I remember very few events leading up to our final move away from John. I can’t even remember the season or how old I was (maybe 13?). I don’t remember leaving the house or arriving at our new apartment. I don’t remember packing. Nor do I recall what I could take or what I had to leave. For an event that I had desperately
wanted needed for years, my memories are remarkably absent. But the first thing I do recall is putting a heavy, oblong watermelon in the clean, empty fridge. John was “deathly allergic” to watermelon but “couldn’t control himself” so we were never allowed to have it when we lived with him*. It’s one of my favorite foods and I asked my mom if we could buy one when we left. She said yes. It was the only thing in the fridge those first few days. I would open the fridge just to see it there.
At some later date my mom was driving me to school. Much of my ample childhood free time (I wasn’t allowed to go to school for most of my childhood) was spent daydreaming about a kind, perceptive adult asking just the right question, a key for the lock that would open the vault of dark and painful secrets. I remember trying to figure out ways to document the abuse so I could substantiate my story, so someone would believe me, so someone would scoop me up, take me home, keep me safe, love me. As my mom and I approached the school I asked if I could tell the gentle school guidance counselor what had happened. We weren’t living with John anymore so I thought it might be okay to finally, finally, finally crack open the secrets. She snappishly said something like, “Well, if you’re prepared to accept the consequences of your actions, go right ahead.” That wasn’t exactly the answer I was hoping for, but I did it anyway. I wasn’t prepared, but I had to tell someone. I don’t remember walking into the office or how the conversation started but my memory picks up again with my back deeply slumped, my stomach tight, the tears falling hot and fast, the snot so thick I couldn’t breathe. I was staring at my hands, trying to hear his questions, unable to say anything. This was not going according to plan.
As I recall, my mom picked me up from school and we went home. The counselor did not talk to her. My mom didn’t ask how it went, although my face must have been red and puffy from all the crying.
But here’s what I do remember, clear as anything: it must have been late spring/early summer. The trees had recently leafed out. It was a warm sunny day with a brisk spring snap in the air. I rolled down the window and breathed in the fresh air, felt it hit the bottom of my lungs as the sun warmed my face through the window. The dappled light danced across my arm as I played in the wind. I looked up and thought the trees looked so brilliant, leaves fluttering. The sun shined so hopeful. And I thought, “I’ve never really seen how green the trees are or felt the warm sun.” Despite the enduring obstacles, I felt light, I felt happy. It was as if I was emerging through a heavy veil. I could see and feel things I had never really experienced. I wasn’t alone anymore and the weighty self-protective haze had dissipated, just slightly, and the world was so much brighter than I ever dreamed possible.
*In hindsight, if he was so “deathly allergic” with so little self-control, I am wondering why we didn’t buy two and leave one in his fridge.