I gazed solemnly down at the six D’s that made up my grades for this quarter.
My seat tipped back with my body as I thought of what it would be like to just let go, to not care about any of it. Michael tapped me on my shoulder and pointed at Ashley, laughing at some stupid rumor going around about her sexuality. I gave a fake grin, my heart aching for her on the inside. I was tired of pretending, of trying to be what everyone else expected me to be. The teacher walked past me again, dropping a note on my desk: For tutoring, see Ashley Menken, 435-2131. My forehead clunked to the desk beside my report card as I fingered my cell phone that was resting against my thigh in the front pocket of my khaki shorts. I thought about calling her later, but then thought, What’s the point when I could just end it now? I forged my father’s signature across the bottom of the page before sticking it in my binder. I didn’t even make the effort to think of him as Dad anymore. He wasn’t a dad; he was just a person who happened to get lucky one night with nicest person in the world. If he hadn’t taken to beating us, Mom might still be here. Before my tears could flee the dam, I made it to my locker and packed up my stuff. The bus ride was lonesome and not in the normal way. Sure, enough people talked to me, but none of them knew. I never told anyone. It ended soon enough and I got off, walking away, just away. I knew everywhere, I was almost never home and for good reason. I came into the normal ice cream parlor and took a seat at the counter on one of the swivel chairs. The guy behind the counter skipped over to me and motioned to one of his coworkers. A minute later I had my usual in front of me, chocolate custard. Plain. “Any math homework I can help you with, Eli?” Anthony, working behind the counter asked me. “What grade did you get in middle school for algebra?” “Well, I—” I shoved the report card under his nose. He stared down at it and bit his lip, deflated. “Well, I hope you enjoy your ice cream.” I grinned a little as he walked away. Taking a sheet of loose leaf from my binder, I wrote one of my infamous poems. This morning, my friends wonder what shorts go with the shirt they’re wearing. This afternoon, more than a hundred people die of bullet wounds, disease, abuse, and old age. This afternoon my friends wonder what they should have for lunch. This evening children in third world countries are starving to death, ribs visible beneath thin clothes. This evening, my friends will complain about having to get up in the morning for school. Tomorrow fewer children will be able to afford school supplies, much less an education. What kind of world do we live in where children complain when they have everything? Anthony came back over and picked up the paper. “Another depressing poem?” “Is there any other?” I slumped in my chair and pulled out my homework, only meant to make me feel worse and worse. Without meaning to, I removed my cell phone from my pocket and dialed the number I had memorized. She answered on the first ring. “Ashley?”
“Hello?” “Hey, this is Eli. The teacher gave me your number in case I needed tutoring. Do…” I cut myself off before shooting out the words. “Do you think you could help me?” There was a pause on the other end. “Eli Newton?” “This is he.” “I didn’t know that it was possible for you to speak outside your circle of friends.” “Yes or no. Please spare me the drama.” “Drama? From me? Sure, why not?” “When? And do you think we can do it at your house?” I hoped she wouldn’t ask me any questions. “Any day you want, come over any time.” I sighed with relief. “Thanks.” “No prob.” I hung up and thought that that might keep me away from my house just a little bit longer. I stepped into my house at ten that night. My dad was slumped on the couch, pillows thrown on the floor. I hurried swiftly and quietly up the stairs to my room before closing and locking the door behind me. I kicked off my shoes and pants before slipping into bed. The open window let in the moonlight to lie across my floor, illuminating the room and creating shadows in the corners. How can you choose between light and dark, or good and evil, when there has to be light to have darkness and it has to be dark to identify light? I stepped into the room and made my way over to her desk. “Hey, is it okay if I come over today?” She glanced up from where she was bent over the seat of her desk, riffling through the papers of her binder. She brushed some hair from her face before answering. “Yeah, you wanna ride the bus home with me? And then my mom can give you a ride home.” I shook my head, trying to act calm. “No, that’s okay. I can walk home when we’re done.” “Okay. I’ll meet you in the bus loop, I ride bus 171.” “’Kay, see ya there.” Ashley caught my eye, stumbling past me as she tripped over the shoulder strap on the case of her cello. I grabbed her just before she went down, helping her back to her feet and slinging the strap over her shoulder. Taking a minute to steady herself, she gave me an embarrassed smile before slipping onto the bus ahead of me and finding us an empty seat. She eased the cello between her legs, dropping her bag into her lap and scooting over, allowing me to sit beside her. “You’re in all of the same classes I am, right?” I nodded, noticing it when she pointed it out. “Cool, then it won’t be too hard to help you. Are there any specific things you need to work on?” “Remembering my gym clothes?” I actually joked. That was a near first. She laughed, and when she smiled, I felt this unfamiliar twinge in my gut. “I don’t think I can help you out with that. Just keep them in your gym locker.”
