This was the moment I’d played in my head over and over, I realized as I made my way across the high school cafeteria to Brianna. It was my first day back in the public school and all I’d spent my spare time worrying about was Brianna, her drinking and her sweet mother. Having just spotted her upon my return to school, I couldn’t contain myself any more and hurried over.
Brianna wasn’t just my friend; she was my first and only friend. This had been the first person I’d forged a sisterhood with and I was ready to jump out of a window if it meant my dear friend would be ok. Brianna and her mother had stopped my suicide attempt the year prior and I had been floored at the love- it had been more than I had ever experienced in my cold family.
“Brianna! Bri! I’m back!” I huffed as I reached Brianna, who leaned back casually in her chair and flipped her long brown hair with her eyes down.
“So I heard you’re already being stupid and telling lies about dealing weed. Anything else you want to tell me?” Bri didn’t look up as she spoke quietly, her rage apparent.
I frowned in confusion. “What are you talking about? Ryan said he might get me some to try? Who said that? I’m here. I was worried about you. Really worried. Are you ok?” The words came out in a long-awaited worried rush.
Brianne didn’t look up.
“I want you to leave.” She spoke so softly I leaned in.
“Huh? You want me to what?”
“Leave. NOW!” Still not looking up, the edge came out in her last word.
I stared in surprise, cut deeply. I took a few steps backwards until I felt myself hit a couple chairs. I turned and all but ran from Brianne and whatever had happened to my only tie to normal people.
I was devastated. The rest of the week was an echoed, blurry mess. Textbooks were heaped on me at each class period and I was given a list of assignments to complete in order to catch up with the rest of my peers on the school year from the months I’d missed.
I had an entire semester to complete in two months, I realized. Familiar faces turned away from me in the hall. No one knew what to think of me anymore, I realized. I had been branded.
As I sat in class, went through new student introductions and tried to focus on the lessons, I realized how much I had changed. The lessons seemed irrelevant, useless and trivial when before they had been my escape. I couldn’t focus on the teacher’s voice and sitting still had become an anxiety battle I often lost. Instead of burying myself in the respite distraction of class, all I could do was focus on getting out of the packed room.
The final bell rang at the end of my first week and I hauled my heavy bookbag through swarms of much larger students pushing and jostling to be the first out of the building. I kept my head down and let the surge push me along and out to the car where my mother waited for my brother and me.
The high school was quite large and though I hadn’t seen my brother in the halls, I suspected it may have been due to planning on his part. Upon my homecoming, my brother and sister had regarded me with the same caution one would have while conversing with a panhandler. I avoided them because I could tell they were glad for it.
The drive home was awkward as usual and I stared out the window, trying to feel like maybe life was going to improve. There was no one to talk to. My mother parked the large brown Suburban in the triple garage, and we clambered out, stomping into the house. I knew where I was supposed to go, so I complied and went to my room, closing the door as softly as I could. I sighed and hurled my heavy backpack onto the bed.
Before anything else, I turned to my radio and cranked on the familiar DJ’s voice and smiled. Even if he wasn’t speaking directly to me, it felt nice to hear a voice with laughter and like any other fifteen year old, I found great solace in music. My radio had become one of my only and most treasured belongings.
Turning from the radio, I looked around my bare room. My parents had removed all of my belongings, locking them in the master suite closet, telling me I had to catch up on school before I could have the privilege of having my things back. The empty white shelves looked blankly at me from my walls and desk as I walked across the room and pulled a thick book from underneath the papasan chair in the corner of the room. Though I had been permitted to keep this particular book because my mother had picked it out for me, saying it was Christian (it was not), my mother’s approval waned the moment she saw me curled up within its pages, finally in another world. Knowing she intended to take it when I wasn’t looking, I had been proactive and had hidden it.
I unzipped my backpack and drew out the largest, heaviest textbook, then retreated to my papasan chair. Flipping the cover open, I placed my open novel inside, snuggled down and began to read about a fictional sweat shop scandal in China. As I slipped into the story, the edges of the paper began to fade. The gleaming white shelves and echo of the radio in my empty room softened and were slowly replaced by the voices, sounds and tastes in my story.
I walked between the lines of each page as slowly as I could, imagining every detail. Within the covers of my science book I followed a young investigator across the sea from San Diego to China, to the harbor in Chicago and back to the frothy waves and waving palms of California. I tasted all kinds of woodland and foreign cooking through the savory descriptions laid out in ink. As the book turned and the light faded, I finished saving the sweat shop with the young hero and closed the pages sadly. I would miss my new friend and remember the adventure we had from the confines of my cell.
The sounds of my parents, brother and sister having dinner in the marble slab dining room echoed down to my room. My stomach rumbled and I ruefully gazed at my backpack on the bed, spilling over with coursework I could never hope to finish before the end of the semester. I knew the rule though- nothing in my life was going to be normal unless I caught up on ten weeks of coursework in the remaining four weeks to the semester. My walls in every world were closing in, but there was nothing else to do but pull out my desk chair, grab a book and begin working.
I had just finished my third assignment when my door popped and my mother burst in the room.
“Are you doing your work? You know you can’t have anything extra unless you can do the basics right?”
“Yes Mom. See? I finished 2 weeks of math today.” I held up the assignments, eager to show progress.
“Did you see Brianna at school today? You may not speak to her and don’t ever try to pass notes to her through your brother again.”
“I saw her but I didn’t talk to her. I don’t think she likes me anymore anyways.” I looked down at the desk, praying the pain wouldn’t show in my voice. Losing Brianna had been more than devastating to me, but if my mother saw it, be would sure try to course-correct me in the worst way. If she knew I was lying, I’d be punished harshly.
