BY: Ophelia Ladner
A tall, dark figure stands towering over of me. He grasps my arm to try to pull me out of bed. I comply out of fear and confusion. I see my younger sisters, Ames and Lena, are already out of bed. Lena, the youngest, has a light brown duffle bag swung over on her shoulder. I can tell her shoulder aches from the weight, but she follows his demands just as we do. In a deep, hushed voice he demands me to pick up the bag next to the doorway. Still drowsy from my sleep, I walk slowly. My scrawny, adolescent body struggles to pick up the bag. I drag the bag on the hardwood floors. It glides on the floors in a satisfying way. I turn behind me as I’m about to step out of the room. Ames is still half asleep but adheres to his directions. My sisters and I step out into the dark and hollow hallway. He tells us to go down the hall and out the back door. We make it past the living room, but right as we are at the top of the stairs the door makes an awfully loud sound. I see his stern face turn towards us. He tells us to keep quiet and to start heading down the stairs. He rushes downstairs carrying two bags. I follow Lena close behind her, as Ames follows closely behind me. One step at a time, as slow as we can go, my sisters and I walk down the stairs into our mudroom. We put on our boots and head out the door, just as we were told. Lena opens the back door. The cold night air fills the rooms. I hustle to meet him at our family’s white van. He tells me to put the bag in the trunk. I do what he says, yet none of this makes sense. It’s now that I notice we are missing my mom. She’s not helping us with the bags. Why isn’t she up yet? Before I can ask I hear his deep voice again.
“Go back up,” he says
“Go back up and grab more bags” he demands. I do as I’m told.
Our arms scream to stop as we are sent over and over again to carry the bags. On my last trip, I carry the lightest bag while Lena picks up another light one. I see Ames struggle with the last bag. She can barely pick it up. We see her struggling, yet we don’t offer her help. As we pass my parents room I hear a loud thud. We all stop. My legs are stiff in place. I turn around slowly to find Ames’s bag on the floor. I look around. I figure no one heard and hand Ames my bag. Ames and Lena hurry off down the stairs. I pick up the bag. The straps are rough against my shoulder. I set it down in pain. My curiosity gets the best of me as I peer into the bag. I’m puzzled, to make sure I’m not mistaken, I look again. I pull out shirts, pants, and dresses, all of which belong to me. I hear his footsteps coming up the stairs. I shove the clothing back into the bag. And right before he gets up the stairs I swing the bag over my shoulder.
“Hurry up. We have to leave soon,” he says. He stands over me tall and powerful. I stand in his big shadow, young and fearful. It’s been that way for a year now. He is mean, she tells me. He is scary and you should fear him. He might hurt you if you cross him. She tells us. I love her so I trust her. I’m impressionable so she takes her chance. She told me to fear him, so I do as I am told. I start to fear him. But it’s an artificial fear. As he stands in front of me I get anxious. For I was conditioned to be scared.
“Where are we going?” I question.
I don’t get a response. He starts to walk back down the stairs, but before he goes he gestures to me. I quickly run up behind him. He puts his arm around me. And I can fill his body closing in. He kisses the top of my head softly. I’m confused but I go along with it. I hug him back. I feel safe and comforted. He has hugged me before but this feels different. I notice that this isn’t a way to win me over or to gain popularity. I am warm for a few moments before it feels wrong. I let go and back away fast. I jog down the stairs with the bag on my back. The night air pounds my face as I burst out the door and into the open driveway. I head to the van and open the trunk. Then I swing the bag back and forth until I produce enough speed to throw the last bag in. I release the bag and it falls down into the pile. I close the trunk quickly before everything tumbles. I pry open the door to the back seat and lay back into the seat. My legs and shoulders ache from the constant weight. Neither the less, I fall back into a deep sleep, comforted by the warmth of the air conditioner. I close my eyes just as he starts the engine. I can feel the bumps in the road as we drive off into the night.
I wake up in an unfamiliar room. I look around to see something of a one-room house with awful decorations. He’s sitting on the bed watching something on his phone.
“Good morning!” he exclaims. Looking away from his phone. He looks at me for a response.
I ignore his greeting.
“Where is she?” I question.
He lets out a sigh. I know the answer and I know where she is. I acted like I didn’t know what was going on because I didn’t want to admit to myself that she stayed. I didn’t know where we were going but I knew we weren’t with her. Yet, I wasn’t upset or mad. I got up to brush my teeth and got ready for breakfast. My sisters and I load back into the white van that still carried our belongings. He starts the engine and we head to McDonald’s for a breakfast sandwich. In these uncomfortable plastic chairs, my sisters and I wait for our food. He serves us our food and we get right to eating. As we chow down I hear him say;
“We are going to Georgia,”
There is a break from our eating as we set our breakfast sandwiches down.
“Where’s Georgia?” Lena says. She is the youngest so we didn’t expect much from her.
“Where’s Mom?” A concerned voice is heard over all the other noise. Lena and I look up to see Ames looking right at him with watery eyes. He doesn’t answer the question. It’s hard to say, even for a grown man like him. I see him getting emotional. She told us that he didn’t have feelings. And that he didn’t really care about us. Yet that same man seems to be bursting with emotions. He leaves the table and we don’t see him for a few minutes.
After our meal, we pile back into the white van. It’s many hours before we make it to a beautiful house. It is one of the biggest houses I have ever seen. I peer behind the backyard to find a golf course right over the hill. The house is a pearly white with blue trimmed windows. It has a great porch and a grand glass door. The door is decorated in all types of colors from purples to reds. It doesn’t depict a picture, but rather it’s quite abstract. The colors shine brightly in the Georgia sun, blinding me. I see Ames, Lena and him start to head for the playground in the backyard. I want to join them. However, then I feel a pit in my stomach. She wouldn’t want me to be happy with him. He doesn’t really want us to be happy, in fact, he wants us to fail and to be scared. That’s what she said, and I trust her. I run up behind him before he makes it to the playground. I stop him and look him straight in the eyes.
“Why isn’t Mom here?”
A wave of regret and sadness rushes over him.
“We don’t love each other anymore,” he says in a slow, saddened voice. I knew why she didn’t love him anymore. She said it’s because he is mean. It was because he is a monster. But I can feel his love that he has for us. Over these couple nights, I have felt more genuine love and support than I had all these years with my mom. Now maybe that isn’t her fault. But the man standing with me now, I have come to realize, is not a monster.
“I love you,” he says. And as we stand there in the heat, looking over our new house, he gives me a hug. It wasn’t fake and it wasn’t a hug coming from the monster my mom said he was. It was coming from my dad.
“I love you too”.