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A sigh of pure exhaustion escapes my lips as I collapse onto the small twin sized bed. The mattress is memory foam and oh so deliciously comfortable. As soon as the bed settles, my cat, Romana scurries onto my chest, her orange tail swishing delightedly as she purrs.
It's been a long few weeks. The move from suburban Michigan to this sleepy New England town was spur of the moment. My stepdad, Don, is a real piece of work. He and my mom have been together for so long as I can remember, but I’ve never liked him. Between him trying to force me into being a jock – skating lessons for hockey, tee ball, soccer – and the near constant mental and occasionally physical abuse that he more than willingly doled out, being away from him is hardly breaking my heart. Living with him was not a total nightmare, though. What he lacked in love, affection, and acceptance, he tried to make up for with things. He has a good job, so I had every toy, book, DVD, and game system I wanted. I never went without food, never went without heat or running water, never went to school looking poor. The truth is, I think he could always tell that I'm….different.
Things between he and my mom were never perfect. They’ve been fighting since day one. A bossy control freak should not date a fiercely independent woman. All my life it was fight, pack the car, make up, repeat. I suspect that the two of them secretly love drama. Why they ever decided to get married, I’ll never know. I guess my mom figured that by getting with him she and I would be well provided for and our lives would be less stressful. Guess again.
Things really took a turn for the worst after my brother was born. When he was about two and a half years old, he was diagnosed with Autism. Normally, that would bring a couple closer together, I’d assume, anyway, but in this case, it drove them irrevocably apart. I suspect that being the arrogant asshole that he is, Don thinks that his genes are as perfect as he is, so the taint must’ve come from my white trash mother. After all, her son from her first marriage—that’s me—is a nervous wreck, and…different.
The fights became more frequent and more intense. I’d lie in bed at night trying to sleep for school the next morning and I’d be kept awake by their raised voices and swearing. My heart would pound in my chest and ears, my breath short. It wasn’t until the night that I heard the meaty slap of a palm hitting skin that I threw back the covers and raced down the stairs.
In the kitchen, my mom lay on the ceramic tile, her hand to her cheek. Don loomed over her, his face red and spittle flying from his mouth as he screamed obscenities at her.
Not waiting for my common sense to take over, I pulled my cell phone from my pajama pants and dialed 911. Don heard my voice telling the operator our address and that I’d seen him hit my mother. Catching wind of what I was doing, he ripped the phone from my hand and whipped it against the wall. I watched as the screen shattered and splayed glass all over the floor.
“Nice try, you little fucking faggot. Can't even protect your mom like a real man, can you?”
I felt my blood boiling as I clenched my fists. The truth was, it wasn’t even a fair fight. I’m five feet eleven inches and about one hundred forty pounds, while Don is about two hundred fifty pounds and six feet tall. Realistically, he could punch right through my abdomen.
My mom got to her feet and shoved me away. “Go back to bed,” she hissed. I could tell that she was springing like a cat about to pounce on its prey. I watched in amazement as she launched herself at him and punched him right in the face. He staggered back, knocking the black leather sofa over with him. For a tiny woman of five foot three and one hundred fifteen pounds, my mom packs quite a punch.
The police showed up in a matter of minutes and broke it up. My step dad wasn’t arrested because my mom didn’t have a scratch on her – he had a gouge just below his eye from her nails – but they did threaten to take my brother and I away if they didn’t separate
And so, mom, my brother Brent, and I packed up and headed east. My grandmother in New England – I hardly knew her because Don had never liked her and so we stayed away—was more than happy to let us come stay with her until my mom got back on her feet. It was a long car ride and my nerves were shot, but at least I was able to keep my cat. If I’d had to get rid of Romana I would’ve been devastated.
We’ve been here a couple of weeks now and while the peace and quiet is refreshing and new, it doesn’t quite feel like home. How could a town with a name like Wildthyme feel like home? It sounds like the name of a bar or a nightclub.
My nerves have settled down a bit since the move, but tonight they’re working overdrive. Tomorrow is the first day of my junior year of high school – new town, new school, no friends. Just what every almost seventeen year old wants.
Romana settles on my chest and I scratch her chin affectionately. “Who’s Daddy's baby?” I coo.
She rolls onto her back and stretches a paw out toward me, yowling as if to say, “Me! I am!”
My heart wells with joy at this. I’ve never been a people person. People lie, cheat, and steal. An animal will love you for life as long as you’re nice to them and care for them. Especially cats. They don’t give their love away freely.
My thoughtsare interrupted by a light knocking on the door.
“Come in,” I call,sitting up.
The door opens to reveal my grandmother, Ginevra. She's holding a coffee mug with steam billowing out of the top.