“Oh! That’s what I was doing wrong. Guess I don’t need the tutoring.” She laughed again, and this time I smiled too. And it felt good. I helped her carry her stuff into the house and we set up a study area at the kitchen table. We started out with Algebra I, then moved on to science. “Balancing equations. Well, let’s start with the periodic table.” She flipped to the back page of my textbook where there was a big multicolored table with initials all over it. “Um,” I bit my lip, “to me this just looks like one big Tetris game.” At that she gave me a look that said huh? Then she started cracking up, at either recognition or realization that I was serious. She sort of snorted, and I started to laugh too. It was unfamiliar to laugh, and my stomach muscles began to ache from not having laughed in so long. “You’re right. It does; I never thought of it that way.” She smiled this huge smile then started to translate all the different chemical symbols for me. “All the gases are on the left. Helium is H, oxygen is O.” She then began to point out the more difficult ones to remember, the ones whose initials did not have any correspondence with the name. “Whoa. Wait. How do you know all this?” “I study.” “Oh,” I glanced down at the table. “Then I can’t say anything.” She laughed again. “You don’t have any time to study?” My heart beat quickened instinctively. “None.” “Why? What kind of stuff do you do after school?” Another brick was added to the wall that I had been slowly constructing around my mind for the past fourteen years. The monster that was always waiting for me, the monster that was the truth that was begging to be told, growled in anticipation. “Personal stuff.” Her face sort of fell and she bit her lip in a way that said oh, I see how it is. But not in the unfriendly way. In a way, as if she were used to this kind of thing. That made me feel guilty. “Ah.” I wanted to show her that it wasn’t her fault, but couldn’t risk bringing it up again. I let it lie and we continued with studying. The next week, I followed her off the bus as before. She opened the front door and dropped her cello and lunch box inside before locking the door on the inside and shutting it, turning around to face me. “I was thinking that we could do our studying today at the ice cream parlor around the corner.” “Okay.” I hoisted my bag over my shoulder as she walked back down the driveway and into the street. We walked side by side to the place and I opened the door for her, the jingle bells above the door tinkling. She smiled at me and walked in, finding a booth near the window away from my usual spot. We set out our stuff on the table, sitting opposite each other. Anthony came over and smiled at me. “Haven’t seen ya in a while, Eli. Now I know why.” He glanced meaningfully at Ashley. I made the cut gesture, dragging my right hand horizontally in front of my throat, for Ashley’s sake. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye to see her smiling. Anthony
noticed this too and smiled to himself as he flipped open his notepad to write down our orders. “I’ll have the hot fudge sundae,” Ashley ordered. “And I’ll have the Reeses Peanut Butter Galaxy.” Anthony arced an eyebrow at my change in order, but didn’t voice his curiosity, and instead told us he’d be right back with our orders. “Is this one of the reasons you don’t have time to study?” Ashley asked. I glanced side to side in mock nervousness. “…Yes…” I answered, acting sheepish. She smiled and laughed again. This was becoming routine. And I liked it a lot. We began to work on some more algebraic functions. “I do not get this K-slash-Xslash-whatever, problemy thingy.” Ashley smiled and scooted out of her booth seat before coming to sit beside me. Her shoulder pressed against mine as she leaned over me and took my pencil from my hand to show me how it worked. She wrote it out on a loose piece of scratch paper, but I couldn’t pay attention after she reached up and gripped my shoulder with her hand as she was working it out. My breathing deepened and slowed and she turned to me with a puzzled look on her face. “You going to sleep on me?” My eyes widened and I shook my head. “No, sorry. My hunger was distracting me.” “Ah. Well, you won’t have to worry about that anymore. He’s coming over with our ice creams.” Anthony came over to us and we pushed our books to the other side of the table so he could set down the bowls. Anthony raised an eyebrow at Ashley’s change in seating. “Hey, no funky business back here. You’ll scare away the customers.” “What’s your definition of ‘funky’?” Ashley asked him, purposely scooting closer to me until her leg pressed against mine. Anthony caught the look on my face that clearly said S.O.S. He smiled at my tortured expression and walked away, shaking his head. We ate our ice cream, and all throughout it, Ashley didn’t move back away from me. She stayed right there pressed against me. My mind was on overload. We lay on her bed perpendicular to each other, our heads touching. “If you could choose a way to die, what would it be? Like, what do you think would be the best way to die?” Ashley didn’t hesitate meaningfully or ask me any questions like I thought she would. “Um,” she bought herself time, chewing on her tongue along with the words there. “I don’t know. Definitely not drowning. Too long and drawn out.” We laughed at that. “What, do you have a schedule to fill?” “Yes,” she giggled, “God only signs autographs outside the Gates of Heaven at four!” She laughed and rolled over to face me, fixing me with a thoughtful gaze. “I want something quick and painless, like of old age, in my sleep.” I thought about this, rolling ideas around in my head. “Yeah, something quick and instant, or numbing. Pills, or like being hit by a bus. Jumping from a building. Sudden pain and then nothing.” She blinked several times, also thinking of this.
