The sounds of banging cabinets startle me awake before my alarm can go off. Rolling over to my side, I see I still have thirty minutes before I need to get up. I’d set my alarm a little earlier than I should have because I’m nervous about my first day. I’m going to a new school and have no idea what this one is going to be like. You never know what you’re going to get. Most of the time I can blend in and let myself get lost in the crowd of other students. No one notices me for the most part, but it doesn’t always work.
I should be used to changing schools by now. I think this is the fourth time I’ve moved in the past two years. The schools are starting to run together, but I hope this is the last. Only months separate me from graduation, and only days from my eighteenth birthday. I’ll be able to make my own choices then.
A sound of something shattering in the kitchen followed by a string of curses causes me to hold my breath. I can only hope he doesn’t call out my name. Monday mornings are the worst. Dad’s always coming off a weekend bender, because alcohol seems to be my father’s reason for living. It wasn’t always like this, but it is now.
Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, I slowly sit up and listen for his movements. Things have been getting unstable lately, and it’s only getting worse. Dad used to be able to drown his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle and pretend I didn’t exist. But recently his anger has been rising and flying my way. I’m constantly walking around on eggshells, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the look in his eyes, but I can see it. I can feel it deep inside me, like he’s waiting for me to do something wrong so he can strike out.
But I always make sure there isn’t a reason. I desperately don’t want that change to come. I’m a skittish rabbit in my own home. When I finally hear the front door slam closed, all my muscles release, and an all-too-familiar tension within me relaxes.
I pull myself from the bed and get ready for school. I go with a short button-up blue jean dress with wool leggings underneath. They’re soft and warm and will help with the chill on my mile-long walk to school. It’s early January, and the Minnesota winter is raging. The more layers I can put on, the better.
Looking in the mirror, I part my hair a little to the side so more falls to the right, before putting in a small clip to hold it in place. I make sure the scar by my ear is hidden as much as possible, then I look myself over, double-checking everything. The scar is all I ever see when I look in the mirror. It’s the bitter reminder of the day that changed my world. My mom might have died in the car, but she dragged my father with her into the grave. Nothing has been the same since that day.
Now when I look into the mirror, the scar isn’t the first thing I see. I see my mother. When I was unpacking boxes last night I pulled out a photo album of my parents when they were younger. I look just like her at my age. From my white-blonde hair, to my too-big blue eyes that take over my face, to my front teeth that are a little bigger than the rest, and my small upturned nose.
We almost look like twins in pictures of us at the same age. Reaching out, I touch the mirror, wishing it was my mother. But all the wishing in the world can’t turn back the clock. I spent the first year after she died wishing for so many things. Wishing gets you nowhere.
I wipe at the tear that’s somehow escaped. I miss when I looked in the mirror and I only saw the scar. It was easier to deal with. Grabbing my bag, I head downstairs knowing the mess my dad made will still be there.
Since my mom died I’ve sort of taken her place when it comes to the household chores. I make sure everything is kept clean, the laundry is done, and dinner is on the table before my dad gets home from whatever job he is doing. Normally it’s some kind of security since he lost his badge after one too many DWIs. I don’t know how he can drink all night and still get up for work, but he does it.
I finish cleaning up the shattered coffee mug from the floor and make sure everything else is in its place. I pull a pack of hamburger meat out of the freezer and sit it out on the stove to defrost. I’ll make something with it when I get home.
Bundling up the best I can, I pray that the weather won’t be too bad when school finally lets out. I need to see about finding a job on the weekends. Maybe I can fill out most of the applications online during lunch at the school library. I’ve seen a few small places in town that are on my way to school. I can see about popping in and applying on my way home. They’d be the best bet being so close. Maybe I’d get lucky and could even work a few hours after school, making it home before Dad.
Dad will never go for me working through the week if it means no dinner on the table, but the weekends he seems okay with. I’ve been pooling every penny I can and saving it away. I feel like time is running out and I need as much money as I can get to try and get a place of my own. I want to be able to afford college next year and to put a roof over my head. I have to get out of here. I can’t watch my father kill himself. I already watched my mother die.
My mom comes in my room asking me to help shovel the driveway so she can get her car out. I roll out of bed and manage a quick shower before throwing on some jeans and a long-sleeved henley. I grab my big winter boots and coat, and I go outside and see my dad working up a sweat. I don’t say anything, I just walk over and take the shovel from him and go back to the area where he was working.
“Thanks, Ren. I’ll make you something to eat.”
He pats me on the back, and I finish up as my mom is ready to leave for work. She’s an emergency room nurse who works what they call three-twelves. Three days of twelve-hour shifts, then off for four. She’s been doing it for almost twenty years, so I know even when she complains, she loves her job. My dad owns the hardware store in town, and everybody loves him. He’s the kind of man I hope to be one day, if I ever figure out how.
My mom backs out of the garage and stops in front of me to roll down her window.
“Dinner’s in the fridge, with a note on how long to cook it.” She turns her head to the side, and I try to fight a smile. “Knock your mom a kiss and get inside. It’s colder than your Grandma Grace.”
I lean in, giving her a kiss, and shake my head. “Grace died ten years ago.”