“Home” Is a Four-Letter Word

…so then, yes, I was born. From what I understand, I was a happy baby. Allegedly I laughed a lot, had big hazel eyes, and a rambunctious, curious nature. But time’s a spiral, not a straight line, so let’s start at right now and circle back to my beginning:

#1 life lesson learned so far: Memories manifest themselves in many ways. No two are ever quite the same—each one, its own psychological snowflake. How memory is triggered and then recalled depends on the sense through which it was conceived. One sees a memory. One hears a memory. One feels a memory, and so on. 

And when I think back to my youngest years, the memories are mostly visual: Cream-colored, Hawaiian-print wallpaper striped around our kitchen like a cage. Through a doorway and one step down, dark brown and bright orange shag rug sprawled whorishly across our family room floor—a large yellow, swiveling, rocking chair and matching ottoman claimed its far corner. It was like the 1970s had frozen in time. Room after room after room, decor desperately broadcasted a, “sure, we’re completely normal” vibe. But anyone who stepped inside was undoubtedly forced to confront its facade.

I have sonic memories too: The piercing drone of Mom and Dad screaming bore new holes in my ears daily. When Dad got extra mad and threw dishes at Mom, they’d shatter and sing like a chorus of church bells hopped up on dirty meth. Every time a door slammed shut our house rattled like a snake about to strike. And Dad’s rusty, green Oldsmobile Cutlass rumbled as it creeped up the driveway into our garage. This was my childhood soundtrack. It echoes through my psyche, even today. Some things just can’t be unheard.

Suffice it to say, Dad was one scary dude: more führer than father really. I’ve got one, maybe two, nice memories of him; the rest are nothing short of a nightmare. I rarely saw Dad happy. He was always mad about something. And since I was the last of his three girls, he resented me for not being a boy. Dad and I were doomed from the get go.

Mom wasn’t fairing much better with him. Dad’s abuse broke her inside and out. I’ve got to give Mom credit though—she tried really hard to keep her troubled marriage secret. But eventually he wore her down, so she turned to friends for help.

The Stevenson family lived one block back and two houses down from us. Sprinting distance, if you will. They had three sons, two of whom were similar in age to my two older sisters. Mom really liked the Stevenson family; she spent a fair bit of time over at their house. By proxy, I did as well, but only once because I was in danger.

The physical body holds memories too.

It was a snowy, moonlit February night. I was up in my room, getting ready for bed, and brushing my hair in the mirror. Dad was down the hall in his bedroom. Daniele, downstairs watching TV. Mom and my middle sister Stef were in the kitchen, packing up for a Girl Scout troop sleepover at the big science museum downtown. Before they left, Mom stopped by my room. She hugged and kissed me goodnight, and said to call the Stevensons if Dad lost his shit.

Minutes after Mom and Stef took off Dad started screaming his brains out. Apparently, Mom hadn’t cleaned his toilet quite right—not up to his standards, at least. What kind of crap wife was she? Then, he remembered he wasn’t alone. He had two young girls in the house. He was going to teach us a lesson.

Storming out of his bedroom, Dad screamed Daniele’s name, and then he screamed mine. I made a beeline for the stairs, and was one, maybe two steps down when Dad grabbed my arm. I turned my head to look back at him and saw a man so riddled with rage he was shaking. His lips pursed tight, the whites of his eyes bugging out of his rough, red skin—I thought he might actually explode. I struggled to free myself from Dad’s grip and called to Daniele for help. The next thing I knew I was airborne.

As I tumbled down the staircase, each individual step banged into my six-year-old body. I pinballed back and forth, between the banister and wall, ending up on the cold tile floor below. Dad must have lost his balance and let go of my arm… Well, I hope that’s what happened. Otherwise, he pushed me.

“Run!” Daniele cried, and out the back door we flew.

As I ran, I saw my breath against black sky—this, my only proof that oxygen was actually passing through me. Icy snow stung my bare feet, and frigid air bit through my nightgown. Although the cold winter’s night attacked my flesh, aside from fear I felt nothing.

Seconds can seem like millennia sometimes.

Daniele and I made it to the Stevenson’s house. They let us in and led us down to their basement. Exhausted, stunned, and aching, I stared at Daniele and she stared back. Neither of us said a single word. Mrs. Stevenson instructed us to stay there and keep quiet. Then, she went back upstairs and locked the door behind her. I must have passed out on a couch after that, because the next thing I knew, I’d woken up to the sound of Dad’s voice. He was one floor above us and clearly upset. Mrs. and Mr. Stevenson wouldn’t let him see us. They told him to go “home.”

Mom came over a few hours later to take Daniele and me “home.” She said Dad calmed down and that we’d be okay. She was trying to convince herself.

To be continued…

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