I hate sleep. I try to avoid it. I read once that our minds go for a dance across the astral planes in our sleep and that is why we have dreams. But if I’m being honest, all I get is the same damn dream over and over again. It always begins the same way. The first thing I smell is bleach, followed by the sound of quick footsteps. Quick ones mean it’s her. Heavy, slow footsteps mean it’s my father. But between the two, my stepmother was far worse. “Get up!” came the bark of her sharp, voice, ringing into my sleep. Though in truth, I never really slept. I was always too on edge. Too stressed to ever fall into peaceful slumbers. I followed her downstairs where my adopted sister waited to be cared for. Biting my tongue against saying something about being woken up, I lifted my sister’s dense, long body from her wheelchair onto the bathroom toilet. It was time to get her ready for the day. “And make sure she isn’t late for the bus!” my stepmother called, walking off to get dressed for work. This was the routine each and every day. Take care of my sister and get her off to school. Feed myself and clean the kitchen with bleach. Then get myself to high school on time. I wasn’t allowed to talk to friends and I wasn’t allowed to join clubs.
I reached into my pocket, always finding it empty. I clenched my fist. No lunch money, again. My father walked out, smelling like Perry Ellis cologne in a freshly pressed suit. “Dad” I began but he lifted a hand. “Not now Sara” he said quickly grabbing his briefcase to leave, “I’m already late”. I sighed and shoved another instant oatmeal packet into my backpack. Students weren’t allowed to boil water at school, so dry oats would have to do. My mind blurred shifting to the thick plastic of the classroom chairs. Deep blue with black metal legs. The pale green desks lined neatly in rows as our math teacher, a retired Colonial, walked back and forth making sure we stayed on task.
Suddenly the intercom in our classroom buzzed as the secretary in the front office interrupted everyone calling my name aloud. “Please have Sara come to the office” she said and the intercom clicked off. My heart echoed in my ears. <No! Not again!> I thought as I filled with dread. I had only been at school for a few, brief hours when I dragged my body and backpack up to meet my fate. I knew what lay waiting for me. Sure enough, before I could enter the office, my stepmother pushed past me lifting her nose. “Come” she said in a snide tone, speaking to me like a dog. She might as well have said heel. Silently I followed her. Thirty-seven steps. Thirty-seven steps was all it took from the front door of the school to her car, which was about to take me into the pits of hell.
“What’s wrong—” I began when we shut the car doors. But she motioned for me to be silent. We only lived a few miles from school. Whipping the car into the driveway I followed her into the house, only to see that the dishes from the dishwasher were taken all back out and scattered over the counter tops. “You call this clean!” she suddenly roared and lifted up a bowl to my face. I winced. “This is SHIT!” she screamed and slammed the dish down. I jumped slightly, trying my best to steel my nerves. It was better when I remained silent, but anger flooded my system. “I’m so—” I began, and then I felt the first blow to my cheek. Pain exploded across my face as she slapped me hard. “You’re worthless!” she shouted before storming into the other room, “clean up this shit and then walk your ass back to school!”. And with that, she left.
I shot up in bed gasping. Sweat covered my brow. I touched my cheek. My face was warm, but no pain radiated on my skin. It was all just a bad dream. A trip down memory lane into the darkness of my past. Sighing hard, I looked around and saw the bodies of the other three girls sleeping soundly. Flopping onto my side, I clutched a pillow to my chest and lay still, willing myself to think happy thoughts. I watched the red digital clock on the table tick from one minute to the next. Just a few more hours and the sun would be up. Then I could begin again and leave all of the darkness behind…. At least for a while.