“Skye, I have a real question and I want you to think hard about it. Really.” My mother sat on the bed as I rocked my desk chair backwards, refusing to look at her and not daring to ask.
“Do your ‘friends’ actually like you? Like, are they actually your friends or do you think they feel sorry for you because you don’t actually have any? You need to think about what kind of a person you are.” My mother rambled matter-of-factly, clearly having thought this conversation through earlier.
“I don’t have any friends, Mom.” I didn’t look up.
“Well there are some genuinely nice girls out there you could be more like. What about Kayla? She is going to the Catholic school and is just darling! If you were more like her I am sure things would get better.”
“Can I go play outside with Brooke please?” I tried to keep my voice even but finally turned to meet her gaze.
“It’s almost dark. You can go out for twenty minutes but if you give me a hard time about anything we won’t do this again.” My mother rose and left my room.
I waited, listening at the open door until I heard her back in her bedroom. Grabbing a jacket, I grinned and ran upstairs to greet my golden retriever, Brooke.
The alarm system dinged loudly as I opened the side door for my furry buddy and bounded outside after her. These were the best twenty minutes of my day on the days I was allowed out with her.
After my twenty minutes of running, wrestling, fetch and cuddling in the grass were up, I returned inside, showered and got ready for bed. Brooke was only allowed upstairs, on the tile. My mother came down to my room as I was drifting off. As she knelt beside my bed, I kept my eyes closed and breathing steady; she said cruel things at these moments.
I felt water trickle onto my forehead as my mother began to murmur the Hail Mary. She was anointing me in holy water again to cast out my demons, I realized. I was thankful that I had opted to pretend to be asleep; last time my mother had done this, I had been awake and she had called my father to hold me down so she could ‘anoint’ me. If she wanted a hug from me and I didn’t want to hug her, she would call my father in the room to hold me while she got her hug from me- I had learned to not resist much and to ‘play dead’ often.
My mother finished her praying and left, closing the door behind me. When I was sure she was gone, I rolled onto my back, wiping the water from my face and hair. I felt a few tears slip from the corner of my eyes; I didn’t know how to show my parents I wasn’t bad, possessed or crazy- I was really trying to be good enough.
Depression settled across me like a heavy blanket and the sadness lulled me to sleep. At least in the morning I could be at school again, I thought as I drifted off.
I lay face down in the wet, decaying leaves and God knows what else underneath a trailer. I controlled my heavy breathing; my body had ceased to shake from the cold in spite of the sub-freezing temperatures and the howling ice. I knew I was hypothermic, but I had much more serious matters on my hands. I heard a car door slam and knew the cop had gotten out of his cruiser.
I shook in the blizzard under a trailer and watched the boots of the policeman following my prints in the snow, throwing his flashlight to each side as he carefully stepped. He came closer.
‘God’, I thought. ‘Don’t catch me. Please please please keep walking.’
The footsteps neared me and slowed by the trailer. I held my breath, suddenly realizing my barefoot prints in the snow had led him straight to me. Before diving for cover under the trailer, I had turned to continue running, so at least, I realized, my tracks didn’t make a direct line to where I lay.
It felt like I lay there forever holding my breath as the policeman’s boots trod the snow three feet from my face. Finally, they turned around and started stepping away. Slowly, silently, I exhaled. The boots suddenly spun around and a face appeared under the trailer.
“Ms. Galvas, get out from under the trailer.”
Dang. Now what?! Weren’t people understanding I wasn’t crazy and that something was actually going on? I grumbled in response to him and dragged myself forward through the filth to get out from under the trailer. Not even bothering to shake the trash and dirt off my clothes, I straightened my tiny frame.
The look of shock on the rookie’s face was apparent. I had been in the blizzard for several hours; he knew that. I guess he hadn’t known I was barefoot, clad only in a thin tee-shirt and torn sweatpants while beaten black and blue. I saw the thoughts flying around behind his eyes; he could see I’d been smacked around and my bluing hands and face. He didn’t cuff me.
Blasting the heat up as high as it would go in the cruiser, I looked on in shock as the police officer took his coat off and put it around my shoulders, putting me in the passenger’s seat so I could be up close to the fully blasting heat. My numb mind noted the brotherly way he treated me; I had already dealt with many cops and none of them would ever have been this kind to me. I looked wretched with rotting leaves and sticks poking out of my hair.
I don’t remember much of what was said as he drove me back to my parents’ house. I had only made it a few miles from the house along the highway, as every time I had seen approaching headlights, I would dive into the snowbank until they faded again. As he pulled up my parents’ steep driveway, I saw at least three flashing cruisers in front of my parents’ home. A much more gruff cop who seemed to be my friendly rookie’s boss came to the window and talked to him. He explained he had already interviewed my parents and give me a disdainful look. Of course; they were so friendly and successful. No one would ever believe me compared to them.
As the boss-man leaned through the driver’s window, the rookie turned to me with a fresh pad of yellow legal paper and asked me to tell him what happened.
I opened my mouth to tell him how screwed up my parents were, how they treated me behind closed doors and exactly just how cool I was. A sob came out, then another, and another until I was sobbing hysterically. So much for communicating and playing it cool.
The evening had started as usual with one exception: I was about to make a very brave request: I had asked my mother if I could call a friend. They told me no; my friend was atheist and they said it would only make me more insane. I cracked and pushed and pleaded; if I didn’t talk to someone I felt like my mind would cross into a psychotic break from stress. Things escalated quickly. I kept insisting and soon my father entered, challenging me about pressuring my mother to let me make the call. Talks turned to blows.
Not long after the blows, my mother pushed me into the corner while my father made calls in another room. I angrily shoved something into the electrical sockets. I knew something terrible would happen, and I asked my mother for permission to use the bathroom. The bathroom had a small window about 1.5 floors up. I used the toilet, opened the window and sat on the ledge. Something even more terrible was going to come from those phone calls my father was making. I had to escape this madhouse.
