A crash woke her. Her eyes opened, her body shot up in bed and she quickly scurried off the bed and over to her sister’s. Gently tapping her, she welcomed the risk of being punished by her sister, too afraid of the alternative. Another crash had her jolting, her small hands more desperately shaking her sister.
Awake now, she shoved me hard. Anger flashed across her face for a single moment until another crash wiped the look off her face. Grabbing onto my hand, she swung her feet to the floor, pulling me behind her as she slowly opened our bedroom door and peered into the hall.
The baby was crying, we noted. He must have woken up, the same noises that shook me from my dream pulling him out of his.
Her heart was beating so hard it was hurting her chest.
Every muscle was strained as she followed closely behind her sister through the dark hallway of their apartment. They poked their head into their mom’s room as they walked past it, looking at the bright silhouette on the empty bed. She so desperately wished her mom was in there, then they would be told to go back into their room where they would wait for her to come back.
She would open the door to their room with a smile and tell them it was nothing and to go back to bed.
But mom wasn’t there.
Her sister looked back at her, squeezing her hand. The gesture let her know she had been hoping for the very same thing. She had hoped their mom would be there and they would laugh this whole thing off tomorrow. They would go back to only playing with one another when mom forced them to.
Now, they clung to one another desperately.
As they reached the end of the hallway, another crash had them pausing before they peered around the corner. She could barely breathe as her sister pulled her the last step to see into their darkened living room.
Glass covered the floor, the window was broken and the night air lifted their dark brown curtains. They billowed, hiding the two people who struggled there.
Her hand was wrapped so tightly in her sister’s, but the panic in her heart kept her from feeling the pain. As the curtain dropped, they saw them. Their mom screamed as she was knocked to the floor, their father standing above her.
Her sister ran forward, her small fists banging into his back over and over as she yelled at him. She screamed for her mom who moaned for the ground, struggling to summon the strength she needed to get to her feet.
Fear crept inside her. She was paralyzed with it for a moment before she saw her sister slide across the floor, knocked back onto her butt. She started crying, crawling over to rest her cheek on their mom.
Before she knew what she was doing, she was running into the hallway of their apartment building. Her bare feet slid on the floor as she ran into the lobby and looked at the two uniformed men standing there. Stumbling down the steps, she looked at them.
Tears streamed down her cheeks as she tried to get enough air in her lungs. They turned to her, shock and worry on their faces as they looked at her. “Help us!” She sobbed.
One of the men scooped her up while the other ran down the hall towards the apartment she had come from. They knew them, saw them every day. They knew which apartment was theirs.
Inside the apartment, she saw her father pulled away into the kitchen while she was carried over to her sister. He scooped her sister up in his other arm and carried them to her baby brother’s room. Smiling at them, he sat them down and hushed their crying brother. “You guys stay right here. I will be right back for you.”
Her sister pulled their brother out of the crib. Sitting in the corner, they huddled together, waiting.
Every moment that passed felt like an eternity. She could see them in her mind, wrestling with one another as her mother screamed and her father hit her. Her heart splintered, and she sobbed, pushing her face into her sister’s shoulder.
She felt a piece of herself break away, fall to the floor and turn to dust. It was the first piece she ever lost, and she didn’t know yet, but it wouldn’t be the last.