His name is Kevin Matouse. At six feet, he’s easily a head above the rest in our class. But he’s so cute and every time he gets close to me my knees start to wobble and my hands start dripping with sweat and I start to stutter. A shaky girl with leaky hands and a speech impediment is really not conducive to the whole, “I’m trying to impress you” vibe I attempt to give off, but it’s whatever. We’ve been together for about a month, and I always promise myself I will stop acting like a complete schoolgirl when I am around him, but it never happens. He looks at me and my heart starts beating against my ribcage and the butterflies shake violently in the pit of my stomach. I just can’t help it. Chalk it up to my teenage hormones.
We’re not the most likely of pairs. I’m the weird quiet girl who carries around a Moleskin to capture ideas and phrases and quotes to escape from the blindingly boring lectures my teachers feel the need to share on a daily basis. Kevin? He’s a football player. And he plays guitar and his family loves each other and well…he’s basically my opposite. Except not. Whenever we’re together it seems as though our brains are connected. We get each other. Our backgrounds couldn’t be any different, but when he looks at me, I know I’m the only one he wants to be around.
I’ve heard he’s not the best guy around, and that he’s not good for me, but there’s just something about him. Perhaps it’s those baby blues; a girl can get lost in some baby blues, especially when they’re paired with shining white teeth and a body with muscles I didn’t even know existed. Crap. I think to myself. I’ve gone and drooled on my homework again.
I’m at home now, and all I can hear is my mom and dad arguing. An exasperated breath falls off my lips and I sigh. You would think that after twenty years of marriage, they would have figured out how to get along. I think about Kevin again and smile. We get along. We get along just fine.
Forgetting my homework, I close my eyes and dream about being Mrs. Kevin Matouse with knees that don’t shake and hands that don’t sweat and words that don’t skip.
I’m startled out of my reverie by a loud knock on the door. Obscenities fill the open silence as my dad attempts to twist the handle. I roll my eyes and lean over to switch the lock right as he bursts into the room. The stench of alcohol sweeps over me and I try my hardest not to gag. Last time that bought me thirty minutes of face slapping and a lecture about respect.
His eyes are bloodshot. His hands purple from the strain of withholding his anger. I immediately rack my brain about what could possibly have gotten him worked up. The mental checklist roars through my mind: progress report came in today – I made straight A’s. When I got home, I spent two hours cleaning the house – just like he always expected. And then the realization.
This time, it wasn’t me.
Right behind him is my mom. My mom with some other man.
But apparently it was me because my dad starts throwing punches as soon as he’s in my room and close enough I can see his drunken eyes.
I can’t process my mom standing with some guy because the blows keep coming. The blows keep coming and he keeps yelling and my mom keeps crying. That guy just stands there.
I ask myself: What kind of person just stands there?
“You did this, you dirty little whore. You’re nothing. Nothing!”
His hands find places to grip and slap and poke that no one would ever see. There will be bruises. There is already blood.
I finally manage to break free and push my way past mom and Mr. I-don’t-have-a-voice. I really don’t know where I’m headed; I just know I need to get out. As I run out the door, I hear my mom in the background, crying.
I can’t help but wonder if she’s crying because she was caught or because I’m leaving. My chest heaves with remorse and pain, and I fight the bile forcing itself up my throat. I will not let him win. My head turns reflexively as I shoot a furtive glance back to my house, sitting eerily silent in contrast to the raging argument heard for miles just seconds before. I give up and crumple to the grass in defeat. My body flinches against the icy green blades, but I simply wipe my cheek and pull my hoodie over my head to protect my skin from the burning sensation of frozen water against the most recent scrapes and bruises. My face crinkles in disgust. How could anyone ever want me? How could anyone ever find me attractive? I close my eyes as the tears start to fall freely, melting the ice around me.
