the bloodwriting on the wall

when i was about eight and a half years old, i awakened on some ordinary morning and i found our little three-bedroom apartment eerily quiet. two of my brothers were asleep in the bedroom that i shared with them. my parents' bedroom door was shut tight as it always was. but something wasn't right. i could feel it. not that prickly feeling some people talk about, or that skin-crawling fear thing. something much more subtle than that had led me out of bed that morning.

i walked softly around the first corner, into the dining room. if there was anything out of place, i didn't notice it being so. my mom has always kept a very tidy house. not so neat that it couldn't be lived in, but always nice enough so that if unexpected guests arrived, we wouldn't be embarassed. thanks, mom. the table was clean, the chairs were in their places . . . sometimes we even had placemats, and i think there were some on the table that morning, too. maybe. it gets hazy. none of the furniture seemed out of place, though -- and on the surface, it looked as normal as normal could look in our house.

we were poor as churchmice sometimes. maybe that's why i feel so connected to the children at el tamarindo -- regardless of economic circumstance, those parents give their children the best they've got. they were always as i was when i was their age: poor, but clean and relatively content. back then, i never felt discontent. i was about three years into my mother's older son's sexual abuse of me, but it was so indelible that i've retained only two clear memories of it before the age of ten. i sometimes almost wish it were so, for the time after that.

he'd been given the den, my older halfsibling had. my father had wanted to give it to me, being the only girl. but all my mom could see was that i was his favorite, so the room went to her son -- the oldest -- instead of to his daughter, his favorite. i wasn't my dad's favorite just for shits'n'giggles, nor because i was the only girl-- although that went a long way in my father's family. i was his favorite because i made great grades, was so far advance that i was among about a handful of kids in our school who got to take french in fourth grade, and i was pretty tough, quiet, and smart. i wasn't 'daddy's little girl'; i was my father's kid. my dad liked me hanging out with him; my brothers and halfsibling, he could take or leave. given the choice, he would leave his wife's son with her. every time.

but i wasn't thinking about any of that on that morning as i walked through the small path that separated the dining room from the kitchen.

i can remember hearing my father saying something. he was praying, i knew, but over what now, i had no idea. he prayed a lot, my dad did. especially when he'd done something stupid like hit my mom. my belief is that God had already forgiven him. it would be another decade, though, before my mother would be able to do the same.

so i knew what the garbled ramblings usually signified, but this morning was somehow different. i remember listening for the tv and noticing that i didn't smell oatmeal. oatmeal was a staple breakfast food in my family. it was the only thing that went far enough to feed four kids and two adults on a daily basis. i don't ever remember eating breakfast at school, not even after the divorce. my mom fixed us breakfast every morning and we wore t-shirts under our clothes from october through may. i never caught a cold until i started living on my own. thanks, mom.

the kitchen was dark that morning -- another sign that something had gone awry. as i walked softly past the kitchen, i looked down at the corner of the wall, where the kitchen met the living room. there it was. all of a sudden, i could hear my father clearly, begging, 'bring her back, Lord. safe and sound, Lord.' it was my mother's blood, splattered on that wall corner. i could only vaguely remember the sounds of their argument from the night before, but as soon as i saw the blood, i knew clearly who it belonged to.

my mom had left. and she'd taken that bastard of a son with her. eighteen or twenty months later, the divorce would be final.

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