Bryan hid under his bed as he listened to his parents fighting again. Fourteen years old and he was still terrified. He thought by now he would be used to it, but with understanding came an even more gut wrenching fear. He was scared his father would kill his mother in a rage. He heard the familiar smacking sound and his mother’s yelp of pain. He was out from under his bed and running down the hall before he could stop himself. He shoved his father as hard as he could and the man didn’t even move. His father grabbed him and pulled him outside.
“Mom please help.” He screamed as tears started sliding down his cheeks. The last thing he saw was the horroritied look on his mother’s face. “Please mom, please.” His dad pulled him to the tree in the back yard and ripped a switch off a low branch. “Dad don’t, I’m sorry.”
His father hit him over and over again. Bryan screamed and cried as the switch ripped his shirt and cut his skin open. He thought the beating would never stop and when it did his father threw him on the ground and walked away. Bryan curled up in a ball, hugging his knees to his chest. His father was a drunk and extremely abusive. He sometimes found himself wondering if he had always been like this. As far as he could remember he had. He felt gentle hands grip his shoulder and he looked up into the tear filled eyes of his mother.
“Come on baby, lets get you cleaned up.” She said as she helped him to his feet.
His mother helped him get his shirt off and started crying when she saw the cuts on his back and stomach. More scars for standing up to his father. She switched on the bath and plugged the hole when it was warm enough. “I can get in on my own.” He said, his voice devoid of emotion.
“Okay baby.” She collected his clothes and left him alone. Bryan looked at himself in the mirror for a moment. Haunted blue eyes stared back at him, telling a story of such pain and anguish that it almost had him crying. He wondered if that is what other people saw when they looked at him, when he went to school. Did they know he took a beating on almost a daily basis? His grades never dropped, he never spoke of what was happening. He didn’t really have any friends. He was a loner, a nobody. He turned off the water and got in the tub. He gritted his teeth against the sting of warm water on injured skin. He just sat there, staring at the wall. He contemplated suicide, had on more than one occasion. The only thing stopping him was the idea of leaving his mother alone with that monster. He cried silently until there were no tears left. There was a light tapping on the door that made him jump up and grab a towel.
“Mom, so that you?” He asked fearfully.
“Yes baby boy. Your father wants you out of the tub and in bed.” She answered. He dried quickly and wrapped the towel around his waist. He practically ran to his room, quietly closing the door before pulling on a pair of sweats and crawling into bed. He pulled the blankets up and over his head, shaking with fear. What if his father came in while he was asleep and beat him awake. He would rather be prepared for it.
“Please don’t let him come for me, please, please, I’ll do anything just don’t let him come for me.” He whispered it over and over again, his hands clasped together. “Please let me find a way out, please. I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to stay here anymore. Please.”
His eyelids became heave around four in the morning and he finally fell asleep. The sound of knocking woke him and he got quickly out of bed. He dressed and grabbed his backpack, opening the door to his mother. “Good, you’re ready. You should get going.” She said.
His father was already gone, probably at work so he didn’t have to talk to him on the way out. Every day he walked to school. It was the only time he was happy. He breathed in the fresh spring air, a smile actually flitting across his face. He wished he was a bird soaring free or a fish swimming in the river. He wanted to be anything but a victim. Other kids passed him by and he ducked his head, making himself as small as possible. He didn’t like attention of any kind. He made it to school just as the first bell rang. He ran quickly to his locker and grabbed his history book. He made it to class right at second bell and sat down on his seat. His teacher always made him nervous. He was tall like his dad. Bryan pulled his glasses out of his bag and slipped them on. He had almost forgot about them. He always took them off before his dad got home to keep them from being broken.
He took notes as his teacher talked then handed out homework. He did most of it before class ended, knowing he would have no time once he got home. He rushed out of class and to his locker, exchanging his history book for his biology book. This teacher was a sweet woman in her early forties. She always spoke to her students warmly and was very enthusiastic. She was beautiful and highly intelligent. He admired her and always made the extra effort in her class. Her eyes rested on him and she frowned. He looked down, wondering if she could see some bruise that he had failed to hide. She talked and drew diagrams on the ink board that he quickly copied down. He made sure not to make eye contact with her, afraid of seeing pity. The bell rang and he stood with the rest of the students.
