Michelle was now a teenage girl, sixteen years of age. She had curly brown hair, brown eyes, and fair skin.

Michelle's biggest fear was losing touch with reality. She had an aunt by the name of Velma who lived with them. Velma was afflicted with some kind of psychosis, among other things. The doctors thought it was schizophrenia. Living with Velma was an experience to say the least. Most of the time, she acted like a much younger child, but sometimes she would have flare ups of psychosis and go a little wild, cursing at things that aren't there, spitting, and responding to imaginary people and sounds. She lived in her own little world when she was like this, and that gave Michelle some experiences she would have rather not have had, like finding out the store owner gave her aunt credit for borrowing groceries that they didn't need and Michelle having to awkwardly try to pay them back, or on a much more serious note, finding out she put plastic containers on the stove to try to heat something up and almost burning the house down. These flare ups didn't happen extremely often when she took her medication regularly, but sometimes they did happen. After engaging with other schizophrenics, Michelle started to believe that maybe Velma also had some kind of other problem besides just schizophrenia.

Michelle lay awake one night listening to her aunt cursing at the walls and considered the dreadful possibility of ending up like that. She was one of her relatives, after all. Maybe it wasn't out of the realm of possibility? Her mind then drifted to thoughts about her classmates. She wondered what they would do if they had to put up with stuff like this. They might not be able to take it. That made her smile. She was a tough little girl, a lot stronger than those bullies at school would ever give her credit for!

That night, Michelle had a terrible nightmare. It was so vivid that it felt like reality. These nightmares continued for days. In some, she couldn't control her mouth or her mouth was being held open by some kind of unseen entity. In one of these dreams, it really hurt. It felt like her jaw was going to break. In others, her mother was replaced by some kind of demon. This demon did and said things her Christian mother would never do or say. All wasn't right in paradise, and Michelle was about to find out the meaning of those dreams? Michelle wasn't really sure they were dreams. She wasn't really sure if she was asleep or awake when she had them, and there were a few times when she couldn't tell if she was dreaming or awake; she couldn't tell if they were actually memories or not.

Her nervous breakdown came about a year after those dreams. The dreadful thoughts continued to plague her. That's the one thing she could never get forgiveness for, the one thing she would never get help or relief from. She couldn't escape these thoughts against God and against her family. They plagued her night and day. Sometimes she woke up thinking she spoke one of them. Finally, she opened her mouth and believed she did.

She got really sick at the thought of what she said. She stopped eating, stopped drinking, and stopped sleeping. Her mother was deeply concerned about her, and her dad was stressed out; he thought Michelle was putting too much pressure on her mother and got really angry at her for this episode. Michelle couldn't really help herself, though. She stayed like that for several days until her mother finally found someone who could help her. She found a very kind preacher who explained to her that she was okay, that she hadn't spoken against God or done anything that couldn't be forgiven. Michelle believed the preacher, and everything seemed like it was okay.

Those thoughts kept plaguing Michelle, though, not that she had already done something but that she was going to. They plagued her nonstop, until finally, almost in defiance, she spoke the words in her mind. It felt like the world had ended. She was very very scared and asked her mom to pray for her. Her mom did, but she didn't think it was enough. Michelle was so scared, and she continued to search for help and answers.

The dreams weren't friendly anymore. They told her there was no more hope, and there was no reason to keep searching. These dreams terrified Michelle, because she believed them to be some kind of other worldly message. After that, things got a lot worse before they got any better.

One night, Michelle and her mother discovered a note.

"I can't take this anymore. I'm leaving..."

Michelle wasn't sure if she would ever hear from her dad again. He didn't leave a phone number or a way to reach him. It's like he just decided to get up one day and drop off of the face of the Earth. They weren't sure he didn't commit suicide. Michelle was ashamed of the way she had been acting. She thought that she might have driven her own dad, the only man who could relate to her, away.

Michelle's mom invited some friends over eventually to discuss the events that transpired. Michelle was happy to have the company, but her mom thought they had outstayed their welcome. She went looking for laborers to help her continue her husband's business. That's where she met the biggest mistake of her life. In fact, he would end up costing her her life.

"Get in the f-ing car, baby!" The blond haired demon of a man shouted. His real name was Robert, but Michelle hated his name so much she dared not speak it.

That man's terrible voice was the end of Michelle's happy care-free life. Her mother started dating him shortly after she separated from Michelle's dad.

Beer cans crunched in the floorboard of the car.

Michelle watched her mother obediently respond to that-that-evil creature from the pits of Hell.

The man her mother was dating filled Michelle with hatred. His slurred speech and drunken breath often filled her with disgust, but it was the "accidents" her mother got into that made Michelle decide he was a monster. Her mom Tonya would often come back with a black eye, a few missing teeth, bruises she couldn't explain. Tonya often told horror stories of having to wrestle a gun out of his hands or answer the phone and talk some drug dealer out of coming down and "paying him back" for not paying his money. Michelle had no concept of why her mother would ever put herself through this torture. Why couldn't she just leave him and be done with it?

