A few weeks before my fifteenth birthday
a friend of mine distracted everyone
by ageing-out of the dubious arms
of state custody. She took the money
she’d saved from working at McDonald's, packed
her lead-pencil drawings, Wallflowers albums,
and clothes into a green surplus duffle
and sped off in a cab to God-knows-where.
While everyone was out saying goodbye
from the verandah, I was popping the lock
on the dining room door. I plugged the phone
into the wall-socket and made my call.
Talking fast, I told my mother a cleaner
version of history, ‘Yes, she beat me.
Yes, she held me down and peed into my
mouth and hair’ and then I lied to save my
sanity, ‘No, she just showed me hers. She
never actually touched me.’ I thought that
I was marked enough without that detail.
I felt my hands grow numb as slabs of steak
laid out to age in trays of ice, hearing
her say that she believed me. My father
did not. Mom had to compromise to get
me out of there. First, she flew up for a
surprise visit, shocking my social worker.
She stayed in the cottage set aside for
court-mandeted parental visitation;
a small granite hut, quaint on the outside,
all institutional linoleum
within. The air in the bedroom smelled like
damp, vomit, and fresh paint spread over blood.
The next morning I loaded her walker
into the trunk of her rental-car and she
drove us to the mall where we saw Dante’s
Peak in the dollar movie theatre. On
the way to the parking lot we passed a
Christian bookstore whose windows were filled with
overblown painted calandars. One showed
a good-looking man dressed in jeans and a red
t-shirt who had crumpled backwards into
the bloody hands of Jesus. I flinched at his
despairing eyes and the way he clutched
the wooden, nail-pounding mallet. I could
not stop crying. My breath came out in snorts
and jags. Mother bought me the calendar,
along with a pair of neon-green leggings
and a flowing, floral polyester
blouse. Sliding her credit card across
the counter, she said, ‘We have to hurry
now, my love.’ We had an appointment
at three O’clock. My father needed proof.
The gynaecologist was very nice.
She gave me a small stuffed dog to clutch as
I laid back in the stirrups, gritting my teeth.
She did not tell me what she found. Mother
kept schtum. Whatever she uncovered down
there, my father couldn't argue with it.
I went back on antibiotics. We
returned to the cottage and ordered a large
pizza, loaded with vegetables. We ate
ice-cream from the tub with a matched set of spoons.
The next day she flew back to Florida.
Three weeks later, after my birthday, my
father finally agreed that I could come
home — though he kept back a few provisions.
I had to be good, be obedient,
I had to hold myself in and support
the myth they’d spread that I had been in boarding-
school. I had to agree to go to a
school that had been designed for children with
severe brain injuries. I had to say
that my experience had been very
good for me when he recommended that
other parents send their troubled children
to that stone-and-ivy Dis. I agreed.
I kept up my side of the bargain because
my packed trunk never budged from its place
by the front door. I lasted eighteen months
before sneaking to the real high-school and
taking the tests which would win me a full
scholarship and early-admittance to
University. But all of that came
after I was welcomed back to the family
with a belated birthday party.
Sitting in the restaurant, my long legs
wrapped around the metal legs of my chair,
I kept my head down while my family sang
to me. I cut the cake which bore my name.
Author website: BethanyWPope.com