“Thank you for coming back,” he says. “She needs this chance to explain everything. Promise me you’ll give that to her.”
I pull away from him and look him in the eyes. “Do you know what she did, Jack? Did she tell you?”
He nods painfully. “I know and I know it’s hard for you. But you need to let her tell you her side or she’ll never be able to let go of her guilt.”
He turns toward the house and keeps his arm around my shoulders. Holder takes my hand and they both walk me to the front door like I’m a fragile child.
I’m not a fragile child.
I pause on the steps and turn to face them. “I need to talk to her alone.”
I know I thought I wanted Holder with me, but I need to be strong for myself. I love the way he protects me, but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and I want to be able to say I did it myself. If I can face this on my own, I know I’ll have the courage to face anything.
Neither of them objects, which fills me with appreciation for them, knowing they both have faith in me. Holder squeezes my hand and urges me forward with confidence in his eyes. “I’ll be right here,” he says.
I take a deep breath, then open the front door.
I step into the living room and Karen stops pacing the floor and spins around, taking in the sight of me. As soon as we make eye contact, she loses control and rushes toward me. I don’t know what look I expected to see on her face when I walked through this door, but it certainly wasn’t a look of relief.
“You’re okay,” she says, throwing her arms around my neck. She presses her hand to the back of my head and pulls me against her as she cries. “I’m so sorry, Sky. I’m so, so sorry you found out before I could tell you.” She’s trying hard to speak, but the sobs have taken over full-force. Seeing her in this much pain tears at my heart. Knowing she’s been lying to me doesn’t immediately refute the thirteen years I’ve loved her, so seeing her in pain only causes me pain in return.
She takes my face in her hands and looks me in the eyes. “I swear to you I was going to tell you everything the moment you turned eighteen. I hate that you had to find it all out on your own. I did everything I could to prevent that from happening.”
I grab her hands and remove them from my face, then step around her. “I have no idea how to respond to anything you’re saying right now, Mom.” I spin around and look her in the eyes. “I have so many questions but I’m too scared to ask them. If you answer them, how do I know you’ll be telling me the truth? How do I know you won’t lie to me like you’ve been lying to me for last thirteen years?”
Karen walks to the kitchen and picks up a napkin to wipes her eyes. She inhales a few shaky breaths, attempting to regain control of herself. “Come sit with me, sweetie,” she says, walking past me toward the couch. I remain standing while I watch her take a seat on the edge of the cushion. She glances up at me, her entire face awash with heartache. “Please,” she says. “I know you don’t trust me and you have every right not to trust me for what I did. But if you can find it in your heart to recognize the fact that I love you more than life itself, you’ll give me this chance to explain.”
Her eyes speak nothing but truth. For that, I walk to the couch and take a seat across from her. She takes a deep breath, then exhales, controlling herself long enough to begin with her explanation.
“In order for me to explain the truth about what happened with you…I first need to explain the truth about what happened to me.” She pauses for a few minutes, attempting not to break down again. I can see in her eyes that whatever she’s about to say is almost unbearable for her. I want to go to her and hug her, but I can’t. As much as I love her, I just can’t console her.
“I had a wonderful mom, Sky. You would have loved her so much. Her name was Dawn and she loved my brother and me with everything she had. My brother, John, was ten years older than me, so we never had to experience the sibling rivalry growing up. My father passed away when I was nine, so John was like the father figure in my life rather than a sibling. He was my protector. He was such a good brother and she was such a good mother. Unfortunately, when I turned thirteen, the fact that John was like a father to me became his reality the day my mother died.
“John was only twenty-three and was fresh out of college at the time. I didn’t have any other family willing to take me in, so he did what he had to do. At first, things were okay. I missed my mother more than I should have and, to be honest, John was having a hard time dealing with everything laid out in front of him. He had just started his new job, fresh out of college, and things were tough for him. For both of us. By the time I turned fourteen, the stressors of his new job were really getting to him at this point. He began drinking and I began rebelling, staying out later than I should have on several occasions.
“One night when I came home, he was so angry with me. Our argument soon turned into a physical fight and he hit me several times. He had never physically hurt me before and it terrified me. I ran to my room and he came in several minutes later to apologize. His behavior the previous few months as a result of his alcohol abuse already had me scared of him. Now coupled with the fact that it had caused him to physically hurt me…I was terrified of him.”
Karen shifts in her seat and reaches down to sip from a glass of water. I watch her hand as she brings the glass to her mouth and her fingers are trembling.
