I haven’t been out in the sun for years. I can’t. So I stay inside all day, writing and reading with the AC turned up to max setting. The AC feels better than the sun anyway. The sun hurts us. Skin cancer and sunburns, global warming. That’s what Murray says. Murray knows everything about everything. About the world. About boys and friends. About the sun. I wouldn’t have known that I was allergic to the sun, even, if Murray hadn’t told me. That’s how much he knows. I flip through the channels on the television. It’s all mostly lies. News and propaganda. Murray tells me never to trust the news. Or the government. That he would handle everything. Murray looks out for me. I look at the clock on the wall. 3:46, it reads. Shoot. I should’ve started on my cursive lessons 16 minutes ago. Look where the TV got me. Nowhere. I dutifully pull out my cursive book and start on it. Murray tells me to always finish the whole lesson. He used to work at a school, so I know he knows what he's talking about. Tick tick tick. I scratch out answer after answer on the page, all the while listening to the ticking of the clock. Tickety Tockety Tick. Without realizing, I stop, and find myself listening to the clock. It’s rather beautiful, in a strange way, the same way collectors find a perfectly organized binder of baseball cards beautiful. I'm so mesmerized by the sound of the clock, that I don’t notice him.
“Why’d you stop? I told you to finish your homework. The whole thing.” I look over my shoulder to see Murray. His glaring eyes rest comfortably on his bristly mustache. “Why are you looking at me like that Jules? You know the rules.” My face flushes a deep crimson. Please don’t, please don’t, I think to myself. I turn back to my work. I don’t want him mad at me. “Don’t let me catch you doing that again.” I hear him say as he walks away. Why can’t I make him happy?
I used to constantly pester Murray about what happened to Mom. I now know not to do that. But I think she died. It would make sense. I haven’t seen her since I was 7. But I sometimes secretly wish that she wasn’t dead. That she would come back. I miss her.
I think about the sun, a lot. More than I should, really. Why think about something that you’re not allowed to have? But I still make the active choice to read about it online, to write poetry about it. I’ve covered whole notebooks in drawings of it. I’ve worn down countless Goldenrod Crayola crayons to color my drawings of it in. I personally don’t get our obsession, as humans, with the moon. What mystery and allure lies in a rock in space we know so much about already? But the sun, with it’s fiery, aggressive nature makes a much more interesting study. The sun makes me feel alive. Too bad it’d kill me if I went out in it.
Murray has me write a research paper for my home school end of year project. Anything I want, he says. So I write about the sun. About the incentive that there is for NASA to consider travel to it. About the mythology surrounding it. He shreds in his paper eater and tells me to rewrite it. This time about ancient Greece. So I write about Apollo's impact on the ancient Greeks. I am awarded not with an A, but with a slap in the face.
“What the hell kind of attitude is this? I raise you in a good home, with a roof over your head, and this is how you repay me?” His eyes narrow to dangerous slits. I instinctively back off. “What the hell are you backing off for, girl? Do you think I’m hurting you? Are you that ungrateful?” A traitorous tear slides down my face. My heartbeat quickens to that of a hunted deer. A few more tears roll down my cheeks, stinging the angry red mark from his hand on the way down. “Go. To your room. Now.” I do not hesitate. I rush down the hall to my room and hide behind the closed door. I don’t have a lock on the door, so I press my body weight up against it instead. I wouldn’t be allowed to lock it even if I had one. I wait til I hear the sound of angry footsteps heading towards the front door. I wait til I hear the sound of the lock click and hear the engine start. I only breathe again when I hear the sound of the car tearing out of the driveway. Gone. I feel my body untense slightly. I still wait a little, to ensure that he wouldn’t be turning the car right back around again. Slowly, I pry myself off the wood of the door and start to pace the length of the tiny room. I find that pacing only makes me feel more sick, so I decide to sit on the bed. A hazy film of sunlight comes through the curtained window above my bed. Soft and warm. I hold it in my fingers. Just a bit, I tell myself. No more. It has been like this for years. An exhausting game of keep away. I let myself have a little, then no more. But he isn’t around right now. He wouldn’t be for hours. I let myself have a little more. I start to peel back the heavy drapes, start to feel the sun on my pale skin. I pull them open all the way in a final swoosh of the thick fabric and look out in awe. A crisp, velvet like blue sky holds the sun comfortably in place. Like the holding case of a family heirloom. Passed down through generations. The crown jewel of the world. I carefully, slowly, pry open the window. I feel a slight tingling sensation on my skin as the full force of the sun hits me. I finally see a clear image of the thing that I’ve seen only in brief glimpses through windows and online. I finally feel the thing only felt before in the form of a crayon drawing. The one thing I’ve ever really wanted in life, almost within reach. I stretch one foot over the window frame, then the other. I leave the window open. I’ll be long gone before he comes back. I realize, with an excited shudder, that I may not see him again. With the warmth and power of the sun on my back, I find the strength to do something that I have always dreamed of doing. I walk away.
I sit in the cozy plush room that my therapist, Ms. Flores holds our sessions in. We hold light conversation, sipping from cups of chamomile tea. We talk about my mother. I tell her about what I learned about her through my investigation. That she wasn’t six feet underground as I thought, but instead working at a Freshmart grocery store with a new family. It was the worst feeling in the world, sitting on her doormat, with my hand raised to her front door. I worried that she wouldn’t want to see me, that she left me all those these ago because of me. But as soon as I told her who I was, she pulled me into a tight hug. Tears streamed down our faces as we re-introduced ourselves to each other. Ms. Flores asks me again about how I’m holding up after the court trial. I tell her that it was exhausting, but worth it. That it was worth day after day of sitting in that stuffy, suffocating court house if it meant to get away from him. That I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t gone through with it. That I’d probably still be living with him. Then she asks me about the trauma. The hardest part about what I faced. I don’t mind answering. The world I lived in 10 years ago feels to me now like a completely different galaxy with a completely different sun. I look out the curtained window a moment to think. Little dust motes drift in the air, made into faeries from the soft glow of the sun. I smile a little vacantly, maybe even too vacantly as I notice my therapist has a worried expression on her face. Then I say,
“I think it was the sun.”