Looking down, I was dizzied by the fall. I sat there, hesitating. I realized I was risking broken bones and other injuries if I pushed off. Suddenly my mother threw the door open. Not seeing me, she screamed for my father to call the police. I hurled myself into the swirling blizzard.
I didn’t know where to go. My adrenaline was pumping too hard for me to worry about the cold. I had to call someone to come get me. I ran into the woods. Sprinting up a narrow stretch of trees, I hung a right and entered the next neighborhood. It was around 10pm and not many lights glowed in the wealthy neighborhood. I briskly walked up the steep hill of the street, scanning for any lights on in living room windows. I felt the balls of my socked big toes banging against the hard ice but paid no notice as I rounded a corner past the house of the family I babysat for. I needed a phone. If I could somehow even just get a lift to my high school I could break into the locker room and get shoes and clothes.
As I flew around the curve in the neighborhood, I found what I had been seeking: flashing lights in a living room. I could feel my face swelling; I had to act before any proof that I’d been struck showed. I approached the house and rang the doorbell. No answer. I pressed the doorbell again and controlled my shaking and breathing. Now was not the time to show trauma. A woman answered the door. She squinted at me.
“Hi…I’m sorry to bug you. My parent left town for a while. My sister and I got in a fight and she locked me out of the house. Can I use your phone to call my friend to come get me?” I mustered my most jovial tone.
“I guess. Come in. What’s your name? Where do you live?
“I babysit for the Harrison’s down the street but I’m from the other neighborhood. No worries; I’ll just make a quick call and I can get out of your hair.” As the warmth of the house invited the swelling in my face to become quickly visible, I realized I might look a tad like a crazy person.
They handed me a cordless house phone and I dialed the number of a friend whom I thought may have the resources to help. She had a car and her parents usually let her go out and do things; they trusted her. I had memorized the phone number of the few friends I had.
The call to my friend Amy went through just as I realized that the homeowner and her husband weren’t going anywhere. I couldn’t actually tell her what had happened with them standing right in front of me. Time to get inventive, I realized.
“Amy? Hi! Remember how my sister and I always fight? Well we got in a big one and I’m locked out of the house. I am over at a neighbor’s but it’s freezing. Could you come get me?” I used my cheeriest tone while watching the couple apprehensively.
“Skye what is going on?! It’s too late at night to come get you. Wait. What happened?” The annoyance that was first in her voice had melted into panic.
I was deeply focused on controlling my frozen body, keeping a jovial tone on the phone and somehow speaking in code to someone who didn’t necessarily know I was speaking in code, but I noticed a shift in the room. I had failed at convincing this couple that I wasn’t a runaway. My face was starting to swell in the warmth of the house and even though I couldn’t feel my legs or feet, I saw a small stream of blood seeping onto the floor. The man left saying he was going to bed. The woman started looking for her cell phone. The moment she vanished from the room I dropped my happy code voice, speaking in a hushed, urgent tone.
“Listen Amy. Things got really bad with my parents and I jumped out a window and ran away. I need to get to the high school to get warm. Can you meet me at Crain Hill?”
In that moment, the woman reappeared holding her phone to her ear. She was talking to the police. Since my parents had already called them, I knew I had roughly one minute to get out of the house and disappear before they caught me and brought me home.
“Skye you can’t do this. I can’t come get you; it’s late at night! What do I do?”
The panic was rising in her voice. I looked over at the woman talking to the cops. Code time and a goodbye were in VERY short order. The seconds were flying by.
“Okay well I’m going to start heading over to Crain Hill to meet you. Thanks for helping out!”
“There are people there aren’t there? You’re just trying to trick them right?” Amy was doing her best to decode the chaos unraveling on my end of the line.
“Oh sure! Definitely! See you soon!”
Amy screamed something for me to not hang up and as I pressed the button to end the call, I knew I’d done something terrible to her. I set the phone down and thanked the woman, who was also wrapping up her call to the cops. She tried to get me to stay and I thanked her again, sprinting out the door and back into the cold. I had to get out of the area FAST if I was going to avoid getting caught by the police, who were likely about to start pouring into the streets with nothing else to do in my small town. I ran.
The balls of my feet started making cracking sounds as I ruthlessly slammed them into the ice again and again. I couldn’t feel it, and I was willing to do whatever it took to not get caught and brought home. I was a cross-country runner and for this one night, it served me very well. I finally got to the end of the steep neighborhood entrance and to the local highway. I started running towards Crain Hill (roughly 3 miles away) along the highway. Headlights appeared in the distance. In the dark, I had no way of knowing if it was a cop or a passerby, so I dove into the snow bank and waited for it to pass. I shivered, feeling the cold stiffen my already rigid joints and leach my life away.
When the car passed, I climbed back up and started running again. Not ten seconds later, more headlights appeared and I repeated my diving routine. The cars kept coming. Every time I took a few steps I had to dive again. This wasn’t working; I was growing exhausted and more hypothermic in the whipping snow with every step and dive and I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I decided I’d gotten far enough away to risk running past a few cars. As I reached that conclusion, another set of headlights appeared. I walked coolly along the road as if I wasn’t dragging my right foot along, leaving a small trail of blood. The car began to slow. My adrenaline shot up. I couldn’t outrun a cop, but my runaway experience told me hiding was much more effective than one would think.
