lime under his fingernails

by Lauren R., 17

You were twenty when you conceived me. You dropped out of college because he convinced you his job could support a baby. Within a month, you bought a flat and dedicated time to set up a new family. But before long, his job started a strike, and before long, the money ran out. Before long, you lost your house, and before long every penny made was wasted on his new legal age. People around you began to think that twenty-one was a synonym for intoxication, and that in a couple months you’d join in and do the same.

I was two when you lost your best friend because daddy’s hands were too tough on her gentle skin. I remember sometimes tasting the lime under his fingernails after he’d make you “a special drink.” Often after you’d leave the room to get the bedroom ready.

I was four when you were forced to have another baby. The government started paying you because of your mental instability. Now everyone shared a house and had their own rooms. And for a while, daddy was happy because he had a basement to rent out and get extra money from. But you never let me down there, to see what was going on, because you did not want me to see the people daddy worked with between dusk and dawn.

I was eight when daddy started to look forty. His ashy black stubble resembled all of his burnt cigarettes. His stomach—all pouchy—rumbled in distress from the shock of the doctors taking away his bottle opener. His habits caught up to him, and he prevailed with rage, barely even thirty and his state aged dramatically. Taking it out on you and me, the paleness of our skin was taken over by the hues of lilacs. That’s where you and I found comfort, so we stayed, decorating the wooden fence with flowers and stems. The garden we dug soon became our heaven, and your arms would stop trembling when you held it in your hands.

I was ten when I started to learn about freedom. The colors of the flag resembled all that we had fought for. But one thing I felt was missing. Would any of these issues still be lurking if we grew up around stability? I started to learn that good things only come from devastation, but no one learns from history or destruction. So the past repeats itself, and you and I continued lurking. Daddy is a dictator, but only he can keep us surviving. So you breathe, eat when you have to, and I keep an eye on our garden, and I watched as the wood crumbles around it.

I was twelve when I learned about running. I joined the track team to run away from dad. You supported me, and used every penny you saved for shoes. I would stay out longer, running with burning soles, trying to change my purpling skin back to natural pinkness. But dad soon found out, and you had to pay the price. Later on that day, the nurses tried to stitch up your leg and their faces were shadowed by demise. I started staying home again, insisting that I was at fault. One day you couldn’t stand watching me punish myself, so you forced me to revolt. Across the yard and over the garden, dad’s large footsteps stomped over heaven. But before he grabbed me, you hit him in the head with a slab of wood and the courage of a maternal hand. That was the first time ever my ears weren’t screaming; I heard the birds singing up and over the clouds and in the skies. The fence was behind me, but the cop cars were blowing their sirens, and dad’s bloody hand was able to reach out for mine. That’s the first time I’d ever seen him cry, and what a good act that was because you ended up paying the fine.

I was fourteen when dad started his own construction company. He took your government money to pay for his schooling. He soon had the permits to trap us all. But your baby boy never saw that. At ten years old, he started taking after dad. I never saw your eyes so blue as when you saw Oscar nailing us in with dad’s brainwashing and laws. Often he would try to put us to work, shoving saws and screwdrivers in our palms, and without any refusal, we’d still suffer from dad’s gloved hand. But, I would not stop working because I could look at the treeline. I know that hollow bones and lovely songs held the answers to our emancipation.

I was sixteen when I watched you walk up to me with your trembling hands. Your eyes were grey, and you said migrating like the birds meant nothing if you had to fly back north just to be stuck here again. So your hands went searching for my face as if they were trying to wipe away the pain, but all your efforts were wasted. I raised my fingers and traced your sunken collar bone down to your pale white forearm. From your elbow down to your wrist, our abrasions were still colored the same, except yours rolled down your arms now, covering you with wings. Your veins spewing off in all directions reminded me of the gentle breeze that would bring parts of the bird down to me. I knew you were escaping, so I wanted to grow them too.

At eighteen, my body started to speckle me with feathers. I was stuck on the ground but I understood your definition of freedom now. Being behind the fence became so much more bearable when my legs were long enough to jump, but my eyes could not look that high. My mind was as high as the trees, and Wyatt’s bulging belly was easier to fill. His obesity and diabetes kept him from hurting me. My wings were safe, but I still did not know how to fly. Don’t worry mommy, at least your baby boy made it out alive.

It wasn’t until I was twenty, with a baby, that I learned what craziness lies within me; my reliance on these wings to fly me back and forth. This numbness would always send me back north. But with my girl on the way, and Jacob by my side, we celebrate your funeral with unbruised eyes. I saw what these veins meant, fueling me with the blood that I need. I was old enough to escape, and never come back. So believing he is what’s best for me, I let go of my past.