The seat belt burns my skin as I buckle myself in. Dad gives me a look in the rearview as he pulls out of our parking space. As he pulls away from the pond, where I can almost see Waldo sprawled out on the ground, head cracked open by my bat. It’s gonna take some time, Dad says. That’s all he’ll say to me. He’d threatened me with the Academy for years. Had friends, old military buddies, on the inside. Was just waiting for an excuse, and I gave it to him. A single backpack sits next to me, packed with the only things I’ll be allowed to bring with me. Everything else gets left behind.
Dad barely let me get any time with Macchiato before leaving, the dog cowering in the corner of my room after I slammed the door shut and packed my shit. I pulled him into my closet and cried onto him in the dark, Dad yelling shit behind my bedroom door, pounding on it, yelling at me to hurry up. Even in the dark, I could see that Macchiato’s ear was turned inside out. I fixed it for him and opened up the closet door.
And there’s something else.
Nights spent camping out in my closet, before we even got the dog, that’s how little I was, and the way Dad would stagger down the halls like a drunken ghost, sometimes crashing family pictures to the ground as he reached out to steady himself on a wall. And I’d push myself farther into the corner, and wait, and try not to breathe, and close my eyes, as if he wouldn’t be able to see if I couldn’t. There was a stuffed animal my mom gave me, a little swan, and I’d hold onto that in the dark, clutch it to my heart so tight that it was like the swan had come to life. And then the steps coming close to my door. Closer. Heavier. Right outside.
Doorknob turns. Door swings open. I let out all my air like a punctured tire. I’m clutching my swan so tight that my fingers hurt. The door slams behind him. Loud enough for Mom to hear, but she won’t do anything. What can she do? Dad opens drawers and shuffles through my things. A couple seconds later, I can hear him lifting up my mattress, slamming it back down.
I should be able to hear footsteps before he opens the closet door, but I don’t. He opens the door so forcefully that a shirt falls on my head. I hope that it’ll hide me from him, but I know it won’t. He grabs the shirt and pulls it, some of my hair in his hand as he does. I want to yell, but I don’t. I know better. I squeeze myself into the corner till I can hardly breathe, clutch my swan so tight that I’m sure my knuckles would be white if I could see them. And then Dad turns on the closet light, blinding my eyes.
He slaps me across the face, sending my cheek to the wall. Abrasion of drywall against face, then tears being squeezed out of my eyes. I chew on my cheeks so hard that it’s a wonder they don’t open up and give me a permanent smile. He’s towering over me now, not even his usual wife beater on, just hairy chest and sweat, dried puke that was stubborn even after a good scrub, then drinking after puking to make up for the lost buzz. He crouches down, into my closet, and gets so close that I can smell him. His beer breath makes my eyes water.
He grabs the swan from my hands, asks me what he told me about carrying around that faggot doll. I tell him I don’t know, but I do. He slaps me so hard that I can feel my head start to bruise after it makes contact with the wall. Tomorrow morning, he’ll ice it for an hour so the bruise won’t show. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. He reaches at his waistband and pulls out his trusty old knife. Flicks it open as if he’s done it a thousand times, ‘cause he has. Brings it to the swan’s neck and hacks at it while I cry and actually start to scream. Stuffing touches floor as the knife pulls through, jagged cloth hanging from the decapitated stuffed animal, the placid eyes staring at me, questioning why I did nothing.
Dad goes to put his knife away, but stops when he sees where I’m looking. There’s a jagged, mangled scar that goes nearly from Dad’s navel to his back. He asks if I want to know where he got the scar as if this is the first time he’s asking me. As if I don’t have one of my own, going from my navel to my side, half-completed. As if he hasn’t cut into me time and time again, held a lighter to my skin to stop the bleeding afterward. Held the knife at my throat and threatened to open it if I ever told a soul.
He pulls my shirt up. Touches blade to skin. I don’t fight or squirm. I don’t know why I don’t, I just don’t. Tears well up in Dad’s eyes, and he mouths words I can’t hear as he slowly slides the knife inside of me.
And that’s it. That’s where the memory goes black.