❀ TRIGGER WARNING❀
Before reading this book, I should warn you about the content in this novel. There will be death, violence, some drug and alcohol usage/abuse, bullying, excessive use of profanity, suggestive language, and triggering adult themes. Topic such as: suicide, child abuse, and different forms of harassment. If those kinds of things bother you, please do not read this book.
The first person I ever thought of killing, at the joyous age of eight years old, was my stepfather.
For me to be that blunt, most would conclude that I didn’t have the best surroundings during my upbringing. Wish I could deny it; I considered myself a product of my environment. I wouldn’t say my home was any different than the people in my complex. Violence was normalized quickly, leading adult matters to spill into my adolescence far sooner than for most my age. I picked a gun up at seven, shooting at bottles, and stole the keys to my mom’s van at twelve. Growing up with minimal parental guidance led to an interesting childhood, mostly bad. But I still had all my fingers and working limbs, so that was a bonus.
The shaking walls, echoing shouts of screams pouring in from the alleyways, and bickering that could be heard from the parking garage was typical. I didn’t know if a real relationship could exist without broken glass on the kitchen floor and police reports. The model I was shown at a young age taught me that a restraining order was part of the agreement and so were shattered cabinets, smashed in the heat of a fight.
Sweet, gentle moments between my parents were few and far between. And that, in the end, was why I was happy when my mother walked away from the burning building we called a home.
The tipping point, for my sister and I, was the morning my mother decided to leave him for good.
My mother and sister had exploded into an argument late in the night when mom came home crying. She had arrived alone, running into the house and locking the door as though she was fleeing from the clasps of death. If she was frightened any more, I feared her eyes would fall out of her sockets from how terrified she looked, trembling by the entrance.
Having seen so many of their fights, even at that age, I knew not to react too soon. This was a new tactic of mine, mainly because I was sad about the last attempt I made to comfort my mother. During her last breakdown, I had swiftly gone to her side and wrapped my arms around her. The second my hand looped around her neck, she pushed me into the wall, scaring me away from her for the rest of the day.
It wasn’t until bedtime when she snuck into my room with an apology in the form of a new toy. We didn’t talk about what happened after that day.
For that reason, I pretended as if I hadn’t seen or heard anything, allowing myself to be absorbed by the glow of the television. There was something freeing about the act, escaping the conflict ensuing in the living room. I had Family Matters reruns on, hating every second of the gleeful people I saw grace the glass screen.
Why can’t I be like you? I had wished.
At that point, despite my youth, I sensed that there was something off about the arrangement of my family. It was stark in contrast to the loving married relationship I saw represented on screen, blossoming a form of resentment toward these grinning strangers.
“We have to go.” At once, my sister’s words made me pay attention.
I had my eyes shifting from the TV to the two of them. Rory, my sister, had her arms blocking the path to the hallway. She was just a sophomore in high school, but she was the same size as my mother. Two summers ago, she wouldn’t have gotten to eye level with my mother, but it wasn’t the case now.
“I’m not hearing any of this,” my mother hissed, “let me get some sleep.”
“You aren’t going into that room.”
“You will not be telling what to do.”
“I clearly need to when you make choices like a child,” Rory said, punching the wall with her closed fists. “I’m sick and tired of this. You promised me you would leave if he pulled this shit again.”
“He didn’t anything.”
“I can see the bruise, mom.”
“Rory, move!” she ordered, “I don’t wanna talk about this.”
“I was wrong,” Rory sighed, relaxing her hand and dropping it on to my mother’s shoulder.
“Wrong for calling you a child,” she added, “A child doesn’t befriend the bullies that hurt them. You’re worse than that because you decide to stay—every time.”
“I will not be spoken to in that kind of way.”
“Why not? At least what I’m saying isn’t as bad as what Richard calls you.”
“Don’t,” she hissed, “I told you, if you start doing that, Picasso will.”
“He’s not my father. I don’t have to respect him,” Rory spat, “Why should a respect a man I have no blood relations to and continues to hurt my mother? I shouldn’t like him from the sounds of it.”
Rory didn’t let allow my mother to forget what occurred that night. She gave her an ultimatum; either she would final a new report on Richard, or Rory would do so herself. In the morning, my mother woke up with a new vigor taking over her spirit, determined to make her first try at wiggling out of the grasps of my stepfather. Knowing his schedule well, she brought us both to his apartment so that she could pack up all of the things she had there. Rory and I had clothes there as well, thrown into the spare bedroom we shared.
“Go into the living room and stay there,” Rory said, patting the top of my head. “I won’t take very long. You don’t have to do anything.”
I came along to ensure my rock collection wouldn’t be forgotten and got traveled to our house safely. I had started the collection up the summer we stayed at his apartment all break, staying in the spare room due to the bug extermination going on in my actual bedroom. It took time but I managed to fill three shelves, rattling with rocks of assorted colors, shapes, and classifications.
This was, and always will be, the nerdiest stage of my life.
I was proud of my little achievement, cleaning them regularly and pushing around the cart that held them for afternoon walks. Having heard my mother emphasize the importance of sunlight, I thought the rocks needed vitamin D like humans did.
