear him cough viciously through the door as nurses entered and barked commands to each other.
My father and I sat down across from the door, leaning against the white walls and watching doctors and nurses walk purposefully past. My own heart began to race. Was he okay?
My father didn’t say a word. We glared hopelessly at the white door, trying to listen to every command that was being spoken behind it.
Father pulled out his phone and sighed. Three missed calls from mom.
For thirty minutes, my anxiety grew watching that door. Something was wrong, I knew it. There was something the doctors didn’t catch.
Finally, a nurse walked out of the room and smiled. “You’re son’s going to be okay,” she said sweetly. Dad let out a sigh of relief that I chose to ignore. It’s not like he actually cares one way or the other, I thought bitterly.
“We think he might have a collapsed lung, so we’re going to give him a chest X-ray in another room. It shouldn’t be too severe, so all he may need is bed rest. For the more severe cases, we insert a chest tube to get the excess air out of his lungs so he can start healing. In the worst case scenario, he’ll need surgery.” She informed, writing down notes on the clip board that never left her side. “I’ll have to ask you to wait in the lobby while we move him and get him ready. Thank you.” She nodded curtly and went back in the room.
A bit shocked, father helped me up and led me to the lobby where he took long phone calls from mother for hours.
“He’s fine, dear,” father said, the phone pressed to his ear. “They think he might have a collapsed lung… Of course I’m coming home, darling… No, no, he’s fine! He hardly feels a thing!” father said, answering mother’s questions carefully.
I groaned loud enough to earn father’s disdainful eyes. I disregarded them. I wanted him to know I was mad with him for being such a coward. I wanted him to feel guilty for it. I wanted him to hurt.
About an hour and a half later, we received more news.
“Part of his lung is collapsed, but it’s not too serious. We call it pneumothorax, and it will lengthen his stay here. He won’t require chest tubes or surgery, be he will require rest. You can see him in about half an hour. Feel free to leave the hospital and check up on him later, the pain medicine we’re giving him will make him feel a bit drowsy. He might have trouble breathing for a while, but he’s expected to have an easy recovery. Usually, this stuff is caused by chest trauma,” she eyed us suspiciously. “We assume that’s the case. Have a nice day.”
With that, she spun on her heal and walked down the hall, her shoes clonking as she went.
Father looked down at me with something like sympathy and asked, “McDonalds?”
Mark slept the rest of the day. I refused to leave the hospital and nibbled on some chicken nuggets dad brought me. It was a long, boring few hours, with nothing to do but watch TV and take naps. Dad offered to pick up a book or two from home, but I told him that wasn’t a good idea. I feared he wouldn’t return once he saw mother in her terrible state of guilt. Dad and I kept going back and forth from the vending machine in the hall, but the conversations we had were uneventful. I was sick of being angry with the world and gave up yelling because it seemed apparent to me that it did no good.
Around eight o’clock, Mark’s eyes slid open, and he was informed about his lung. His eyes shifted around the room as he listened to his case, seeming distracted. He didn’t want to hear this. As the door shut behind the nurse, he glared at father from his bed. “Dad,” he wheezed and took a deep, painful breath. “I won’t allow your decisions to hurt me anymore. Just because you’re too scared to do anything doesn’t mean we should have to put up with this torture.”
Dad’s eyes closed tight and rubbed his fingers along his eyelids. “Yes, I know.”
I glanced at dad in surprise. “So you’re going to do something?” I asked.
“I love her, Maria. I love her no matter how terrible she is. But my kid’s safety is more important than that.”
Mark and I met eyes briefly. Was dad about to be our hero?
“I thought about it last night while I was watching the two of you talk to each other.” He stared at me as he spoke, watching my anticipation grow on my face. “I’m getting your things tomorrow. We’re leaving that house for good.”