Chapter 1: The Trauma
There are certain events in an individual’s life, that truly shape their personality. It starts at a young age—very impressionable, we are as children. More than anyone realizes. For me, it wasn’t an event so much as a combination of sounds. A beautiful laugh, a growl, and windchimes. These were my sources of comfort in instances like these when my father was a few feet away having another episode as his high wore off. It was either these sounds or him that would calm me.
At first, I swore he was a hallucination, a coping mechanism for my broken childhood and perceptions of masculinity. I allowed my imagination to conjure up the perfect man for me. But then things got too real, too consistent. He’d show up even when things weren’t so intense when I was heading home from a night shift or rereading the same romantic plot from the dusty books in the library. He was there, in my mind but a little deeper, to that space where supernatural seemed to exist as more than just a thought. Where my injuries disappeared and his touch melted against my skin. It was in this territory that I found myself now.
"Just a while longer," The melody of his baritone voice made every word seem irrevocably true. Even at this moment, when the plates continued to crash against the walls beneath me, I believed in him.
He walked closer to me and lifted my chin, "What is it?"
The small comforts he gave me always made me feel warm, "I don’t think I can last anymore of this Emerson" I admit softly, tears streaming down my face, "It’s getting horrible. I think I might stay in the women’s shelter tonight."
He makes a sound that is nothing short of animal but it doesn’t last long, "Don’t you remember what happened the last time you did that?"
I would never forget it, added to the list of traumas I had to keep inside, "But this is one of the worst. And once he realizes that I’m not down there he’ll come up here for me."
There’s some silence, "Try to get out and go to the library, I’ll come to get you."
"So you can stand me up again?" It was a low blow but my frustration was peaking.
"I told you I had to go—"
"On a last-minute international business trip," I said without much conviction, "I know."
He sighs and steps closer to me, "Adira, I’m trying my hardest to find you, I think we’re close to finding your house but I just need a little more time."
Our house was off the grids, for whatever reason there was for that in this day and age. My parents didn’t want to be discoverable and to this day I don’t know why. My dad never answered and my mother died before she could impart that knowledge to me.
Back to the issue at hand, "I don’t have more time, Emerson," I almost screamed.
He holds my face in the palms of his hands using the softness in his thumbs to absorb the tears from my cheeks, "Okay, I’m sorry. No more tears beautiful," He soothes pulling me into his arms, "I’m leaving out for you right now, just try to stay alive for a while longer, please. Pack a bag."
"Why isn’t there any goddamn food in this house?!" My father’s barking wakes me up from my surprisingly restful sleep.
That was another thing that seemed to convince me that Emerson wasn’t just mental. Being around him resulted in constant physiological impact and not even me—with a myriad of traumas and shortcomings—could do that much to myself. I look lazily to the clock and saw that it was just a little after 5 in the afternoon, meaning I’ve only been asleep for 3 hours. Back-to-back shifts for 3 days straight will do that to a person. I should try to get more sleep, but Emerson’s words still haunt me.
I’m leaving out for you right now…pack a bag.
Was I stupid enough to fall for that? Maybe.
I jump to my feet and start shoving miscellaneous items of clothing in a bag, hair products, pain killers—
"You’ve been here the entire time you ungrateful brat!" Three pounds on my door startled me into zipping up the duffel and shoving all the cash I had in my pocket, "You think you can just lock yourself in there while I starve?!"
I go on, as usual, rushing to relieve myself in the bathroom passing Chester who slept peacefully at the foot of my bed. Once done, I stoop down to ruffle his shiny white fur and his head perks up obedient but groggy. A cranky pup. He was the perfect companion, my best friend; a four-legged Shiba Inu with an attitude problem but the territorial angst of his wolf ancestors.
Now, he seemed to roll his eyes at my father’s rampage just a few feet away from the closed door. A growl leaves him before he begins to get ready to resume his much-needed sleep.
"No Chester, we’re leaving. I need you up."
In response to this he jumped to his feet stretching a bit before grabbing his winter vest, and leash. With a high pompous tail, he placed both items on top of my closed duffel then sat patiently by the bathroom door, waiting for an explanation. The action makes me smile despite the circumstances.
"Emerson said he’s coming to get me," There’s a moment where Chester gazes at me as though I was the stupidest person alive, "I know," I roll my eyes, "But with all that ruckus I just need to leave here, before he invites his friends over. Maybe we can hang by the shelter if Emerson doesn’t show?"
