Heavy fists pound the bedroom door. Before I could blink the sleep from my eyes, I was startled awake by a chorus of shouts. The too small room covered in darkness and shadows seemed to shake with each hit from Ben’s fist. As angry and frightened as I was, a part of me was grateful for Ben interrupting my sleep. Again.
Most nights I didn’t have the nightmare. Tonight I wasn’t so lucky.
Waking up this way was becoming a habit I couldn’t shake. I heard Liza try to calm her husband, as she tried so many nights, but tonight her efforts were failing.
Curling myself into a ball wrapped in a thin blanket, I cleared my mind from the chaos that surrounded me. For a fleeting second, inside the stillness of my thoughts, I left the chilly, dark room where Ben’s shouts filled every surface. Tonight, I wasn’t jammed in a ball, scared of a drunken man’s attention. I was in Japan-no, Russia. It was cold in Russia, too.
I was grateful my flannel pajama pants kept most of the cold out. Like the rest of the house, the walls were thin and heat seemed to seep through every crack trying to warm the October night instead of the too small house.
Tonight, I was in a bar, listening to a group of young tourists talk about parties and university. I tried vodka for the first time, no cared I was only seventeen, in fact, no one paid me any attention. Just how I liked it. In my mind, I did everything the travel books mentioned, I tasted every local dish and danced in every outdated club.
Ben’s words and hammering fist broke through my brief reprieve. The bastard couldn’t even allow me to dream a little.
Around each strive of his fist, Ben called my name.
“NOEL!” He yelled. I could hear the spittle trapped in his mouth as if he was salivating. His words were harsh tonight. Harsher than normal.
It was as if he had reached into my private thoughts and knew what I was planning. As if he’d seen, inside of me, and learned the thoughts and feelings I shield from everyone.
He’d escalated his threats tonight, his words slurred so I knew beer had given him courage. As I gripped the blanket tighter around me, curling into a smaller ball, I heard the door groan in submission to Ben’s heavy fist. In the same instance, Liza’s protests grew louder. The pleading in her voice was replaced with something darker, but her actions didn’t still his fist.
When the door gave in to Ben’s fist and opened, I curled tighter into a ball and closed my eyes. Two sets of footsteps entered the room, one loud and clumsy the other light and quick.
“Get up girl.” I heard a can rattle on the floor. “We’re going to talk about your behavior.”
Uncurling from the protective ball and standing in front of Ben with Liza half hidden behind his tall frame, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Speaking to him was even harder.
“What did I do?” My voice was steadier than it should be. It betrayed none of the fear I felt.
Ben walked over to me, extended his sweaty palm towards my face, I turned my face so I was facing Liza. She’d once been pretty, but the party lifestyle bill comes due. She was in her early forties but look ed closer to fifty, dark brown eyes and tan skin, too many wrinkles around her mouth and eyes. I tried to put my desperation in my eyes when they connected with hers.
Ben’s hand left my face and started to travel down my neck, I grab his hand with my own, steadying his hand at the base of my neck.
“What did I do?” I asked again, hoping it would distract him. If I could get him to leave the room, I could be done with this, once and for all.
“You,” he slurred, “walk around this house like it’s yours like you earned it.” Spittle escaped his mouth and I leaned away from him. “But tonight, you’ll earn--”
Liza moved from behind Ben to stand at his side, she placed her hand on his arm and I dropped my hand. She started to tug him away from me. He was unbalanced thanks to the beers so she didn’t struggle. She started to rub his back while whispering in his ear.
Silently, I begged for Liza’s words to reach him so he’d leave me alone. Ben’s drunken attentions were getting worse. It started with the way he’d look at me like he was trying to see through the too small clothes. My clothes were always too small. Foster parents aren’t great at picking out the right sizes.
I tried to dissuade him and started dressing in clothes three sizes too big I got from the thrift store. I had to steal the money from Liza. She didn’t notice. Foster parents never noticed. Ben’s lingering looks stopped for a while and I thought I was in the clear until I graduated.
I was wrong.