I ran away from the road. Houses lined the side of the highway I was on, and the other side was a frozen beach. Sprinting into a small copse of trees spanning the gap between two houses, my eyes roved from side to side trying to find a place I could disappear to. There was nothing. There was a steep hill behind the houses, boxing me in. I spotted a dirty old flatbed trailer in the trees. I only had a few seconds and it was the only place I could find. I steered desperately towards the trailer as the high beam search light in the cruiser flicked on and began sweeping back and forth in my direction. I hesitated for a moment when I reached the trailer. It clearly hadn’t been moved in years; I didn’t want to know what I would find underneath it. The light started moving dangerously near me and for the last time, I dove.
It was this police cruiser that had driven me to hide under the trailer. In the front seat of the police vehicle, with the officer’s coat draped around my shoulders while the heat blasted, I couldn’t stop sobbing uncontrollably as the cop asked me what happened. Every time, a fresh wave of hysterics would hit. I managed to spit out that I had been hit and that I ran away, but I couldn’t manage to get the critical details out. I knew what my parents had told the police: I was suicidal, emotionally unstable and a compulsive liar. I knew they would sadly shake their heads as they told the boss-cop how they had tried again and again to help me and how they didn’t understand why I would act out so much.
The rookie gave up on getting a statement from me. I looked like a crazy person and with my hysterical sobs, it wasn’t hard to believe. Still, he spoke to me kindly. He had to drive over to check on something before he took me anywhere; we drove to the neighborhood I had run into to call my friend Amy. There were police cruisers EVERYWHERE. He pulled up in front of the house I’d called my friend from and left me in the car (which still shocks me). I couldn’t run; there was no point. My legs limply tugged on my hips, blood was all over the foot well of his car and my adrenaline was gone. I felt dead; it was as if someone had shut my brain and all my feelings off and only my eyes worked.
While I slumped, a female cop came to the cruiser and opened my door. She exclaimed something and turned to the rookie, who was just coming back to the car. She was angry. I heard her shout at him for not taking me directly to the hospital. She checked my vitals, yelled some more and pushed him into the driver’s seat.
At first he drove casually, telling me about the rookie life and how he wished he could get a better cruiser. I was fading fast. When I stopped responding to him, he got worried. Flicking on his lights and sirens, he rushed us onward to the hospital, making jokes to ease his own worry. Someone came out and scooped me into a wheelchair, then some people transferred me to a gurney. I don’t remember what they did to treat me, but I know I was treated for lacerations on my feet and severe hypothermia. They took my ragged tee-shirt, shredded socks and filthy sweatpants and put me in a hospital gown. Actually, I think they took my underwear too.
If there is a such thing as feeling dead while alive, this was it. The thought flitted across my mind that if I killed myself it would be better, but I didn’t consider it. I didn’t have the energy to do anything but lie there and wish I could fall asleep and not wake up. Voices in the hallway roused me slightly; they were my parents’ voices. I suddenly became aware that my right wrist was cuffed to the gurney and that there was a policeman posted outside my hospital room. The cuffs I understood, but in later years I have learned that cops are only posted outside rooms if they feel the patient is a danger to OTHERS. I listened as best as I could to the conversation outside my door.
The words swirled under the door and around where it was cracked open in little bits and pieces. I heard the words ‘violent’ and ‘disturbed’. “We tried to help her” appeared as well. Listening to the words exchanged outside my door deadened me. Shutter Island. No one believed me; how could they? My family seemed so nice and loving and I was completely unhinged from what was actually going on. The cops bought their story.
I didn’t wonder what would happen to me. I didn’t care. I slept. When I woke, two police officers put me in a wheelchair and wrapped blankets around me. They loaded me into a van, seating me in the back behind a metal grate. I was still in my gown. I couldn’t wear the hospital socks because my feet were swollen, bone bruised and bloody, so I was barefoot. I asked the two drivers, a male and female, where we were going and they ignored me. I asked again and again, but they didn’t speak to me. We drove for 3 hours.
Somewhere along the way I realized my mother was driving behind the van to wherever we were going. Finally, we entered a city I recognized. After a few more minutes, they pulled in front of a secure mental hospital. They tried making me walk myself in with my butt showing out of the back of the gown, but I couldn’t stand. They wheeled me into an interview room, where my mother and a doctor were seated and waiting. They were processing my admission. Shutter Island.
The process took what felt like 2 hours. I wasn’t permitted to speak, so I had to sit and listen to my mother spin tales, exaggerate and leave critical information out as she worked to convince the doctor to commit me. Shutter Island. He agreed and gave us a moment to say goodbye before they took me into the hospital, explaining I would be in the juvenile delinquent unit.
I don’t remember all of what I said to my highly impressionable mother, but I convinced her that committing me would be a massive step backwards. I shamed her for her lies and did the best manipulating job I could manage to change her mind. Thankfully I had learned well, and she asked the doctor to release me.
I drove with her back home. When I gingerly stepped into the house, my brother and sister gave me hateful looks and disappeared. They didn’t know what had happened, but they hated me for all of my craziness. By the time school started on Monday, my walking was improving. I went to school. Sitting on the bench in the lobby area, I watched as hundreds of students streamed around me. They had all had normal weekends, I was sure of it. I had aged ten years in mine, and none of them would ever know; I felt bitterness well up.
Near the end of the school day, I passed my friend Amy in the hallway. After I had hung up on her, she had gone to her father to ask if they could come get me. Not knowing how bad things were and how my parents were, he had decided the best course of action would be to call my parents and tell them what had happened. If I had made it to Crain Hill, no one would have been there and I likely would have frozen. Amy asked me if I was getting the help I needed. My defenses went up, and I told her with the most cheerful voice I could muster that everything was fine and that I was ‘good’.
The month passed slowly and with each day, my walls closed a little more as it became clearer and clearer I was being bullied, wasn’t going to catch up on coursework in time and I wasn’t going to earn any freedom back before my sanity broke from the isolation. Finally, I experienced a break: I was allowed to eat dinner with my family for the first time since my first night back home from the Christian program.
