She slowly opened her eyes only to realize she was not dreaming. The soft whispers were coming from the hallway; not the vague, elaborate dream of princesses and castles. Squeezing her eyes shut, she held on to the emotions the dream evoked and tried to reconstruct the images.
The whispers became frantic and she could hear her father grunting. Her stomach began to hurt and she pictured her intestines as a rope that was tying itself in knots. The image made her smile, relaxing her anxiety enough to swing her feet out of bed.
Desperate to avoid the situation she studied her night gown. The rayon against her skin was smooth and cool offering comfort against the cold sweat that made her shake. It looked like it was made for a mature aristocrate shrunk down to fit a little girl; adorned with a single pink rose on the neckline.
Clutching the hem of the gown the whispers broke through, rising in volume. Slowly, one tiny step at a time, she peeked around the corner.
There was no book, fantasy, or dream to witch she could hide in and withdraw from the scene before her. She was reminded of a fish as she watched her father drag her mothers flimsy body to the bathroom.
“Please don’t see me, please don’t see me”, looped in her mind like a stuck record.
She scooted down the hall with her body pressed against the wall as if becoming apart of the paint would camouflage her presence. But she was spotted anyway as her mother reached out to her.
“I’m so sorry, I love you so much. Come here and hug me. I’m so, so sorry”
The slur of her words made it obvious she was drunk. Even at eight years old she knew what liquor sounded like.
With outstretched arms grasping for her, father’s hands were hooked under her mother’s arms trying to drag her to the toilet.
Suddenly, the fog like scene before her exploded and reality came crashing down. Things began racing around her; tears from her mother and yells from her father to call 9-1-1
Racing to the kitchen she saw the pint of tequila on the table and empty Tylenol bottle next to it with the lid on the floor. The knots in her stomach tightened and it felt like her lower half was going numb.
Why did her mother need a rotary phone? She always had trouble with the decorative rotary dial but she couldn’t bring herself to run back past her parents to a more practical phone.
After a few tries she managed to get a voice on the line.
“9-1-1, how may I take you call?”
She opened her mouth to speak but couldn’t get the words out, only puffs of air that sounded like squeaks.
“Are you there? How can I help you?”
Squeaks. Why couldn’t she speak?
“Is everything ok? I have your address on my computer, do you need help?”
“My mommy is sick” finally, words had found her.
“Ok honey, I’m sending an ambulance. Can you confirm your address?”
“My mommy is sick. Please hurry”.
She dropped the phone and ran to kneel beside her mother who clutched at her as if she was the only thing keeping her afloat in a sea of sadness.
The paramedics arrived shortly after and as the stretcher wheeled past her her mother reached for her one last time
“I’m so sorry. I love you”
Then she was gone.
The following days were a blur, like snapshots. One scene she was getting her mother food from Wendy’s with her lawn mowing money, the next they were picking up a 2 liter of diet Pepsi.
The final scene they were in a psych hospital with nurses rationing out the soda they had brought. Her mother was hunched in a corner with her knees drawn up to her chest; silent and defeated.
Suddenly the film on the movie reel snaps and the screen goes dark. Years later she would realize that history would repeat itself generation after generation because of her mothers choice.
3 years later she would open the closet door in her dads apartment to find a rope.