“Bryan, can you please stay.” She said softly and he sat back down. Had he done something wrong? They waited until everyone else was gone and then she closed the classroom door. “Did I do something wrong ma’am?” He asked.
“How are you doing today?”
“Fine ma’am, why do you ask?”
“You just seem sort of down, like something bad happened.”
He swallowed nervously. “No, everything’s fine. I’m a little tired, but other than that I’m fine.” He glanced at her. She had to know, but had not done anything because she had no proof. He could give her proof, all he had to do was lift his short and show her the cuts. His mother’s sad face flashed in his mind and he decided against it. He had to protect her for as long as he could.
“Are you sure? Is there anything you want to tell me?” She asked and he made brief eye contact.
“I’m fine ma’am, really.” He lied and hated how easy it was.
“Okay, get to your next class then.”
He hurried to the gym and changed in the locker room. He did it in a bathroom stall so no one would see his scars and bruises. Some of the guys looked at him when he walked out and he averted his gaze. They never asked what he knew was upper most in their minds. He could see it in their eyes. His gym teacher was a really big, muscular man who absolutely terrified him. He yelled when he talked. Bryan knew it wasn’t malicious yelling, but it still scared him. He worked out hard, letting some of his anxiety slip away. The rest of the day went by as a blur. He went through the motions of taking notes and doing his homework like a zombie. He hated going home. The last bell of the day rang and he walked out with the other students, feeling the familiar knots forming in his stomach.
His father had not made it home yet so he quickly took off his glasses and put them in his bag then took his bag into his room. He helped his mother make dinner, unable to smile at her even though he was free to do so. He heard the front door open and close and flinched. H helped his mom take dinner to the table and they sat down, waiting for his father to join them.
His father smelled like booze again. Bryan watched him set down and felt sick to his stomach. “Would you like me to say grace, Walter?” His mother asked quietly.
“I think I can manage Debra.” His father growled and his mother looked away. “Bow your head boy.”
Bryan did as he was told. His father prayed over the food, but Bryan said his own. He prayed he would make it to tomorrow, that his mom would be okay, that someday he wouldn’t have to live like this anymore. He asked God to send an angel or a police officer, anyone. His father said amen and he and his mother repeated the word. He ate quickly, feeling his father’s gaze burning a hole into his flesh. He finished every bite even when he felt full. His father didn’t believe in wasting anything.
“May I be excused please?” Bryan asked.
“Please what?” His father said.
When his father became silent he had to look up. The older man was just staring at him, eyes angry and hateful. “Get the hell away from the table before I make you remember your manners.” He snapped.
“Yes sir.” Bryan stood, taking his plate to the kitchen and washing it. He heard his father’s chair scoot back and he dropped the plate. It shattered and he stared at it in disbelief. He heard the footsteps and looked up at hisfather’s enraged face. “Please sir, it was an accident.” He begged.
“You wasteful little shit.” His father back handed him across the face and dragged him outside.
Bryan screamed for his mom, but she just sat at the table, unmoving. He wished she would come to his rescue. That what mothers were supposed to do. What had he done so wrong that she wouldn’t save him? He screamed and screamed as his father beat him again. He just wanted his mother to be there for him. He was always there for her. This time he went inside on his own. He didn’t even look at his mom. He loved her with all his heart, but he was also angry with her. He cried as he took a shower then hurried out and into bed. His birthday was in two days and he already knew it was going to be horrible. His father hated birthdays. He said they were a useless waste of his hard earned money. Bryan wanted nothing more than to point out his boozing, but bit his tongue the moment the words threatened to break through.
That night he didn’t sleep and it didn’t really matter. It was the weekend. His father would work until Sunday then Bryan had to spend the whole day on the monster’s presence. He hated Sundays more than anything. He could take an end of the day beating, but to have his father hovering around and drinking all day was the worst. He had received two broken ribs one Sunday because he wasn’t chopping wood fast enough for his father’s liking. He felt tears spring to his eyes again as he stared up at the ceiling.
