Chapter 1: The beginning of the End

My 17 year old self lay barely conscious on the damp tree lawn reflecting on my 8 year old self. I should keep moving, but I felt the need for self reflection, I guess.

At the tender age of 8, my world crashed around me. My parents announced their divorce. I begged and pleaded and bawled for my dad to take me with him. It didn't happen. Instead, my brothers and I were left with HER. The vain, beautiful, self-centered, workaholic, we called Mom. Dad promised lots of visits and overnight trips. He packed his things and was gone.

At 17, I scoffed at the naïve 8 year old. Two years after the divorce, life really got worse. Dad died from a cancer we never knew he had. Now, Mom, also known as Katharine, wouldn't have to answer to anyone about us. She was free to neglect us as much as she wanted. Not 2 weeks after the funeral, she moved Craig into our lives and our home.

So, here I lay getting a chill, but too exhausted to get up and keep moving. I knew I needed to get up, I wanted to get up, but I couldn't make my body respond. I knew that if I hadn't gotten a hard enough hit in, Craig would be conscious by now and possibly looking for me. I prayed he was too drunk to care.

Craig made himself right at home in my father's house. He doted on my mother and she loved it. Problem was she was too busy furthering her career to pay him much attention. So he found someone else to pass his nights with…Me.

He started showing me unwanted and unnecessary attention when I turned 11. It made me uncomfortable, but he hadn't crossed any lines. It all seemed fairly innocent until the night he slipped into my room. I heard his breathing and squeezed my eyes shut, pretending to sleep. I tried not to feel his hands as they roamed places a man's hands shouldn't on a young girl. This nightly molestation continued until I was 14. Fourteen is a rough age for any girl, hormones and body changes. Add in a man who kept you as his plaything and it was Hell for me. Of course, I developed in all the usual places over the 3 years since Craig moved in and that was enough for him to make the leap. The nightly molestation took on a whole new level. He was no longer content to fondle and let his hands roam. On my 14th birthday, he raped me. That activity started in addition to the nightly molestation.

I tried once to tell my mom. I was 12. She actually laughed. Her exact words were "Why would a grown man pay any attention to a little girl when he had a woman in his bed?" Nice. Well, see Mom, you aren't in his bed. You're always at the office. And he was in my bed. Thanks for that. After that failing attempt, I kept my mouth shut. Eventually I'd be able to fight him off. I told no one. Not even my best friend, Jeremy. No way could I tell him,

But tonight was finally the night I'd had enough. I had to put a stop to this. I did. Jeremy made me strong enough to stop it. He knew something was going on with me, but he didn't know what. We'd been best friends since we were little. His family lived next door to my aunt and uncle. He didn't know it, but I was secretly and completely in love with him. I have been for years. I doubt he feels the same. He sees me as his buddy.

Here's how tonight went down. I was hanging out in my room. Nobody home with the radio cranked. Mom was working as usual, my brothers would be home later, and Craig was probably at the bar drinking himself stupider than he was.

I didn't even hear the door open at first. Music was too loud. I heard it slam shut though. I whipped around and there stood Craig. Drunk again and looking like he was in the mood for more than his usual nightly activity. I knew I was in trouble this time, but I had prepared myself while he was getting ripped at the bar.

I'd found my old Easton softball bat in the garage. It should make a nice indent, should I get the chance to use it.

"Get out Craig. I've had enough of you to last a lifetime." I yelled at him. That was all it took. He crossed the room and hit me right in the face. Damn that hurt. I could feel my right eye swelling shut and the blood trickling from my nose.

"I said get out. You're done with me. I won't let you do this to me anymore." I told him

"You can't stop me," he slurred. "What're you gonna do? Tell your mommy?" He came at me again and I rolled away, grabbed the bat and was on my feet before he lumbered around.

Batter up, you son of a bitch. I swung that Easton as hard as I could. I watched him dropped like a featherweight in the ring with Muhammed Ali. Then I took off like a bat out of Hell.

I'm heading for my Aunt Karen and Uncle Joe's house. They live about 2 miles from us. I know I can make it, if I can get my ass up. I'm sure I'm a sight laying here on the tree lawn. Long raven hair matted to my head and face, right eye blackening and swollen shut, blood dried on my nose and mouth.

Oh shit! I hear a car. Please, dear God, PLEASE! Don't let it be Craig. Don't let anyone see me. I hear a car door and footsteps. I'm shaking from the chill and fear. I'm trying to work up a scream when a tender hand brushes the hair out of my face. Then I hear,

"Maddie? Maddie! Thank God I found you! What the hell happened?"

