I awoke to the thunderous noise of water pouring down. I sat up in my bed, everything in my room foreign and naked with the immense darkness stifling my vision. The boisterous shower continued on as I pulled myself off of the bed. I glanced at my clock—2:19… I rubbed my eyes with my fingers and walked to my doorway and through the corridor. I stumbled into the drawers in the middle of the hallway and then struggled to continue walking without cursing and bombarding the atmosphere with cacophonous slurs. My ears perked as whimpers seeped from the bathroom quietly. I knocked gently on the door, and the whimpers stopped but the water flow continued. “Hello?”
I waited what seemed like hours, and then the pitiful, piercing whimpers came back. My hand wrapped around the knob and gently opened the door.
The bathwater reddened.
I threw open the door and stared down at her.
Devin cried out as she took a wire mesh sponge and streaked up and down her arm fervently. Her teeth bared as the wire scraped away layers of her skin like a blade peeling back the scales of a fish. Her blood trickled down her skin and into the water like a liquid rubies. The water pinkened with each scrub, and I noticed the scratches conceded across her body—across her chest, her abdomen, her legs, her arms—just everywhere. “I can’t get him off,” she cried out as she turned to me, her reddened eyes wet with tears along with her blushed cheeks. “I can’t get him off,” she squealed. The iron sponge drug through her skin again and again as she tried to take something invisible off of her.
I took a step closer to her and murmured, still stunned, “Devin, stop.”
Her brunette strands were pulled on top of her head in a loose bun that bobbed every time she shook to scrape away her scales. “I can’t get him off… I can’t get him off… I can’t get him off!”
I tore the sponge away from her crumbling fingers, blood trickling down their lengths like thin juice. Her eyes never tore away from the arm she scrubbed.
“I can’t get him off…”
She ignored the withdrawal of her sponge and instead utilized her fingers, digging into her skin as she scratched like a cat. She pressured her skin so deeply blood began to peep its ugly head from her pores.
I leaned over her and reached for her arm. “Devin, please stop. Babe, you got to stop this.”
“I can’t get him off…” She batted my hand away, and then I noticed how bruised her neck had gotten to be… some of the bruising had to be new.
She shook her head as she sobbed, “I can’t get him off… I can’t get him off.” She folded over and sunk her teeth into her forearm. Blood seeped from her mouth into the bathwater that began to create waves with her sudden movements. She began to rock back and forth like a child, her teeth still deep into her flesh.
She peeled away from her arm and began to rub it against her, cradling it. “I can’t get him off of me. I can’t get him off of me. He won’t come off.” Her eyes fixed on the cool liquid surrounding her. She reached for my razor above her head and pulled it down to her from the lip of the tub. She laced the razor in her fingers and then sliced through her wrist against her chest.
I expeditiously grasped her forearms and forcefully pulled her out of the bath. She tried to become dead weight, but she was still too small to fight me off. Her ribs stuck out awkwardly, but her body remained muscular despite her affinity to forget to eat. I pulled her naked body against my chest, and she forced me onto the floor as she pressed further into me.
“I can’t get him off.” She buried her face into my clavicle and wrapped her fingers around my shirt. Her brunette hair brushed against my chin, and I pressed my lips against her forehead gently. My hands peeled away from her wrists as she wrapped them around my torso, and my hand cradled her head against me while the other rubbed up and down her bare back, folding up and over the scabs of her censored tattoo.
“It’ll be okay,” I whispered into her soft skin.
She shook her head and sobbed into my chest, stifling her hoarse cries. “He won’t come off! He won’t come off!”
“Devin, who are you talking about?” I gingerly asked, turned my gaze to the top of her head. My fingers unwrapped the tie from her hair, allowing it to cascade down her back.
“I can smell him on my skin…”
“Dev, do we need to go to the hospital?”
“All I see is him… I can’t get over it. I can’t… He won’t go away. Make him go away. Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God… He won’t come off of me.”
“Dev, you have to calm down or I’m taking you to the hospital.”
“Please don’t take her to the hospital,” a small voice meekly squeaked from the doorway.
My eyes turned to Lex rubbing sleep from her eyes sluggishly. I glanced up to the rack and snatched a maroon towel from the pile of whites and reds. I quickly unfolded it on top of Devin as she repeated her signature phrase at this point into my chest, turning away from my sister, as if she knew not to scar her purity. A t-shirt Lex stole from my collection hung down below her knees, and her hair knotted and tangled like a wild explosion of dead protein. “Hey, Lex, what’s up?”
“I heard somebody crying,” she confided, her face blushing as if she should be ashamed. It was like she thought she walked into something she shouldn’t have. What can I say? A little girl shouldn’t stumble across her older brother with his naked female friend on top of him.
