"Oh, Delia, are you okay?" Karen wailed.
Karen was my best friend. She knew everything about me. She knew because I told her everything. I had just finished telling her the latest development in the life of Cordelia Andreson.
"I'm fine, really," I lied. She was concerned by the newest explosive fight between my parents in which I always seemed to get caught right in the middle. Of course, that may be because I was the reason for all of the fights.
"Jack, how can you do that to her!" my mother had screamed across the kitchen table just last night.
"Marisa, you don't know how to punish her! If a child does something wrong, you need to be firm!" he'd shot right back.
"She is not a dog! She deserves to be treated as a human being! And a seventeen year old one at that!"
The whole reason for the argument was because I dropped a plate. I'd gotten a beating for it. Not that my mother's way of punishment was any better. Her abuse was simply verbal rather than physical.
"Delia, you shouldn't have to put up with it!" Karen protested. She was always worried about me, constantly advising me to contact CPS. I didn't want to. I would be sent away. Away from Karen, away from my other friends, away from everything I had ever known.
"Karen, I told you, I'm fine," I repeated, and slammed my locker shut. I walked off in the direction of my homeroom. Karen followed. We had almost all of the same classes.
Out the doors, across the rain-drenched pavement, and into the classroom at the far end of the building. Accounting—my least favorite class. Karen however loved it. I suppose that when you are amazing at payroll and can do worksheets without even thinking about it, you might start to enjoy them. I couldn't. I almost always failed the tests.
My friend didn't say anything more on the subject. There were too many people around. She was the only one who knew what really went on at my house, and she was sworn to secrecy. I would trust Karen with my life.
Accounting was an individual study class. Karen, another girl named Roxanne (who was also bad at accounting—we tended to study together) and I were the only three in the class. Our teacher, Mr. Prester, taught another class at the same time, so we only did accounting half the time. The other half was spent in idle chatter or browsing the Internet.
Roxi leaned over. "So did you guys hear that they're totally demolishing that building downtown? The cute little tea shop? They're going to put in a bowling alley." She made the words "bowling alley" sound like a curse word.
Roxi was one of those people who liked the old, rustic look in a town. We all lived in a small town out in the middle of nowhere (western Washington—always drizzly and cloudy, by the way). Roxi hated it when buildings were torn down. She tended to be one of those people standing out front of a building holding signs that said things like, "Buildings have feelings too!" Of course buildings don't have feelings. Sometimes I wondered about her sanity, but she was sweet.
"No, but I thought that maybe we could tackle those owners' equity statements and balance sheets today," I told her. I didn't want Karen to broach the subject of my parents again.
"Oh, okay," she replied. "I need help on that anyway. Is the 'capital at the beginning of the year' supposed to go first or the 'share of net income'?"
The rest of first period was spent with Karen zipping ahead through chapter twenty-eight while Roxi and I struggled through the book in chapter seventeen. Somehow, I managed to mix up the total, subtotal, and sub-subtotal columns (can you see why?) and managed to get my final final total completely messed up, and had to start over. Roxi actually managed to write the entire thing completely backwards (which made me feel slightly better—at least I knew where to write the totals). Karen ended up leaning over and pointing out where we went wrong, as usual.
"Karen, you should just teach the stupid class," I grumbled.
"Ah, Delia. I would, but you're too silly to learn this kind of thing. I don't know why you even signed up for the class."
"I don't either," I replied sardonically.
The bell rang. Off to math. How horrible was that? Math for two solid hours in a row! And after that, physics. English didn't come until after lunch, unfortunately.
It made me feel slightly better about myself to be in a high level math class, especially since Karen was with me. She was terrible at pre-calculus, and she hated logarithms. I did too, but at least I could understand them.
We suffered through math, then physics. I managed to avoid her "helpful encouragement" through two periods, but I saw no get-out-of-jail-free card for the time slot that was lunch. She'd probably attack me as soon as we were alone at our table.
I was right. "Dell, you need to talk to CPS," she began once again. "You shouldn't have to take this kind of abuse! That bruise was as long as my arm!"
I sighed. "Karen, really, I'm fine. I can't talk to CPS. I'll have to go live with my aunt, and she's weird. Not only that, but she lives in Alabama. First, I don't want to live in Alabama, I like Washington perfectly fine, and second, I don't even like my aunt. And besides; I've lived with it for this long, it's not like a little longer is going to make a difference."
Karen's eyes were worried. "Yes, it is, Delia. You know it will. Some day that man who calls himself a father will snap your neck, and you'll be dead. Or you'll crack under all the things your mother says and you'll end up in an asylum. What about me? Don't you know that if something happened to you, I'd probably die myself?"
We'd had this conversation before. "What about leaving?" I asked acidly. "Doesn't that count too? I won't be dead, but I'll probably never see you again."
She fell silent, but she still seemed worried. I supposed she had a right to be. My father had thrown a chair at me last night. It left a long, thin bruise down my back. I think I broke a toe trying to dodge it too. It didn't matter. I was used to it.
