stories of failure

2. catching fireflies

 

There were only a few weeks left of summer, and I couldn’t wait for the school year to begin again. I was 11 years old, about to enter 8th grade, and I was having the worst summer of my life. Over the last few months, my world had been turned upside down. My parent’s divorce was going very badly, and my father had refused to move out of the house. Home had become a volatile place and we were barely there. My mother had taken to bringing my sister and I to her boyfriend’s apartment and his sister’s house, a place I hated more than anywhere else in the world.

Whenever we went to his sister’s house, bad things happened. And it seemed like they were getting progressively worse as the summer went on. Sometimes my mother would leave my sister and I at the house alone. His sister was supposed to be watching us as we stayed with her 10 year old son John, in front of the television or playing video games. What she really did was drink beer in the kitchen with her ex-husband. Many times they would fight and she would leave, and then he would be alone in the house with us. At first, he ignored us. But after some time, he began to seek us out, to seek me out.

I was terrified of him. He watched me with his eyes. He tried to get me alone. I had been successful in avoiding him, but he was getting bolder. One of the last times I was there, John’s mother had left and his father was getting drunk in the kitchen. He began calling my name, calling me into the kitchen.

“Pretend you don’t hear him,” John had said.

We ignored him and kept playing the video game. But John’s father was insistent. He staggered into the room and grabbed my arm.

“I said come here, little girl.”

“Let her go.” John said quietly.

“Shut up,” his father hissed, pulling me up by the arm.

My sister began to cry. John looked at his father, then at me. He grabbed my sister’s hand and yelled “Run!”

I ran, freeing myself from his grasp, following John and my sister out the door and down the street. We ran as far as we could until we were breathing hard. John took us to a friend’s house who lived several blocks away. We stayed in his friend’s backyard, littered with concrete, weeds and broken glass, until it was almost dark and the mother told us we had to go home. When we got back to John’s house, his father had left. We didn’t talk about what happened. We watched tv until my mother and her boyfriend came back and took us home.

Not home. To her boyfriend’s house. That summer, I had no home.

But the summer was almost over. And we were at John’s house again. The adults were drinking beer inside the house, but we were outside. I remember that the night felt wild and restless, because I knew that school would be starting soon and all of this would be over, like a bad dream. Fireflies began to light the night and we ran after them, laughing, trying to catch them with our hands.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to get a jar. But the three of us had gone back into the house and asked for one. John’s father stood up and went into the kitchen. We were told to follow him.

He took a jar from the cabinet and placed it on the table. Then he pulled a knife from his pocket and stabbed the lid.

“How’s that?”

“I think they’ll need more air holes,” I said softly, truthfully. The words came out of my mouth before I had time to think.

“You’re never satisfied, are you. Nothing’s ever good enough for you. Isn’t that right,” he said while walking towards me, holding the knife.

No one spoke for a second. I held my breath.

He trailed the knife along my cheek, barely touching my skin.

“You’re such a pretty, pretty girl.”

His eyes were bloodshot blue. His breath reeked of cheap beer. He held the knife towards my face and began touching my hair.

“You’re just like my little Kimmy used to be. Now she won’t let me touch her. Now she’s a bitch like her mother.”

I swallowed hard. I didn’t know why I felt so afraid, why I couldn’t move.

“Mom! Mom!” John began to scream.

The other adults came into the kitchen and saw me backed up against the wall, John’s father over me, holding the knife. My mother’s boyfriend pulled him away from me. I thought he saved me. I thought he saved me until one day in the not-so-distant future, the bloodshot blue eyes facing me were his.

 

*

“I am young, still young, and poor / and all my beauties sacrificed to hope.”
~ Cynthia Huntington

 

 

 

 

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