“And the slope-intercept form comes into that where?” I pulled my textbook toward me sighing as we went back to math. “Hey, um, would you like to go to homecoming with me? I mean, as my date?” My lips parted slightly, my mouth falling open in surprise. “Um, I, uh, I don’t have anything to wear,” I stuttered. That was a lie; I knew exactly where to find a tux that would fit me: in the closet of my parents’ room. “Well, um, I think I have something at my house you could use though you don’t have to wear a tux.” She bit her lip, and though I didn’t notice it at the time, she was just as nervous and uncomfortable as I was. “No, I have something. Okay…” “Um, cool, good.” “I know this might sound bad, but my parents are busy that night I’m pretty sure, can I just meet you there?” “Yeah,” she answered, brushing a curtain of hair from her face. I walked over to the corsage table. I handed over two dollars in exchange for a wrist corsage, writing down our names on a raffle ticket too before dropping it in a box like they asked me to. The fabric rose was soft in my hands, hardened hot glue formed little drops of dew against the pink petals. I tightened the lavender bow that held the taped stem to the wristband, noticing how much effort was put into the one small rose surrounded by baby’s breath. Glancing up, I saw Ashley walking toward me from across the street. She was wearing an extremely flattering periwinkle blue dress that fitted her curves and flowed around her. Her brunette hair was curled and pinned back, and the heels she wore increased her height by two inches. She held a small purse in one hand, and when she saw me, she smiled, and I did, too. Reaching me, she paused, taking a corsage for me from her handbag. “Do you want this?” she asked me. I held up the one I had gotten for her. “Sure, I’ve got one for you, too.” She smiled as if she hadn’t expected that, before reaching out to pin the flower to my lapel, dropping the stem through the buttonhole. The concentration on her face as she pushed the pin in and out of the fabric was cute. I then grasped her slender wrist, stretching the armband over her hand, settling the corsage in place. She glanced down at the tiny dewdrops and smiled stroking the petals before slipping her hand into mine and leading us into the dance. A slow song came on and all the couples came together. She turned to me and we hesitantly got into the position, her hands on my shoulders, mine on her waist. We swayed back and forth, and after the initial contact, I don’t remember what any of the other couples started doing. We just kept our eyes on each other and moved around slightly. When the song came to an obvious climax, her arms slid around my neck, bringing her closer to me and I responded by wrapping my arms around her waist, pulling her in. Her ear rested against my chest and I tentatively dropped my cheek onto the top of her head, absent-mindedly, and we barely swayed anymore, just staying that way. I can’t remember the song. I was too wrapped up in the dance. That was what made the moment; that was what was perfect. When I started paying attention again, a fast song had come on. Ashley noticed this too and we started to pull apart, though I
leaned in, quickly, to gently touch my lips to her cheek. She hesitated then, still in the process of pulling away, as if, well, as if she wanted to return to my arms. And I would have, more than willingly, let her. But she continued to pull away before taking my hand and leading to the room where we had checked our stuff. “Where were you?” he shouted, spit flying from his mouth. I didn’t have enough time to draw breath to begin my answer, let alone defend myself. In a millisecond I was pinned to the ground, his weight causing me to shudder, air wheezing from my lungs. I felt his fists connect with my face, my shoulders, stomach, chest, and gut. One punch knocked into my temple and momentarily my vision had shadows collecting around the corners. I bit my lip as I was jolted by another blow and blood flowed, warm and fast down my chin and cheek, to my ear and across my neck. I tried to shift, to find one way to get out from underneath him, but his knees dug into the carpeting on either side of my hips, making movement impossible. A hit landed on my chin and my teeth clacked together audibly. Another punch bruised my chest and I winced in pain. My father rolled off of me and I jumped to my feet, swaying slightly. I watched as his hands grasped the legs of the end table, lifting it off the ground, the lamp clattering to the floor, the light going out as the bulb shattered. I tried to run, but the wooden table had already left his hands and the table was sailing at me. I tripped and the table nearly missed me, but the ledge corner knocked me square in the eye and bright light exploded behind