I sat in my designated chair in the dining room, with my father at the head of the table to my left, my brother and sister across from me. My mother sat to my elbow; since we both ate with our left hands, she insisted we sit beside each other to avoid an elbow war. I hated sitting between my parents, but tonight felt even stranger.
My brother sat directly across from me, scowling; he liked me even less at home than he did at school. Earlier that week he had walked by as I was being dragged into the bathroom by bullies and I had called to him for help. He had said ‘how about not?’ and walked away. I felt the bully’s initials, carved into the side of my knee, burn as I sat at the table, waiting for permission to eat.
We said grace and everyone started passing around the meager dinner portions; my mother struggled with her eating habits and would often joke that keeping limited food in the house was her way of staying fit. Unfortunately, it was less of a joke than most realized.
The plates clanked and the occasional fork would scrape, but otherwise the table was eerily silent. I realized my presence was ruining their peaceful, almost perfect family. I giggled and everyone looked up from their plates, apprehensive.
Something in me broke. The fancy plates, expensive bay view, Italian marble slab table, manners and formality of having dinner with my family pressed hard against my daily prisoner reality. I couldn’t reconcile the normalcy that I was experiencing it and as I realized this happened every single night while I sat in my room, something in me broke. If it wasn’t tragic, it had to be comical. My giggles turned to hysterical laughter.
“And how as your class? Worried about an A-?” I snarled and laughed at my brother.
“Did you have a good time going to class with all my friends? I bet they like you so so much more.” I had turned to my little sister, who had taken math classes with my peers at one time.
I threw my fork, completely hysterical and in a full meltdown.
Most of dinner was salad, complete with an arrangement of dressing bottles. I seized one with the cap off, still laughing. I drew it behind my head, ready the fling across the Grand Room and into the baby grand piano.
“Because we are HEALTHY, and so so so HEALTHY!” I could feel the tears streaming down my face. Something in my chest had snapped me in half.
A large hand clamped down on my wrist before I could throw the dressing and another ripped it from my loosely held fist- my father had stood and seized me from behind.
“Clearly you’re not ready for a simple meal.” He grunted, several glasses of wine deep.
He dragged me down the steps and to my room, closing the door hard. Crying hysterically at this point, I let my chest heave and sob till I fell asleep. I didn’t understand why they didn’t love me like my sibling. And why couldn’t I keep it together in the ONE moment that mattered? My heart filled with self-loathing as I drifted off in my cell, the bare walls echoing my cries.
Part 2 – The Disappeared
It was about to be the spring semester and I had finished with roughly half of my assignments completed. Though I was quite proud, my parents felt otherwise. Classes had started again and even though nothing in my home life had changed, something in my coursework did: I had a theatre class with Brianna.
We avoided each other as much as possible while working on our monologues. I could tell the circles under her eyes were getting darker and the lines in her face had grown deeper, and my heart tore. I believed I had broken Brianna’s heart and trust.
In the first week back to classes from Christmas break, I knew something was brewing for me between my parents. Two weeks earlier, in a rage from testing anxiety, my brother had finally lost his temper.
While insisting to my mother in the kitchen that I be allowed freedom to choose what kind of pants I was allowed to have (she was dead set against cargo pants or multi-pockets), something snapped and she called my little sister to the room to argue with me. I held my hands out while supplicating my sister. Aggravated, she swatted at my hands.
My fingers were oddly collapsible and it would still be many years until I would find out why. As my sister’s hands came down on my fingers, my pinkies bent backwards. I felt the bones snap in two small popping sounds. The pain was sharp but not as bad as when my father crushed my balled fists in his hands. Still, I knew right away what had happened.
“You broke my fingers!”
“No I didn’t! You’re just a wimp!”
Finally my parents called off the argument and sent me to the cell. The pain in my hands needled me, keeping me up until I couldn’t take it any longer. I knew where my parents kept liquor and books had told me spirits helped with the worst of pain. I hadn’t prowled the house at night since Halloween mattered many years ago, but the pain in my hands coupled with the hurt over the lack of concern that my fingers were no longer straight drove me up the carpeted steps and into the marbled kitchen. I silently shut myself inside the pantry and turned on the light. As usual. the wine and liquor sat behind the door. I grabbed my water bottle and began to pour.
My hands throbbed as my eyes snapped open; my mother was waking me for school. Blearily, I collected my scattered textbooks and papers, pulled on one of my three permitted changes of clothes and clambered upstairs. My water bottle was nestled in the side pocket of my backpack, packed with liquor. I’d never drank before but I knew it stopped the pain physically and possibly mentally too. It was time for last resorts for my sanity.
We arrived and I showed up and managed to sit through my first two extended block periods before my hands began to scream and the memories echoed so loudly in my mind, I couldn’t hear the teacher.
I sat with my back to the library on the floor and pushed my backpack to the side. To my surprise, one of the juniors on my cross-country team flopped down next to my bag.
“SO, Skye, how are you?”
I told her, throwing in my own colorful details. I showed her my massively swollen fingers and my water bottle filled with watered down liquor. I told her I planned to get drunk to see if it helped.
My friends had had enough of watching me be humiliated, stomped on and starved. I meandered off to my class, but within the hour the PA system in my class piped up, summoning me to the office.
I crept inside cautiously, giving my pass to the secretary, who directed me to a room number down the hall. As I entered, I noted ‘social worker’ on the outside nameplate. I was in real trouble, I realized.
The straw-haired woman sat in the cramped gray office across her small desk from me. Looking to be in her fifties, she smiled at me, revealing crow’s feet by her eyes. This woman smiled often, I realized.