There’s a growl in disapproval, "Well I don’t know what to do Chester," I brush more furiously, the pressures and frustrations of having been stuck in this situation for 21 years weighing heavily on my already deteriorating body. At first glance, I seemed normal, maybe even healthy. Thick thighs and beefy arms that I can only thank my job at the diner for. Despite my hefty-ness I carried, my midsection was compact, a small waist and sizable bust to—dare I say—compliment the rest of my body.
Then there was my face, resembling a woman I knew nothing about who I resented for dying. She left me with her cocoa skin and matching dark eyes. My hair curled a bit looser than hers did but that along with the soft freckles was just a reminder that sadly I wasn’t just birthed from her. No, I had to have this other half. The half that didn’t want me after she left. Who drank and snorted away his problems, his job, his life, leaving enough consciousness to remember that I was hated. A constant reminder of his lost wife.
"I can’t deal with this anymore."
Chester rushed to my feet, rubbing gently against them as my wrists shook violently on the already loose bathroom sink. NO. Now wasn’t the time for this, not another episode. No. Please, no.
I begin whispering these words, trying a breathing exercise my high school guidance counselor taught me, but already my view was blurred with tears. The sink, shower curtain, even Chester, all faded into blackness isolating me in a dark chilling hug at the back of my mind.
My anxiety attacks only got worse with time, untreated and diseased by the pressures of work, survival and the constant physical abuse from my father. The tremor in my wrist was once the only physiological effect of these episodes but now served as a warning, a foreshadowing of sorts. The harder the quake the deeper I’d fall. My lungs would demand air hastening its action until my chest felt as if it was caving in, unable to contain the hysteria my body was in. The pain was immediate, and for a while, I’d even experience a slight euphoria—but like all the happiness in my life—that was always short-lived. It would flow outwards to my limbs, immobilizing me so I had no choice but to drink it all up.
So there I was convulsing on the ground a slight tremble running up and down my spine as I prayed the pain away. No, please no. When I started to feel the wet rough texture of Chester’s tongue on my cheek I knew it was almost over. After touch, there was audio, then smell and lastly sight. That’s how I’d emerge from the dark, unaware of how long I was there or if I managed to hurt myself on the fall down. Wondering if while in this state my father managed to get a hold of me. If, like when I was 10 when I attempted to open my eyes I’d be surprised to know that they were swollen shut.
This was the source of my anxiety, the constant unknowing. The instability.
Chester’s panting was at the opening of my ear and when I reacted he knows that I’m waking. I was glad that the smell of blood wasn’t something I immediately identified, so I opened my eyes with a sense of peace. Further, ahead I hear that my father had retired to downstairs, still talking to himself, complaining about the lack of food. Knowing better than to immediately sit up I slowly pull myself to the tub, resting against it as Chester licked my cheek to stop me from falling back into unconsciousness.
I use my half-immobile state to consider my next moves. If I try to run away, he’d find me so I needed a specific location. If I stayed at the Battered Women’s Home on fifth, instead of the Homeless Shelter then I could probably have a peaceful night before heading to the bus station downtown and taking whichever route went furthest from here. Okay, that could work. It was a race against time though, and I was barely able to get up.
With a sigh, I close my eyes and think of what else I might need. Chester’s licking intensifies, so I rub his fur to let him know I was okay. Maybe some more underwear and a—
"Are you okay?" His voice was an antidote in the back of my mind.
"Yes," I lie, "Are you still coming?"
"I am," he sounded winded, "Does your house have a rusty wire fence and old swing set in the back?"
"It does! Are you here?!" My excitement quadrupled as I try to get to my feet.
"Not yet sweetheart, almost. Less than 10 minutes for sure." There was nothing that close to us, the nearest house was a whopping 40-minute drive.
"Okay, I’ll wait by the biggest oak tree to the right of the swing."
"It’s really cold out, I don’t want you to—"
"I’m not staying any longer than I need to," I say quickly.
There’s silence, "Alright, hang tight."
When I opened my eyes my body jumps into high gear. I stand to my feet and shoved Chester’s things in the duffel, then two other items. I opened my window welcoming the brisk cold for a second as I tossed my duffel into the snow piles that gathered in the abandoned backyard.
This time I’d leave, whether or not Emerson came. So I stoop down to latch the leash on Chester’s collar, "Remember, if things start going haywire, get out of the house. Don’t try to be brave."
He growls at me and I knew he’d never leave me alone with my father. I sighed and stood up, placing my hand on the knob ready to face my biggest fear yet. My father.