It always starts the same way.
It's Christmas time. My younger sister, Sarah and I are outside making a snowman in the dark, amidst the snow falling. It's quiet on our street, the only thing we can hear is the occasional car passing by, and our neighbor's Christmas party next door. The cold is biting at our fingers, but we don't mind.
We are enjoying the serenity of this moment. After the last few weeks, in which our parents were constantly fighting, the peacefulness is relaxing. I glance over at Sarah, and can see under her scarf, she is smiling and enjoying this too.
We finish making the snowman, placing his head on his body and clothing him with one of dad's scarves. Dad is hardly ever around, and probably wouldn't mind, I reassure Sarah.
Dad, I reflect, has been so cold and distant recently. What happened to the kind man who used to take Sarah and I to get ice-cream after school? And what happened to those nights where mom, dad, Sarah and I would stay up in the tree-house all night telling ghost stories? Everything had been so different since dad lost his job. Now most nights, he wouldn't come home. If he did, he would yell and terrorize my mother, Sarah and I, until he would pass out in a drunken stupor. Sometimes during these nights, I sneak by my parents room and I can hear the gut-wrenching sound of my mother's sobs.
Sarah, I tell my sister. Things will get better between mom and dad, I promise. Remember, whatever dad says and does, mom and I love you very much.
Sarah and I hug for what seems like an eternity. Holding my younger sister in my arms, I forget about all of the problems around me. Instead, I am so moved by her unconditional love, that I begin to cry.
The sound of my mother's voice across our garden breaks the moment.
Kate, Sarah come inside please!, my mother calls.
Composing myself, Sarah and I hurry indoors. Once upon a time, our house used to be warm, comfortable and inviting, but now is barren, empty and cold.
Despite our circumstances, our mother has set up a small Christmas tree in our living room by our fireplace, and has prepared a small meal for our Christmas dinner. It isn't much, the tree has lost most of its limbs already and the meal looks like it could be bread and cheese, but I don't care and neither does Sarah. Her eyes dart to the few packages beneath the tree, things my mother has already told me, will be gifts she could find at the discount store.
We grab a plate to eat, and sit by the fire in our fireplace to stay warm. My mother, Sarah and I are laughing, having fun opening Christmas presents, telling stories. In this moment, I've never felt closer to both of them.
The sound of the front door crashing to the floor with a bang surprises my mother, Sarah and I. Sarah screams as my mother rushes to investigate. I grab Sarah, but I am frozen with fear as I hear my dad yell and hit my mother. He is drunkenly cursing her, while punching her.
The last words I hear from my mother, before she is unresponsive, are, RUN SARAH! RUN KATE! RUN!