What they don’t tell you about being the child of a violent household is the vivid imagination you’re forced to develop. All the ways in which your mind draws pictures to fit with the sounds you hear just beyond your bedroom door.
Like the way the shower curtain must have hung bunched against the corner of the bathroom wall, at the point where the tile meets the painted wall. How it must have slumped inside the white porcelain bathtub, limp and incapable of providing much in the way of protection. How the square tiles must have gleamed under the yellow glare of the bathroom light that night.
You picture your mother pressed hard up against the farthest corner of the bathroom shower stall, trying and failing to merge the molecules of her body with those of the ceramic tiles. Was she standing with her head turned away and her shoulders up around her ears? Were her hands up to protect herself when she cried out your father’s name, infusing that one word with all of her desperate prayers for mercy? Were her eyes closed in an attempt to shield herself from the horror or were they fixed on the barrel of the gun that my father aimed in her direction?
It’s never been this bad before. This is something new. He’s ratcheted it up a notch, your father.
You know it’s bad by the tone of his voice and it’s only years later that you learn to assign a dictionary definition to that particular way his voice changes from angry to rage. You know, even in your child’s mind, that he’s not capable of rational thinking when that happens and it scares you into stillness. You picture your father’s body blocking the only exit out of that small space.
Suddenly, they’re not alone. You hear the voice of your brother, sixteen at the time, and you don’t think you’ve ever heard anything more courageous or dangerous in your young life. You picture him entering the smallest room in the house, injecting himself into the battle between your warring parents and you know a fear like you’ve never experienced before. That he would enter that room voluntarily is a form of crazy daring you can’t begin to make sense of and your breath stops.
Sitting on your bed in the dark, with your legs tucked up as tight as they will go, your forehead rests on your knees that are softened by the fabric of your flannel nightie and your arms wrap themselves around your shaking limbs like binding twine. You’ve braced your body, as best you can, for the impact of what must surely be coming. You breathe through your mouth and stretch with your ears to hear what you don’t want to hear rapidly unfolding on the other side of your bedroom door.
You hadn’t fully realized how far things had escalated until you hear your brother’s voice coming to you, soft and muzzy through the wall.
“Put the gun down, Dad.” And, your mind frantically scribbles him in, with swift, jerky lines, standing between his step-mother and his dad. You imagine him looking in your father’s eyes, unblinking, ignoring the gun barrel that waves like a matador’s red cape mere inches from his chest.
“Put the gun down.” He says. Calmly, firmly, with only the barest shake in his voice revealing the abject fear he must be gripping like the leash of a snarling dog in his clenched fist. He speaks like one addressing a madman and he surely is.