closed eyelids. Pain shuddered through me as the table hit the wall behind me, leaving a fistsized dent. My father collapsed on the couch and I made my escape. I stumbled from the room, half-blind. I could taste blood in my mouth from my bitten tongue and loose teeth, not to mention a probable concussion. Somehow I made it to Ashley’s house, falling over the fence and into her back yard where I stood on the railing of the back deck to step on the roof of the breakfast nook before pulling myself up below her windowsill. My knuckles thumped painfully against the glass, even with my light swing, but the blinds went up before my eyes and Ashley’s face was daubed with concern. She silently eased up the window and helped me inside, her lime green walls and turquoise carpet spinning and blurring before my eyes as everything seemed to rock to the left. I felt her hand grasp my wrist and she let me put my weight on her. “Eli,” she whispered in my ear, “what’s wrong?” “May I crash here?” I managed, tripping again so that Ashley was practically leaning into my weight. She helped me up onto the bed before leaving me. I remember her coming back with a first aid kit; me lying back against her pillows while she got me to swallow some Tylenol. She swabbed my throbbing eye as I winced in pain. She even wiped the blood from my mouth and neck, using some light hydrogen peroxide to remove the stain from the collar of my shirt. I remember her falling asleep beside me before unconsciousness finally claimed me. When I woke up, Ashley was still asleep and I silently thanked her, smiling down at her sleeping form before wincing and creeping from the bed. I could barely see out of my right eye, and what I could see was tinted red. I made it out the window and navigated my way down to the ground with difficulty. Since I couldn’t let anyone see me like this, I took the back way, hopping fences and skirting yards. When I made it home, I crept up to the front door; afraid I might injure myself trying to climb through my window. My father was still passed out on the couch and I snuck upstairs, pausing in the hall
bathroom. I glanced in the mirror; I looked like I had been to hell and back in the past six hours. My eye was swollen, almost completely shut, blood dried in the corners and over the small portion of my eyeball that wasn’t hidden by my enlarged eyelid. A new collection of bruises clustered across my shoulders and chest; it hurt my chest and lungs to breathe and my jaw was sore. It was painful to clench my teeth. I would have to miss the next three days of school, at least. I thought about Ashley and how she would be worried about me, afraid of what had happened. I felt like decking myself; why would anyone care? Decisions are to be stood by, Decisions are not to be wavered on. Some people choose what suits them at the time, But the road of decisions is winding and long. You never find your way back to the same checkpoint twice. So think ahead before you choose, And take that path when you do; Though save yourself the pain of looking back. “I don’t get it!” Ashley came over and gazed down at the textbook. Her hair grazed my cheek as I longed to be normal. “What don’t you—” I decided to throw caution to the wind. “You don’t get it either!” I looked at her, my eyes pleading that either she would stop me or some how read my mind. “What don’t we get, Eli?” Her voice was stern, and she used the “we.” I broke it up though. “You don’t know. I don’t get it.” Her gaze pierced me, going straight through my shield; the wall I had built around myself practically stepped aside for her, and I knew that she had realized we were getting to the why. Why were we doing this here? Why was Eli such a freak? She knew we were no longer in math. Then the words came that I never expected. “Tell me, Eli. I want to know.” I hesitated, suddenly backpedaling, but I knew it was happening; I had allowed the monster to grasp my ankle, and it wasn’t letting go. Her expression softened and she stared right into my eyes, easing me into it instead of pressuring me. She was telling me that I still had a choice. Though on the inside, the very back corner of my mind that was forever in shadow said yes, I will. I sighed and told her my long hidden story. It played out through my head as the words slid, warm from my mouth. I had recited the story over and over in my mind, as I lay in bed, either sore or unconscious. My mom had been in college; everyone thought she was perfect, with straight A’s, perfect appearance, popularity. Everyone had wanted to be like her, or at least be around her. After awhile, Elise Whalton grew tired of constant attention and awards. She wanted to be known as more than a pretty face or a high GPA. She went to a party, and with the help of her “friends,” she got drunk. First and last time in her life. She met Calvin Newton, a pretty-faced, goody-two-shoes boy who had also had more alcohol than his liver could take. He whispered in her ear—and I still get ticked every time I think of the words—“I know what you want, to be remembered as more than what everyone else thinks you are.” She fell in love with him after that one monumental sentence and the
