How to Save a Life(10)

By: Emma Scott

I unlocked my bike and was about to climb aboard when my stomach suddenly heaved. I nearly puked right then and there.

Jesus, calm down!

That had never happened to me before, and there had been a lot of before over the years. A lot of sneaking off; a lot of bleachers or storage closets or backseats of cars. So why was my body suddenly in revolt?

I sucked in several deep breaths, reminding myself why I did that shit with guys like Jared Piltcher in the first place. Because I wasn’t a victim. I got to say who and when and how much. Just like goddamn Pretty Woman.

I biked to the nearest corner grocery and bought a Gatorade and a tin of Altoids. I drank half the bottle and chewed up three mints before continuing to my house. I was calmer by then, my stomach had settled down.

Gerry was at work; the house was silent. I wended between unpacked boxes of our meager belongings to my bedroom. I shut the door, sat at my desk overlooking the neighbor’s chained-in yard and pulled out my notebook.

I had an idea for a poem. A couple sentences I might be able to work into something. I had to write it down before it fled my brain or burnt up in shameful memories.

My body is not my own

He showed me that

In the secret nights

private parts


Public property

And a lesson learned:

Give it away before they

take it

so you can pretend

it doesn’t


If I never heard the sound of spoons and forks scraping against bowls and plates, I’d die happy. That was the background music to almost every breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the Salinger household. Every meal, scrape, scrape, scrape. The soundtrack of a family with nothing to say to each other. But for little Garrett. His little voice was like a flute piping up amid the scraping. Tonight’s dinner was no different.

Norma sat at one end of the table, lips pursed, surveying the scene and eating in silence. Harris sat at the other, shoveling in his food like you shovel coal into a furnace: for fuel only. A newspaper lay opened beside his plate. On the sides of the table, Merle and Shane sat beside each other, Garrett and I across from them.

“Hey, Evan, you want to play catch with me tomorrow after school?” Garrett asked. His sweet round face looked up at me with unabashed affection. It made my chest ache. My nine-year-old little brother was the only human being in Planerville who didn’t look at me like I was a leper.

“Sure, buddy. You got it.”

“I need you at the shop,” Harris said without looking up from his beef stroganoff or his newspaper. “Right after school.”

Shane, across from me, shot me a death glare, then turned to his dad with a whine. “I thought it was my turn to take a shift. You said so last week.”

Harris’s eyes darted between Shane and me, then back to his food. “It’s a busy week. I need Evan.”

“Sure,” I said.

Shane’s silent storm of rage blew over me. There was nothing I could do about it. Harris’s rule was law, but that wouldn’t stop Shane from seeking retribution.

Beside me, Garrett slumped. I wanted to ruffle his pale blond hair. “Next time, buddy, okay?”

He brightened immediately. “Okay,” he said, and began prattling on about the science fair at his elementary school.

Shane sat in sulky silence, like a petulant little kid, arms crossed over his narrow chest. He had multiple sclerosis, the relapsing-remitting kind, now in relapse. It left him skinny, weak, and living in fear of its eventual return.

It was terrible watching the disease take a physical and mental toll on my adopted brother, and it pissed me off that our parents only gave him treatment for the physical symptoms. Shane took out his unchecked rage and fear on me, casting me as the interloper out to steal his future at the auto shop with my strength and health. Worse, he made my life a living hell at school. I tried to remember how scared he must be. He was fighting a battle he couldn’t win. I hated he had to suffer it. But I guessed after the fallout from my little stint at Woodside Institute, the Salingers weren’t about to have two kids who required mental health care services.