I open my good, left eye and see the face that I know belongs to the silky, husky voice. Jeremy Lowery, my own personal knight on a white horse. He gently lifts me from the tree lawn and carries me to his car. Again, I'm barely conscious, but safe. In my haze, I hear a voice in the distance, his, on the phone.

"Karen, I found her. She's pretty beat up and out of it. I'm taking her to Mercy to get checked out." Short pause, then "I don't know what happened. I think she was headed for your house. Maybe mine. She was about half way there." Long pause. And all hell breaks loose.

"What?!?" I hear Jeremy yell. "That dirty SOB! I'll kill him. I will kill him! Ok, we're at Mercy, I'm taking her in." A tense silence follows.

The silence is short lived. Jeremy carries me into the emergency room and I'm greeted by the bustle of the department. People are coughing, a baby cries, a doctor is paged overhead. I feel myself being bumped down onto a hard gurney. My good eye flies open and I see the kind face of a nurse. Then more faces join hers. Interns, I assume. I don't see the face I'm looking for. I say one single word, "Jeremy." I see him peek around the heads of the others. I'm shocked by what I see on his face. It's a mixture of compassion, sadness, terror, fury, and sickness all at the same time. The doctor tells him he needs to leave the room so I can be examined. I'm peppered with questions about what happened. I explain about the last 6 years of physical and sexual abuse I've endured at the hands of Craig. I speak as softly as I can, hoping Jeremy can't hear me from the other side of the curtain. I'm horrified when I hear his sharp intake of breath.

They ask if I was sexually assaulted tonight and I tell them no, he was drunk when he got home, so I took my chance to try and escape. I was hoping to be spared the pelvic exam, but no such luck. Since Craig had raped me last night, they thought maybe there might still be evidence present. They ask how I escaped. I tell them that I dented his skull with my trusty Easton aluminum bat. The nurse looks proud. I felt sick. I had tried for so long to keep the awful things that were being done to me a secret. A secret especially from the people I loved. Standing on the other side of the flimsy curtain was the person I loved the most and now he knew everything. I could almost feel his fury through the curtain. I was sure his face must be enraged.

What happens next has me shaken and elated. I hear a commotion in the ER. Then I hear a voice that sends shivers up my spine. Craig has arrived at the ER. I can hear him slurring at the police to take the handcuffs off. He's enraged at the way he's being treated. He's the one who met the business end of a ball bat after all. I hear an enraged growl escape from Jeremy's throat. He sounds like a caged animal being hunted. There's the sound of metal hitting tile and I can hear the sound of a fist hitting flesh. It's a sound I'm very familiar with. There's a scuffle and I hear Craig moaning and Jeremy cursing. The curtain flies open and through it steps my Aunt Karen and Uncle Joe, followed by my brothers Brandon and Jake. Jeremy's been restrained by a police officer, who looks like he'd rather let him have at Craig. The one person missing? My dear mother. Then I see her. She's coddling Craig like he's a toddler and not a grown man who has done unspeakable things to her only daughter. I'm immediately furious and also heartbroken. I thought for sure this would be the one time she'd finally realize she'd failed me. She failed to believe me when I needed her most. I guess it shouldn't surprise me, but somehow it does. Jeremy comes sauntering over. Nobody moves like he does. He's all grace and strength rolled into one.

Of course, they are admitting me for observation, despite my protests. So we all hang out in the ER till my room is ready. Once I'm settled in, the questions start. How long has this been going on? Why didn't I tell anyone? How am I feeling? Do I need anything?

I answer their questions as they come at me. I can see that my brothers are as furious at me as they are at Craig. They are angry because I didn't trust them with this. That I didn't come to them when it started. What could I have done? Brandon was only 4 years older than me. What was he going to do at 15? Jake was 2 years younger than me. There was nothing he could have done at 9. I told them that I didn't come to them because I didn't want anyone else to get hurt. That I was protecting them. I told them all that I tried to tell Mom when I was 12 and the extent of her reaction. I've never, ever seen my Aunt Karen so pissed. She looked like she wanted to go back to the ER and strangle my mother. Uncle Joe looked like he was barely holding it together. He was my dad's brother and I could tell he was blaming himself for not protecting me. I assured them all that I was fine, just exhausted and I insisted they all go home and sleep. Tomorrow was another day and it looked brighter than today had.

