You forgot to lock to door.
You’ve come downstairs to my room three times a day for 5,475 days but this time...you forgot to lock the door. I wonder what must have been going through your mind. I’ll bet you were stressed from work, distracted by the events of your busy life. The sound of your boots stomping up to the main level gradually decreased in volume as I pressed my ear to the door to listen.
There was a distant sound of keys dangling. I know you hook your keys onto your belt when you’re leaving for the day. I knew these sounds well from my room in the basement. I could hear everything that you do as you stomp around on my ceiling. I heard you swing the keys in your hand and then I heard a door close. A car door closed and then the engine started. The wheels squealed as it backed out of the driveway. A horn sounded, loud and aggressive. I drew into myself as protection.
I gripped the doorknob. The doorknob that you had smashed my head against when you found out that I was saving food under my bed. The doorknob that, when I saw turning, sent traces of bile into my throat. The doorknob that might as well have been molded to fit the palm of my hand from how long I’ve clutched it, praying for freedom. I gripped the doorknob and pushed.
And then silence. Silence that was so deafening I almost had to cover my ears. I looked up from the doorway at the bottom of the staircase that I was dragged down fifteen years ago.
“Here’s your room, darlin’,” You had said. “I hope you feel real comfy here.” You winked at me. I remember because I thought it was the most disgusting thing I had ever seen. If only I knew what would be in store for me in this room.
I haven’t touched that staircase since that day and it seems like you haven’t either. A little cleaning here and there wouldn’t kill you.
This was my chance. You were gone and the door was open. I took one tentative step towards freedom and then I stopped. What if this was a trap? What if you were testing me. You’ve tested me before. That time you had guests over and told me you weren’t going to tie me down because you trusted me, you were testing my loyalty to you. When you left for three days and didn’t give me any food and water, you were testing my love for you, sure that I would push myself and stay alive for you. That time you put a child inside of me and then took it away just as painfully. I’m not actually sure what kind of test that was but I passed it too. I’ve passed every test so far. But what about this one? Would I survive this test?
You forgot to lock the door, you took your keys, closed the front door and drove off in your car. If I didn’t take this risk now, I would never forgive myself. I took another step forward on the staircase then bolted up to the top.
At the top of the stairs I looked quickly in both directions. I don’t know much about the layout of your house. My room is directly underneath the front door and what I assume is the living room, based on foot patterns and muffled talk show host voices I’ve heard.
To my right was a room that looked like a kitchen. God, I’m starving. You only gave me a piece of burnt toast today for breakfast. I thought you would’ve been in a better mood this morning considering what you did to me last night. My hand rested on my emaciated waist. What if I just took a quick peek in the refrigerator?
Just as I turned my foot to the right, another car horn screeched from outside. Nearly jumping out of my skin, I ran in the opposite direction and crashed directly into the front door. Not hesitating any longer, I threw open the door and stepped into the light.
I don’t remember the sun being so damn bright! I felt like my eyes were burning in their sockets. The heat on my bare shoulders was painful but welcoming. The air smelled like trees and flowers and car engine exhaust. I took the biggest waft in through my nostrils and choked back tears of relief. I was free.
Looking around, I started to panic. I had no idea where I was. I didn’t recognize anything about this neighborhood. All the houses looked exactly the same, as if they were copied and pasted from the same template over and over again. I stumbled away from your house and into the street, determined now to find my way home.
Just as I took a step, a car the size of an army tank came barreling toward me. I don’t know which was louder, my scream or the sound of the brakes coming to a screeching halt.
Panic overtook my body. I withdrew into my protection position, curling my body into a tight little ball, holding my arms around myself. Making myself as small as possible so that no one could hurt me. I rocked back and forth on the floor in front of the monster vehicle, crying, voices in my head saying: It’ll be over soon. It’ll be over soon.
Above me, a woman’s voice cut through the chaos.
“Sweetie, what are you doin’ in the middle of the street?” Her southern drawl only amplified her concerned tone. I looked up at her and she gasped.
“Help.” I managed to mutter before my eyes started to flutter and the darkness took over.
The light pierced through my eyelids before I even opened them. Beeps and buzzes were sounding all around me. Feet pacing, papers shuffling, I peeked one eye open to see what was in store for me.
Everywhere people in white coats or colorful outfits. Talking to each other, talking to people in beds, typing on computers. This was a hospital. I remember the hospital. My mom took me here once when I fell out of a tree in the fourth grade. Broke my arm in two places. The hospital people took care of me. They will take care of me again.
I opened my other eye and looked around more thoroughly.
“Oh my, you’re awake! Look at you!” The lady from the car squealed. I shrunk back into my bed to protect myself from the loudness of her voice.
She noticed. “Sorry, honey,” She whispered this time. “I was just so darn worried about you. The doctors have you all cleaned up and you’ll be better before you know it.” She reached out her hand to touch my shoulder. I shrunk even more, willing myself to be made part of the bed itself. She pulled her hand back quickly, a worried look plastered onto her older face.
A man in a white coat entered the room. He was tall, bald and black. He smiled at me. He had the kindest eyes and whitest teeth I’d ever seen.
“Hello, my name is Dr. Kevin,” he announced. “Can you tell me your name?”
I opened my mouth. Then I closed it. I couldn’t remember my name. You only called me darlin’. Is that my name? I squeezed my eyes shut tight.
“Ok, don’t worry about that now. We’re gonna get you all fixed up. But before we do,” I heard footsteps enter the room. Boot steps. “There’s a police officer here that just has a few questions to ask you.” Keys dangling from a belt loop.
“We’ll give you two a minute,” I heard Dr. Kevin whisper and then the sounds of him and the worried lady leaving the room. Door closed.
You didn’t forget the lock this time.