Preface: A Dark Beginning
It started when I was six years old. The most dreadful, horrific, traumatic thing that can happen to any child. An idea so disgusting that everyone believes it would never - could never - happen to them.
My seventh birthday is when my life truly went downhill. Little did I know the side effects, the nightmares, the post-traumatic stress, the emotional and physical instability that it would bring to me; I didn’t know how such trauma could scar me and effect my life.
Little did I know that I would turn from an innocent little girl to a mature young woman far too early, in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
July 15th, 2003
I sat outside the hospital room, fiddling with my old beat up yellow Walkman. There was a dent on the side of it and my faded signature from a Sharpie I used years ago. It was dirty, as if it could never quite be rid of dirt smudges and sticky fingerprints. I had over-the-year headphones on my ears, blasting N’Sync’s CD, No Strings Attached, trying to ignore the name on the small black chalkboard beside the hospital room’s door. The name, I knew, was a permanent fixture - in bold, white letters, as if taunting me. It read: NATALIE CARVER.
“Bye Bye Bye” came on, and I had to tear my gaze from the name. The pain was unbearable. I stared down at my hands, bruised and bloodied from pounding relentlessly on neighbor’s doors. My knees were scraped from falling, and my plain navy skirt, knee-high socks, and white shirt were smeared with mud and blood. Why no one had called the police, I’m not sure.
I had long since removed my Mary Jane-style black shoes, which were under the under I occupied. My school uniform was uncomfortable after wearing it all day, making me fidget, and I was more than thankful that today was the last day of the school year.
Suddenly the door opened, but I didn’t glance up. I didn’t want to know what was happening inside. My mom’s best friend, Teresa, kneeled in front of me, gazing up into my golden eyes. I tried to avert my gaze, but she reached out and grasped my chin with one hand. Her other hand pushed the headphones off my ears.
“Madelyn, your mother wants to see you,” she whispered, searching my face with her big brown eyes for… something.
I tore my chin from her hold, looking anywhere but at her. “I don’t want to, Miss Teresa. I’m scared,” I whimpered.
She sighed. “I know sweetheart, but she asked to see you. She’s awake right now, for the first time in days.
My lower lip trembled, but I held back my tears and bit my lip. Nodding, I turned off my Walkman and shoved it into my dirty backpack. Then, I leaned down and slowly pulled my shoes on, one at a time. Taking Miss Teresa’s arm for support, I let her lead me into my mother’s hospital room.
I sucked in a deep breath and broke away from Miss Teresa. The small crowd of family friends, and I mean very small since my mother didn’t associate with many people and had no living family, dispersed at my arrival. I finally got a clear view of my mother, nearly causing me to cry out in surprise; my hand flew to cover my mouth, my eyes growing wide and frightened.
My mother’s long blonde hair was gone complete. She was completely bald. I had watched, in the beginning, her hair coming out in clumps, but I hadn’t been allowed to see her in two weeks. Her skin was pale, nearly transparent, and her amber eyes were sunken in her skull. She had an oxygen tube stuck into her nose, and she was staring straight at me.
“Dee, it’s me,” she murmured.
I burst into tears then, rounding the bed to be by her. I threw my arms around her as sobs wracked my body. She held me, though she was thin and felt fragile beneath me. I briefly remembered, when she first started the chemotherapy, how sick she got. She couldn’t hold any food down, and it was showing.
I swallowed and pulled away from her. Her eyes were shining with tears. I frowned, noticing the constant, rhythmic beeping from the machine next to her. I gaped at it, then realized that the beeping was her pulse. Oddly enough, it soothed me as I wiped away my tears.
“Dee, what happened to you?” She asked.
Broken from my reverie, I glanced down at myself. I was a mess. The reasoning behind it made me flinch, and I avoided her eyes. I was ashamed and couldn’t burden her with that information when she was this sick. No, I would wait until she got better to tell her.
“Nothing, I-I just fell down,” I lied.
Feebly, she retrieved a small pink glossy gift bag from the other side of the bed. “I wanted to give this to you. Happy birthday, baby,” she rasped.
My eyes filled to the bring with tears again. “Mommy, you didn’t have to get me a gift.” Tears streamed steadily down my face as I tentatively reached out to grasp the gift bag.
Her eyes widened and she let out a loud, wet cough. “Please take it, Dee. It’s your seventh birthday today.
Reluctantly, I wrapped my fingers around the ribbon handles and clutched it to my chest. “Thank you,” I whispered.
“Don’t open it until after,” she said.
My head snapped up to glower at her. “What do you mean, ‘after’?” I demanded. Even for being freshly seven years old, I was smart enough to know how to read between the lines.
She didn’t answer my question. “I love you, Madelyn. Don’t you ever forget it, okay? I love you with all my heart. You are my bright and shining star. My sunshine. You are fierce and beautiful and a warrior. You’re my fighter.”
I swallowed thickly. “Momma, why are you saying all of this?” More silence from her. I looked around at everyone in the room frantically, but they all turned their heads to avoid my eyes. “Momma, what’s going on?”
“Nothing, baby. It’s all very overwhelming, sweetheart. I love you,” she said again.
On the verge of another breakdown, I fixed my gaze on hers. “I love you too, Momma.”
