(This story is a follow up to "Broken")
My name is Peter Anderson, and I’m... broken. I’ve always wondered about my father because I never met him before. The only time I hear my mom talk about him is when he misses a child support payment. She cusses him up and down completely forgetting that I’m only eight years old. Kids shouldn’t hear those kinds of words. I know what you're thinking, what does an eight-year-old boy know about child support. Well, I know that if my mom doesn’t get it, she takes her anger out on me.
It’s not my fault.
I’m probably the only boy in Tucker County that has to wear long sleeve shirts in the summer. I don’t have many friends because I don’t talk a whole lot, and people think I’m strange. My mom tells people that I have psoriasis and that I get embarrassed if anyone sees the red blotches on my arms. That might almost be true if I did have psoriasis, but the truth is my arms are covered to hide all the bruises.
Sometimes I pretend that my father’s a superhero saving the world from evil monsters. Maybe he’s an astronaut in outer space, or maybe he’s a top-secret special agent on some important mission. When I think about him, my mind is flooded with thoughts of adventure and exciting possibilities. I wonder if he thinks about me.
I wonder if he will ever save me.
A few months ago, I saw a girl from my class get picked up by her dad. She jumped into his arms, and they both looked so happy to see each other. I remember feeling tears swell up in my eyes as I sat alone drawing one of my pictures. I love drawing, it helps me escape the reality of my situation, and in my world, no one can hurt me. I have to hide my drawings from my mom’s boyfriend Greg, because he hates them.
I’m afraid of him…
He always calls me a loser and puts me down. Mom won’t let him punch me because she’s afraid he’ll leave more than just bruises. When he gets mad I have to hide in my closet or underneath my bed. I know the boogie man likes to hide in these places but even he’s afraid of Greg. When he can’t find me, he takes his anger out on my mom. She always tells me that it doesn’t bother her, but sometimes I hear her crying at night.
This morning, I hear Greg leaving the apartment - probably to go drinking with his buddies. This is my golden opportunity to ask mom about my father. I run out of my bedroom and see mom sitting at the kitchen table listening to her favorite record from The Beatles. It would have been a happy scene to find a full plate of pancakes, but that’s a whimsical fantasy. The kitchen is always bare. I find mom sniffing white powder into her nose with a small white straw.
“What is that stuff, mom?”
Wiping the left-over residue from her nose, she says, “Don’t you worry about it. It’s just sugar. You know mommy loves her sugar.”
I sit down next to her at the table. I might be young but even I know she’s lying.
She always lies.
“Mom, what happened to my father?”
Her smile quickly fades, and I watch as hate fills her face. “You listen to me Peter, your dad was a very bad person. He cheated on me, he beat me, and one time before you were born, his sister stole all of my records.”
“But you have a bunch of records in the closet.”
“Don’t you mock me Peter!” she yells, pointing a shaky finger at me. “Your father’s an asshat, and that’s all you need to know.”
“Momma is that really true?”
“Peter Ray Anderson! Go to your room and get ready for school!”
I take a deep breath and run back to my room. I quickly grab my notepad and draw a picture of what I think my father would look like. A single tear falls onto the paper smearing the black ink. I wipe the tears away. My picture is ruined, so I crumple it up and throw it against the wall.
I need to catch the bus on time or I’ll miss out on breakfast. Most of my meals come from school, and I can’t let myself go hungry. Once in a while, mom might fix something for dinner, but Greg always gets the first plate, and there’s not much left for me to eat. I almost always go hungry when I close my eyes for sleep. I get dressed and notice mom is now smoking something. I can’t stand that smell, so I run out of the apartment as fast as I can.
I walk down the street and notice some strange guy pretending to read a newspaper across the road. He’s staring at me through thick black glasses. He kind of gives me the creeps, so I quicken my pace. Mason City is full of lowlifes, and kids like me need to watch our backs. I see the bus drive by me, sounding like a big locomotive.
Crap the bus is early! I start running as fast as my little legs can carry me, and I just barely make it.
The bus driver looks at me like I ruined his day. “Sit your ass down boy, I’m late for happy hour!”
I’m not sure what his name is, but he doesn’t like me very much. I remember one time he yelled at me for giving him a weird look. I couldn’t help myself, he looks like Homer Simpson. I slowly walk towards the back of the bus - all eyes on me - and sit by myself. The other kids call me names and throw things at me. I’m not sure why they do that.
I feel like running away.
I wish I could tell you that I find some happiness at school, but I’d be lying to you. When you're a quiet kid who sits in the back of class to avoid constant stares, the teachers don’t even notice you. Whenever my teacher asks a question sometimes I know the answer, but I don’t dare say anything because I’ll get picked on.
Everyone hates the smart kid.
When I get back to the apartment complex, I see that same strange man from earlier coming out of my apartment. He stops and gives me a reassuring smile, then gently pats my head. Without uttering a word, he marches past me and leaves.
Great, now he knows where I live!
I slowly open the door and find my mom reading over a thick stack of papers. She looks at me with tears in her eyes and throws the papers against the wall.
“Who was that man mom?”
She looks at me like she just saw a ghost. “He found us Peter! I don’t know how he did it. I thought I covered my tracks well enough, but after all these years he’s found us!”
“Who found us, what are you talking about?”
She walks over and punches me in the arm. The pain stings through my senses like a bee puncturing me with its stinger. I scream and run to my room.
Why is she always hurting me?
Later that evening I hear my mom and Greg arguing - I think the whole apartment complex can hear them. From what I can make out, my mom has to go to court for child custody. I’m not really sure what that means, but she sure is mad about it. I hear Greg smack her around complaining that she messed everything up.
I really hate him.