Early morning light filtered in through his window. The sound of his father moving around the house getting ready for work made him tense up. He knew he wouldn’t enter the room so he just lay as still as possible. He heard his father exit the house and then his truck start. He allowed himself to breathe. He got out of bed and dressed quickly. He was going down to the lake to skip rocks. He left his mom a note, not wanting her to worry.
The lake was always beautiful on the early morning light. It was so peaceful. He picked up a flat stone and flicked it. It skipped five times across the placid surface, leaving ripples. He wished he could stay here forever, but he knew his father would come for him. It wouldn’t be because he cared, but because he had a reason to beat someone smaller than him. Bryan leaned his back against a tree and closed his eyes. A slight breeze blew across him, ruffling his hair and giving him goosebumps. His mother knew he would spend all day here. This was is place. She understood his need to run away. He pulled his knees up and rested his chin on them. He listened to the chirping of little sparrows and the loud caw of a crow. Something passed him in the grass and he smiled at the little garter snake. He used to catch them all the time. He had stopped after his dad had found him hiding them in an aquarium in his closet.
Noon rolled around and he watched as people flocked to the lake to swim. It was going to be a nice warm day and everyone wanted to cool off. He made himself as small as possible, hoping no one would notice the young man sitting across the lake. He wishe he could be as carefree and happy as these families. He would give anything for a dad that loved him and gave him advice instead of smacking him around for making a small mistake. He was glad he had been raised an only child. He would not wish his life on any other person. It didn’t matter that he was always alone with no one to talk to. He would rather be alone than watch someone smaller than him get hurt. He stood and started home. He ran, wanting to get there before his father.
His mother met him at the door, looking worried. He was confused until he saw his father’s truck parked farther up the drive where he had not seen it upon approaching the house. He took a deep breath and walked into the house. The anger was so thick in the air that he was sure he would be able to touch it. His father sat in his recliner with a beer in his hand.
“I bet you didn’t think I would figure out that you’ve been sneaking out of the house.” He said and took a sip of beer. “I followed you to the lake. I missed work because of you.”
Bryan swallowed nervously. “I’m sorry sir.” He said.
“Obviously not sorry enough.” He yelled and threw his beer. He was on his feet and hitting Bryan before he could even think. His mother got between them and was knocked to the floor. His father grabbed his mother by her arm and jerked her to her feet. “You stew right there.” He ordered as he dragged his wife off and shoved her into their room. He came back to Bryan and hit home again. “You stay in this fucking house you little punk.”
“Yes sir.” Bryan managed. His father left him and he heard his parents arguing. He went to his room and shut the door. He crawled under the bed and curled into a ball, covering his ears as his father beat his mother again. He blamed himself for her pain. He should have stayed home. He was so sure he had been careful. He should have known better. His mother’s screams were so loud he hoped someone would call the police, but he knew they wouldn’t. They would mind their own business, go on with their lives like there wasn’t a woman and young man in need of help, of compassion. He cried and cried, his heart shattering into a million pieces for his poor mother. He knew she was scared just like him. That was her whole reason for doing nothing. She was terrified of the beatings. He wanted to help her, but he wasn’t strong enough. His father had told him he was nothing but a scrawny wimpy failure of a son. It had hurt him to hear those words. He was supposed to be able to look up to his father, but the man was a prime example of what no one should be like.
Bryan became worried when the screaming stopped. He wondered if his mom was dead. He held his breath, listening. He heard her sobbing and breathed. He just stayed where he was, refusing to make it easy for his father to get to him if he came into the room. He just wanted the man to die, to get into an accident and not come home. He hated him, hated hearing his voice. His muscles started to become stiff, but he still didn’t move. He didn’t care how much it hurt. He just stayed still. He was scared. His birthday was tomorrow, but he knew they wouldn’t be celebrating. He heard footsteps moving down the hall and they paused on front of his door for a moment. He tensed, waited. They moved on and he relaxed a little.