night got a lot more heated. They got married, and she had big dreams of becoming a doctor, but all that was flushed away when they found out that they were going to be parents after that night. My father felt guilty and horrible that he had ruined her dreams. It was a difficult pregnancy, and they weren’t ready to take care of a kid. Neither of their parents approved and they didn’t have a steady money supply. So Calvin Newton burst into the nearest bar and doused his worries and problems in alcohol. And that began his daily ritual of drinking more than six pints in an hour. He expected his liver to give out, wanted it to, thought it might relieve him of the problems he faced, forever. But life wouldn’t let him go. Mother Nature wanted him to face his issues. He continued to drink, and soon he began to beat her, my mom. No one in my family had a job, and so when I was born with birth defects because of the beatings, she didn’t have enough money to help me. Next, he was on me, too. Mom protected me for the first year, but then she left, and I was alone, sniffling in the corner. I ate what was around the house and, for a month, I remember only being able to eat and drink paper and water from the neighbors’ sprinklers since that was all I could reach. He wasn’t there during the days, but he began to beat me at night. I still don’t know whether it was a miracle or sheer bad luck that no one came after us for money, or to take him or me away. I learned it was best to stay out of the house as much as possible, so when I was seven, I started getting out and following the neighbors’ kids to school. But he was always there when I got home. “I pretty much grew up on the streets, without a parent. I can count the number of times I’ve been hugged on one hand, Ashley.” When I was ten, money started coming in the mail. Every week it was from a different address. Checks were sent and already filled out to wherever payments go, so all I had to do was send it. Cash came for me, too, to buy new clothes and food for the both of us. Though the bar had stopped charging him. They knew Calvin Newton so well that he could walk in and fall into the abyss of alcohol for free. I had nothing to fall into besides the monotonous routine of everyday. Still, every night when I get home, he beats me. It only ends when he passes out or knocks me unconscious. Sometimes he beats me so hard that I start to puke up my own blood. “You don’t know what that’s like, Ashley, to watch the liquid that moves oxygen around your body, keeps you alive, puddling before your eyes as you’re down on your knees choking out your guts. I’ve never been to the pool, never change in the locker rooms without an undershirt on, Ashley, know why?” She gazed at me with fear in her eyes. But it wasn’t fear of the horrors I was spinning in front of her; it was fear for me. She was afraid for me. I pulled up my shirt, showing her multiple diagonal scars, overlapping across my stomach muscles. “This is why. When I was six he whipped me.” I pointed to several squares that had been contorted and had become twisted with time. “This is the belt buckle, forever imprinted on my abdomen. I remember watching the blood pour through my shirt. Not even through the shirt, through the holes in my shirt, the giant slashes he had made. I remember the pus soaking my bed sheets, and the final blessing of it scabbing over. “In the middle of the night, I’ll hear him moaning. ‘Elise! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen. We can start over. I’m a better man.’ And I know he’s talking about me. I’m a mistake. The next day he goes back to the bar just to demonstrate how much of
a ‘better man’ he is.” I spat the last two sentences out at her. I stood there, adrenaline pushing through my veins with the anger and relief of finally telling someone. She surprised me with what she said next, standing there against the wall with an unnamed emotion wetting her eyes. “I’m not going to say I’m sorry for you, Eli, because I know that is exactly what you don’t want me to say. But I will say that I wish your life wasn’t this way.” She used the present tense that I hadn’t expected her to believe in. I sat down on the ground and curled into a ball, hugging my knees to my chest. Then tears were racing down my cheeks and I was crying into her shoulder as she held me. But her hug wasn’t an I don’t know what else to do, or an everything is gonna be okay, because she knew that