I hide in the closet as the screaming gets louder. They start throwing things, and my heart beats fast and heavy. I look down at my trembling hands and pray to God for someone to save me.
Anyone… please… save me.
A few minutes later, I hear a loud pounding at the door, Mom and Greg quickly quiet down and answer. I crack the bedroom door and see two police officers handcuffing Greg and my mom. One of them glances over and sees me peeking through. They walk towards me and I slide underneath my bed. I start biting my nails as I see his shiny black shoes walk across my bedroom floor.
His voice is soft and calming. “Peter… Peter please come out. We’re here to help you.”
Without thinking I utter, “How do I know you won’t hurt me?”
“We’re the good guys Peter. Please come out. Your father is waiting for you back at the station.”
Suddenly, shock races through my tiny little bones. My eyes widen, and nervous thoughts flood my mind. I don’t say anything. I can’t say anything.
Is this a dream?
The next thing I see is a hand reaching under the bed. I reluctantly grab it and crawl out from my sacred hiding place. The gentleman helps me to my feet and gasps as he sees my bruised arms. He pulls out a camera and starts taking pictures. He asks me to lift up my shirt and sees my entire black and blue torso complete with welt marks from Greg’s belt. I see a tear roll down his cheek.
Does he actually care?
The next thing I hear is my mom screaming for me, “I won’t let him take you Peter! I won’t let him have you!” I don’t think I’ve ever heard her speak with that kind of emotion before.
Later that evening…
We arrive at the police station, and my mind is racing at the thought of seeing my father. I wonder what he will look like. I wonder what he will sound like. I wonder…
The police officers take me into a room full of cookies, donuts, and fresh milk. They tell me to grab whatever I like, and I do. I scarf down the chocolate donut, and my taste buds scream in pure delight as I taste the creamy filling hidden inside. I’ve never tasted anything like it.
I hear Greg shouting outside the door, and I can’t help myself. I open the door and peek outside like a curious kitten.
Greg is pointing a finger at a man who looks just like me. Is that my father!?
“You stupid idiot! How dare you show your ugly face around here!” Greg yells.
I watch the man ball up his fists. “If you ever hurt MY SON again, I’ll KILL YOU!!” He swings his arm and punches Greg right in the face.
The police officer pulls the man back as Greg falls to the floor with a bloody nose. I hear one of the officers say, “I didn’t see a thing… just don’t do that again.”
I see my mom crying in a chair behind the police officers. The man turns to her and says, “I knew I’d find you eventually. How dare you take my son away from me like that!”
She looks up at him and screams, “You can’t have him! I won’t let you!”
The man shakes his head. “It’s up to the courts now, but with the evidence I have against you, I don’t think you have a chance in Hell, Lisa.”
I see them turn away from my mom and start walking towards me. I shut the door with a loud thud, and rush over to the table with the donuts. I hide my head behind the enormous stack of delicious goodness.
The door opens, and the police officer says, “Peter, I would like you to meet your father. Ben Anderson.”
I pop my head up from behind the donuts, and when my eyes meet his, he starts crying. The police officer stands back to give us a moment of privacy. Ben takes a knee as I walk over towards him. He is wearing a nice black suit and is smiling ear to ear. I take my time looking him over.
“Hi Peter… I’m your dad. I’ve always wanted to meet you.” He smiles and spreads his arms wide open.
I start crying and throw my arms around him. He picks me up and gives me the biggest hug I ever had in my life.
“I won’t let them hurt you anymore,” he says, putting me down and wiping the tears from my rosy red cheeks.
I’m shaking inside and out, but I manage to ask, “Father, where have you been all my life?”
He places his hand on my shoulder. “I think it’s time for you to know the truth. When you were born, your mother stole you away from me. She took you across state lines and I had to hire a private investigator to find you.”
Suddenly, I remember the strange man from earlier.
“I’m sorry it took so long to find you. I was making child support payments to your mother, but she used a fake address. My lawyer had the bright idea for me to stop paying the money, to see if she would respond to us, and she did.” He paused to smile, “She slipped up because when she turned me in for not paying, she wrote down her mailing address and we found her.”
“Why did she take me away from you?”
He stood up and spoke with a haunting realism, “She was using me to get money. She took advantage of my kindness and aspirations to be a father. She falsely accused me of beating her, and the cops kept me away from the hospital. After you were born she ran off with some guy that I never knew about. I never got to see you and let me tell you that you’re everything I dreamed you would be.”
I look over at the officer and even he has tears in his eyes. He must be telling me the truth... right?
He took a deep breath and continued, “I never stopped looking for you. I didn’t have much money to work with, so I couldn’t afford a good lawyer to take the case. I went back to school and managed to open a successful chain of pet stores throughout Pasadena, Maryland.”
I opened my eyes wide, “Is that where I come from?”
He gives me a warm smile, “Yes, it is Peter. Would you like to come and live with me?”
My mind fills with a sense of happiness and excitement. “YES!”
So… that’s how I met my father. He did save me, and I feel like my life changed overnight. There was a long court hearing and my mom lost all rights to me. I’m still not sure what that means, but it breaks my heart to know that she never wanted me in the first place. My heart broke further when I found out that Greg murdered her in a violent fight. She was my mother and I love her for that, but if I was with her, I might have been killed too.
My dad takes care of me, fixes me breakfast every morning, and never hurts me. He reads me stories every night before bed, and you know what? I never go to bed hungry anymore. My dad is so happy to spend time with me and he honestly enjoys it. He’s like the happiest guy in the world.
In my new school, I have a lot of friends who don’t make fun of me. My life feels like a dream. My father is my hero, but more than that - he is my best friend. I’m so blessed to have him in my life. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us... together.
My name is Peter Anderson, and I’m... not broken.
Daniel R. Hayes