“Sit down, please, Skye. Your friends Judy and Ziyah came to me this morning with broken hearts. You’re well loved, you know. May I see your hands? What is the wound on your face from?”
I turned a deep red, feeling betrayed. Social workers would only be fooled if everyone else could be. My hand reached up to the small cut on my forehead; I had angered my father by writing. Since he had taken all digital access and paper, he had caught me writing on the bottom of a shoe-shelf.
I had declared it was a free country like every brilliantly defiant teen and my father had retaliated. With my face and my broken fingers, then the bottle of alcohol, I had attracted attention. My friends were worried, I realized. My teachers were worried. Still, I couldn’t imagine anyone meeting my parents and still believing me.
My father had ensured I had a mental health and prescription record. I was a runaway that had been kicked out of a program. My credibility as a minor has already been small, but these days, it was almost nonexistent as I could be at the drop of a hat.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked cautiously, my friend keeping her hand clamped on my leg in support.
“Well, what do YOU want? I think for starters we need to get the nurse to splint those fingers- that looks painful.” The social worker lowed at getting a progressive answer.
“I don’t want to be a Galvas anymore. I just… I love my brother and definitely my little sister but I am scared ALL THE TIME. I’m locked up ALL THE TIME. Missus, they won’t let me write anything without reading it. I don’t know but I need to get away from them.” I stammered, deciding impulsively to push out every bit of courage I could muster.
“That’s a very brave answer, Skye. We are here for you every step of the way.” The woman picked up the phone, asking me and my friend to sit outside. My friend squeezed my leg yet again, promising everything would be ok.
I wanted to cry- I was terrified. On one hand, no one would believe me and I would be forced to face my parents once again. I wouldn’t allow myself to consider this possibility, which I called plan NO in my mind. On the other hand, I would be believed and I would go into foster care at best. Still though, my father had his ways and if this didn’t work, I was in for a world of hurt.
Two CPS investigators came to the school and took a statement from me. They photographed my fingers and the cut and bruises on my face, telling me they would be interviewing my siblings and my parents as well. My heart plummeted- I knew my siblings would only say good things about my parents since it was their honest experience. This wasn’t going to work, I realized.
By the time the investigators left and the last affairs had been handled, the counselor looked over the tops of her glasses kindly at me.
“They’re going to get the lab to test the blood on the lamp, so don’t worry so much about what they say. Evidence says everything.” She did her best to reassure my fears and then scribbled out a hall pass for me.
“I know it will be hard to focus for the next few days, but do your best ok?” She tore off the pink slip and handed it to me.
I accepted the pass and left the office in a state of shock. I had to go home and live with these people while this was going on? How did they think that was going to go? I swallowed hard, reaching for my water bottle and remembering my friend had poured out the water and vodka mixture. School was going to be over in twenty minutes and my mother was due to pick my brother and I up.
I dragged my feet in the daily surge of teenage bodies out through the huge main doors, allowing the towering football players to trample me to put more seconds between me and my mother’s waiting car. I could only make it last so long and soon we were packed in and whistling home.
My mother didn’t like talking to me on the drives as it was, but there was something sad about her. I tried not to notice, going down to my bedroom as compliantly as I could once we reached the house. As I got to my room, I noticed two things had changed.
My door was gone. As I walked through the doorway, I ran my swollen hand over the empty hinges and my stomach slowly sank. I sat on the bed, unable to not notice the single most horrifying change: The lamp I had been struck with remained on the nightstand, but the matching lamp, with no traces of blood, was gone. My parents must have given them the clean lamp, I realized in horror. Evidence was not going to help me if the real stuff was still sitting there, its true existence unknown.
I couldn’t do classwork. I couldn’t focus. The silence went on for two long days until I was picked up early by my mother from school. This time, she took me to the police station.
“You know why we are here and I have never been so disgusted in my life.” My mother’s hushed rage had finally surfaced as I walked into the station ahead of her.
We were greeted by one of the male investigators and he directed me into an investigation room. I sat and waited with my head against the one-way glass. Why was I here? I wondered. Were they going to take me away? I hoped so.
“We talked to both of your parents, your brother and your sister.” The investigator began.
“We also tested that lamp that you said your father hit you with for blood, but we didn’t find any. I think you know your siblings feel very differently about what is going on here.”
“You think I am a liar? You think I lied?” I didn’t know how else to make sense of what was happening through my growing panic. Was I going to have to live with my parents after this? I couldn’t imagine.
“Yeah. It looks like you were actually put in a home for having some problems already and it looks like you’ve had enough behavior problems that your parents have had to get you professional, residential and even medical help. Kid, we know.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I looked down at my broken fingers.
“So, we need to make some decisions because you are on a bad track. If you keep lying and you stick with your story, I am going to charge you. If you can be honest with me right here and now so I can close out this case, I promise this time I won’t file charges. If you do it again though, I will.”
I had no choice, so with my eyes down and the loud buzz of panic eating the edges of my vision, I pulled the statement form he had laid out towards me and picked up the pen. For the first time, I was going to formally admit to a crime I had not committed, but at least I wouldn’t have another thing on top of having to somehow face my parents’ retribution.
“You made the right choice, kid. Let’s get this wrapped up.”
It was late, but the day had been scarily uneventful since returning home from the police station. I wondered if my mother was waiting for my father to return from work before laying on the punishment.
With my door missing, I would sometimes sneak out and try to find a phone to call a friend. On this evening, my brother was fruitlessly searching the house for a phone and his frustration was mounting quickly as my father returned home. I was in my room, softly playing my radio for company and listening for any signs of danger.
“I bet Skye took and broke the phones! She HATES us!”
“Skye, where is the phone? Skye!”
