TRIGGER WARNING: A story of abuse.
Part two will be posted eventually.
“Emma, the nicest people are capable of the most evil things.”
Aunt Sarah said this to me when I was 8. She was braiding my hair at the back porch of our house in Indiana. The sun was warm, the birds were chirping, Mom was making us sandwiches and Dad was fixing his Cadillac. For all intents and purposes, it was the most normal day in world. It was the first and last day she started living with us. I was happy because I loved Aunt Sarah. Being an only child, she was the closest I had to a sister. I had asked and asked, as children do, why she decided to stay with us after all these years. Dad only told me a few years later, when I was old enough to know the hard truth.
Aunt Sarah went missing the next day. She said she had to do an errand, and that it would take some time. She said she had a surprise for me and that, when she would be back, we’d have some fun. I was excited to hang out with her, so I was practically bouncing by the door the entire day, hoping she’d buy me something and we’d talk about movies and books and happy things. There was a knock on the door at about 4:15 PM. I opened it excitedly and was shocked to find cops. Dad grabbed me and told me to stay upstairs. And I did, as children do. A few hours later, Dad knocked on my bedroom door and told me that Aunt Sarah went away and that they couldn’t find her. I told Dad she’d come back because she promised. He said not this time.
Mom was different after that. She didn’t talk much. She hardly left her room. So it didn’t come as a shock when she killed herself 2 years later. Dad and I stood by her coffin, hand in hand, clad in black. He took me for waffles after and decided it was time to tell me the truth. “You need to understand this, Ems. You’re young, but you’re smart. And I trust you. You’re mom wasn’t crazy, honey. She was sick. She was just sick.” Dad would tell himself that for years and years until he found his new wife, Cora. But sitting in that waffle house, listening to my father talk about my Aunt Sarah and my mom with such a blank, defensive tone, I thought he would never be happy again, that I’d lose him the same way I lost mom and Aunt Sarah.
You see, the reason Aunt Sarah started living with us was because of Tom. Tom was her boyfriend. I’d met him a couple of times. He’d always bought me candy and talk about his puppy Craig. His hair was pushed back and gelled like a teenager from the 50s, and he always smelled like dog shampoo. He always smiled at Aunt Sarah with his eyes all crinkled, and I remember thinking that I’ve never seem my dad look at my mom like that, and that he must really love her. What I didn’t know was when the doors were closed and no one was around, Tom would touch Aunt Sarah the way people who love each other shouldn’t. He knew exactly where to put the bruises so that no one would see. On her thighs, and her back, and her chest. She’d pull her hair and push her against the ground and take advantage of her even if she didn’t want to. She wouldn’t scream because she loved him. They’d take him away, and he was always sorry afterwards. He just got aggressive when he was angry. He just couldn’t control himself. He didn’t mean it. He would never do it again. But it went on for 5 years.
Until one day, my mom saw Aunt Sarah’s shirt ride up and saw the black and blue bruises on her lower back. Mom and Dad sat Aunt Sarah down and demanded she tell them what was going on. She told them how Tom would lash out, how he would hurt her. But she begged them not to tell anyone. As dad was telling me the story, the only indication of emotion I could see from him was how his fists were clenched, nails digging into his palm. He said he wanted to go over and kill Tom at that moment. He said he should have. He said he should have dragged him out of his house and had him beg for forgiveness. But he didn’t. Mom wouldn’t say anything. She just told Aunt Sarah to stay with us. It took weeks of coaxing before she agreed, and it was only because Tom started drinking again. And when Tom started drinking, he didn’t care where he hit her. He didn’t care if people would see the bruises. She stayed with us for him. She stayed with us because she didn’t want people to see what he did to her.
The day she “went missing”(and I only say that because every time I said she was dead, Mom would hit me and Dad would give me a lecture on hope and respect), she had gone to him. The police said that when they went to their house, the car was gone, the door was broken into, there was broken glass everywhere. They said there was some blood on the wall. They found Aunt Sarah’s shoe on the driveway.
Tom killed her. That was that. He probably called her and told her to meet him. He probably told her he wanted to apologize. She probably told him she was going to stay with us. He was probably drunk. He probably grabbed her hair and pulled her down to the ground. He probably hit her repeatedly. She probably tried to fight back. He probably dragged her around and kept hitting her until she started bleeding out of her mouth. She probably clawed on the ground and begged him to stop. He was probably too drunk to listen. She probably lost consciousness or bled out or suffered too much damage. He probably realized he went too far and started panicking. He probably put her in the trunk and drove away somewhere no one could find them.
She was right. The nicest people were capable of the most evil things. Mom blamed herself, dad said. She couldn’t take it. Her heart was broken, and the rot travelled all over her body, until she was hardly a person anymore. If they had told the cops earlier, Aunt Sarah would still be here. But they didn’t. And it killed mom. It broke my dad. It doomed me.