They all said their goodbyes, except Jeremy. He looked determined that I wasn't getting rid of him so easily. After the others left, he pulled up a chair and sat down heavily. He just looked at me for the longest time. He stared at the floor for awhile, then at the ceiling. I think he was trying to get a handle on his emotions, but I'm not sure. When he looked up at me, there were tears in his eyes, threatening to fall. He wiped them away and started his questions.

"Maddie, why didn't you come to me. Yesterday, today, 6 years ago?"

"Jer," I started, "What would you have done at 12 years old? I couldn't stop him. There was no way you could have."

"But we could have gone to Karen and Joe together. They would have believed you." He sighed. "I would have believed you."

And then my calm façade broke. The tears that have been locked up inside me for 6 years found the surface. I couldn't stop them. I didn't even try.

Jeremy did what he'd done so many times over our young lives. He crawled into my bed and held me while I cried. He apologized over and over for upsetting me. I tried to tell him that it wasn't his fault, but I couldn't choke out the words. We fell asleep in each others arms. Both exhausted from the ordeal of the night. He was chased from the bed by a kind hearted nurse around 5 am or so I thought. She took my vitals and asked me if I needed anything. All I wanted was Jeremy back. I felt so safe and secure when he was around, like nothing in the world could hurt me. He came back looking freshly scrubbed and perfect. I narrowed my eyes at him. He'd gone home and showered and changed at some point. He grinned and held up bag from Dunkin Donuts. He'd saved himself with doughnuts holes. He always knew how to cheer me up!

The doctor came in next and assured me I could go home tomorrow. But, I wasn't sure I could go back to that house now. Aunt Karen popped into the room just as the doctor was leaving and he told her I was being released tomorrow , that my injuries should heal in a few weeks without any lasting effects. At least the physical ones would. Aunt Karen is immediately on her phone to Uncle Joe. She steps out in the hall so we can't hear the conversation. Hmmm. Why the secrecy?

The nurse comes back in to see if I need anything. I'm feeling a little achy, so she brings me some Tylenol and Ibuprofen. I have no clue where my clothes are. They aren't wearable anyhow, covered in grass, blood, and sweat. Jeremy knows I'm worrying about what I'm going to wear home. He grins again and holds up the other bag he brought. I was distracted by his grin and didn't see it before. He has also brought me a change of clothes and toiletries. I'm telling you, he's a total keeper.

Aunt Karen is back now, looking extremely satisfied with herself. I wonder what she's been up too. Uncle Joe and my brothers walk in the room. Everyone is looking like the Cheshire cat now.

"What's going on?" I ask.

"You are coming to live with us." Uncle Joe says. He's expecting no argument and won't get one from me.

"Really?" I question. "How did you manage that?" I know the answer, but want to hear someone else say it. My mother doesn't want me back in her house.

"Well, Mom feels like maybe home isn't the best place for you to be," Brandon says.

"So, she doesn't want me there, right? Because I had the nerve to beat up her precious Craig?" I spit.

" Maddie," Jake says, "You know you don't want to be there. She can't hurt you if you aren't there. She's always been jealous of you because…"

"Because why?" I prompt.

" Because you know she feels like Dad loved you more. And now this with Craig. You know how she is." Brandon states.

"Umm. So let me get this straight. I'm the get raped for years and she's the one who's upset. So I have it right?" Everyone winces at the word rape. It came out harsher than I intended.

"It's not like that and you know it. You did nothing wrong. You're the victim. Mom had always been the center of attention until you were born. You've always known how she felt about you. She's never kept it a secret really," Brandon mumbled.

I am completely in shock here. I really had no idea this was truly how my mother felt about me. Who is jealous of their own daughter? That's bizarre.

"Ok, you know what? Defend her if you want, I'm done with her. I'm pretty shocked that you two are just rolling with this. But, I'm happy to move in with Uncle Joe and Aunt Karen."

"Maddie, we're not defending her. We're just not sugarcoating it either. It's time you realized that she's never going to be the mother you want or need. She's not that way with any of us. But it's easier for us because we're guys. She's not threatened by us." Brandon says.

"So it's settled! You move in with us tomorrow! We're so glad to have you." Gushes Aunt Karen.

"What about Michelle?" I wonder. Michelle is my 17 year old cousin.

"She's your cousin. She loves you. You'll be like sisters!" says Aunt Karen.

I love my Aunt Karen, but she's deluded on this point. Michelle hates my guts for reasons known only to her. This should be interesting.