wasn’t true. It was a hug that clearly said, “I don’t know what you’re going through, but for now I can be here for you.” That was what I liked most about the moment. She wasn’t trying to sort out my life or clean out the wound; because she knew that sometimes disinfectant can sting and burn. She was the painkiller or the numbing at least while I was around her. She was like the stitches, just trying to help me hold it together. I jumped and clutched for the drainpipe, half expecting it to come loose in my hands. I pulled myself on to the shingles and slipped and slid over to my window which I jiggled open to slip silently inside. My sneakered feet sank lightly into the stained carpet and I stripped out of my clothes, slithering beneath the covers, which lacked the warmth of body heat. I stared at the ceiling, and my ears could just make out the words. “We can get rid of it and start afresh; we won’t have to worry about the same things as before. Believe me, Elise, I’m ready this time.” Sure, I thought bitterly, then why don’t you prove it? We sat there in her living room after the study session; we were on the couch and the only light in the room was that of her mp3 player we were currently listening to. A song I didn’t know the name of came on and Ashley’s thumb stroked the volume, turning it up. The light from the screen lit her features, creating the saddest shadows across her face that I’d ever seen. Her lips formed the words to the song, trembling with feelings unknown to me and as I watched, her right eye brimmed with liquid and the smallest tear spilled over, slipping to rest on her cheekbone. She was so beautiful and I felt the strangest sensation when I saw the tear, saw her grief. I placed my right hand beneath her chin, my fingertips gentle against the delicate skin of her neck. The beautiful face turned toward me and I leaned in slowly, my lips softly touching the silent tear on her smooth cheek. There was surprise on her face before her eyes softened. I kissed her lips this time, and it wasn’t just her lips pressed to mine that thrilled me. The kiss was…unexplainable. It was the knowledge that it was her who was sharing the kiss with me, and the way her body curled to mine and the surprise at how my body curved to hers. It was the look she gave me and the look we shared when we pulled apart. I dropped my hand from her chin; it lay empty and open on my knee until her hands found mine. My thumb softly stroked the outside of her hands, the back of her knuckles. She looked down to smile at our interlaced fingers and she gave my hands a gentle squeeze. I returned it and lay back against the couch cushions, giving her a smile that I thought had gone permanently dormant.
I lay on my side, facing her, our eyes locked. Her vivid green irises stared right back into mine and her fingers slipped beneath my shirt to press tentatively to the scars lacing over my abdomen. Her hand flinched away from the deformity and I clutched her hand in mine, tilting my face closer to hers. I squeezed her hand gently but her fingers slipped from mine and she splayed them against my stomach, her palm pressed against the scars. Her eyes still hadn’t broken my gaze and her lips grazed my mouth, her nose touching mine. I grasped the fingers of her left hand in my own, tilting my head to kiss her softly. She tucked her head against my shoulder and sighed into my neck. “I feel helpless,” she whispered, her lips brushing a tendon running from my ear to my shoulder. “You hear about these kinds of things on the news, but you never guess that they are happening in your own backyard. How can you help someone in this situation?” I shook my head and she came up to look at me. “It isn’t a situation, it’s called life; my life.” She shook her head more fiercely than I had, her hair shifting across her face before I brushed it behind her ears. There was fury in her sweet features and she clutched my hands, pleading. “But it doesn’t have to be, Eli. We can…turn him in, or child services!” I smiled down at her eagerness before sharing a butterfly kiss with her. “And then I’d be sent to an orphanage somewhere, and I wouldn’t get to stay with you. It would be blasted all over the news, my mom brought back into the whole situation with her being charged, too. I couldn’t do that to her. She wouldn’t want that either.” “I just want…to help.” She buried her face into the shoulder of my shirt. “You are; you don’t know how much you’re helping me. But there can’t be any public help, or stuff like that.” She sighed into my chest and closed her eyes. In a matter of seconds, she was asleep in my arms. “Don’t you get it?” He shook me, my head snapping back and forth, my own teeth clacking together, causing my tongue to bleed. “When you aren’t here I can’t look after you!” He shouted in my face