I was only thirteen when I got my first taste of violence—and I wouldn’t have been hysterical about the entire ordeal if it weren’t for the fact that my father was behind it.
That night, I had gone to bed earlier than I typically did, dazing off before my head had even hit the pillow.
The noise of screeching tires had startled me out of my sleep. I turned on the light and squinted over at the alarm clock that was propped on top of my nightstand, squinting at it with groggy eyes. It was a little past three in the morning. The sun hadn’t broken into the night sky yet. A ray of moonlight shimmered into my room through the window.
All around me, the house remained silent. I decided that I was hearing things. I crashed my head back onto my pillow. But before my eyes could begin to close, screams— loud screams that were desperate to be heard, echoing throughout the house.
“Come down here!Please!”
It was undeniably my father’s voice, crying out for help. I pushed back my blanket and rushed out of my room. Flipping on the hallway light, I held onto the railing and hurried down the stairs, still disoriented and sleepy. From where I was, I could see the front door was wide open and two figures were lugging in a third person in between them. I hesitated on the last step, seeing them struggle and haul this person inside. I knew it was my father and one of his friends at either side of this person, holding him up on to his feet, walking him inside.
Dad’s arm reached for a tall lamp beside the sofa, but missed it completely and knocked it down instead. It hit the floor with a thud against the hardwood.
My mother’s bedroom door opened and I listened to a set of footsteps, hurrying down the stairs to the living room. “What’s with all the commotion?” mom asked from up the stairs, talking low enough to not wake up my two younger siblings. She maneuvered around me and went to flip on the light.
I wish she hadn’t. I wish she had left the lights off and let us all pretend we hadn’t heard screams for help.
But she hadn’t done that. She had turn them on, bringing light to the gruesome scene before us. The mystery on who they were carrying into the house was finally solved. And the reason to why they had to hold him so closely was discovered.
My older brother, Rio, couldn’t walk right without their help. His left leg was bent in a strange angle, caked in mud. The white shirt he had been wearing to school today was no longer white, but red and brown—stained with blood and dirt. Holes appeared in the fabric of the shirt. Deep bruises ran up along his arm and to his swollen face.
I stood there, numb to it all. There was nothing else I could do. Just stand and watch. Like it was a movie and I was merely a useless, powerless spectator, watching from the outside. Everything that happened next felt as if I was living in a world I was no longer a part of. There was a thin glass between me and the rest of the people in that room. I was separated from them—disconnected.
None of them noticed me, frozen at the front of the stairs. In return, I did my best to not notice them. I focused on one person, and that was Rio. I observed him, watching the life slowly fade out of his face. His lips smacked together repeatedly as his eyes blinked slowly.
Mom grabbed onto the wall and covered her mouth with a shaky hand, muffling a gasp. Water began to form around her eyes. The sight had washed away all the sleepiness in her voice. “What did you do to him?” She rushed up to Rio, holding him in her arms and hugging his limp body. Her voice cracked as she asked: “What did they do to you,mi hijo?”
“We didn’t do this!” my father’s friend shouted, transforming into a young child before us. He was well into his forties and I went to school with one of his boys, Conner Blackwell.
My father cleared his throat. “I specifically told him not to go with me.”
“I don’t believe you, George.” My mother stuck her nose up, glaring at him with tears welling in her eyes. “I told you I didn’t want you to involve in that kind of stuff.”
“I don’t want him in it either. I probably want him out of it more than you!” Dad yelled. “He must’ve followed me out to one of our meetings. Things went bad faster than I could stop it.”
“Honestly, I don’t see why you guys treat him like a two-year-old,” Mr. Blackwell chimed in smugly. “He’s a man.”
My mother straightened herself up, tears streaming down her face. In the matter of a heartbeat, her hand slapped Mr. Blackwell’s face, swearing at him under her breath. “He’s just a boy. He’s barely nineteen.”
Mr. Blackwell flattened his palm against his cheek, rubbing his jaw and laughing sinisterly at my mother. “We ain’t that bad. We help a lot more than your stupid church does. Where do you think you got all that money to help re-build it in the first place?”
He was referring to the church my grandfather worked at on Kingly Avenue. They had suffered a fire last year and they fund-raised, night and day, to restore it back to its glory days.
“He’s the one who followed us, sweetheart,” my dad added.
“I don’t believe you. Why would he? He went off to bed hours ago,” mom noted.
“Clearly, he snuck out,” Mr. Blackwell said.
He was really feeling bold tonight.
Mom shot him a glare and walked to the landline phone. “It doesn’t matter what he did or didn’t do. I need to call nine-one-one. The paramedics need to come here quick. You’re going to have to give a statement to the police about what happened and what was going on.”
“No,” dad boomed. “We can’t do that.”
“Do you want him to die then?” mom yelped. My father and his friend became silent.
It was in that moment when I realized how cold they both were. How heartless they could become at the drop of a hat. This had come to my mother’s attention as well—I could see it in her eyes. “My God, you do want him to die.”
There was a pause.
A fucking pause.
I hated that pause. This could’ve been me, with blood seeping out of my chest like a crimson river and my head lulling from side to side, too close to death to care how awful I looked and felt inside. I could’ve been in Rio’s place and dad would’ve acted no different than how he was acting now. He would’ve paused like he was doing now, looking at his friend in between his dying child.
“No, we don’t want him to die,” dad said with an uneasy voice, not looking at Rio. Not looking at any one but my mother. “Can’t you bring your friend Gina over and—”
Mom didn’t let her finish. “I’m not involving my friend in this.”
