I had many sleepless nights during my youth. This piece tells the tale of one…
Awakened from the peace of our dreams by the chaos of our reality. Walls rattling, glass breaking, the smell of smoke creeping under the bedroom door.
It’s happening again.
That night, we hurry down the stairs. Out the front door and into the frigid night air. Too dark out to find safety in our escape from the clamor and too bright out to find solace in the twinkle of the stars. We keep our eyes upward anyway. Not to the sky, but to the living room window. The amber glow begging us to come back inside. Back into the warmth. Back into the safety of the indoors.
How deceiving that glow.
We stand, and we wait. We hold each other, and we cry. Tears of anger and tears of pain. Tears of sadness and tears of fear. I try my best to be brave. For my brothers and for my sister. I calm their hearts, and I dry their eyes.
I am the eldest. I must care for my brothers. I must care for my sister.
I tell them that the yelling will stop. That their mother and their father do not mean the words that they say. That this argument, that this fight, that this war will one day end. That this will be the last time.
I am the eldest. I must lie to my brothers. I must lie to my sister.
There are eyes on us. Piteous eyes. Judgmental eyes. Peering through blinds and peeking through curtains. Lips pursed, heads shaking. I tell the neighbors we are just fine. Yes, I am sure. No, we do not need your help. Nor that of the police. And despite what you may believe, no, we do not need your prayers.
The coast clears and the noise subsides. We re-enter our home. The warmth of the indoors chilled by the sight of the carnage. I shield my siblings’ eyes as I usher them back to bed. They are tired. They should rest. Back to the peace of their dreams, away from the chaos of our reality.
I am the eldest. I must protect my brothers. I must protect my sister.
I clean the mess. Furniture… back in its place. Broken housewares… in the trash. Knives… hidden, just in case. Blood wiped from the floor. The charred doorway, I cannot fix.
Next, I tend to my mother. I pour the remaining contents of her drink down the drain. I ice her bruised face and listen as she tells me all the horrible things my step-father has done to her.
Next, I tend to my step-father. I fight back the urge to vomit as he smokes a remy. I mend the bloodied wound on his head as he tells me all of the horrible things my mother is.
I am their eldest. I must care for my mother. I must care for my step-father.
I am the most responsible. I must be the role model, the guardian, the hero to three young children. I must be the therapist, the doctor, the only friend to two damaged adults.
I am eight years old. I must find adulthood sooner rather than later. I must not dwell on the loss of a childhood I was never meant to have.
I am the eldest. I must care, and I must mend. I must shield, and I must protect. But above all else, I must be brave.
I must be brave.
I must be brave.