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Sometimes, we’re taught to hide our truth. We’re led to believe it’s our own fault. As if somehow, we should protect the evil that was unleashed upon us. We’re convinced that the punishment will swallow us whole. But maybe, the only way to let go of the fear, is to expose the devil. Look him in the eyes and give him the Fuck You that he’s always deserved.
Darkness surrounds me.
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I stared at the paper riddled with lies that I’d found folded beneath my bed.
“What I did for Thanksgiving.”
Stories of food and family lined the page. But that’s all it was, just a story—a fabrication. How do you tell your sixth-grade class the truth about your Thanksgiving? How do you tell your teacher that you sat on the couch without electricity, engulfed in darkness? Your stepfather in front of the old, brick fireplace, sucking up the little bit of heat from the embers with the polished rifle placed across his lap. His promise to shoot your mother in the head if you made a sound playing on a constant loop in your mind. You spent hours begging your younger sister, with your eyes, not to move. Because after all…you had been warned.
How do you tell your truth?
I wadded the sheet of paper and shoved it back under the stain-covered mattress in my cold bedroom. Burying it, just like I did everything else.
The school bus came to a screeching halt at our stop. I grabbed my stack of books and pressed them to my chest as I stood, trying to hold my jacket closed since the zipper had broken last winter. I walked behind my sister, Sara, down the narrow aisle, hoping to avoid eye contact with the other students near the front. The rich kids always seemed to look down on me. I felt their disgust as I moved past them—maybe it was all in my imagination, maybe it wasn’t. But there was no denying the quiet giggle I’d heard.
I stepped off the bus and gasped when the bitter-cold air ripped through my body. My fingers stung as I tightly gripped my books. I hated that I didn’t have a backpack like all the other kids and was forced to carry my stuff in my hands. It might have been petty, but it bothered me.
“I don’t know why you won’t just wear them.” Sara rolled her eyes and shook her head, pulling the socks she wore over her hands up to her elbows.
“Shut up,” I muttered as we started our path down the driveway in the frigid breeze.
“Well, it’s better than freezing. Why do you care so much what those assholes think?”
The truth was, I didn’t know. What I did know was that I envied a nine-year-old. She may have been three years younger than me, but she was strong beyond her years. Although she still worked on the wise part, she had strength in spades.
“I don’t.” My fib rolled off my tongue.
“Wanna race?” she asked, ignoring my blatant lie.
“Sure.” I grinned and started to run before she got the chance. I knew running would warm me up before we made it to the house.
“Cheater.” She giggled as we ran side by side, both of us clutching our books against our chests.
I got a little nauseous when our old, red-wood home came into view, the driveway long and winding. I concentrated on my feet moving, trying to escape the memories of the things that happened there. Because at that exact moment, I just wanted some shelter from this icy December day. It wouldn’t be much warmer inside, but at least the wind wouldn’t dig into my skin like spikes of barbed wire. So that was a plus, at least.
My mom was off work, and I didn’t see his raggedy old car in the driveway. Letting out a sigh of relief, I reached for the wooden gate. The chipped, red paint and rusted metal latch made it hard to slide open, especially with fingers stiff from the cold. But I jerked it open seconds before Sara darted in front of me, making her way into the house with a giggle.
“You’re such a brat.” I chuckled with a smirk, letting the gate slam behind me. I followed behind her to the side door we always used. My mom sat at the kitchen table, staring at a tattered, spiral notebook with lines of worry marring her face. She rubbed her temple with one frail hand while she flicked her cigarette into the ashtray with the other.
“Hey, girls, did you have a good day?” She peeked up at us with a weak grin crossing her lips. But her smile didn’t meet her eyes, and the worry overpowered any semblance of happiness.
I hated that she was always so apprehensive—about everything: her job, things we needed, food for the family. But most of all, she worried about him.
“Good.” I faked a smile and set my books on the old, wooden table, not wanting to give her anything else to worry about. The cold was too much to take. I furiously rubbed my hands together and blew hot air into my cupped palms to warm the tips.
“We have a field trip this Friday.” Sara beamed. She sat on my mom’s lap and wrapped her puny arms around her neck.