Maybe my dad was right. Maybe I am nothing. The inner record player rewinds the events of the last hour and I start to wonder. How was my mother’s mistake my fault? Why did my father choose to take his anger out on me? I tried to push the thoughts out making me think I am nothing more than a human punching bag and reach for positive memories. The last time Kevin kissed me. Laughing with my friends at lunch. Getting my English paper back and noting the “brilliant!” scrawled across the top by Mrs. Peabody. I keep this up until my doubts are replaced with my shaky self-confidence. I am worth something. People do want me. Staring at tiny blades of grass glistening with night frost I force the mantra back and forth through my head.
I stay there for about thirty minutes. A bit longer than normal, but my father doesn’t disappoint – I know the routine: anger, remorse, forced forgiveness and guilt. I hear his footsteps before I smell the residue of his latest bottled conquest. I take a deep breath and pray for strength. I close my eyes and for a brief second pretend I’m someone else entirely.
“Stephanie?” His whisper sounds strained – like he’s fighting back tears I know will come. I motion to him with my hand, not really wanting to get up and feel the tender spots continuing to let me know their existence. His face breaks through the bushes and registers my shivering frame. His shoulders collapse and for a brief second, he buries his face in his hands.
“Oh sweetie. Oh Stephanie. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. I promised, I know. But I couldn’t help it. Please don’t leave me. Please.” His earnest words weren’t new to my ears, but I knew his learned drunken behavior warranted this scene. It always did. I hated this part more than any other – even the fists against skin. How can you not help it? How can you not help hitting your own flesh and blood? I didn’t get it. His arms reach to lift me off the grass and I shrug away – pain shooting up my ribs and radiating off of my knee.
“Leave me alone.” I say it without thinking. My heart stops and I hold my breath. Stupid, stupid, stupid I think to myself – waiting for the inevitable backlash.
And just like that, a switch flips and my dad’s face blanches in anger. He stands up straight – his hands on his hips and his eyes wide with disbelief. You would have thought I physically slapped him. A sneer crawls across his face slowly and he laughs.
“What? You want me to leave you alone?” The change in behavior comes suddenly, but not unexpectedly. My father could be the poster child for bipolar disorder triggered by alcoholic stupor. His eyes darken and I grimace. He turns around and starts walking back to the house. Grumbling the whole way there about my lack of appreciation for what I had been given. “You want me to leave you alone?” he says over his shoulder, “I’ll leave you alone. Find some where else to sleep tonight you waste of space.”
I stare at his retreating figure for a half second before I realize what just happened. Without thinking, I jump up and run after him, crying the whole way.
“Daddy, daddy – no wait….please! I…I didn’t meant it.” My voice starts shaking with hysteria. I trip on a dip in the road, landing hard on my knee. Blood immediately starts forming tiny rivers down my jeans. “Please….” I whispered, broken.
He turns around and walks towards me, a smirk of satisfaction on his face. Taking the hand he offers, I wince at the force he uses to yank me to a standing position. He brings his face within inches of my own, his breath nearly knocking me over. He reaches out and grabs my arms with such brute force, tears threaten to spill out against my will. I bite my lip, fighting to keep them under control. He wrinkles his lips in disgust. “I regret the day you were born. You mean nothing to me. Nothing. You’re the worst mistake of my life; I hope I never see you again.”
His words cut to the deepest places I hid from everyone. Within seconds, my father managed to reach inside and rip open every single wound from every single harsh word that had ever been spoken to me. I had been broken before by his retreating figure. Now I am shattered. Without saying a word, I wriggle from his grasp and turn and walk into the house, ignoring the apparent absence of my mother. I make my way to my room, welcoming the haze starting to form around my brain.
I am nothing. I mean nothing. Closing my eyes, I let the darkness sweep over me as the tears finally gain the freedom to take over. My body, exhausted from the night’s events, begs for rest, but my mind wants nothing of it. I spend the rest of the night in a comatose state – it’s not until the first light starts peeking through the corner window that I wake. With an urgency that can only be explained as lunacy, I shower and change clothes in record time.
The sunrise. I need to see it. I need to remember.
I leave the house with minutes to spare and am instantly rewarded by one of the most stunning displays of color I have yet to see. I lock the door behind me, stuff my hands in the pockets of my jacket, and begin the long walk to school, eyes glued to oranges and reds and pinks, fighting for a piece of the sky.