“It’s okay. We’re not going to the hospital. Devin is just freaking out, okay?”
Devin curled into a taut ball on my lap, finally turning back to Lex. She cracked a smile and simply said, “It was a nightmare, that’s all.”
“Oh, okay. Ned will make sure you’re all better because he’s a good person.” Lex then fumbled down the hallway, and she shut the door of her bedroom to go to sleep.
I turned back to Devin, who fell back into her state of sheer terror and silent screams into my chest. My hands cradled the side of her head, turning her gaze up to me gently. “Let’s go to my room, okay?” I glanced at the floor and noticed her clothes weren’t in there. This was premeditated prior to the bathroom—this horrific effect began in the guest room.
She shook her head fervently. “No, no, no, he won’t come off. I’ve got to get him off.”
“Look, you can’t.”
“No, I can. I just need to scrub harder. I just need to get his scent off of me. I need to get his DNA off of me. I need to get everything off of me.” She reached for the iron sponge.
I snatched her wrist and hissed, “Stop it. You can’t.”
Her blue eyes finally met mine, and I could see the tears collect and fall from her clear eyes. Her lip folded under her teeth as she bit down, unfurling slowly from the pressure. She whispered, “Ned, there is something wrong with me.”
“No, it’s okay.”
“No, there is something wrong with me. I can feel it. I can feel it.”
I folded my arms under her knees and across her back, standing up with difficulty from the extra weight. Her hand fell limp, releasing the wire mesh sponge. Upon my feet, I propped her up for a moment and then caught her, readjusting the weight.She kept murmuring unintelligible whispers and cries as I carried her back to my room—the room furthest from my parents’. I gently placed her on the navy sheets, and she rushed to her knees, begging for me to listen to her.
“Devin, please calm down.”
“You’re hearing me but not listening. I need him off of me! I can’t get him off!”
“Devin, for God’s sake, shut up.”
“Ned, listen to me. Just listen to me!”
And then she fell silent.
Our eyes locked, and the hurt erupted from her soul into her eyes involuntarily. My heart sank, but I didn’t know what to do anymore. I turned to my drawer and pulled out a shirt and some boxers, throwing them over my shoulder, landing on her without any interruption. She just sat there innocently, staring down at the carpet as if she didn’t know what to do with herself anymore, catatonic and unresponsive. I turned to her and lifted the shirt from her lap. I weaved her arms through and pulled it down over her head, careful not to catch any stitches I couldn’t see on her face. I leaned across the bed, grabbing the boxers. I gently pushed her back, and she stared at the ceiling, a glazed look on her face. I shoved the boxers onto her waist and pulled her up on the bed so she sat up on the edge. I knelt down in front of her, my hands resting on her knees as I caught her observance. I whispered, “Devin, what’s the matter?”
She mouthed silently, “Everything.” The tears collected at the corner of her eyes and seeped over her lashes.
My thumb massaged her knee cap as she bore into my eyes pitifully. She bit her bottom lip, her chin quivering as she silenced a sob. I had never seen her so emotional—I mean, she was emotional but not to this extreme. She laced her fingers in her hair and dug her head in between her knees. “Oh God, oh God, oh God.”
“Devin, what happened?”
“It couldn’t have been a dream because I felt him on me. I felt him around my throat. I felt him in me. Oh God, oh God, oh God,” she ignored me blatantly.
“Dev, you have to talk to me.” My hands wrapped around her wrists, pulling her hands away from her head. She sat up, and our eyes met.
“Jude—it was Jude. He was here and wanted to finish the job. And he told me if I screamed he would kill you and your family. And he strangled me and raped me. And he wouldn’t come off. And he’s still on me. I can smell him, I can feel him, Ned. Oh God, oh God, oh God.”
A piece of me shattered as I had to finally accept that she would never be able to shake off her past. She was entwined in the acidity of her history, and there was no one who could pull her out of it despite my desires to be that person. She couldn’t flip back to who I fell in love with; she was terrified of each dancing shadow and each whining gale. She existed in a world of horror that was invisible to the rest of the world.
I pulled myself on the bed beside her, both of us facing a bare wall except for a couple of pictures Heath took of him and me one fall afternoon when he pretended to be a photographer with a polaroid camera. He like the immediacy of it all, and he liked the fact that it was a mystery initially until the film developed. I criticized him for using such an old media, but he passed it off easily.
“It was just a dream,” I reassured, folding my fingers into a steeple as she began to stare and evaluate each polaroid.
She silently shook her head, her hair whipping to each side as she twisted. “No, no, you aren’t listening.”