He started brushing up against me every chance he could. The money I stole, Lisa missed, Ben, brushing up against me? Liza didn’t miss any of this. She started giving me cold looks, her brown eyes nearly green with jealousy. Which I don’t understand, why would she think I wanted this? Why didn’t she stop this? At first, I tried using my own eyes to plead with her. But she saw only what she wanted and I stopped trying.
They were both useless.
Like all fosters parents.
Slowly Liza ushered Ben out of the room. She had maneuvered him so smoothly, I don’t think he even noticed when she closed my bedroom door, giving me a meaningful look. After what seemed like hours but in reality, was only a few minutes, I moved from the spot I’d been standing in.
Noises from the hallway started and I fought the urge to throw up.
I hated those noises but at least I knew I had twenty minutes of uninterrupted time.
Gingerly, I crossed the room as silently as possible. The foster jerks were having sex in the hall right outside of my bedroom. If I was lucky they’d pass out until morning. It was now or never.
I swung the door to the closet open and found my bug out bag, inside of it was everything I needed for my freedom. Quickly, I changed into the Freedom Day outfit I’d prepared months ago. Black hiking pants, a gray long sleeve thermal over a tank top, and my favorite item in the world-hiking boots. The boots cost me twenty dollars and twelve hours of bathroom duty at the thrift store, but they were worth every penny and every dirty toilet bowl.
They were my first pair of new shoes that didn’t come from a Wal-Mart clearance rack. I remember when the shoes came in the store. I was standing in the housewares selection looking over the metal dishes when she came in. I saw a blond lady with her hair in one of those bun-twist things, wearing the cleanest clothes I’d ever seen. She walked in holding a bag labeled L.L Bean. And I thought she was lost because this wasn’t the place to drop off cans of beans.
When she spoke to the manager and took out the shoes, I knew they’d be mine-by fair means or not. I hated stealing but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. You can’t depend on your foster jerks to provide for you. You have to provide for yourself. So, I did, after the lady told the manager they were brand new and she’d waited too long to return them, she left the store.
I pounced on the manager-not giving her a second to place my boots on display for others to gawk at. I gave her my all my money, 1 ten-dollar bill, 1 five-dollar bill and 3 ones and 8 quarters. Then I haggled with the lady, told her if it wasn’t enough, I’d work it off but she couldn’t sell my shoes. She agreed after I tried them on and they were a perfect fit.
Once I had the boots on, I pulled my favorite hoodie over my head and slid the backpack across my shoulders. I closed the closet door and stared at the full-length mirror on the other side. I’d thought this moment would change everything. This moment was big-surely, I’d look different somehow. Shouldn’t my skin be brighter somehow-instead of my normal dull pale skin? Same weird nose with its witch’s point and the same wild eyebrows. Can’t this caterpillar spout wings and magically transform into a butterfly?
I snorted. Yeah right and pigs would fly and cows would drive.
My seafoam dead eyes would back at me and for the first time in a long time, I wondered what it would feel like to smile. I flashed my teeth, they were straight and white which was a good thing because the foster jerks would never take me to a dentist.
I drew my dark brown hair into a ponytail so severe my eyes slanted momentarily. My dark hair blended into with black hoodie so well in the dark I’m fairly certain all you could see was my pale face.
Ben’s groans grew louder and I knew my time was out.
I adjusted the backpack and grabbed my duffle bag which was deeper in the closet. I opened the duffle bag, grabbed the too thin cotton blanket from the bed and stuffed it in. Softly I closed the door and started to crawl out of the window.
Halfway out and halfway in, I hesitated, wondering not for the first time, if this was the right thing to do. Could I survive on my own? I thought about each foster house I’d been placed in. I was alone there even surrounded by people, I was always alone.
Glass clashing outside of my door made me pause. I looked back towards the door. Liza groaned and I heard a thud. Was Liza alright?
I didn’t care. I shook the feeling that tried to penetrate my shield off and crawled out the window.
I walked down the street at a brisk pace and for a brief second, I thought I heard someone shout my name.
*End of Part I*