It’s pitch black in my room when I feel the bed moving and I know that it’s my little brother crawling in with me. He has his own room but he finds his way into mine whenever he has a nightmare, which is many nights. Theo is only 3 years old and has seen way too much fucked up shit already. I try to shield him from it, but I can only do so much.
“Hey buddy, did you have another bad dream?” He nods and snuggles his little head into my side as I pull the covers over him. “Alright, try and go back to sleep okay?”
“Okay, Mommy” he says softly. Sometimes he calls me that when he’s really tired. The line is so blurred at this point considering how little of his upbringing my mother has actually been involved in. I used to try and correct him, but I gave up at some point. If it comforts him to call me that, I’ll let him. I wait until I hear his breathing slow down before I fall back asleep.
When my alarm goes off the next morning, Theo is still snuggled into my side. I gently rub his back and say, “Alright buddy, it’s time to get up.” He rubs his eyes with his fists and sits up, looking like he’s asleep even though his eyes are open. “Do I have to?” he asks me.
“Yeah, you do. You’re going to start preschool today, remember?”
This comment seems to awaken him from his coma and he says, “With Kayla?”
“Yeah buddy, with Kayla. Now, can you go get dressed for me?” He slides off the bed and runs out of my room towards his. Kayla and Theo are the same age and she’s the daughter of our downstairs neighbour Shaunice and her husband Stan and they’re in their 30’s. She often watches Theo when I can’t and she told me she would bring him to school with Kayla and take him for the afternoons since preschool is only half days.
I throw on some jeans and a t-shirt and brush out my natural blonde waves before putting on some mascara. I bring Theo downstairs with me and we pass by my mother who is passed out on the couch with a needle still stuck in her arm.
She would do literally anything for a hit. That’s actually the entire reason Theo and I exist. We are the bi-product of her paying for drugs with sex. It’s really a miracle we both have all our limbs and fully functioning brains. I pop bread in the toaster and give Theo a cup of milk. I make sure we’ve both got our bags packed and we head out the door and down the stairs to Shaunice’s apartment.
“Good Morning,” she says as she answers the door. “Kayla is in the living room if you want to go play with her,” she says to Theo. He hugs my legs and says, “Bye Six, love you!” and then runs off. “I love you too!” I call after him.
“So, are you excited for your first day of senior year?”
“Honestly? I’m so nervous I feel like I may vomit.”
“Oh, honey, you’re going to do great.” She’s always supported and encouraged me. She’s kind of like the big sister I never had.
I give her a small smile and say, “Right so, I’ll have my cell phone with me if anything comes up at school or whatever. I made sure the school has my number and obviously so do you so-”
“Don’t worry Six, I’ll call you. I got him. You just focus on school.”
“I will and thank you, again. Seriously, I don’t know what I would do without you,” I say as I walk away.
Near the end of last year, I quickly realized that if I wanted to get into a halfway decent college, I would have to get out of the shit hole called WestSide High which is essentially a breeding ground for junkies, criminals and teenage pregnancy. Straight A’s don’t look the same coming out of a place like that. I applied for the scholarship program at Chelsea High on a whim and ended up getting in.
Fortunately, I came into possession of a black 2010 Subaru WRX a couple years ago when one of my mother’s dealers OD’d in our living room. I drive myself to school and when I pull up to the parking lot and find it full of shiny expensive cars I realize just how far out of my element I am. I try not to act surprised that there aren’t any security guards checking bags at the entrance and make my way to the main office.
I find a thin elderly lady with long gray hair sitting behind the desk. She looks up at me when I walk up and says, “Good morning, how can I help you?”
“Hi, uh, I’m new here and I was just looking to get my schedule.”
“Of course, can I get your name?”
“Six Keller,” I say and she gives me a look and asks, “Six as in the number?”
“Yes, S-I-X.” That’s what happens when your crackhead mother is responsible for picking your name. Theo is lucky I was there to influence my mother’s name choice for him.
She types something into her computer and then she tells me that my schedule and locker assignment along with a map are on the printer right behind me. I grab the piece of paper and say thank you to her before heading out into the main hall. Looking at the map, I begin walking towards my homeroom which is Calculus.
Ideally, I would not put math first thing in the morning, but I’m sure I’ll live. When I make it to class, I find a seat right near the back of the room and check my phone to see a photo from Shaunice of Kayla and Theo together in front of the pre-school. I smile at it and put my phone away just as the teacher walks in.