“Yes, I am. It’s okay. I know you’re scared, and I know—”
“You don’t fucking know!”
“No one understands! No one listens. I’m not freaking insane; just because I got screwed, everyone thinks I’m so fragile and broken. I’m seen as weak and pitiful, and I hate it so much.I’m terrified, and I’m infuriated. No one cares to hear me, really hear me. Everyone is too wound around what happened to understand what I’m trying to say or feel. Everyone is too concerned about the stupid act than the actual people.”
I languidly blinked and nodded my head somberly, apologetically.
“You just don’t know.”
I froze and turned to her, her face buried in her hands. Her back shook and rattled as she heaved in labored breaths. I wrapped my arm around her shoulder and pulled her into me, rubbing her shoulder with my thumb. She turned into my chest, her wet tears seeping through my shirt against my chest. “I’ll be right here, okay? You sleep in here, and I’ll be here when anything happens,” I whispered into her crown.
She nodded her head against my chest.
I leaned back, falling onto the bed, and shifted back until my feet didn’t hang off the edge. I pulled her to my side, and she nestled against my chest and relaxed, trying to stabilize her uneven breaths. She swallowed a sob, and I combed through her soft hair gently. Her wrist scabbed over while we argued, her dried blood scraping across my chest as she wrapped her arm around me.
It was like we were back to normal, like we were normal teenagers.
Like Devin was going to be okay.
“I love you,” I mouthed against her wrist across my chest.
Her face turned up to me, and she furrowed her brow at me, worried. I gave her a small smile, and then she collapsed into me, turned into my body. I rested my chin on her crown and pulled her hair away from her face and shoulder. I don’t remember when she fell asleep, but I know I didn’t fall asleep until I heard her breathing soften and slow.
Because I didn’t know what else I could have done.
“Edwin, wake up now.”
I sat up immediately and slid Devin’s arm off of my chest gently. She shifted in my clothes and then curled into a taut ball, remaining delved deeply into sleep. I turned to see both my parents standing over us, glaring down their noses. My dad’s arms crossed, and my mom pointed to the door silently. I pulled myself out of bed quickly and marched to the hallway and down the stairs to the kitchen. They followed only a few inches behind my heels. We finally made it to the kitchen table, and I turned to the firing squad.
“Ned, you did not have sex,” my mom declared—not a question or an inquiry. It was a matter of fact direction.
Dad stood there quietly, not saying anything, just back-up for Mom.
“Ned, you know exactly how we feel about her. She is a guest of ours, and we agreed you would not sleep with her. You broke your promise—”
“Mom, no, you have to understand—”
“No, you listen. She’s been through hell, and you go ahead and take advantage of her. Ned, I cannot believe you did such a thing. She’s just a kid! She doesn’t know anything outside of what she grew up in. You can’t take advantage of—”
“Mom, we didn’t have sex. I promise. She was terrified and tore up—”
“Lex said she saw Devin and you in the bathroom last night.”
“Explain to me why you were in the bathroom with her.”
“I heard whimpering last night, and I went to investigate. It was Devin, and I wanted to make sure everything was okay. She was cutting and scratching away at her skin, and I yanked her out of the tub and got the wire mesh sponge from her and the razor blade away, too. I was helping her.”
“It’s fine. I approached him, and he rejected my advances.”
Everyone whipped around to see Devin leaning against the bar. Her neck blackened overnight, and her skin scabbed and reddened. Her thin hair rolled down the front of her chest. Her elbows pressed into the faux marble of the bar, cupping her chin eloquently.
“I’m sorry to wake you, Devin,” Mom quickly apologized, abashed she woke the sleeping dragon.
“Devin, stop it,” I whispered sharply, recognizing the sharp sarcasm rumbling behind her blank eyes.
“I was all, ‘Ned, let’s have sex.’ He denied my illustrious advances despite the fact I was sexily covered in my own blood from an anxiety attack, which is totally unheard of. I mean, I was naked.”
My parents stared at each other mechanically, speechless as to what to say.
“Ned cleaned me up and put me to sleep, so this little slut didn’t get laid last night like everyone thought she did.”
“Devin, we never said you were a…” Mom trailed off.
“A whore? Because I’ve slept with a lot of people? Because my dad made me have unwarranted sex with people? Because sex is the only way I feel complete because I have daddy issues? Because I’m a slut?”
I placed my hand on her shoulder, rubbing the white t-shirt sleeve up and down robotically. Her face reddened from the attacks she blasted, and she leaned closer to my parents across from the bar. “Guess what?”
We all just waited for it.
