I look around and see the place I've lived for nearly six years. I wouldn't call it home. Soon enough I'll be leaving. I'd say I'm excited that I'm leaving, but I'm not really. I won't feel anything until I'm gone. And maybe not even then.
I've packed nearly everything already. All my clothes neatly fit into two sports duffels. All of my toiletries went into a small backpack. The small amount of books I indulgently bought myself over the years have been packed and taped into a single small cardboard box. The only thing left to pack, or perhaps throw away, were the papers and pictures sitting in the back of my empty closet. Everything there represented the memories I didn't want. And now, just the sight of them was enough to make me remember again.
After the age of eleven I was still innocent, playing carelessly with friends and going to school as if those were the only things in the world to do.
At age twelve she left me and my younger brother and sister to practically fend for ourselves.
She was too busy trying to pay for a house she had bought, one that was too much for her to afford. She constantly worked overtime and did her bare minimum as a parent by enrolling us in school and filling out the paperwork for the free lunch program. Occasionally she bought us clothes. Thoughtlessly she would go shopping once a month without any real knowledge of our needs; even the most basic and physical of them met with ignorance.
I constantly was babysitting them, he was seven and she was ten. I cleaned the house; I did the dishes. Every night I scoured the kitchen and just barely found enough food to make them dinner. When fall came, I was the one to rake and bag all the leaves. Every time it snowed, I was the one to shovel the driveway. I forged my mother's signature on all their papers. I prompted them to take showers and do homework. I would mop the floors and vacuum the carpet while harboring a building sense of rage and resentment towards the woman who'd given birth to me.
And even while I resented her I loathed myself for not trying to be more understanding. When they got sick and didn't make it to the bathroom on time, I was the one who cleaned their messes and calmed them; calling the school to notify them before getting on the bus to attend school myself. Sometimes, I had no choice but to skip school and nurse them back to health without the aid of medicine. For all intents and purposes, I was their mother. And I was only a child myself.
There was one thing I couldn't do. The woman calling herself my mother forbid us from using the new washing machine and dryer she had bought. Once a week she would do two loads of laundry. Even the small amount of clothes we had wouldn't fit into two loads. I devised a cycle system where we wore everything at least twice before leaving it for her to wash. All gym clothes were worn a minimum of a week before being brought home for cleaning. In this way, our clothes had a semblance of cleanliness. If something was spilled on someone's clothes, I would wash it by hand with dish soap, wring the thing as dry as I could, and then use a hair dryer on it so it could be worn again sometime in the near future.
My life became a ritual of trying my damnedest to raise my mother's children and not fly into a rage. I became, not self-destructive exactly, but negligent of my own body.
Every day, school was a trial of endurance. I didn't eat more than a piece of toast at breakfast, but I had never been a heavy eater as far as eating breakfast was concerned. I would sit through my classes in a sleep deprived haze, and the assignments I actually did received A's; while most of it I never turned in, or turned in past the due date. Hunger pangs were felt by me intermediately up until the class period before lunch. After that my appetite went away and my stomach resolved itself to a dull ache. At lunch, I picked at my food, not interested in most of the things on my plate. In the classes after lunch my shrunken stomach felt painfully full from the food I had forced myself to eat. I did more work, always lagging in the last class of the day, which I nearly failed. Every time I got close to failing a class, I would do all the work for it, even the things so late that they were worth half credit. Failing resulted in a parent-teacher conference, and I didn't want to deal with the awkward questions that might come up. It was the same reason that held me back from starting fights. I could forge every form they sent home. I couldn't disguise myself as my mother and go to my own parent-teacher conference.
I would come home and do all the household chores. After making sure they did their homework, I would go to my room, not bothering with my own homework. I would turn the radio on low. Sitting on the edge of my bed, I would stare into nothing; and I would do my best to think of nothing until one of my siblings came downstairs and asked for dinner.
Obliging them, I would slowly walk upstairs and go into the kitchen to do the daily hunt. I made dinner, and would sit down with them as they ate; trying to curb the rising nausea at the sight and smell of food. After they finished, I cleaned their plates and put away the leftovers. That time after dinner was always a brutal reminder of this half parent I'd become, barely physically capable of bearing children myself. I thought of my failure in raising them, increasingly often my sister would be gone for hours; and I couldn't do anything to stop her.
Our house was ruled by nothing and controlled by no one. There was one exception. We all were safely tucked in our beds by eleven, when our mother came home. After she went to sleep we might rise again, but occasionally she felt tempted to look in on us and make sure we were still there. I wasn't foolish enough to delude myself that I could guide them. I was too young, overwhelmed and the situation too much for me to handle. And I knew it.
The time between dinner and my mother's return was the period I would attempt to distract myself from my hatred. I turned the radio on. I would dance and dance for hours. It wasn't an expression of happiness or passion; I was trying to exhaust myself past the point of thinking. For roughly five hours I continued my manic dance. Occasionally I would be forced to stop so that I could breathe or drink. I danced through the dizzy spells, occasionally falling to the ground when my body grew weak. And as I sat wherever I happened to collapse, sweat soaking through my clothes, my limbs shaking, my thoughts would return. And then I would force myself, once again, to continue moving. No matter what song was playing I danced to the beat of my own abused heart and I danced in no particular style, desperation to escape my own thoughts tainting every movement.
To wash away the animal stink, I would take scalding hot showers. I always turned the hot water tap as far as I could without actually burning my skin. As I cleaned my body disinterestedly the steam and heat would make me slide to the floor of the shower stall. Eventually when it overwhelmed me, with vicious satisfaction, I would turn the cold water tap full blast and turn off the hot water; making every nerve ending in my body scream. I calmly dried myself off and put on pajamas. I played possum until my mother went to bed.
From eleven at night until one the next day I would read a book of some kind in another petty attempt to distract myself. And when I was so I exhausted I knew I wouldn't be able to stay awake long enough to form coherent thoughts, I would put the book down and lay under my blankets. The moment I closed my eyes, I lost consciousness, until later that morning at five when my alarm went off. I would wait a while, reading my book, until it was the proper time to wake them.
Until I went to high school that was how everyday was spent. There were certain occasions that were exceptions, like the thanksgiving dinner I spent all day making, and the Halloween I took my siblings trick-or-treating. But for the most part, nothing stood out. Ironically, I was on honor roll every quarter, despite the indifference I had for schoolwork. I remember parting the meager amount of clothes in my closet and putting the awards there, alongside my grade cards. My thirteenth birthday my mother actually remembered to bring her camera. I think I let my brother open my presents. If she ever bothered to get the pictures printed, then they were shoved into the closet as well.