Trigger warning: abuse
I’ve played this game many times before.
It goes like this:
If the teacher asks me about my day I will tell her the truth.
But I lie.
If she notices the bruise under my chin I will tell her how I got it.
I lie again.
If I make a friend who likes me and will stick by me, I will confide in her or him that my home life isn't as it should be.
His name is Noah and we always hang out at the mall or his house.
If my PE teacher notices my limp, I will tell him how I got it.
I chickened out and went to the nurse's office, telling her I had a headache.
If my dad calls and asks why my voice is all stuffy-sounding, I’ll tell him.
"I watched a sad movie, papi. I'll recommend it to you."
If, if, if.
I ask myself, imagining how it’ll go.
Knowing what they would say, what they would ask. I have the answers prepared. The right answers. The answers that will keep me safe. That will rescue me.
If they ask, 'Melissa, why is your lip busted?'
I’ll say; My mom is sick. Sometimes, she forgets that she loves me and she hurts me. It’s not her fault but she needs help.
If they ask; Melissa, why are you walking weird?
I’ll say; There was broken glass on the stairs, I tried to skip a few but ended up slipping on the beer.
If they ask; Melissa, why does your homework smell of beer?
I’ll say; My mom falls asleep on the counter after her fifth drink. Sometimes no matter how many times I clean it, the smell lingers.
I’ve researched programmed, rehab, places for me to go when they take care of my mom… I’ve practiced what I’ll say to my dad, or my step-mom if she’s the one that picks up my phone.
My dad would say; Hi sweetie, I was actually just about to call you! How have you been?
And I’ll say; Daddy, there are finger-print bruises on my arms. I can’t take care of mom alone anymore. I need help.
And he would say; Tell me everything.
And I would. And he would fix it. He will make sure my mom will end up in a good place where they will help her move past this. Help her realize that she isn’t an abusive parent. Just a sick mom.
Today was the day, I told myself. Instead of leaving my hair to hang in front of my face, I brushed it back. Instead of trying to cover up the bruises on my skin with makeup, I will treat them so they don’t get infected. I was going to put months of practice into today.
I’ve told myself that, at least. But staring straight at my desk, all I could think was… how could I be so stupid? I’ve tried this many times before.
In 6th grade.
“Hey!” said a classmate, “are you okay? You’ve been walking funny for a bit. Want me to take you to the nurse?”
Instead of saying the practiced line, I think about my mom. She cries herself to sleep at night and buys me chocolate bars because she feels bad when she hits me. Even if she didn't, she still thinks it's her.
“Oh, just cramps, you know. Being a girl sucks!”
In 7th grade.
“Sweetie,” my teachers says softly, “are you okay? I’ve noticed you haven’t been buying any lunch recently. Are you taking care of yourself?”
My mom spends all of her money from her job as the mini-mart manager on her needs. I can’t buy lunch.
“Oh, don’t worry about that!” I smile, clenching my fists “It’s just that I eat lunch with my mom when she comes back from her shift at work.”
“You’re not hungry?”
Yes. I am. Say that. I urge my body to say that.
“I’m good! Eating this early would be weird for me now, haha!”
In 8th grade.
“Gonzales, wait up, will you? I need to speak with you”, my gym teacher had called “Come to my office.”
I waved at my classmates to go ahead without me and jogged across the gym floor to his tiny office.
“Mr. Mendez? You wanted to see me?”
“It’s spring, Melissa. Why are you wearing long sleeves?”
“I get cold easily, sir.”
The lie slid off my tongue easily, too easily. Falling out of my mouth like old gum.
“It’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“Solid point, teach!”
His electric blue eyes searched my face as he says “A concerned classmate reported that as you changed some bruises were clear on your arms and back.”
That wasn’t my mom’s fault, not really. She pushed me and I fell, hitting the wall with my back. And the bruises were from when she tried to go outside dead drunk and I stopped her. Mom can’t regulate her strength when she’s drunk.
She doesn’t hit me to hurt me. She just can’t process how her actions were bruising me. In more ways than one.
If I tell him the truth now then he’ll think my mom is abusive. It would be the worst possible angle to portray her in.
“Oh, I bruise easily. I tripped and my back slammed into a doorknob.”
“And the bruises on your arms?”
Going forward I’m going to school in my gym clothes.
“I didn’t know I had any. Maybe she miss-saw?”
“That’s not a word. Ms. Gonzales.”
“You’re not my English teacher, Mr. Mendez!”
We share a laugh and I’m already inching out of the room. “Thanks for the concern! It’s good to know there are people like you looking out for me!”
With one last smile, I leave, jogging away to my lunch period.
In 9th grade- Now- I have left detention and have ade it home. Mom is sleeping, she doesn't know it but she whines and cries in her sleep.
I’ve procrastinated too long. My mom needs help even more than she did before. I was a coward. But standing here with my dad knocking on the door I didn’t want to open.
Could he smell the beer?
What can I say? Should I sneak out the back window and act like I was just heading back from a friend's house?
This would be the perfect time, wouldn’t it? For it to all come to light?
I should just open the door.
I’ve said all wrong things, told some many lies in the name of protecting my mom. In the name of ‘it’s not the right time’. I’ve thought out ways to tell people my truth but never did I say anything. Not anything that matters. Lies aren’t worth a penny.
Open the door.
The door- he’s been knocking on the door for a bit, the pattern is becoming erratic… I will just sneak out the window and pretend that I was coming from a friend's house…
"Open the door, Melissa" my mom ordered loudly from her room, slurring her words so it sounded more like 'opeh ze dooh'.
The door swings open, shoving me to the floor harshly. I was kneeling only a feet inches away.
It hurts, oh. My lips it's bleeding, not beaue of the door but because of how terribly I've been biting it.
“MELLIE? VANESSA?” My dad shouted, slipping through the door. I stared up at him from my spot on the floor, waiting to be seen.
My dad looked at me, “What’s going on?”.
I stare at him.
"What happened to your face?"
What can I even say now?
"A-are you crying?"
This wasn't supposed to happen like this.
I d-didn't prepare for this.
I didn't have a lie so I kept my lips shut, wiping my eyes roughly. Hoping the sting will startle my body into action.
"Talk to me," he pleads, "Or better yet, I'll talk to your mother-"
Clutching onto his sleeve, I shake my head.
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