| Greg opened his eyes as the digital alarm clock on his nightstand rang out the notes of The Devil Went Down To Georgia. The radio station played the same songs every morning and Greg did not care for any of them. April to October, he always fell asleep to the broadcast of the Red Sox game and woke up to the uninspiring AM fare offered by the station. It was still summer, but he got up to the six o'clock chiming anyways. It was best to be up before Her.
As his eyes focused against the early morning light filtering in through the blinded windows, he became aware of the pain in his head; in his arms; his back. Last night was one of those long drawn out fight nights with his mother. Another battle he had no chance of winning and even less of avoiding.
A few tears of self-pity flooded, unheeded, down his puerile face. He was only ten years old and felt his situation was hopeless. Nobody could save him from Her madness. Nobody would even listen. Those who tried ended up confronting her and She just turned on her charming personality and they ceased to believe him. Either that or they were too intimidated to pursue it further. The real pain would come when they were no longer a threat to Her.
Greg rolled his skinny body over and turned the radio off as he tried to remember the past night's beating. His mind was only able to recover bits and pieces. As usual in these times, it fled to his quiet place as the blows landed down and the even more painful words were hurled at him.
The night before, the argument started, despite sequestering himself in his room as soon as he got home from swimming practice. He dawdled on the walk home and She wanted to know "where the fuck you were when I was home with a migraine waiting for one of my ungrateful children to take care of me...". Her screaming belied the migraine fantasy. Her "special fruit punch" breath told him that her alcohol was mixed with the Demerol and valium tablets from her "pill drawer". A combination that usually meant some kind of hell for her children.
His stepfather, a weak man under the total control of his wife, actually choked him. He felt at his throat as the memory brought back the fear. He swallowed and felt the tight pain of the bruised trachea. His stepfather was usually the calming factor that kept Greg's mother from killing him and his sisters. Now, he knew he could never count on that again.
Greg rolled over again and let the momentum carry him off the bed and onto the floor. He tried to use his legs, but they failed him. Another horrific memory returned to his mind of his mother wielding the "Board Of Education".
A two-by-four about three feet in length, it was ornamented with pretty designs painted by Her during a brief period of artistic fancy that emulated from an instructor that She had designs on sleeping with until he rejected her completely. In bold black letters across the length of it were the dreaded letters "Board Of Education". A play on words (if play can even be used to describe such a device), the education it dealt out had nothing to do with the local school. It was a weapon to be wielded against her children's bodies and minds.
He rubbed his back and legs, testing for overly tender spots that might mean broken bones. He was satisfied that none were seriously damaged, but that didn't make the pain lessen. His black and blue arms were sore, but he didn't mind. They only hurt because he used them to deflect blows aimed at his head.
He saw the trail of red drops leading to the bathroom just outside his bedroom door and followed it, elbows dragging his lower body behind them. He knew the blood to be his and he would have to clean it up before She awoke and went into a rage over it. He did not have the energy to face her wrath again.
As he started running the water in the claw-footed tub, his younger sister, Lisa, opened the bathroom's other door and stared at him.
"Do you need to use the bathroom?" he asked her in between gasps of pain.
"No. Last night I was so scared. While I was hiding I peed myself," she said as tears of embarrassment rolled down her cheeks. Greg looked down and saw the stain on her pajama bottoms and felt immediate sympathy for her.
Greg was glad that she was spared the anger of their mother the night before. Lisa was usually a target like him, mostly because they looked just like their biological father. He warned her to hide as soon as he got home, because he could feel the palpable tension that usually signified a night of torturous questioning and beating.
"You'd better get in this tub and clean up before she wakes and sees. You know what will happen if she does," he asserted, putting a firm tone in his voice so that she would know he was serious. It was unnecessary; Lisa, at six, was wise to their mother's ways.
She obediently took off her clothes and crawled into the tub. Greg picked up the damning evidence of her fright and tossed them in the tub with her.
"Wash them good and then throw them in the dryer. Make sure you get them out before she notices."
"I will. Greg?" she called his name very gently.
"Are you ok?" her voice trembled and tears pooled in her eyes.
"I'm fine," he answered as if trying to convince himself as well as his young sister. "Just hurry up so I can clean the blood off of my head. I'm going to wash the floors while you're in there."
After cleaning up both the floors and his body, Greg returned to his room, feeling restored from the tub's water. He went to his secret hiding spot and removed three candy bars that he hid there a few days ago. He chomped on them even though it made his stomach queasy with nervousness. Candy was a weapon he used against his diabetic body to spite his mother, but he did not realize this at the time. He only knew it wasn't allowed to him and it tasted so good. He would need to trick his mother and stepfather when they watched him take his blood test. The punishment for "cheating" was cold and cruel and he almost died the last time.
Last Halloween, he managed to get his hands on his sister's candy and indulged to the point of serious danger. He hid the wrappers behind a loose wood panel in the wall. That panel broke and his deception was discovered by his stepfather.
Greg was force-fed a pan of brownies and a bag of Mallo cups until his sugar was so high he started to vomit and eventually fell into a diabetic coma. He woke in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital days later, left alone with the maniacal screams and ramblings of his ward mates. He was committed as suicidal and self-destructive. He couldn't tell the doctors the truth for fear of repercussions when he returned home. So, he just went to his quiet place while they talked and they assumed this to mean he had withdrawn into depression. He let them think what they wanted, as long as they never guessed the truth. Thirty days later, everything was back to the same, only now they watched him take his blood sugar tests. He regularly longed for the solitude of those thirty days. A month with no one to bear witness to his true pain and helplessness.
As he consumed the last of the candy, he heard a stirring on the stairs above his room and panic surged through him. His mother was up and she was going to be looking for him. He looked at the clock and saw it was nearly eleven. How did he lose track of so much time?
He hurried to the front door and was just turning the knob when he was stopped short by a voice.
"Where are you going?" his older sister Karen barked. She always liked to act the adult and for a moment her deepened tone did fool him into thinking he was being called out by Her again. His pained body started quaking with no control of its own. His mind clouded over with the fear of not making it out in time. By the time he realized his error, energy was sapped from him and he nearly fell over.
"You scared the heck outta me! What biz is it of yours where I go?" he retorted a little more harsh than he intended.
"I just wanted to come with you. I don't wanna be here when she wakes up either. She got me after you went to bed last night you know," she said.
Greg looked at her closer and saw the two black eyes she was sporting on either side of a now crooked nose that was perfectly straight yesterday afternoon.
"What did you do?" he asked.
"I went out with Robin across the street," she said in a cool voice. Robin was once her best friend, but circumstances caused byHer drifted them apart. She started a fight, as she always did with neighbors to keep them away from the goings on in the house. Now Robin's parents were scared. They installed a new fire alarm system fearing arson from Greg's mother and asked the police to make regular drive-bys.
"Well that was kinda stupid. You know how she feels about them," he scolded.
"Yeah, well, she has made all my friends not want to hang out with me so what am I supposed to do? Be like you and lock myself away in my bedroom with a book?"
"Ok, ok let's go now. I don't know where I'm going, just away from here."
"I wanna go too," Lisa's voice drifted to them in a whisper. Greg looked at her and saw she was dressed and ready to leave.
"Did you guys do all your chores?" Greg asked. It was a paramount mistake to leave without doing their assigned tasks.
"I'm done," Karen answered.
"Me too," shy Lisa looked down as she said it.
"Then let’s go. I think I heard her waking up," he emphatically gestured to the door. They went out into the unknown day, hoping their mother would be sedated and passed out when they returned.
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