The town my parents lived in until their divorce is a small, unchanging freeze-frame in time. Its only boasting rights are limited. Just across the canal from the official buildings and relics that they have tried their best to resurrect from the dead, lies a decaying, rotting piece of town history. It has been many things: a hotel, a restaurant. But now, it is home to all sorts of wayward souls so intent on holding to this life that they will be dragged down to the depths of the earth if need be. Here is where pedophiles, parolees, addicts, and thieves mingle, mix, and conspire. Here is where you dragged me, into the darkness with you.
“It’s not that bad,” you hissed as I stood open-mouthed, gawking in disgust at what was to soon become my new dungeon and place of torture.
We had just been evicted months before from the first apartment. While we were staying in a motel outside town, and you were pulled over, because a trooper noticed the light from the cell phone illuminating your right cheek as you drove past the barracks not a mile from the motel. One of your friends was fiending for rock, blowing up the phone, and in all your intelligence, you answered. Perhaps, you would thought not to be the phone while driving in an area where they are just looking for opportunities to get you. Maybe, since you had paraphernalia on you in the car, you should have ignored the call. Maybe since you put that phony inspection sticker on the car… you know the one you created with your cracked version of drafting software…. you should have let it go to voicemail. I’m sure it also never crossed your mind that since you were also driving without a license, you should have left the phone in the pocket of your dark blue corduroy shirt jacket. But you did none of these things. No, your genius led you to pick up the phone, because the only thing you could think about as you committed all these transgressions was your rock. And you were pulled over.
When you went to jail, I was at my mother’s house, and you called the house so much running up the bill with your collect calls that mother turned the house phone on silent. You did not care that you called her house in the middle of the night waking up the entire house. You did not care about the bill you were running up. All you cared about was tracking your property. When you got out, you showed up at my mom’s house and forced me in the car after arguing with my sister, and you brought me here. To this pit of refuse. Our first argument here was on the way back from the convenience store. Remember when you tried to drag me over to the railing on the bridge, threatening to throw me over the edge, because I couldn’t swim? I flew down the shaky, dirty, poorly lit stairs and out into the street after hurriedly calling a cab on your phone. As soon as I walked into the door at my mother’s, you began blowing up her phone. Every night in the late hours when you knew I would be asleep. If I did not answer on the first ring, you would jot it down on your list of punishments to be handed out later. If I tried to get off the phone so I could sleep, you accused me of cheating on you, and jotted it down on your list. If I fell asleep on the phone because you wouldn’t let me off (or called back repeatedly when I got disgusted and hung up on you), you wrote this, too, on your list.
Once it became clear to me that I was no longer welcome there, I ended up trapped in the blender with you. Two adults in a room the size of a decent walk-in closet, a hole in the wall, big enough for a bed, a dresser, a stand, and the computer desk and only a path wide enough to walk down the middle. Sharing a bathroom with unkempt, dirty, shifty people who came and went through the halls of the building all hours of the day and night. You forcing your way into the bathroom to check on me and make sure I wasn’t tucked away in someone else’s room, as if I wanted any of them vile strangers near me. I didn’t even want you near me, yet there you were always under foot, irritating me, and beating on me like a man, all the while hiding me away like I was the secret you didn’t want to let escape.
There was never one night that I was not afraid in that building, sometimes from the couple upstairs being physically violent with each other, other times from the creepy guy down the hall who would stand guard in the hall by his door at night and glare at you if you looked up in his direction. He abused his girlfriend, too. Your fellow addicts knocked on the door all hours of the night, and you would use with me just feet away from you. People rooms were robbed, I suspect by the others in the rooming house. People went from room to room begging for things like hotdogs or canned pork or canned chicken because they sold their food stamps to the friendly neighborhood crack dealer for a few hits of rock.
Of all the reasons I had to be afraid of being in the building, you were by far the worst. Remember that time my mother was late coming to get me for work, and you dragged me up the stairs and didn’t even wait to see if the halls were clear before bouncing my head off the old hardwood frame of our door as you held my hair wound up tight in your fist, punching my head several times with your free hand before pushing me toward the stairs and dragging me back down to the door? How about the time you were so high that you began pulling the paneling off the walls, because you insisted there were holes that I had made to talk to some man in the next room, and how you beat me after coming down because I was a worthless whore? Or maybe that time we were cooking dinner in the common kitchen downstairs and you tried to stab me in the neck with a fork because of yet another of your delusions?
As it separated me from the rest of the group in the front of the building, I was a little relieved when we were able to move into one of the apartments in the back. Not only this, but I no longer had to battle my way through “the guard” to get to the bathroom or use that filthy kitchen again. But the risk to my safety was far worse here than in the front of the house, because although people could hear the beatings and the arguments, they acted like what they couldn’t see did not exist. Add to it the dealers you let set up shop in my living room, the strays you let come in and out, all the things of mine you sold or allowed to get stolen, the food stamps you sold, and the torture you subjected me to, I became trapped in a nightmare I had resigned myself to believing I was never going to escape.
It took more than two more years before I was able to get away, but it was not without its difficulties. This is the first of many places I have avoided or averted my eyes away as I go past. And this is the last time that I do. I will look at it the next time I go past, and not get sent into a wild panic because of the memories that lie there in wait for me. They are my past. They no longer have power, just as YOU no longer have power. So many things hide in the shadows surrounding this building. So many places I could not go, so many places I hurried past, so many places I despised so much so that I felt as though an insatiable fire ravaged and burned wildly out of control in my belly. Just to bring them to mind was to be flooded with fear, pain, anguish, desperation, and churning, swirling, overwhelming chaos. But I have come to learn that it isn’t the places or even the horrible memories each one hoards in its clutches that is the danger for me. Besides me, they all have only one common thread, and that is you.
Once upon a time, I was your victim. Today I am something more than you ever could imagine I’d be. Simply because today, my monster, my tormentor, I am free. I am alive. And I am amazing.