I could hear my brother coming down the steps to my room. He could get mean, so I backed myself out of my room and into the kitchen. I stood in my socks on the granite tile as he roared into the room.
“I’m not allowed the call anyone. I don’t know where Mom and Dad hid the phones.”
“You know how to break into their room when we’re all gone. You took it! Tell me or I’ll take something of yours!”
“I don’t know where the phones are, but if you want to take one of my things you have to break into Mom and Dad’s closet because I don’t have anything.” Truly not knowing where the phone was, I was glad to at least take the power from his threat. I smiled triumphantly that for once, my restricted life had a perk to it.
“Oh yeah?” He turned and vanished from the kitchen doorway. I could hear him enter my room and the soft radio music cutting out. As I listened, not sure what the next safest move was, my mother and father, who had just returned home, stepped from the entry into the kitchen where they had witnessed my brother’s rage.
My brother returned with my precious radio in his hands. My eyes opened in horror.
“You make us all miserable! Don’t you get that we hate you? Why can’t you just kill yourself right?” In slow motion he raised my radio over his head and brought it down on the hard granite floor in front of the three of us, disintegrating the device.
I stared numbly at my destroyed best friend. Brooke, scared from the anger, was hiding in the mudroom. My mother spoke up in the silence.
“Skye, you need to understand what you’re doing to this family.”
My mother’s face was grim, reflecting the same loathing my brother’s shone with.
“You’re not doing to do anything? He broke my radio!”
“Why, Skye? You didn’t deserve to have it anyways. Go to your room.”
I began gathering up the broken pieces of my radio, praying that somehow I could fix it. My brother had left the room while my mother was admonishing me, leaving me with only my parents in the kitchen.
“Wait a minute.” My father’s cold voice froze my hands.
“Now is as good of a time as any to let you know what we are going to have to do to keep the family safe after this stunt you pulled with CPS. You can’t tear this family apart like that. Sit.”
My father had seated himself at one of the kitchen breakfast bar seats and gestured for me to do the same. Still holding a couple pieces of my radio, I slowly stood instead. for once, my father let it go, which scared me more than anything- what was he about to lay on that was so much better than taking a moment to force me to sit?
“You failed school. It’s obviously not working out at the public school, you don’t have any friends, you aren’t emotionally stable without my supervising your medication- I think you know where I am going.” He steepled his hands and look up at me.
“You’re not going back to school. Your mother is going to order you a homeschool curriculum for all of the 10th grade and we expect you to get through it by summer break. If you can’t, you’re not going back to school again next year either.”
My world dropped away as a rock hit the bottom of my stomach. For as terrible as it was for me in the school, it was the only time my every movement wasn’t under scrutiny. I could breathe with a few hours away from my captors every day. I began to stumble back out of the kitchen. I needed a retreat for the shock so I could process this horrifying development.
“I didn’t say you could leave.” My father’s voice echoed behind me as I made it to the top of the steps, leading to my room.
“I want to be alone.” My voice was barely above a murmur.
“You lost that privilege.” My father had come from the kitchen and down the hall to stand in front of me at the top of the steps. The enjoyment in his eyes sparked something within my deadened shock and I felt the tip of rage emerging from the pain.
With my hands at my sides, I faced him and balled my hands. His reaction was so swift I don’t remember seeing him move as he backhanded me, sending me down the first landing on the steps.
I retreated to the small walk-in closet in my room, hanging a blanket across the back half to lend myself a small amount of privacy to grieve. It wasn’t to be; my mother hadn’t gotten to say her piece yet.
I heard her coming down the steps but there were never any defenses. She ripped down my blanket and the shouting began. I just listened, hunching my shoulders against the words. Finally she left, returning every three minutes or so a few more times to spit out more as she thought of it.
My book had long since been taken along with a small wallet containing $40 I had earned babysitting long ago- I hadn’t been allowed to have or use money for a very long time. Sometime in the middle of the night, I cried myself to sleep. I was fifteen, so I waited until the late hours to let the tears fall quietly.
3 Months Later
“Get up! Get up right now. How DARE you be sleeping while the rest of us suffer from everything you’ve done. You are destroying this family. Get up RIGHT NOW!” My mother blasted in the room, pulling up the blinds and drowning the room in bright morning light. I tried to sit up quickly and blink the sleep away in a panic; what had I done? Why was she so angry?
My mother reached over and ripped the blanket off me.
“What did I do? What’s going on?” I tried to scoot myself up the bed to the headboard, but I wasn’t quick enough. Seizing my ankle, she dragged me forward off the bed and I fell hard to the floor.
“Your sweet, giving sister mouthed off at me just like you do this morning on the way to school and I am so so tired of the terrible influence you are having. You are ruining my good children!” She was absolutely hysterical, so I took my chances and made a break for it out of the room before she could do more.
I tore up the steps and saw my parents’ bedroom, usually closed and locked with a key that only they carried, was open. All of my things were in their closet. Perhaps I could find a phone and call someone for help. I wondered if anyone had wondered what had happened to me in the months it had been since I had vanished from my school hallways. Knowing my mother would be slow behind me in the large house, I spritned into the bedroom to see what could be found in short time.
I decided first to glance through their hiding spots in the bathroom, where they kept my most important things before a quick run through their closet. My mother must be out of her mind to be move so fast, I thought as I realized she was already at the top of the steps. There would be no time to do anything.
As I turned to leave, a cluster of pill bottles caught my eye. I had less than 3 seconds, but I couldn’t resist: I picked up a bottle. The labels had my mother’s name on them. The doctor listed was my father.
“Take 2 every 6-8 hours as needed for anxiety” the bottle read.