She growled, “There’s always going to be a part of me that’s disgusting and repulsive, a part of me fractured by my past, never free from the venomous memory, but I like that. I like knowing a part of me will always be tethered to something larger than myself. It’s part of my identity, and if you don’t like it, screw you. I like that I have a fucking story.” She snatched a mug full of coffee from across the bar next to my dad. Her gnarled fingers wrapped around the handle and whipped it across the room. The mug shattered against the wall, the coffee slipping down from the tile loosely.
Both of my parents flinched at her explosive outburst.
“Is everything okay?”
We all turned to see Lex in her pajamas, rubbing the sleep from her eyes again. We all immediately glanced at each other, expecting someone to answer the kid, but we all stood there, dumbfounded. Wrapped tightly against her hip was a pink unicorn I got her for her collection of stuffed animals last Christmas. She silently walked over to the bar and pulled herself on the counter, all of us observing her, fastened to her pure image.
She inquired, “Daddy, why is your mug broken?”
Devin collapsed beside me on the floor suddenly. My heart fluttered, terrified it was a seizure. She cupped her hands over her mouth, and the tears started to stream down her cheeks. I turned back to my sister and smiled. “Just an accident.” She choked back a sob, shaking beside me, rubbing against my bare foot. She rocked back and forth, eyes clenched shut, like a child.
My parents silently stared at their little girl, so happy that she never had the childhood Devin did. My mom wrapped her arms around my sister tautly and buried her face into her daughter’s shoulder.
“Mommy, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, baby, nothing.”
I knelt down beside Devin, her eyes blurred with tears and sheen. I placed my hand on her knee, and she shook under my touch. Her eyes swam to stare at me, and her hands pulled away from her grimacing face. “I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry… I can’t stop… I can’t stop…”
“Can’t stop what?” I whispered, sitting down next to her on the cold tile. I leaned against the wooden cabinets as she continued to stutter and shake like a terrified animal.
“I can’t stop… I can’t stop…”
I glanced up at the clock, and then I noticed my parents’ jaws drop and Lex pull in closer to Mom. My dad ripped Lex from her arms and marched into another room, cooing soft nothings to comfort the kid. My mom rushed to my side, and I turned to my side to see Devin curl into a taut ball and flop to one side. She rocked back and forth rhythmically. “I can’t stop… I can’t stop…”
“Devin?” Mom called, putting a hand on her shoulder gently.
I whipped onto my knees and combed through her hair with my fingertips. “You’re okay. You’re safe. You’re safe.”
Devin began to cough, and my mom snatched the trashcan from around the island. “Sit her up, Ned,” she ordered urgently. An eerie liquid spilled from Devin’s full lips, almost a foam.
“God, is she seizing?” I retorted, panicked. I wrapped my arms under hers and sat her up onto my lap, trying to pull the dead weight and hold it up. I pressured my chin into her stiff back, trying to lean her forward over the trash can.
Devin suddenly turned to me, her piercing blue eyes nailed into mine. She fervently shook her head. And then she turned back to the trashcan, and I felt her back roll against my chest as she spit the foam out of her mouth.
My mom coached, “That’s a good girl. Everything is going to be okay.”
Devin lurched and wretched, the foam dribbling down her chin.
I pulled back her hair, the vile liquid dripping down a few of her strands. She leaned back after this one last dry-heave into me and gave a resigned sigh. She gently closed her eyes and shivered against my body.
My mom stood up and got the prescription bottles lining the inside of the tall cabinet, pulling down nearly five bottles. She came back with several pills in her hands, placing her hand out for Devin to take from her. “Devin, these’ll make you feel better.”
“No,” Devin slurred.
“Dev, honey, the doctor said these will calm you down.”
“I’m not crazy.”
“Devin, sweetheart,” Mom begged.
“I’m not crazy.”
“No, you’re not, but…”
Devin slapped my mother’s hand away, the pills flying into the cabinets and falling to the floor. She tore away from me and stood up, marching away to the entrance. My father blockaded the walkway to the living room where Devin normally stared at the same painting for twelve hours and then back to her room to pretend to sleep. He gently pushed her back into the kitchen, and she did obediently. He pivoted her toward the pills and pointed at the scattered pile.
She whipped around and hissed, “I am not. Those pills don’t let me be alert. I don’t get to keep an eye on things. Everything is happening, and I need to make sure everything is okay.”
“It is; you are being paranoid,” my father corrected.
“No, you don’t get it.”
“Devin,” I whispered, “come on. It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not. No one gets it! No one gets it! Not even you, Ned! I thought you would get it. I really did. You are all just being so lax about everything. Everything is not going to be okay. Everything is fucked up.”
