by Fanged Smile
Sacrificing yourself does not always mean destroying yourself. 500 words.
When you grow up in Arizona, the odds are that nine-out-of-ten life altering events will take place in the heat. It’s like the state feels the need to literally burn events onto our memories. It was 105 degrees when my father threw me into a stone fireplace; 99 the morning he broke my mom’s shoulder; an even 100 the day my parents divorced; 105 when mom went to court with child-injury reports, and the temperature rose to 106 while the judge told her to stop conducting malicious behavior against her ex-husband. The judge and my father, it would turn out, were fishing buddies. Justice is blind to truth and attentive to charisma, and my dad’s smile was like the distracting light barb on a lantern fish- you watch it and overlook the killer.
It was raining the day I heard my mother crying in her bathroom. She was always so much like the desert in that she always showed a pretty, painted surface and rainfall tears were a rare occurrence that soon dried up as if they had never happened. Mom, just like my siblings and I, felt scared and trapped. The way a fox gets out of a trap is to chew its own paw off. That was me, the self-appointed paw.
I offered to stay with my dad full-time so my siblings would never have to visit again. My mom did not agree to this immediately, let that be known. There just wasn’t any other choice. The day my siblings gained their freedom the temperature was 107. The air stunk of scorched dirt, sweat, and exhaust fumes. The engine was all I could hear as it purred its heartbreaking goodbye and my mother’s minivan paused at the end of the street. My lips cracked from the heat and the forced smile I offered my mother's rearview mirror before the van became just another desert mirage.
Without the engine, I could hear a growling breath behind me, and turned to find its source. My father’s scowl was attached to the two punches hanging at his waist, waiting to be thrown. He spun on his heel, crushed a pebble into dust against the concrete driveway, and stomped into the house. The door slammed behind him, echoed by a primal scream. The yell was like the gunshot at the start of a race. Every bit of panic and childish desperation within my ten year old body erupted, consumed me, and cried out. I bolted. My heart-print Payless sneakers smacked the earth as my legs pumped to the rhythm of my pounding heart.
Yet, within the moment of realizing I could never catch the van, I found a sense of hope. Pain, after all, is just another sensation. Accept it and it’s not so bad. The fox paw does not have to wither and die, just like stories don’t always have to end with ‘Happily ever after.’ Hope doesn’t come with a prince and a ball gown; it comes from within each person.