Hell And BackBy: Natasha Madison
To my Nanny, who was the first person to read to me and show me love for books.
This one is for you, and unlike the last one, it’s not dirty. You’re welcome!
Walking into the bare room, I look around. A small dresser with three drawers sits up against the plain white wall.
A couple of shorts, shirts, and some socks fill the drawers, but most are empty. The small toddler bed lies in the middle of the room.
Two nails hold up a dusty sheet in the window to block out the light. It used to be navy, but the years of wear have turned it to baby blue.
I look down at my three-year-old daughter curled up into a small ball. Almost like she is guarding or protecting herself from whatever evil is lurking around us. She’s seen enough blackness in her three years to last a lifetime.
She cried enough tears and heard enough sobs to fill twenty years’ worth of scary movies.
When the doctor placed her on my chest I vowed to love and protect her, but I’ve failed her. I’ve failed myself. But no more. From that fateful day I vowed to right all the wrongs I did to her.
I’ve escaped the horror we’ve endured. The bruises are starting to fade. The black and blues have now turned into a greenish yellow.
The scars will fade, too, but the terror, the memories…nothing will erase them.
I wake my girl up and grab her from her bed. “Momma, we habe to leabe again?”
“No, baby, I just want to show you the stars outside.” I tuck her into my chest and make my way to the porch.
No one knows about this one-story house my grandmother left me. Which is why we are safe. For now.
The yard is overcome with weeds. Something I plan to rectify tomorrow. We’ve been here for the last seven days, staying inside. Trying not to bring attention to us. I’ve done my best not to be too jumpy, but every time I hear a car door slam shut, I hold my breath, hoping no one is coming up the steps that lead to the front door.
We haven’t even opened the windows. It is almost like we’re shuttering ourselves inside this temporary safe haven as if we don’t even exist.
Opening up the screen door, the rusty springs make a loud squeaking noise in the dead of the night. Trying not to make it slam shut, I hold the handle till it shuts softly.
The sounds outside are quiet. Serene. No car sounds, no horns honking, no rushing, just crickets. I settle into the swing I know my grandfather hung to make sure my grandmother had somewhere she could sit and watch the stars.
For thirty-seven years, they did it all together until death came and took my grandfather in his sleep. Ten years later, he came and rescued her from the pain of ALS. Her knitting, cooking, cleaning, gardening, baking all came to a halt the minute her hands shook so badly she couldn’t hold not even a fork to feed herself.
Settling myself into the swing, I fold one foot under me, pushing off with the other one.
“So many stars, Momma.” My brown-eyed girl looks up, pointing to what looks like a million twinkling lights in the sky.
The darkness of the sky makes them sparkle like diamonds. Some are small, some are blinking. All are beautiful. It’s peaceful. It’s everything I remember it to be.
It’s hope, hope for change. Hope for the future. Hope for the end of the nightmare I have been living the last four years. “Look, baby, a shooting star. Make a wish.”
She closes her eyes, and I see her lips move, but no sound comes out of her mouth. I lean down kissing her forehead, making my own wish.
I do this for the next thirty minutes, maybe more, pushing myself on that swing with one foot. Once I know she is asleep in my arms, I get back up to go inside.
The whole time I never realized that the neighbor across the street has been sitting in his living room with the lights off just staring out the window at two broken girls sitting across the street.
I wake slowly, the sun trying to fight its way through the sheet. I look down to see that we haven’t moved since coming in from outside last night.
Stretching carefully, I lean down to kiss her head, making sure I don’t wake her. I take a second to breathe in the moment, thinking about how I got to this point in my life.
They say you never know hell until you lived in it. I can assure you I know it. I’ve lived in it. I’ve asked to die in it.