My mom collected the pills and held them in a taut fist. “Ed,” my mom simply said.
Dad wrapped Devin in a taut embrace, pinning her arms down to her sides and picked her up, and she thrashed violently, roaring and hissing like a feral cat. “Let go of me! Let go of me! LET GO OF ME!!!” A vile scream erupted from her gut, piercing my ears like the sharp edge of a dagger. “No, no, no!”
My mom clawed at one of her kicking legs and grabbed her ankle, moving and shaking with the powerful limb.
“Ned! Ned! NED!” Devin wailed.
“Stop it, Devin,” my mom demanded passively.
“No, no, no!”
Mom pressed her hand against Devin’s mouth, the pills falling into her mouth. My mom whipped her gaze to me and ordered, “Get me a glass of water.”
I fetched a glass quickly and filled it to the brim with the clear liquid, precariously rushing to my mom’s side as Devin tried to spit out the pills. The edge of the glass cut into Devin’s lips, and the liquid fell between her lips. My dad tilted her head back and rubbed the front of her neck as if she was a dog.
For a few moments, Devin gurgled rebelliously, trying with all of her might to deny the sedative pills the doctor offered us after she had another severe anxiety attack in the hospital. He warned this was normal for her whole situation, but I couldn’t stand it. The liquid finally barreled down her esophagus, and the girl quit fighting.
My dad cooed, “Much better, Devin… You’ll be tired in a few minutes, okay?”
Devin whimpered, “No, no, no, don’t let me fall asleep.”
My dad escorted her to the couch and tucked her in like he would his own daughter. He patted her on the shoulder and then shuffled off to work, late but still intact.
My mom turned to me and warned, “That’s why you can’t mess with her.”
“Mom, you are acting like she’s an animal.”
“She needed the sedative.”
“Mom, come on, listen to yourself.”
“No, you listen to yourself, Ned. You’re pretending everything is okay with her, and you know full well she’s not. She’s lucky we don’t kick her out or send her somewhere. She’s luckier than a lot of people in this situation.”
“You can’t call her lucky.”
“Ned, just don’t mess with her.”
“You heard me, and you promised me.”
I furrowed my brow and snapped, “I’m not. I just want to save her.”
My mom tore her gaze away from the dishes she moved off the stove gracefully. Her blue eyes absorbed me, and she gave me a meek smile. “Ned, you just can’t.”
“I love her.”
“That’s not going to be enough.”
“You can’t save people, Ned. You can only hope they know how to save themselves.”
I twisted my gaze back to the limp body in the living room, drool falling down her chin as she vacantly stared at the black television like something was on. She began to twitch as she slowly fell asleep, disobeying every urge in her body due to the medication. She gurgled some liquid in the back of her throat and shifted in the loveseat, sliding into a taut ball, tucking her head in between her knees like a toddler.
I slammed my fist into the bar and whipped back to my mom. “She can’t, Mom. She’ll turn to alcohol or something destructive. I don’t know, but I just know she can’t.”
My mom pointed a finger at her and whispered, “You don’t have a say in what she does with herself. Despite your affections for her, you have no control over anything she does. You cannot save her.” And then she left me alone, too, taking Lex to her camp across the city.
I buried my face into my hands and found myself bawling, at a loss for words, thoughts, or love for this person I no longer knew, embittered by experience and trauma. I ventured to the loveseat and knelt before it, my face inches away from hers.
She opened her piercing blue eyes and gave me a small smirk. She soon recognized my flushed cheeks and dribbling tears. She gently sat up a little bit and stared intently into my eyes. “Ned, are you okay?” The sedatives had taken away her aggressive behavior, and she was now a doll of just indifference.
I grimaced harshly as I choked back a sob. My shoulders shook violently, and I heaved, “No, no, I’m not, Dev.”
She pulled me into her chest and wrapped her arms around my head as I buried my face into her. I coughed and then continued to sob, feeling her warmth through my clothing I had given her. Her hand tousled my hair back and forth, and she quietly hummed a song I faintly recalled from one of the days she took advantage of my car’s radio.
My arms wrapped tautly around her shoulders, pulling her closer to me. I didn’t want anything from her except just her presence. I didn’t want all of her; I just wanted her there.
Because that meant she was safe with me.
I let out a creaking wail. Her full lips brushed against the crown of my head as I just sobbed into her. She whispered, “It’s okay.”
The funny thing was, I don’t think she even believed herself. She had such a warm heart that I had to claw open, and she had such an imaginative, beautiful mind. But here she was, disintegrating from all the medicine. The medicine of prescription, the medicine of reality, the medicine of life.