Time was up. My mother stood in the doorway of the master suite bathroom, staring at me as I held her medication bottle in my hand. I didn’t understand drugs, nor did I know about addiction, but as I saw my mother’s face register understanding that her secret was out, her entire body changed. I was in real danger.
“What do you have there Skye? It’s not yours so put it down.”
“He gives you pills too?”
“That is absolutely none of your business. If you think you’re not causing real damage, take a look at what you’ve done to me. This is private and if anyone finds out that you know, there are going to be some serious consequences.” Her voice had changed from hysterical rage to silky, dangerously soft.
I wished I could back up time and have stayed put in my room as the realization that my knew knowledge was only going to bring me harm. Clearly, I had made a far more serious discovery than my limited experience deemed possible.
“I won’t say anything. I promise. I’ll go back to my room. I’m trying really hard to be better.” To my complete shock, she let me go and I rushed down to the semi-safety of my cell.
I knew the world had forgotten me. It had been so long since I heard the voice someone other than my mother or father that I began to realize my vocal chords were stiff from going days with having no one to talk to.
My sanity came and went in cycles. The effort to complete my work, handle the isolation, follow the rules and avoid retribution for things outside my control wore me down. I watched spring bloom and come alive through my window, the openers of which had long since been removed and hidden in the closet. I could last, I realized, a little over a month before I cracked and would break a rule.
One time, my father had set up a camera in his bedroom to catch me if I tried to get in and get one of my books out of the closet. I paid dearly. Another time I had mouthed off to my mother after finally breaking. I wasn’t allowed my outdoors time anymore, but that time I had taken a lawn chair and run into the forest to have somewhere quiet to sit and get away. Yet another time, my mother had discovered I was cheeking my medication and flew into such a rage as I sat before her at my fathers desk that she began throwing things. She shoved his heavy marble penholder forward off the desk, screaming she had had it with me. As it flew from the desk, it struck my shin, breaking in half and leaving a gash.
The police were useless and so was CPS. Though my sanity had more than frayed, I was beginning to realize there was no way I could be kept locked up my entire life, and I tapped into the trickle of hope it provided. I could try to emancipate myself, but in order to get the tools to get emancipated, I would have to run away since my father would never allow it, and that would land me in juvie. The other option to get out of this early, I realized, would be to get into foster care.
One night in late May, my father was uncorking a second bottle of wine and called me up from my room. I shuffled, looking down in total dread as he swirled, sniffed and sipped his wine, sitting back at the kitchen breakfast bar. It was never good when he wanted to see me.
“Your mother found your ‘journal’ again.”
I wasn’t allowed to write anything outside of what I was assigned in the homeschool curriculum, but I had found that writing was the closest way I could get out what was happening. After getting caught writing under a shelf, I’d resorted to hiding scraps of paper under the bottom drawer in my closet dresser.
“I think we are done with you, you know that Skye? It’s just not that complicated. Be good, do your schoolwork and take your medication. Somehow, you’ve managed to take down our entire family, and I’m not going to stand for that anymore. If you can’t be a neutral or positive asset, I think we need to think about putting you into foster care.”
I looked up in shock. He would do that for me? He was willing to relinquish control? I tried to control my elation, failing miserably.
“Yes. Let’s go. I’ll get my changes of clothes.” I had to hurry before he changed his mind, I realized, flying down the steps to my room and gathering up the little clothing I had.
As I exited the bedroom, my eye caught my little sister’s door. I loved her, even if she wasn’t a fan of mine. I knew that I was abandoning her, but I figured she would be much better off without me in the long run as well. Perhaps my family really would stabilize for her in my absence. I hurried up the steps, unwilling to lose a second.
My father had gulped down the rest of his wine and was slowly pulling a light jacket from the hall. I hurried past him, entered the garage and climbed into the backseat of his car, waiting eagerly.
My favorite thing about the backseat of my father’s car was that it faced backwards, so I didn’t even have to look at my parents as they got in the car and started it up. I pulled the seatbelt across myself and clipped it into place, looking up in gratitude.
“Thank you God. Thank you. Thank you. It’s finally going to get better.” I whispered to the back window, overflowing with relief.
My father opened the garage door and I waited for the car to start moving. Five minutes went by, then ten. After thirty minutes had passed and my parents simply sat in the front seats, talking quietly, my father shut down the car and told me to get out.
They had been messing with me, trying to elicit a reaction that they had apparently not gotten. For a moment I considered refusing to get out of the car until he took me, but I had seen how much wine my father had had and I wasn’t willing to take my chances.
My mother came down to my room again in the middle of the night- her visits to my cell were always akin to pulling lotto numbers on her current mood and for me, it was never positive. I pretended to be asleep, feeling shattered from the mind game earlier.
“God gave you to me to make sure I have suffered enough in this life.” She whispered beside me. If I can find a way to love you of all people, I know He will reward me.” As her words washed over the usual wounds, I wondered if the pills I had found had anything to do with her decline. Then again, I thought, it was more likely they were right that I was the problem- I just didn’t know to how to remove myself or become a good kid. Maybe it’s just not in my nature, I thought.
“Your father doesn’t love you and I keep talking to the priest about a way to stop hating you for all you’ve done. I just don’t know if we can do this anymore. We love you. You’re really really you ended up with such good parents, because I don’t know where you would be without us. Probably dead.” She sighed emotionally, rose and left.
Perhaps, I thought as I listened to her heavy footsteps return to her bedroom, perhaps they were right. I was an inherently evil bad investment, and maybe my parents just didn’t know how to take the losses.
When would this end? Tears trickled out of the corners of my eyes. I didn’t know how to make this end, but whenever I had tried, it had backfired and I would be in a world of trouble. I couldn’t escape without anywhere to go and no one wanted me. I didn’t want me.
With no near end in sight, I drifted off into a deep sleep.
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