before shoving me against the wall. His hand clasped my throat, fingers digging into the plaster of the drywall on either side of my neck. My Adam’s apple trapped, my air passages restricted, I couldn’t breathe. My throat made that horrible moist swallowing sound that came with choking and strangulation. ‘The Highwayman’ popped into my head momentarily as I looked into my father’s face. His eyes were hollows of madness. His fist sunk into my abdomen and I choked in pain, my throat constricting as blood started to pound in my head and shadows collected in the corners of my visions. The gagging sound emanated from me once more. He then let go of me and I gasped, falling to my knees before the toe of his shoe connected with the wall beside my head. His fist slammed against my chest and I wheezed pitifully, scrambling to my feet, trying to escape the room. He caught me by my shoulders and tossed me back down on the floor, stomping just above my pelvis. I coughed and spluttered as red drops flew from my mouth and I rolled over, retching on the carpet with minor internal bleeding. I clasped my hands behind my head and threw up again. I couldn’t breathe once more, momentarily as I spewed and the watery red pooled before my eyes. I’d have to remove or cover up the stains the second he passed out or left the room.
He grabbed me once more by the shoulders, yanking me to my feet before slamming me against the door, my head thudding against the glass window. He then stormed into the kitchen before I collapsed, lying in a heap in the doorway, defeated. “Grievance Oppressive Overly Disconcerting Diminished Desires Bitter Yearning Eternally Unfinished” It was a pretty stupid poem, but I dropped the note on her desk anyway and watched as it blew with each passing student. I had sketched a small wolf at the bottom of the paper, baying at the moon, howling its grief, my grief. For a moment, I hesitated; I thought of shredding the poem, but then I remembered the feel of her cheek beneath my fingers, and I wanted to go. Maybe it would be better this way, at least for me. And yet I felt a tingle of nerves in my gut. I closed my eyes and swallowed, pushing away the feeling. Fishing the stone from my pocket, I laid it on a corner of the small square of paper and walked from the room, and as in a previous poem, I didn’t look back. I glanced one last time around the room. I was going to die here. This was going to be the last place I ever saw. I would have liked somewhere more dramatic than a cluttered kitchen, like maybe the beach at sunset, my body sprawled on the sand dunes. I didn’t have time to go to the beach though, and I also didn’t have a driver’s license, not that it mattered. I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t even the slightest bit nervous. Death was all that was left for me. I peered down at the handful of pills sitting in my dry, right palm, and I took a deep breath and dropped them between my lips. I poured some water into my mouth and swallowed without another thought. The tap water slid down my esophagus as I coughed the toxins back up into my hand. Standing up, I gave a few dry heaves before throwing up everything since lunch, watching as it swirled down the drain of our kitchen sink. A crashing sound emanated from the front hall as the door slammed open and Ashley stumbled in. Her gaze swept over the bottles of open pills on the counter, the things in my hand. Then she looked at me and I saw fear in her eyes. “Eli, tell me you weren’t…” Her sentence trailed off and I nodded. Her knees started to tremble and she grabbed the granite counter top to steady herself before snatching her hand back upon remembering the poisons. “Help me dispose of these,” I set her straight, motioning around the room at the intrusions upon my not-even-begun life. She nodded before piercing me with green eyes. “Promise me.” Unlike her previous voice, this one didn’t waver; it was strong and demanding. “I promise.” My answer met hers; if I were going to die soon, it wouldn’t be suicide. She strutted over to me and pressed her lips to mine, her hand grasping the pills from my palm and dropping them in the sink before blindly flicking on the garbage disposal. There was a long crunching sound, and when it started to stutter, we broke apart and she pulled down on the switch, using the scrub brush to push down the life enders.
Once the grinding stopped, she turned to me and wiped her mouth. “Did you just upchuck?” I gave her the grin that she had once told me, made me look like the bigtoothed clown game at Chuck E. Cheese. She puffed out her cheeks as if about to hurl, cupping a hand over her mouth. Then she stepped over the place I had knelt, nearly ending my life, kissing me once more with her fingers tugging on my ears, marking a start at the beginning of my new one.