Until I'd met Karen in third grade, I had thought I was worthless, useless, and a piece of trash that my parents were "thoughtfully" taking care of. Then I visited her at her house one day, and I realized that not all parents were like mine. Karen always wanted to visit my house and meet my parents as well, but I couldn't let her. She did find out, eventually, in the way that Karen usually does (snooping around, which I don't mind so much anymore), and we'd been best friends ever since. She helped bring my self-esteem up, and I thanked whatever god might be out there (I was agnostic. I'd stopped believing in God years before) for her every day.
After lunch was over, I went to English, my favorite class. It was a college level class, and I was good at it. Karen hated English as much as she hated math, or more, and she took a lower level of it. After all, she didn't need it. She was going to be an accountant.
Mrs. Thomson passed back our essays on a book we had just read. Mine had a large A+ at the top of the paper, and comments written all over the front on how to improve even more. I was Mrs. Thompson's favorite: she wanted me to go the college route and get an English major and end up an editor for a major newspaper or a publishing company. She had big plans for me.
She smiled down at me. Apparently, this was my best work yet. I supposed it would be. I had a lot of experience with child abuse, the topic of our previous book.
The English hour ended all too soon, and I found myself back in a class with Karen. This time college Spanish. I was good at this as well; you learn more about your own language in a foreign language study than you do in your language (in my case, English) class. We discussed the conditional tense all period, and then we went to the last class of the day, health. This was the easiest part of the day, and it was nice to end the day with a simple class.
Karen and I separated at the busses. I didn't even have a permit and her parents made her pay for her own gas, so we still rode the big yellow vehicles with the underclassmen. I hunkered down in my seat in my usual position and grabbed a book out of my backpack to read. It was one from Karen, not my parents, and I loved it. I was almost finished with it, though I had just received it the day before.
The freshmen got on. The noise level on the bus increased exponentially when they did. How people could make such a ruckus baffled me. I had always been the quiet type.
Being the last stop in a bus full of kids, I had about an hour to read and finish my book. It left me feeling happy and satisfied with the ending. When I finally got off the bus—butt completely numb from sitting in my wedged-in position—I had completely forgotten that my parents would be home early today.
My mom worked in a jewelry store. She sold beautiful jewelry, and I never got one ounce of it for a gift. All that went to her. My dad was a sales clerk at the local grocery store. Mom made all the money. Dad blew it all on beer.
I opened the door and made my way down the hall as usual. The door to my room was locked, as usual, and I took out my key as usual (the only one in the house—Karen had the other if I lost mine). As I did, I heard a drunken shuffling behind me, unfortunately just as usual.
"Girl, how many times do I have to tell you?" my father shouted. "Never lock your door! What if I need to get in there for something? Get out of the way!"
He knocked his hand heavily into my cheekbone. It hurt. It always hurt. It would probably leave a bruise.
"Jack!" my mother yelled down the hallway. She appeared, holding a dishtowel. "Jack, don't you hit her! The girl does not need bruises to show! Let her go into her filthy room. You don't need to hurt anyone."
Only a few years ago I had figured out that the only reason she got angry at him for hitting me was because she didn't want to get the authorities involved. She didn't really care about me.
I scrambled past my father and into my room, locking it behind me. I could hear my father's furious pounding as he tried to open the door, but it stopped when my mother got a hold of him.
As soon as I was sure I was safe, I started crying into my pillow. I cried and cried and cried (just like every day—you never get used to being beaten, though I keep trying to tell myself that). The rain, which had let up, started suddenly pouring.
When my throat was raw and my eyes sore and my nose completely plugged up, I wiped my tears away and took out my homework. I sat at the desk near my window to get light (no light in my room—it was a little room that had probably been a closet at some point). The rain had let up again, though it was still slightly drizzly.
I finished my homework and called Karen on the cell phone that she had bought for me, and her parents paid for—they wanted me to keep in touch with Karen, in case things got out of hand. All they knew about was the verbal abuse.
She answered it immediately.
"Can you pick me up?" I whispered, tears starting to fall again.
"I'll be over right away. Pack a bag. You're staying with me," was her firm response. "I'll meet you in the usual spot."
The "usual spot" was the corner near my house. I tended to sneak out a lot.
I packed my bag and slipped out my little window onto the ground. I was in the back yard, so my parents would never notice me leaving through the neighbor's property. The rain was falling again. By the time Karen sped up to the corner, I was drenched.
She saw the bruise on my face. "Delia, you can't keep going on like this," she said. "I'm serious. We're calling CPS."
I didn't say anything. I was too depressed.
Karen talked of inconsequential things all the way to her house. She lived in a nice neighborhood with nice people and a nice yard. I can remember all the times we had played in her lawn and made up games. I remember them all, because those were the happiest times in my life, and the only good ones. When we got inside, Karen's mother, Ilene, took one look at me and enveloped me in a huge hug.
"Oh, sweetheart, he hit you, didn't he?" she asked.
I nodded, defeated. "Please don't call CPS," I whispered. "I don't want to live in Alabama."
Ilene frowned. "Delia, you can't stay at your parent's house."
"I'll get my stuff and live somewhere else then."
"You can stay here," she offered. "We don't mind. We'd love to have you. And I want you out of that house. But we will call CPS sooner or later."
I cried again, but this time with happiness. I was so glad to know such a kind family.
The rain started again, but this time, there was a rainbow.