Summer began to wind down and the anxiety of starting high school set in. I’d only attended school in this town the prior year. I hardly knew anyone. Over the summer while my mom was in jail, I’d hung around older people who were no longer in school. I felt out of place, and looked even more out of place. I didn’t have the clothes normal teenagers wore. Mine were mostly adult clothes that didn’t fit properly, or were too fancy in a bad way to be worn by a teenager. I wanted my mom to come and sit me down and tell me everything would be OK, but that didn’t happen. She was too consumed with her husband, who now didn’t just sleep all day, but would often pass out from his latest drug habit. She’d scream at him and he still wouldn’t budge. I realized he was spending lots of time in the bathroom. He became increasingly rough on Crystal. It was nothing for her to have to stay in her room for hours with no air conditioner, no fan, nothing. Eventually, I started to show my anger towards the way she was being treated. The other two kids just stayed out of the house, out of the way. If I’d see her sitting in the room too long, I’d tell her to get up or put a fan in front of her trying to give her some sort of relief. Eventually, her smile faded and she seemed to go somewhere else in her mind.
“Where is it?” She was screaming at him. As he lay there on his back, he didn’t budge. “I know you have something. Where is it?” From another room the old wooden radio blared in the background; a soft 70’s and 80’s station playing. I don’t know how I figure things out on my own, but I always have. I put clues together through some sixth sense. I never really talk about this ability very often, but I know this was one of the gifts God gave me for survival.
I simply got up off of my bed that day and walked to the bathroom. I climbed on the edge of the bathtub and stood on my tippy toes, stretching up high to reach on top of the cabinet. I had no idea how I knew it was there. I certainly never saw what he did in the bathroom. I have no way to explain it other than I just knew. I felt around until I knew I’d found it. His stash of needles and whatever it was he was shooting up. I simply took it down and brought it to my mom. I really don’t remember if she did it or if I did, but one of us threw the pouch in the storm drain across the street. That’s when I knew things were only going to get worse.
The fact that my stepdad was now shooting up drugs brought out an intense bitterness in my mother, which never truly went back to where ever it came from. Her anger permeated through the walls of our house. The only time I remember her actually being happy was when an occasional girlfriend stopped by to buy a bag. On a really good day her ceiling fan would be on full blast. I remember that mustard-yellow sheet on top of her waterbed, and she’d sit Indian-style, with one leg bent so her heel faced her back. She and her girlfriend would talk about men and have other chitchat conversations. Still slender and tan at that time, she’d push her hair behind her ears.
I knew I could creep in and sit quietly in the wicker rocking chair at the foot of her bed, without her yelling at me about some random chore I didn’t complete. Her girlfriends always treated me as if I were an adult. I can still hear the faint tapping of the beaded ceiling fan chain gently touching the side of the frosted globe covering the light bulb. They’d pass a joint back and forth, snorting while choking between giggles.
After much persuasion, she’d give in to her friend’s request to read her tarot cards. She always acted like she didn’t want to; claiming she didn’t want to see any bad stuff in her friend’s future. I think it was the one thing she really liked to do. When they were good and high she’d reach back and grab the green tin can that sat at the head of her bed. The green tin can all of us kids knew better than to mess with. The room filled with smoke. The lack of circulation from her windows being closed, on top of the absence of an air conditioner, made the air stagnant and stuffy like a thick fog of smoke which attached itself to you, once you walked into my house. The combination of cigarette smoke and weed lingered on me.
Once the tin was opened, she carefully unwrapped the deck of tarot cards from the handkerchief that kept the cards quietly and safely protected from the world. And the process began with the ritual of halving the deck, allowing the person to handle the cards, and finally, after a long time, the process concluded with her grabbing the book and deciphering the meaning of life. In those moments she was mystical. Now that I think about it, had I been comfortable enough to ball up next to her and put my head on her knee, she may have even caressed me. Funny how I never did, and she never reached out to pull me close.
One night while lying in my bed with the box fans on full blast, I was just starting to cool down with the summer evening air flowing through my room. I lay with my radio and fans on, drifting off to sleep, when I heard a commotion between my room and my mother’s. Then I heard the shrill cries of her calling his name and screaming. My heart began to wear itself out. It’s not like I was afraid they would end up fighting in my room; my door was always dead-bolted at that point in my life. Moments later, as I was expecting the meltdown to pass, she started wailing my name over and over, “V, V, come quick.” Finally, I pulled a shirt over my head and opened my bedroom door. He was lying flat on his back, pale and looking close to dead. She was kneeling over him in a sheer white cotton gown. She had it gathered up in one hand while she looked up at me; her hair was a tangled mess.
“Help him. I think he shot up too much of that shit. Help him, I think he’s gonna die.”
I stood looking down on him, I didn’t know what else to say but, “Let him die.” Looking back, I realized I had to detach to survive. I couldn’t allow myself to feel anything for anyone. This is how I would get by. I turned and bolted my door shut as she began screaming, for not only the neighbors but the gods themselves to hear, I was a fucking bitch. I don’t remember how she got him up. The only thing I knew was that I had to get out of the house soon.
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