“He tried to apologize but I refused to listen. My stubbornness pissed him off even more, so he pushed me back on the bed and started screaming at me. He went on and on, telling me that I had ruined his life. He said I needed to be thanking him for everything he was doing for me…that I owed him for having to work so hard to take care of me.”
Karen clears her throat and new tears form in her eyes as she struggles to continue with the painful truth of her past. She brings her eyes to meet mine and I can tell that the words on the tip of her tongue are almost too hard for her to release.
“Sky…” she says, achingly. “My brother raped me that night. Not only did he do it that night, but it continued almost every night after that for two solid years.”
I bring my hands to my mouth and gasp. The blood rushes from my head, but it feels as though it rushes from the rest of my body as well. I feel completely empty hearing her words, because I’m terrified to hear what I think she’s about to tell me. The look in her eyes is even emptier than how I’m feeling right now. Rather than wait for her to tell me, I just come out and ask her.
“Mom…is John…he was my father wasn’t he?”
She quickly nods her head as tears drop from her eyes. “Yes, baby. He was. I’m so sorry.”
My whole body jerks with the sob that breaks free and Karen’s arms are around me as soon as the first tears escape my eyes. I throw my arms around her and grasp her shirt. “I’m so sorry he did that to you,” I cry. Karen sits next to me on the couch and we hold each other while we cry over the things that were done to us at the hands of a man we both loved with all of our heart.
“There’s more,” she says. “I want to tell you everything, okay?”
I nod as she pulls herself away from me and takes my hands in hers.
“When I turned sixteen, I told a friend of mine what he was doing to me. She told her mother who then reported it. By that time, John had been in the police force for three years and was making a name for himself. When he was questioned about the report, he claimed I was making it up because he wouldn’t allow me to see my boyfriend. He was eventually cleared and the case was dismissed, but I knew I could never go back to live with him. I lived with a few friends until I graduated high school two years later. I never spoke to him again.
“Six years had passed before I saw him again. I was twenty-one and in college by that time. I was at a grocery store and was on the next aisle when I heard his voice. I froze, unable to breathe as I listened to his conversation. I would have been able to recognize his voice anywhere. There’s something about a voice that terrifies you that you’ll never be able to forget, no matter what.
“But that day, it wasn’t his voice that had me paralyzed…it was yours. I heard him talking to a little girl and I was immediately taken back to all those nights he hurt me. I was sick to my stomach, knowing what he was capable of. I followed at a distance, watching the two of you interact. He walked a few feet away from the shopping cart at one point and I caught your eye. You looked at me for a long time and you were the most beautiful little girl I’d ever seen. But you were also the most broken little girl I’d ever seen. I knew the second I looked into your eyes that he was doing to you exactly what he had done to me. I could see the hopelessness and fear in your eyes when you looked back at me.
“I spent the next several days attempting to find out everything I could about you and your relationship to him. I learned about what happened to your mother, and that he was raising you alone. I finally got the courage to phone in an anonymous report, hoping he would finally get what he deserved. I learned a week later that after interviewing you, the case was immediately dismissed by Child Protective Services. I’m not sure if the fact that he was the high up in law enforcement had anything to do with the dismissal, but I’m almost positive it did. Regardless, that was twice that he had gotten away with it. I couldn’t bear the thought of allowing you to stay with him, knowing what was happening to you. I’m sure there were other ways I could have handled it, but I was young and scared to death for you. I didn’t know what else to do because the law had already failed us both.
“A few days later I had made up my mind. If no one else was going to help you get away from him…then I was. The day when I pulled up to your house I’ll never forget that broken little girl crying into her arms, sitting alone in the grass. When I called your name and you came to me, then climbed into the car with me…we drove away and I never looked back.”
Karen squeezes my hands between hers and looks at me hard. “Sky, I swear with all of my heart that all I ever wanted to do was protect you from him. I did everything I could to keep him from finding you. To keep you from finding him. We never spoke about him again and I did my best to help you move past what happened to you so you could have a normal life. I knew that I couldn’t get away with hiding you forever. I knew there would come a day that I would have to face what I did…but none of that mattered to me. None of that matters to me still. I just wanted you safe until you were old enough, so that you would never be sent back to him.
“The day before I took you, I went to your house and no one was there. I went inside because I wanted to find some things that might comfort you once you were safe with me. Something like a favorite blanket or a teddy bear. Once I was actually inside your bedroom, I realized that anything in that house couldn’t possibly bring you comfort. If you were anything like me, everything that had a connection to him reminded you of what he had done to you. So I didn’t take anything, because I didn’t want you to remember what he had done to you.”