They come to me in snippets. Every moment of that day, of that incident, flashes behind the lids of my closed eyes. I plaster a smile on my face in the hopes that my darling sister is always reassured that my battle to stay in the here and now was won many years ago.
I am fine. I have no more panic attacks; no more random moments of panic where nothing but pure fear of the past seeping into the future consumes me. The flashbacks stopped as soon as I stopped seeing my therapist years ago, I swear.
All of these unspoken words are communicated to a sister I would protect with my life, an aunt who worries about me, and a mother who doesn’t want to believe that her ongoing relationship with the man that caused all that trouble years ago is the reason behind any trauma I may--or “hopefully” may not--have experienced.
The memory of the events of that hour come to me in snippets. They’ve overshadowed my happiest moments for the past five years. Dinners with my family are always filled with laughter. When asked to grab another spoon for any guests who happen to join us, I opened a drawer and found a piece of the past I can’t seem to shake. My hand lingers on the handle of the drawer as my eyes gloss over the curved edges of the only spoon that doesn’t belong with the others. Smells of my comfort food are replaced with a damp, musky scent that used to permeate his whole house. Voices raised in their aggression ring in my ears. And then the images come in rapid succession: the meals I ate with the spoons in his house when we were merely happy visitors; the meals I ate with those same spoons when my mom, my sister and I moved in a year later; the spoon I used to eat my last meal in that house fifteen minutes before the incident.
The memories surrounding the incident are just as vivid as they were five years ago. One could almost believe that they’d happened yesterday. Every year without fail, an entire motion picture of snippets flood my brain on the 4th of February. Regardless of how distracted I am, I can still feel the ghost of a cool metal car door against my fingertips. I can see myself squeezing the last of my clothes into the already overflowing back of the car. I follow my sister’s gaze to the closed front door, where three inquisitive huskies stare unblinking through the glass, their tails deadly still. I exhale a shaky breath into the cold morning air, which fogs up immediately. I tell my sister not to worry; that I’ll go fetch mom and we can leave. I tell her not to follow me. My exposed shin brushes against the soft fur of my favourite for what I’d soon discover to be the last time before I take in what the husky sees through the glass. My hand immediately grasps the doorknob and I barge in without a second thought.
After five years, the memory of the aftermath is still more vivid than the incident itself. Snippets of comforting a crying sister in an empty classroom follow me on a daily basis. I can’t seem to shake the feeling of a strong resolve. I didn’t shed a single tear. Snippets of my first lesson of the day: sitting behind my desk in English, pretending the cracks in my heart weren’t spreading with every passing minute, worrying for my family without a thought for myself, receiving a message from my mother and immediately going into defence mode.
My heart is broken, Anna.
Mom, it’s okay. We’re gonna be okay. None of this is your fault. You were blinded by love. That isn’t a crime.
I shouldn’t have said that. I really shouldn’t have said that.
You just need to get through the day and we’ll be with you after 12. You aren’t alone mom. This isn’t like the divorce with dad. You have us this time. We aren’t little anymore. We can help you through it this time.
I’m worried about you, Anna.
You shouldn’t have to go through what you went through this morning.
You don’t have to worry about me.
I shouldn’t have said that. I really shouldn’t have said that. Because that was the moment when all of this started. That was the moment I’d chosen to take on a responsibility that I can’t afford to shake off; that I no longer want to shake off. Maybe if I’d let her be a mom, if I hadn’t told her not to worry about me and that flying blind in love isn’t a crime, I wouldn’t have had to suffer the consequences. She wouldn’t have announced her decision to rekindle the scattered ashes of a failed relationship with the man who forged the trauma contained in my daily snippets.
The aftermath is more vivid than the incident because I am still living through it. Five years have passed, but not a day goes by without me being reminded of that day. Every Saturday sees a mother leaving at six in the evening for an overnight stay at the house full of history and the man of my nightmares. Every Saturday sees a mother being hugged and sent off by one daughter while the other stays locked in her room to secretly regain control of her shaking body and lungs that refuse to let her breathe. While the mother can be seen having fun dates on Sundays, I wait anxiously by the phone with family emergency contacts and the police on speed dial in case history develops the sudden urge to repeat itself.
As for the incident itself, it only lasted ten minutes. Ten minutes were all it took to traumatise me past the point of psychological recovery. Ten minutes have been playing on repeat in my mind for the past five years. I fake a smile and hide behind a shield of humour to hide the fact that I’m stuck in the February of five years ago. I watch as my sister grows into the beautiful young adolescent she was destined to become. I gladly shoulder every burden and protect her from every danger as she does. As long as she remains unaffected and minimally tainted by what happened, I don’t mind not being able to change no matter how much I want to move on.
Besides, there’s only so much you can do to move on. There’s only so much therapy can do for me when the man whose acts of aggression made me like this still has his presence anchored into an aspect of my life: my fool of a mother who is so blinded by love that she will always see my smile and never the anguish hidden in my eyes.
The date today is 4 February 2020. The face of my watch currently reads 06: 05. Like clockwork, the memory of the next ten minutes from years ago comes to me in its usual, fragmented snippets:
The two of us waiting for mom to drop us off at school.
Mom coming into the lounge with the news that Marcus is kicking us out again and to quickly pack our stuff.
Lauren muttering that this isn’t the first time and won’t be the last.
The three of us packing the car.
Marcus watching us pack with an irritated expression.
Marcus snapping at mom to stop pouting and playing the victim; to just take her brats and leave.
The two of them disappearing into the house for a long time.
Lauren pointing out that something is wrong because of the usually hyper dogs being so still and focused.
Telling her to stay where she is while I go and fetch our mom.
Seeing his aggression through the glass door.
Rushing into the house and pushing him away from my mother.
Him channelling the full extent of his rage towards me.
Vulgar words spilling from his mouth as he towers over me.
My sister crying in the doorway for him to leave me alone just as his hands wrap around my throat.
My mom shattering an empty vase over his head to get him to release his tightening grip around my neck.
And the three of us hastily driving as far away from Marcus as possible with our mom’s false promises of protection and a better future.
Knowing that nothing would ever be the same again.