He sighs heavily, then grabs my arm as soon as I insert the key into the back door. “Please don’t make it obvious you were here. And hurry,” he says. He brings me in for a hug, then waits for me to walk inside. I turn the key and check to see if it unlocks the door.
The doorknob turns.
I walk inside and shut the door behind me. The house is dark and sort of eerie. I turn left and walk through the kitchen, somehow knowing exactly where the door to my bedroom is. I’m holding my breath and trying not to think about the seriousness or implications of what I’m doing. The thought of getting caught is terrifying, because I’m still not sure if I even want to be found. I do what Holder says and walk carefully, not wanting to leave any evidence behind that I was here. When I reach my door, I take a deep breath and place my hand on the doorknob, then slowly turn it. When the door opens and the room becomes visible, I flip on the light to get a better look at it.
Other than a few boxes piled into the corner, everything looks familiar. It still looks like a small child’s room, untouched for thirteen years. It makes me think of seeing Lesslie’s room and how no one has touched it since she died. It must be hard to move past the physical reminders of people you love.
I run my fingers across the dresser and leave a line in the dust. Seeing the trace of my finger quickly reminds me that I’m not wanting to leave evidence of my being here, so I lift my hand and bring it down to my side, then wipe away the trail with my shirt.
The picture isn’t on the dresser of my biological mother where I remember it to be. I look around the room, hoping to find something of hers that I can take with me. I have no memories of her, so a picture is more than I could ever ask for. I just want something to tie me to her. I need to see what she looks like and hope it will give me any memories at all that I can hold on to.
I walk over to the bed and sit down. The theme in the room is the sky, which is ironic, considering the name Karen gave me. There are clouds and moons on the curtains and walls, and the comforter is covered in stars. There are stars everywhere. The big plastic kind that stick to walls and ceilings and glow in the dark. The room is covered in them, just like the stars that are on my ceiling back at Karen’s house. I remember begging Karen for them when I saw them at the store a few years ago. She thought they were childish, but I had to have them. I wasn’t even sure why I wanted them so bad, but now it’s becoming clear. I must have loved stars when I was Hope.
The nervousness already planted in my stomach intensifies when I lie back on the pillow and look up at the ceiling. A familiar wave of fear washes over me, and I turn to look at the bedroom door. It’s the exact same doorknob I was praying wouldn’t turn in the nightmare I had the other night.
I suck in a breath and squeeze my eyes shut, wanting the memory to go away. I’ve somehow locked it away for thirteen years, but being here on this bed…I can’t lock it away anymore. The memory grabs hold of me like a web, and I can’t break out of it. A warm tear trickles down my face and I wish I had listened to Holder. I should never have come back here. If I had never came back, I never would have remembered.
Thursday, May 18th, 1999 10:00 p.m.
I used to hold my breath and hope he would think I was sleeping. It doesn’t work, because he doesn’t care if I’m sleeping or not. One time I tried to hold my breath and hoped he would think I was dead. That didn’t work either, because he never even noticed I was holding my breath.
The doorknob turns and I’m all out of tricks right now and I try to think of another one really fast but I can’t. He closes the door behind him and I hear his footsteps coming closer. He sits down beside me on my bed and I hold my breath anyway. Not because I think it’ll work this time, but because it helps me not feel how scared I am.
“Hey, Princess,” he says, tucking my hair behind my ear. “I got you a present.”
I squeeze my eyes shut because I do want a present. I love presents and he always buys me the best presents because he loves me. But I hate it when he brings the presents to me at nighttime, because I never get them right away. He always makes me tell him thank you first.
I don’t want this present. I don’t.
My daddy’s voice always makes my tummy hurt. He always talks to me so sweet and it makes me miss my mommy. I don’t remember what her voice sounded like, but daddy said it sounded like mine. Daddy also says that mommy would be sad if I stop taking his presents because she’s not here to take his presents anymore. This makes me sad and I feel really bad, so I roll over and look up at him.
“Can I have my present tomorrow, Daddy?” I don’t want to make him sad, but I don’t want that box tonight. I don’t.
Daddy smiles at me and brushes my hair back. “Sure you can have it tomorrow. But don’t you want to thank Daddy for buying it for you?”
My heart starts to beat really loud and I hate it when my heart does that. I don’t like the way my heart feels and I don’t like the scary feeling in my stomach. I stop looking at my daddy and I look up at the stars instead, hoping I can think about how pretty they are. If I keep thinking about the stars and the sky, maybe it will help my heart to stop beating so fast and my tummy to stop hurting so much.
I try to count them, but I keep stopping at number five. I can’t remember what number comes after five, so I have to start over. I have to count the stars over and over and only five at a time because I don’t want to feel my daddy right now. I don’t want to feel him or smell him or hear him and I have to count them and count them and count them and count them until I don’t feel him or hear him or smell him anymore.
Then when my daddy finally stops making me thank him, he pulls my nightgown back down and whispers, “Goodnight Princess.” I roll over and pull the covers over my head and squeeze my eyes shut and I try not to cry again but I do. I cry like I do every time daddy brings me a present at night.