The plastic white rolling cart was four shelves tall and made mobile by the black wheels attached to the bottom. I had it to the left of me now, inspecting the number of rocks I had while my sister and mother tossed clothes into duffle bags and suitcases. They moved fast, periodically checking the time as they worked.
They were alerted, not from my own voice, that an unhappy person had shown up when the loud, crashing noise of my cart fell down beside me. It had missed me by a few inches, spilling on to the carpeted floor. I cried out at the mess, going to pick them up. There was no use; I was being grabbed at the moment I began touching them. From behind, I was snatched up, pinned to someone’s chest.
“Leave me alone!” I screamed out, a sob ripping out of me. I beat against their body with my legs, fighting as much as I could.
“Quit crying over some fucking dirt.”
I froze at the order that came from Richard, taken over by terror.
His breath was hot, digging his nails into my ribs as he walked me out of the living room and into the bedroom my sister was in. She dropped the shirt in her hands, peering with an unreadable expression dancing on her face. From behind the door, my mother came in to view, carrying two duffle bags that were ready to burst by the zipper because of how tightly packed they were.
“So, that’s why you aren’t taking any of my calls, huh?” he asked, suspiciously calm, “You’re too busy with this nonsense. I told you, Dejah, we can talk this out like we always do. This ain’t no different.”
“This is different,” she said, hiking the duffle bags as they began to slip off her shoulder. “I can’t do this any more. I can’t keep doing this to my kids. They deserve better than this.”
My knees hit the floor first. The burn of the rug irritated my skin, making me caress the place of impact and crawling away from the room. I didn’t feel at ease in the presence of my parents, something I was used to, and went for a hiding spot.
“Please, Richard,” my mother pleaded, “don’t start any trouble. Let me get all my things in peace; let me leave in peace. We don’t have to make things get complicated.”
Wanting to miss the show unfolding before me, I slinked away from them, but I hadn’t moved quick enough. I watched in fear as my stepfather picked up one of the packed suitcases and crash it into my sister’s back. Her knees buckled under her, colliding to the floor and hitting the corner of the frame of the bed on her way down.
Keeping a cool exterior, he lit the end of his cigarette as if he did nothing wrong.
My mother went to my sister, who was swearing. In a fury, my mother stormed up to him with her finger pointed at him. A part of me sensed pride, seeing my mom finally stand up against him. It didn’t take much before my mom’s screams out-performed my sister’s, screeching from the contact of the hot burning ember of his lit cigarette meeting her face.
It didn’t stop there. Coiling his large fingers around her throat, he pressed her into the door of a closet, holding her in place. “You don’t fucking scream at me.”
“P...pl..please, not here,” she begged, and for a moment, I wondered if this was her biggest fear: dying in front of her children in the hands of a man who supposedly loved her, cherished her, but in reality didn’t give a damn about her.
I was the only one, as I could see, who was capable of ending the mayhem. My sister was caught up in her own pain, unaware of the croaking coming from my mother.
Something greater than myself took control of my body, charging him with the confidence of wanting to knock him off my mother. I was, of course, barely much of a match to a full grown man. When he didn’t flinch a bit, I yanked the hem of his dress pants and sunk my teeth into his hairy calf.
“Ah! What the fuck!?”
He shook his leg, but it was pointless. I hooked my arms around him, wrapping him with my limbs in a way that had me latched on to him with no sight of releasing him.
“Get him off!”
I watched carefully, and when I saw his hand drop from around my mother, I untangled myself from his leg, scooting backwards and into the dark hallway. Richard checked on the bite I left, wincing while his fingertips ran over the teethmarks. A saliva string held on to the pad of his thumb, cursing.
I didn’t have weight or strength on my side, but I had my size and speed to use as my advantage. I took his moment of disbelief at what I’d done as my chance to run, heading out the apartment and knocking on the residents who lived across the hall.
Rory congratulated me in the car.
“I didn’t think you had it in you,” she said, looping her arm over my shoulder, “You got him good.”
“You think so?”
We were packed up and ready to get on our way. Richard’s neighbor had called the police for us. Down the parking lot, I could see one of the police squad cars in two spots at once. They were still questioning him, no doubt, in his apartment.
“You really did,” Rory assured me, “I think Richard will have it for life.”
“Good, Richard deserves it.”
“Hey, you can’t say that.”
“Yeah, I can, he’s my step dad as much as he is yours.”
“He’s not your stepdad, Picasso,” Rory concluded, “He’s your dad.”
“No, he’s not.” I refused to accept. I met my eyes to the rear view mirror, catching my mother’s gaze. “She’s lying.”
“Why do you think she always made you call him dad? He’s your dad,” my sister said. My mother’s silence was enough. “Mom only says he’s not your dad when she wanted to piss him off in fights. He is your dad.”
“Quiet now, Rory,” my mother said, at last, but that wasn’t a denial.
I wasn’t aware of it then, sitting through the car ride, but this wasn’t the end of Richard and Dejah. The war they created wasn’t over after that day. The following year, my mother returned to the man she promised to never see. The back and forth relationship, tiresome and redundant, would go on to span out for ten more years, and most importantly, ending with a tragic untimely death.
For that reason, to this day I still referred to Richard as my stepfather regardless of what I learned that day. He would always be only that and nothing more - even if it wasn’t the truth.