The man was wild and unpredictable from what Michelle could tell. She sometimes heard her mother screaming; she called the police a few times even though her mother begged her not to do it. The police came, asked her mom a few questions, and then left the man to go right back to what he was doing before they were called. This was Michelle's new life, a nightmare of a life. Michelle had trouble resting in her parents' old house. The bed she used to lay on now gave off a strangely foul odor; it made her sick. She also didn't want to be in the house when her mom's boyfriend was present. He was an absolute creep who made her extremely uncomfortable, sick even.

Maybe more than a creep. Michelle found him on the sex offender registry while doing a Google search. When she presented her mom with the evidence, he tried to play it off like nothing really happened. As would be expected, he blamed the woman he was with at the time for his misdeeds. Michelle was also shocked when her mom didn't believe her when she told her that he made advances toward her and probably would have raped her. It wasn't even really safe to close her eyes with that evil man around. One day, Michelle made a decision, "if I'm going to survive, I need to leave this house." She told herself.

She signed up to join the armed forces. Her dad recommended it before he disappeared; he said that it built character and taught a person discipline. She fully intended to join and only had a few reservations about doing so. One day, she went to the recruiting office, and the officer asked her a few questions. She answered them as honestly as she could, but there was one she couldn't quite get past. It was a question about "lethal force."

"If you needed to, would you be okay with using lethal force?" The officer asked. He asked that question with no hint of recognizable emotion.

"Do you mean killing?" Michelle asked.

Michelle couldn't answer that in the affirmative. She didn't believe it was morally correct to kill anyone.

"If they were tying to kill me, I would... maybe... shoot at them in self-defense." Michelle nervously replied.

The recruiter scribbled a few things on his notepad.

Michelle was mercifully scheduled to leave to take a physical for the armed forces in a few days. It would be a much-needed break from the turmoil at home.

Michelle came back home to find another act of stupidity left in the wake of the demon man-child. Her dad's old work truck looked like it had been involved in a wreck. Her mom claimed later that the man did it with his bare hands; she said he got so angry that he tore the steering column out of the truck and damaged the driver's door. He was always doing things to her mom's vehicles. Michelle noticed that right away. Even though she didn't know anything about cars, she could tell when things weren't right. This man didn't need to be anywhere near her mother's property, because, from what Michelle could see, all he did was destroy it. Anger welled up inside of Michelle.

She saw a few of her dad's heavy work tools.

"No, those are tools, not weapons." She said to herself. Besides, if she beat the man up, she would have trouble explaining things to her mother. Given her mother's tendency to believe him over her, she would probably be the one locked away. Besides, from what her mother told her, the man was dangerous and a lot stronger than he looked. This might have been the kind of guy who might shoot you and kill you in a drunken rage if he didn't like you. Michelle had never encountered anyone like that, ever.

"People aren't that evil," Michelle told herself.

She wasn't sure she was right. In fact, she got to the point that she didn't want to go inside her own house. Instead, she sat outside in the car that the man had been sleeping in before her mother invited him in. Michelle shuddered. It was like living with the Boogieman, or as close as she'd ever came. Knives, guns, blood, drugs, a complete disregard for human life! Her mother loved him like some kind of sick devoted puppy, yet he treated her like his property, like an old worn-out toy! Her mother was no longer capable of keeping her safe; she couldn't even see past his lies well enough to take care of herself.

"You f-ing, b*!"

She could hear the man yelling at her mother through the window. It seemed like the only words the brute knew were profanity, sometimes. Her mother showed her some charming letters and poetry he wrote her, but in Michelle's opinion that wasn't impressive enough to make up for the living nightmare he put Tonya through every night.

"Why does she put up with this?" Michelle asked herself.

Michelle tried to get comfortable in the car. She needed to wait until he went out to do another drug run or until he fell asleep or something before she would be confident enough to sneak back into her room. That stupid man, this stupid situation. What else could happen? Turns out her mother needed to run some "errands."

Despite her better judgment, Tonya's daughter decided to go with her mother. Michelle didn't like these "errands" he was having her mother run, but she really didn't want to see that monster hurt her mother, either. The monster said cryptically that he needed to see a friend about something.

In about twenty minutes, they were in the dangerous area of town. A sense of general decay permeated the place. Dilapidated buildings and boarded up store fronts warned of the character of the neighborhood. People rode slowly on bicycles and the stillness was broken by the blare of loud rock and roll music. It seemed like the guy always liked to listen to music while he was doing drugs, and tonight was no exception.

"Baby, that's good dope. Let's go rent some porn flicks," the crazy man said.

"Oh, okay..." her mother replied cautiously.

Michelle felt her confidence in the world dying. Before her mother met Mr. Madman, she was a great upstanding woman, gainfully employed, and generally independent and successful. Once he came in, though, that all changed. He was a surprisingly good liar, and he knew how to hit people where it hurt. He slandered Michelle's mother so badly that she lost her good job and had to take fill-in work and rely on him to pick up the slack.

"That stupid idiot; he doesn't want her to be able to do anything for herself," Michelle angrily thought to herself.