I hate getting presents.
Sunday, October 28th, 2012 7:29 p.m.
I stand up and look down at the bed, holding my breath in fear of the sounds that are escalating from deep within my throat.
I will not cry.
I will not cry.
Slowly sinking to my knees, I place my hands on the edge of the bed and run my fingers over the yellow stars poured across the deep blue background of the comforter. I stare at the stars until they begin to blur from the tears that are clouding my vision.
I squeeze my eyes shut and bury my head into the bed, grabbing fistfuls of the blanket. My shoulders begin to shake as the sobs I’ve been trying to contain violently break out of me. With one swift movement, I stand up, scream and rip the blanket off the bed, throwing it across the room.
I ball my fists and frantically look around for something else to throw. I grab the pillows off the bed and chuck them at the reflection in the mirror of the girl I no longer know. I watch as the girl in the mirror stares back at me, sobbing pathetically. The weakness in her tears infuriates me. We begin to run toward each other until our fists collide against the glass, smashing the mirror. I watch as she falls into a million shiny pieces onto the carpet.
I grip the edges of the dresser and push it sideways, letting out another scream that has been pent up for way too long. When the dresser comes to rest on its back, I rip open the drawers and throw the contents across the room, spinning and throwing and kicking at everything in my path. I grab at the sheer blue curtain panels and yank them until the rod snaps and the curtains fall around me. I reach over to the boxes piled high in the corner and, without even knowing what’s inside, I take the top one and throw it against the wall with as much force as my five foot, three-inch frame can muster.
“I hate you!” I cry. “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”
I’m throwing whatever I can find in front of me at whatever else I can find in front of me. Every time I open my mouth to scream, I taste the salt from the tears that are streaming down my cheeks.
Holder’s arms suddenly engulf me from behind and grip me so tightly I become immobile. I jerk and toss and scream some more until my actions are no longer thought out. They’re just reactions.
“Stop,” he says calmly against my ear, unwilling to release me. I hear him, but I pretend not to. Or I just don’t care. I continue to struggle against his grasp but he only tightens his grip.
“Don’t touch me!” I yell at the top of my lungs, clawing at his arms. Again, it doesn’t faze him.
Don’t touch me. Please, please, please.
The small voice echoes in my mind, and I immediately become limp in his arms. I become weaker, as my tears grow stronger, consuming me. I become nothing more than a vessel for the tears that won’t stop shedding.
I am weak, and I’m letting him win.
Holder loosens his grip around me and places his hands on my shoulders, then turns me around to face him. I can’t even look at him. I melt against his chest from exhaustion and defeat, taking in fistfuls of his shirt as I sob, my cheek pressed against his heart. He places his hand on the back of my head and lowers his mouth to my ear.
“Sky.” His voice is steady and unaffected. “You need to leave. Now.”
I can’t move. My body is shaking so hard, I’m afraid my legs won’t move, even if I will them to. As if he knows this, he scoops me up in his arms and walks me out of the bedroom. He carries me across the street and places me in the passenger seat. He takes my hand and looks at it, then grabs his jacket out of the backseat. “Here, use that to wipe off the blood. I’m going back inside to straighten up what I can.” The door shuts and he sprints back across the street. I look down at my hand, surprised that I’m cut. I can’t even feel it. I wrap my hand up in the sleeve of his jacket, then pull my knees up into the seat and hug them while I cry.
I don’t look at him when he gets back in the car. My whole body is shaking from the sobs that are still pouring out of me. He cranks the car and pulls away, then reaches across the seat and places his hand on the back of my head, stroking my hair in silence the entire way back to the hotel.
He helps me out of the car and walks me back to the hotel room, never once asking me if I’m okay. He knows I’m not; there’s really no point in even asking. When the hotel room door closes behind us, he walks me to the bed and I sit. He pushes my shoulders back until I’m flat on the bed and he slips off my shoes. He walks to the bathroom, then comes back with a wet rag and picks up my hand, wiping it clean. He checks it for shards of glass, then gently lifts my hand to his mouth and kisses my hand.
“It’s just a few scratches,” he says. “Nothing too deep.” He adjusts me onto the pillow and slips his own shoes off, then climbs onto the bed beside me. He pulls the blanket over us and pulls me to him, tucking my head against his chest. He holds me and never once asks me why I’m crying. Just like he used to do when we were kids.
I try to get the images out of my head of what I remember happening to me at night in my room, but they won’t go away. How any father could do that to his little girl...it’s beyond my scope of comprehension. I tell myself that it never happened, that I’m imagining it, but every part of me knows it did happen. Every part of me that remembers why I was happy to get in that car with Karen. Every part of me that remembers all the nights I’ve made out with guys in my bed, never feeling a single thing while looking up at the stars. Every part of me that broke out into a full-blown panic attack the night Holder and I almost had sex. Every single part of me remembers, and I would do anything just to forget. I don’t want to remember how my father sounded or felt at night, but with each passing second the memories become more and more vivid, only making it harder for me to stop crying.