“She’s got a medical degree.”
“I don’t care. It’s late. I’m calling nine-one-one and that’s final. After I make this call, I want you to start packing your things and leave.” She barked, not a hint of regret in her voice.
“You can’t just kick me out like that.”
My mom huffed, picking up the phone. “Watch me.”
“Valerie, you know I love Rio as much as you do. I care about him. Why can’t we talk about this first before you make quick decisions?” dad’s voice was strained, setting Rio’s body on sofa.
The being on the sofa was no longer Rio. It was Rio’s body. The brother I knew was long gone, far off in a dimension different from ours. His face was drained off all its color and joy I had grown to expect to see.
And how did my father react to this sight?
Something warm began building up in my chest while they screamed at each other, figuring out what to do next. Everything in my vision turned into a tent of red as I stared at Rio’s body longer, ignoring both my parents. Their bickering turned into static, unclear and incoherent. Breathing seemed more impossible with each fleeting second. I could feel my knees wanting to give up on me, and at last, I crumbled to my feet, hitting my palms against the cold hardwood floors. A raspy cry burst out of me that I wasn’t aware I was capable of. I curled into myself, letting another scream rip out of my lungs.
They quieted down and took notice of me, finally. The hardness in my mother’s voice vanished as she put a hand on my back and led me back up to my room, saying I didn’t belong downstairs and that I had seen too much for someone my age.
But she was wrong. Death didn’t have an age requirement. I had seen too much for anyone atanyage. You never get used to death, no matter how old you get.
Mom started to tuck me back into bed. “You didn’t see anything down there, now did you, Sophia?” She didn’t stop to let me answer her question. “You didn’t. There wasn’t much for you to see, anyway, right?Right. You were up in your room all night, weren’t you? You never got out of this bed once. You were sleeping.”
It was like she was having a conversation with herself, asking questions and then answer them all. I nodded to her statement, agreeing that I hadn’t seen anything. Maybe I hadn’t seen anything at all.
Maybe Rio’s body wasn’t in our living room. He could still be in his bedroom across from mine, fast asleep.I allowed myself to have these foolish lies take over the truth. I couldn’t bear the truth. The truth was menacing, wearing many masks of deception—making you think telling the truth was a good thing.
Tell the truth wasn’t always a good thing.
For the first time in nearly three years, my defiant personality faltered and I forced myself to speak the language I had abolish from my memory. It wasn’t willingly. I did it because of what my teachers had grilled into me, telling me to ignore where I came from.
“¿Estas bien, mamá?”
She flattened her lips into a thin-line, turning pale from how hard she was biting them.
With one large step, she settled down on my bed and took my hand into hers.
“Hmm?” she looked at me, but not in the way I wanted her to. She looked through me - past me. Her mind was someplace else, getting tangled with her emotions.
I hesitated before speaking again, unsure if I was wording it right. I was constantly teased for mixing the wrong words in a statement, using English words or a combination of both.
“¿Te encuentras bien?”
There was a glossy glimmer in her eyes, proving that she could start crying at any second. I’d never seen my mother cry. Even after her own mother passed away, she waited until she was in the privacy of her own room before she burst into to tears.
It was different when she saw Rio. Completely different.
“For the longest time, I thought I knew your father,” she said out of nowhere, chuckling to herself. She hadn’t answered my question at all.
“You do know him,” I mumbled.
“Not like how I used to.” She shook her head. “Life’s a lot better when you paint the world with false stories. You remember that,mi hija.”
She turned off my light and exited my room, closing the door behind her. That next morning, I did just what she had told me to do. I pretended that the ugly things I had seen the other night before didn’t exist. And she was right, things were better—easier even—because of that. But even at that age, I knew that I couldn’t wrap myself up in lies forever.
Before I had dozed off to sleep last night, I heard paramedics storm into my house, retrieving my brother. Miraculously, he wasn’t dead. He was, however, permanently paralyzed from the waist down. He would stay in the hospital for the next following weeks, recovering from his wounds.
“He’s alive; that’s the important part,” my mother said when she told me the good news, grinning from ear to ear. My two younger siblings were too innocent to know about the details of last night. And from what my mother told the authority, I wasn’t awake when she found my brother.
She had told them that she had heard a knock on the front door and that Rio’s body was left on the porch. In her rehash of the story, I was not involved in it and neither was my father.
Dad was gone when I woke up that first morning after the incident, along with all of his belongings. It wasn’t until later on during that week when I saw an envelope and a note from him on my book shelf, quite hard to see unless you directly looked at the fifth shelf. It was written in a quick, slanted handwriting.
It was clearly my father’s penmanship. I read the note first.
I am ashamed of many things, but I did not bring harm to your brother.
Remember that. Don’t believe anything anyone says.
I’ll always be there for you and make sure no one hurts you.
You can count on that.
In case I don’t see you before September 28th, happy birthday, princesa.
Inside the envelop held four hundred dollars, wrapped in a red ribbon.
The same shade of Rio’s blood the other night.
The note, along with the money, brought in a new rush of emotions, adding more confusion to my already conflicted heart. I didn’t know who I should side with. I had no clue who was right and who was wrong. My mother was stern on her decision to cut him out of our lives, but her reasoning seemed deeper than she was letting on.
This note on its own would’ve helped swayed me to the opposing side. But the money...the money gave it a dirty taste, like I was being bribed. My birthday was in a week and a half. Maybe it was my early gift? I could be over-analyzing this, but I could also be dead-right.
Which was something I was fearing.