Michelle briefly thought about killing him, but she didn't want anyone to take retribution against her. The world was so stupid and backward. Law-abiding citizens caught the brunt of everything while the sociopaths, the real lunatics, got to practically inherit the Earth! The real kicker was that no one would actually believe this man was that evil, even if she videotaped all of tonight's events and posted it all on Youtube. The guy would still find a way to explain it all away! How, oh how did he manage to practically, or maybe literally? commit murder and get away with it?

She was jealous of the psychopaths. Her mother. This man. The people on TV. Some of her relatives. They all knew some kind of grand secret, some kind of code to living in society without being subject to any of its rules. Michelle, on the other hand, just followed the rules, as stated, with little to no deviation, and she was often repaid by being taken advantage of, and she was very sane, sane enough to pick up the slack for the people who claim to have "lost it." She was even sane enough to not be committed even after having a clear nervous breakdown, apparently; the world didn't make a bit of sense. It was a stupid fun house mirror, a caricature of what it was supposed to be. If she was sane, the whole world was crazy, and she was beginning to believe maybe that was the case.

"Hey! Tonya, where are my porn tapes?" Her mother's monster of a boyfriend yelled.

The smell of some kind of drug was heavy in the air. She had to leave this madhouse before it consumed her.

The day of her physical and psychological tests for the armed forces arrived. Michelle got on the bus with a handful of young adults and listened to the loud almost hypnotic rap music playing while she daydreamed of a better life. Oddly, the topic of the music was drug dealing. Yeah, she now knew a thing or two about that. Now that she understood the lyrics, those songs would never seem innocent to her again. The atmosphere was energetic, though. The recruiters were trying to get everyone hyped; oh if she hadn't seen all of this before! The lies. The con games. The "tell-them-whatever-they-want-to-hear ruse. It felt too much like they were selling something; she wasn't buying it.

"...and once when we were in the Coast Guard and we apprehended some drug dealers and we had to move several pounds of pure cocaine..." the recruiter said.

"What happened?" one of the potential recruits asked.

"Well, we got a high like you wouldn't imagine just from touching the stuff," the recruiter said.

"Nope, not buying it," Michelle thought to herself. "Even if it's free."

She thought that most idiot adults tried to make kids think that drugs and sex were the best things ever; they weren't. She knew that from experience.

Michelle was pretty sure the whole topic of that conversation wasn't drugs, but that's the part of the conversation that she heard clearly. Stupid talk about "highs." Michelle was on a low that she was certain drugs wouldn't bring her out of. She had been there ever since her nervous breakdown. Nothing could cheer her up, at least it hadn't so far. She had no reason to be happy, after all. Her mom was living with a drug dealer who treated her like absolute dirt, the adults were acting like children, and, as usual, the child had been tasked to take on the responsibilities that should have belonged to the adults. She appreciated the freedom adults who can't take care of themselves gave her, but she also liked knowing the bills were going to be paid and that she was going to be able to go to sleep without being raped or shot while sleeping.

"So much for creature comforts," she thought to herself.

It really was difficult to be dutiful daughter taking care of everything when people doubted you could take care of yourself. They were the stupid ones, though, at least Michelle thought so. They relied on her and then couldn't even admit it.

"...and you'll get free college; you'll get to choose your job..." the recruiter kept explaining.

The way they kept pushing the armed forces as this Disney vacation, as this experience, totally unsettled her. She wasn't some dumb kid. She had enough experience to know when people were just playing with her, and she didn't like it.

"People are dying out there; innocent women and children are getting blown up. Why doesn't he mention that?" Michelle thought

"...yep, a full-ride scholarship, and it doesn't matter what your grades were in high school." The recruiter continued to explain.

"But it's the way of the world; they lie to you to get what they want, and then you find out the truth when it's too late," Michelle thought.

She was grateful for the accommodations, though. A warm hotel room was a lot better than a house where the utility bills frequently went unpaid, and she was thankful to be able to get a warm shower for the first time in a week. She preferred to stay in her room, though. She might have been surrounded by people of a similar age with similar goals, but she knew to keep her distance. She did pick up enough useful information from listening to conversations, though.

"Don't sign up for the reserves; it's very dangerous right now. We're transferring to the regular army. They're using the reserves as expendables," a fellow recruit explained. "That's where most of these road side bombings and serious injuries are happening."

"Thanks for the tip," Michelle thought as her confidence turned to fear.

They would be taking their physicals in the morning. She hoped it wouldn't be too much of an ordeal. At this point, all she wanted to do was get away.

The physicals were more involved than she expected. There were long lines and rude nurses. One particular part of the physical especially perturbed her. She was told to undress and do some cardio work outs. She would have been okay with this had it only been the nurses and medical staff, but she would need to do this in front of a whole group of other recruits. Michelle had always been a little self-conscious and was not willing to undress in front of that many people. She flatly refused.

The nurse directed her to another office where she was directed to speak to another officer.

The officer seemed kind and understanding. He wrote something down on a piece of paper, and, that was it. She found out later that she had failed the physical due to noncompliance. That was disappointing. She would have a chance to re-take it in a few weeks.

Michelle sighed to herself. In what world was any of this fair?