His body was silhouetted by the street lamp on the corner. I couldn’t see his face, but I could see the outlines of his tensed jaw. His voice eerily calm and seeping with rage. His clenched hands remained at his side.
“HOLLY!!! Get. Back. Here.” he yelled.
I stood barefoot in the middle of an unpaved road. My body covered by a thin night gown. Ruffles around the neck and wrist. I stood frozen for a moment. Silent. Shaking.
I turned and ran for the neighbors house. It was late and their house was dark, but my tiny fists pounded heavily upon their door. My mouth could barely form the word “help”, so I kept pounding until I noticed a light come on through the window. The door opened, and I scurried onto the front porch looking for sanctuary.
Moments earlier, I had been laying in my twin bed. Baby dolls and stuffed animals encircling my stiff little body. With each moment their voices got louder and words clearer. The thin adjoining walls did not mask the disagreement. I strained to listen as my heartbeat echoed in my ears. I held my breath to get a better listen. Would they kill each other tonight, I wondered. I repeated the name “Jesus” rapidly, almost inaudibly. It’s all I could get out before I bolted out of bed.
My physical body reacting to the turmoil and chaos in the next room. I’ve got to get help. I’ve got to find safety.
I may have been 5 or 6 years old.
My neighbors had called the police. By time they arrived, my biological mother had made her way to us. I remember hearing the policeman ask what happened. I don’t remember responding. I sat in the dimly lit kitchen, watching her as she gave the report. I could tell she was angry with me. Her voice nonchalant, as if we’d just had a lovely evening.
We spent the next few days at my grandparents house who lived a few minutes away. We’d be back though. She always went back. The 10-minute car ride from my grandparents’ house to “home” were always done in silence. I’d watch as the familiar scenery passed before my eyes, and I’d whisper this prayer:
“God, I’ll do anything, please don’t make us go back. Please.”
Each return trip, stripped me of more hope. This was going to be the perpetual cycle. A few days, weeks, months of walking on egg shells before someone stepped on a land mine.
I know some of the disputes were my fault, or rather, they were because of me. Knowing this, left me feeling like a burden. I often wondered if I wasn’t there that maybe they’d be happy. Maybe they’d be less stressed about money. Maybe the drinking or partying wouldn’t cause so much strife.
The last fight I was present for was on Christmas Eve. I was 12 years old. I had been making comments about Christmas morning and opening presents and wondering about what I’d be getting from “Santa”. I knew full well there was no Santa (sorry kids!), but was just excited and full of anticipation.
I could tell she was tense.
I took notice, so I went to my room to play Nintendo. I still hadn’t saved Princess Peach, so I thought that might distract me and give my mother some peace. In the kitchen, I could hear my mother talking to my step-father.
“We don’t have any presents for her, J. What are we going to tell her?!”
I knew, even at my young age, that our family had financial troubles. For many reasons, my step-fathers drinking problem was only one of them, there just wasn’t a lot of money. I don’t remember that bothering me much. I always had clothes and food and things like that. Even the expensive FILA basketball sneakers that I needed to have even though I only played basketball in 8th grade and scored a total of 2 points. The only reason I scored those 2 points, is because the other team, realizing they would never win because we were ahead by so many points would toss me the ball. That’s another story though. I just knew that money caused a lot of conflict.
As their conversation got louder and angrier, I began mentally attacking myself. “You’re such an idiot, Holly. Why’d you even bring it up? You’re such a selfish kid. You don’t need presents anyway.”
As my internal dialogue continued, my step father walked into the doorway of my bedroom. I could see he had a cut on his forehead, and was bleeding slightly.
“Look what your mother did to me, Holly.”
The knife now in his hands. My mother still screaming in the kitchen. I didn’t say anything, my face obviously showing shock. As he walked away, I knew I needed to run. Again. The snow was deep that night, reaching my knees. I don’t remember putting on shoes, or boots for that matter, but I do remember how dark and cold it was as I ran down the hill.
At this time, we had been living in the unfinished house my step-father had been building for us. It sat on top of a hill that he had cleared, with his parents house sitting below.
My grandfather was the only one home at the time. We was awake, sitting in his electric recliner. He suffered from MS and was unable to get to me. I yelled in to the living room, letting him know I was there as I called my other grandparents for help.
The rest of the night is a blur, except for a conversation I had with my mother’s father. I was in his living room, only the light of the TV shone as I stared at it replaying the evening in my mind. There was a wooden TV tray table next to the chair I sat in, and my grandfather threw down 6 crisp hundred dollar bills.
“I hope you’re happy,” he said.
My eyes clung to the TV screen. A tear running down my face.
It wasn’t about money. Or presents. Or any of that. More than anything, I longed for some peace. Some silence.
“Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright.”
This was my hell. I fell asleep praying, asking God for a miracle. I guess I got it, because a year later, I was living in a new house with a new family and things were very much full of peace and love.
(To be continued.)