She took hold of my hand weakly, shakily. “I’m always with you. Promise to keep fighting the battle I couldn’t.”
I searched her eyes, looking for answers and solace, but only found remorse and a deep-seated pain. But I couldn’t respond. I was scared it would be indefinite.
“Promise me!” She cried, squeezing my hand, then lapsed into a fit of coughs.
I jumped, scared at her reaction to my silence and the violence of her coughing. “I promise,” I whispered.
She squeezed my hand again. “Good girl.”
I smiled, then leaned over and kissed her briefly on the cheek. “Get better soon, Momma.” She gave me one last quick squeeze on my hand for reassurance and a fleeting smile. Hope blossomed in my chest for the first time in months as I gave her one last hug and kiss, then turned and pushed through the small crowd to get out of the stifling room. I had to get out of there before I had a full-blown tantrum.
As I reached the door, the beeping stopped its constant beeping and lapsed into an adamant blare. I gasped when everyone sucked in a breath and whirled around, staring at the machine in wide-mouthed horror.
I was young, yes, but I knew what it meant.
It meant my mother was gone, torn from me by the cruel fate of breast cancer.
Miss Teresa’s husband, Jack, cursed, rushing to me and lifting me by my arms. I thrashed, screaming at him to let me go. The room was in chaos; everyone was milling about, crying, collapsing into each other, whispering terms I wouldn’t understand until years later. Things like, “she signed a DNR” and “CPS will take care of things.”
“No! Put me down! Let me see my mommy!” I wailed.
It all happened too fast, and next thing I knew, Mr. Jack set me down in the hallway outside. His blue eyes blinked at me. His mouth moved; he was saying something, but I couldn’t hear him. I just stared at him.
Finally, his voice broke through, but it was as if he were speaking to me under water. “Stay here, Dee, okay? Don’t leave. Just stay here,” he was saying. He rose and went back in to the room, shutting the door behind him.
I stood there, a lone child left in the hallway, covered in mud and blood and bruises, tangled blonde curls and a puffy face from crying.
Without giving anyone a warning, I shoved my mother’s gift into my backpack, then took off running. I ran through the corridors of the hospital, outside into the hot, dry heat, and down the street. I raced toward home, my backpack slapping my back annoyingly.
We lived out in the countryside, in a small, dilapidated, dated home. It took me just over a half-hour to get home, and I desperately hoped that he wasn’t there. As I ran up the dirt driveway, I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the house was empty and dark when I arrived, flushed and panting from such a long run. I felt more comfortable being in my house, with the stained tan carpet, old TV, and ripped upholstery on the couches. As I passed it, I noticed the kitchen was filthy; dishes were strewn everywhere and there was food left out. I shuddered. What had he done to this place?
I carefully treaded toward my room and slowly opened the door.
“There you are,” his voice said from somewhere in my bedroom.
I froze. Oh no. I guess I wasn’t alone after all…
I spun on my heel and raced back toward the front door, but he caught up to me, wrapping his arms around my waist and pulling me back against his chest. I could feel his breath on my ear; it reeked of stale cigarettes and alcohol. I fought the urge to gag and struggled against him.
“Oh, Madelyn. I thought I taught you better than to fight me,” he said, and I could sense his malicious smile distorting his lips.
I stopped squirming. “She’s gone,” I mumbled, suddenly feeling empty and devoid of emotion. “She’s dead.”
“All the better for you and me,” he muttered. “Come, Madelyn.” He picked me up and threw me over his shoulder. I screeched and punched his back as hard as I could, but my flesh was still bruised and tender from the day before. I did it anyway, ignoring the pain, praying that it would somehow faze him. He carried me back to my bedroom and dropped me on my bed. He started at me through the darkness of my bedroom, his dark eyes glistening with desire.
I whimpered as he approached me. There was nothing I could do to stop it now, and we both knew it.
I lay naked, vulnerable, exposed, violated, in a ball on my bed, stifling my sobs in my pillow. My hair was tangled around me, snot and tears mingled on my oversensitive skin.
Jeez. Some seventh birthday.
My body hurt. I could not be more thankful that he had chosen to let me sleep alone tonight.
As the thought crossed my mind, I sat up in my bed, my yellow covers, now dirty from the dirt I treaded in from outside, pooled around my waist.
He’s not in here. I can leave.
I scrambled out of bed, quietly opening my closet door and pulling out some clothes. I yanked them over my body, and shoved some into my backpack, along with an extra pair of shoes, socks, and underwear. I glanced nervously around my room, wondering if I needed anything else. I spotted my stuffed bunny resting on my bed, and I snatched it up, putting it in with my clothes. It was a gift from my mother when I was born.
Her ghostly presence haunted me; I fought the urge to cry and removed any other sentimental items from my room, like pictures of her and I and jewelry she had left in my room. The rest would have to be left behind for now.
Then I crawled across my bed and pushed on the window with all my remaining strength. It didn’t give way easily, but when it did, it squeaked. I froze, listening intently for any noise that I had woken him up. After a few moments of silence, I resumed my careful pushing until I could fit through it. I tossed my backpack out the window and pulled myself up and over the sill. I swung down, landing heavily on my feet. Pain lanced through my ankles, but I ignored it and turned back to close the window, only to find I was too short to reach it.
But I didn’t stay to find out what would happen when he found out I left.