As a child, I didn’t grow up reading fairy tales. The stories of Cinderella losing her glass slipper and the princess detecting the pea under her mattress… they never posed any interest to me. I couldn’t relate to them. Their worlds were all the same, a perfect blend of beautiful sky blue wonder and scarlet red conflict. But even amidst the conflict, you know everything will be okay-- because it’s a fairy tale. It has to work out in the end because that’s how it always goes. In the end, every character gets their happily ever after.
I can’t relate to those characters because my life has no blue in it. All my life consists of is bright red conflict, a begrudgingly endless cycle of arguments, frustration and regret. On the rare occasion that there could be a glimpse of blue in my life, it only shows as a mild purple, the blue too shadowed by the glaring intensity of the red to take its full effect.
The purple never lasts very long.
Instead of reading fairy tales, I grew up singing. I sang to keep the small amount of blue in my life. It kept the purple around a little bit longer, but the red always made its inevitable return.
All the same, singing provides me with a bit of temporary relief. It’s an escape route from my mother’s words, from my father’s drinking, from the bruises on my arms that return just as soon as they disappear.
When I sing, it feels like I’m flying. My feet don’t touch the ground until the vicious pounding on my bedroom door arrives. When I sing, I close my eyes. It helps me envision that I’m not in the place where I really am, that I’m not living my worst nightmare.
But as much as I try to believe otherwise, I’m always sullenly brought back to the ground with the fact that it’s only an illusion.
Right now all I can hear are voices yelling curse words, a slap, a bottle breaking. The conflict is red-hot and I can do nothing but listen to it through the thin, papery walls. There’s no blue, only violent and ferocious flames of anger, burning down what very little there is left of my family.
“Are you awake?” My sister’s small voice trickles out from the corner of the room, barely audible amidst the chaos ensuing below us.
“Yes Ella. I’m here.” I slowly sit up, waiting for my sister to make her way from her bed and into my arms, the same routine we’ve repeated every sleepless night. As she climbs into my bed, she breathes a small sigh. It whistles slightly as it escapes her lips.
“When do you think they’re going to stop?” She’s asked this question countless times before and speaks it with tranquility. She knows the answer.
“I don’t know,” I reply.
They didn’t stop until long after I closed my eyes.
The next night was the same. So was the night after that.
By the fourth night, the conflict had dulled to the color of rust. It had become too redundant to still have that sharp scarlet red it had taken in the beginning. But just because the color was different didn’t mean that it wasn’t hard to fall asleep every night.
On the fifth night it got so bad that my father broke the small TV in the corner of the room by pushing my mother into it. Her back is still covered in blistering red scratches, weeks from healing. Miniscule shards of broken glass still remain pressed into the dirty grey carpet, too small to notice.
But on the sixth night, my father didn’t come home.
Ella and I weren’t sure of when our father was going to return. All we knew was that it was much easier to fall asleep without having to listen to his drunken yelling.
The bruises on my arms soon disappeared, and thankfully they didn’t return.
I tried to take care of my mother as best I could, but it was hard. On occasion, she wouldn’t even acknowledge a question I asked her. She would just continue staring at the cigarette in her hand, too exhausted to move.
Every day seemed like a burden for her. Another tireless task of getting out of bed, eating, walking, living.
Her gaze towards Ella and I had turned cold. Even colder than usual. Every time she looked at either of us she would scowl and quickly glance away.
That night as I passed my mother in the hallway, I noticed that the circles under her eyes seemed especially heavy-- more so than usual. I could tell that the liquor and cigarettes hadn’t been treating her well… she never seemed happy anymore. Then again, she hasn’t seemed happy in what feels like forever. I barely even remember what it was like to see her with a smile on her face.
I tried to be gentle with my words, I really did. But they weren’t gentle enough for her.
“Are you okay? Can I get you anythi--” Her hand found my shoulder as she shoved me forcefully into the wall before I could finish speaking.
Plaster crumbled away from where my body made contact with the wall. My back and shoulder were screaming in pain, as loud as a whirring siren. I almost cried out, but I stifled it with a bite of my tongue that drew blood.
My mother continued stumbling down the dark hallway. It was as if she hadn’t even realized I was there.
As I laid in my bed that night, Ella at my side, I wasn’t quite sure how long my mother would be able to go on.
My eyes shot open as I heard a scream from downstairs. It was incredibly shrill, a sign that it had to be Ella.
I threw off the blankets. My heart was racing and I was down the stairs in a matter of moments. I could see from where I was standing that Ella was kneeled on the floor frozen, shellshocked. Her eyes were wide open, her face raw with horror.
Laying on the ground in front of her was our mother, an open bottle of pills in her hand.
The sun’s golden light shone through the linen white curtains in the summer morning, making the horrendous scene seem almost beautiful.
The police were there 15 minutes after I called. Those 15 minutes were spent comforting Ella, cradling her in my arms, while tears streamed down both our cheeks.
Our mom was zipped up and carried away in a body bag before Ella and I could say goodbye.
Right now Ella and I sit on the front porch, Ella silent. There are people talking in a huddled circle on the yellowed lawn: Police officers and a few other people who I couldn’t identify.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to us. Both our parents were only children and our grandparents are dead.
The circle of people broke up. The two people who I couldn’t identify walked solemnly over to Ella and I.
“You’re going to be coming with us. We’re going to bring you to a place where you can’t be harmed anymore.” The woman who spoke had a gentle voice, one that seemed almost patronizing.
“Where are we going?” Ella peered up at them, squinting with the sun in her eyes.
The unidentified people exchanged a glance. “ Don’t worry too much about that. The point is that you’re going to be much happier than you were here.”
I didn’t argue.
We stood up and the two people ushered us into the backseat of the car parked at the curb. As the woman put the keys into ignition, she turned on the radio. But I didn’t feel like listening.
My eyes found themselves staring at the house I had lived in for all of my life. The place I’d never really called home. The place I doubt I would ever see again.
And as the car pulled away from the crime scene, I realized… I’m okay with that.