He was furious, veins pounding in his temple. Every muscle in his body was taut. He was clenching his jaw tightly. Frozen in this aggressive stance, hand held at face level. Like a cobra, he was poised to strike at any moment. His eyes, the same deep hazel brown as mine, glared down at me, burning with a vengeance.
Oops, I reprimanded myself silently. I shouldn’t have let him get to this level. His fuse is short, especially with us undesirables around, but I could have avoided his rage… this time. Usually, I am smart, tip-toeing around the demon inside him whenever possible, but when he threatened my little brother, my protective instincts exploded.
I stood up quickly, jerking my young brother out of our father’s grasp, and I stood in front of him, his forever shield. Nothing and No one will get to him. My quick tongue initiated this conflict; my quick tongue needs to find a way out of it.
“Donnie,” I said hardly moving my mouth. “You need to go.”
He turned on his heels and fled obediently, having been through too many similar situations to know not to do exactly as I say. If he obeys, we just may come out of this alright. The rest of the house was tense; I felt the rhythm of the combined hearts racing, the anxiety of each of us building. My father began to pace like a caged lion, king of beasts. I prayed that tonight I would be his tamer and not his meal.
“You think you are brave? I’m your dad, not the bad guy.” He fumed.
“You’re definitely not a good guy. Good guys don’t hit children who can’t defend themselves,” I snap. I was surprised by my this new found courage, staring in the face of this immense threat, six feet tall and pure muscle with hands as large as my face. I am David challenging the Giant… how foolish…
“I’ll show you bad guy!!” He yelled.
Grabbing me by my arm, I braced myself for an impact that didn’t come. Instead, I was lifted up and carried to the door at the end of the hall. He pulled the door open hard enough to splinter the wood in the wall upon impact. I froze in his arms, a lamb caught in the lion’s jaws. He ascended the steep stairs two at a time, throwing me in a heap in the attic floor.
“You can stay up here, so you don’t disturb the family,” he hissed.
He looked me up and down, jaw still clenched, assessing his prey. Defiantly, my eyes met his. I won’t be broken, I thought stubbornly. The stand off continued for minutes that dragged on into infinity. It’s funny how life threatening situations can make time stretch. Apparently, the lion changed his mind, leaving his prey to live another day; lions do that, play with their food. He left down the stairs, slamming the door. I heard the bolt click, locking me in from the outside.
There was nothing in the attic to preoccupy my eight-year-old self, so I paced. There were random piles of junk precariously perched on boxes holding nothing of interest. A pile of sheets and blankets lay underneath the large window where I sleep. I walked over and sat on them thinking until I heard rustling coming from the closet. I sat up quickly with a renewed fear. What could be lurking in there waiting for me? Curiosity got the better of me. I cautiously opened the thin door, peering inside. My heart dropped at what I saw.
My little brother, my little boy, curled up in a nest of jackets, hiding from the chaos of our lives. He’s too young to have to deal with this, but I guess I am too. In our world, children take care of children. Normally, we try to avoid adults whenever possible. They lead their own lives. Crossing their path only ends in heartache and punishment. His shallow breathing reassured me. He’s still alive today.
I brush the hair out of his eyes and push a jacket under his head as an impromptu pillow. Sweet dreams…
Leaving the door open, I went over to the window. I sat on a box and watched the sun set, waiting. This is my favorite time of the day, when my father’s children are put in their comfy pillow top beds, read stories, and are put to sleep. The downstairs noises become less frequent, and finally, even the adults are in bed. I listen intently, making sure that no one else is awake. Then, I wrench open the window that is only used when we visit. It swings out into the night.
The land is completely flat, stretching into the horizon in every direction. Sounds carry miles away. I feel very vulnerable here, out in the open. The pangs of homesickness reach my soul. I miss my mountains…
But, here, it’s peacefully quiet when the stars come to life. I crawl out of the window and onto the roof, making sure that I have my footing. I reach in and grab my blanket, pulling it out behind me. I cuddle up in its warmth, a gentle hug of reassurance that every child needs. Making myself, comfortable, I lay underneath the stars and cry. I cry a trembling cry that’s actually a sorrowful song, filling the empty spaces around me. Though I am far from home and locked away, I am always free underneath unfamiliar stars. I am always free in my heart.
The line I chose was “Is that trembling cry a song?” which appears in William Blake’s poem Holy Thursday. I hope you enjoy it. It’s equal parts uplifting and depressing 🙂 –Alexis