“Please don’t let him come in here and hurt me again.” He whispered, clenching his fists neil his nails broke the skin.
The pain distracted him for a moment from his worries. His life was all about pain. It was who he was. His grandfather and great grandfather had passed down their abuse. He feared he would grow up to be like his father, that he would marry a perfectly sweet woman and then beat her into submission because it was all he knew.
“Please don’t let me fall in love.” He said. “Keep me away from nice women, keep them safe. Don’t let them love me or want me. Let them pass me by forever.”
He lay there until the sun started to come up and his father left. His father wasn’t working today so he guessed he was on his way to the bar. He crawled out from under his bed and rubbed his muscles. He went out into the living room and sat on the couch. He turned the TV on and flipped throu the channels. He heard footsteps and looked down the hall to see his mother. She sat down next to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. She started crying and he hugged her.
“I’m so sorry sweety.” She said.
“It’s okay mom.” He replied.
“Happy birthday sweety.”
“I’m going to make you a cake today.”
He swallowed his fear. Maybe they would get one happy day. She kissed his forehead and disappeared into the kitchen. He watched TV as she made them breakfast. The air was always lighter when his father was gone. His mother hummed, the sound bringing him a measure of peace. She brought him chocolate chip pancakes and they ate together as they watched Tom and Jerry. He sometimes wished he was as brave as that mouse. They laughed every time Jerry outsmarted the cat. They loved the mischievous little mouse.
“Thanks for breakfast mom.” He smiled and she took his plate.
The day passed peacefully by. It was strange and Bryan pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. He wondered where his father was, worried might be spying on them. Dinner time came around and his mom brought out his cake with fifteen candles on top. She sang happy birthday and he blew out his candles. She took it into the dining room and cut them each a piece. They just started eating when there was a loud knock on the door. She put her plate down and opened the door. It was a cop.
“Excuse me, but is your husband Walter?” He asked.
“Yes, what happened?”
“He’s been in an accident. He’s in the hospital.”
“Oh my god.” She turned to him. “Honey grab your sweater.”
They rode in the squad car in silence. His mother was worried and crying, he felt nothing. He had wanted his father dead and had very nearly got it. He was only going because his mother needed him. He stared out the window, watching the world drift by. When they made it the hospital the officer let him out of the back. He walked hand in hand with his mom whe asked the receptionist where her husband Walter was. The woman directed them to the third floor ICU. They took the elevator in silence, Bryan wanting desperately to ask why they didn’t tak this chance and run. The love on her face answered his question. They were stopped by a nurse who told them to go to the waiting room.
His mother paced back and forth, making him nervous. “Can I just go home?” He finally asked.
“Don’t you want to see your father?”
“No, I want him to die.” She froze and turned horrified eyes on him.
“Never say the. He’s your father.”
“He’s a drunk with a familiar face. I hate him.”
She opened her mouth to speak and a nurse walked in. “You must be here for Walter. Please follow me.” She said.
“Bryan please.” He stood and took his mother’s hand. The nurse led them down th hall to a dimly lit room. His father lay unconscious on a bed with a broken arm and swollen face. His mother released his hand and rushed to her husband’s side.
“He has a broken arm and three broken ribs. He’ll be out of commission for awhile.” Bryan knew this was a bittersweet victory. The physical abuse would stop for as long as he couldn’t walk, but would return as soon as he could move freely. Was this his miracle? He felt betrayed by whatever force controlled the universe.
“I’m going home mom.” He said coldly.
“Bryan please stay.” She begged.
“No mom. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turned and walked away, trying not to hear his mom sobbing. He couldn’t force himself to care about someone who didn’t care about him. He took the elevator back down and walked out the front door of the hospital. He didn’t have any money for a cab so he would just walk. The night air felt good on his face. He breathed it in, trying to clear his head. He found himself walking to the lake. He didn’t want to be home. He sat by his favorite tree and stared into the darkness, thinking about the days ahead. He was afraid and alone. It was who he would always be.