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I stayed up late most of the time. I was never tired when I knew my father wasn't home. I knew what it meant when he would eventually come. But if he didn’t, I would stay up late to be with my mom.
On a typical weekend night, when he usually came home, I held onto my mother as she tried to tuck me in. I clenched onto her so she wouldn't have to leave my room. I knew we would be safe there. I knew he wouldn't come in my room. He'd just yell in front of my thin, brown door, until she was forced to come out, when eventually I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer.
It was then that I’d hear a thud, followed by a piercing scream. It was quickly silenced with a terse murmur I could never make out.
That’s when I'd dream of the threats of how he'd beat her until she bled out, always followed with an unrelated apology about how he's sorry he works so much and isn't home. If only that was true. After threatening to burn the house down, he'd beg her not to be mad.
I always pictured my house on fire. All of it burned but my room was untouched. The pink walls with the fluffy white clouds and butterfly stickers that covered them would remain just as they were. My mom and I would be cuddling and she would still be singing to me. And through the beautiful lyrics from her lips, the walls would thin. It would be a matter of time before the fire reached us.
On a good night, when he wasn’t there, she’d let me come sit with her and she’d play piano for me. It was the only time she could play for me. We would be alone and it would be wonderful.
Don't you dare look out your window
Darling, everything's on fire
The war outside our door keeps raging on
Hold onto this lullaby
Even when the music's gone
Eventually, he would come home and the threats would pierce our ears until either he or I tired out and fell asleep. This, he always tried to reconcile. The morning after, he’d take a deep breath and enter my room to wake me with a kiss. And just like that, his personality would be as intoxicating as the whiskey that still lingered on his breath.
Frightened, I would refuse to get out from under my covers. He would take Fuzzy Cat, my stuffed, green elephant, and tease me about giving him that name. He’d tickle me and kiss me until I came out from hiding, until I was wide awake, until I hugged him back.
“Time for breakfast, honey.” He’d say as I held onto him, avoiding to meet his eyes. He’d pull away and tell me, “You know how much I love you and mommy, right?” And of course, I would nod.
“You know daddy would never hurt you or mommy.”
And he’d look into my eyes and make the same promise to me every time; that I would never see the man I used to hear behind the thin, brown door. But it would only be a matter of time when the door became too thin to hide behind.