It is Sunday.
I am young. I am thirteen or fourteen. Perhaps younger.
You are the person who cradled me as a zygote until my first spitting breath of Earthen oxygen.
You are telling me that the family will be relieved of me, my burdensome existence, in the twenty minutes it takes to drive the long and straight and narrow freeway to the Clinton County courthouse. You are telling me to get into the car or the police will be called as an answer to my awful mouth. I get into the car. As we drive, I am screaming. Banshee. I am banging against the car door; begging. I’m not sure what I want anymore but I beg like hell. I keep screaming that I’m sorry, that I’ll do anything short of killing myself to prove I’m worthy of your love again. It was a misunderstanding. We argue all the time like this. You and my father stay pretty quiet. Screams like that tend to silence the world. Screams like that tend to vacuum all noise unto themselves, miserable black hole of poltergeisted emotions, violent and throbbing with a pain in need of protecting.
Ten minutes, you remind me. I scream my loudest at this point because it seems very real now. I thought you were joking earlier. Sick jokes are still just jokes. I repeat that through lobs of snot and, again, I plea for a type of forgiveness I never knew existed.
You explain to me with sterile politeness that a juvenile detention center will probably take ownership of me. You have my journal, by the way, which is filled with angsty exaggerations about how I had wished death upon you, my father, my sister. Scrawled cursive I had learned just a few elementary grades prior, dark fantasies that perhaps begged for the unobtrusive warmth of professional help rather than the cold authoritarianism of federal displacement for troubled youth. I felt alone and sorry, so sorry, I screamed. I did not know how else to express myself and wasn’t that worth further investigation into a gentler ether?
We finally park in the courthouse lot. It is empty here. Clouds froth over a weak sun. I can hardly stand this sort of pain anymore. I’m scratching at the window, curling up like a feral creature. I hate this sudden transformation from girl to scorned demon. We all sit and wait for something and I feel my lungs twist in a fervor around my heart; I imagine my insides curdling black. This is the only way my yet-still developing synapses can register the searing fear that hopes to choke me out.
I heard once that broken hearts kill people. I wonder if this kind of pain is enough to kill me, a kind of chemical primed to be an actual emotional tranquilizer.
My cries die out a bit. I am weak now. The courthouse is a gloomy behemoth looming over me, flags snapping. One flag for this great country tis of thee. One for the state (Pure fuckin’ Michigan, come on n’ visit). One for the county.
My flag snaps white for surrender.
Years from now I will stroll past the courthouse with my very first love, a slow but loving man. I will tell him about this day and he will buy me ice cream to heal me. I will pretend that something as arbitrary as chocolate-chip-cookie-dough could heal something as scathing as personal traumas.
You get out of the car and threaten to drag me out. They’re going to usher me right in, you say. It will be very easy. They will ask me why I’m such a terrible daughter and why I wrote such terrible things and my body shivers from an intracellular implosion.
This is much too much.
It is then, when I think I might be dead within a living body, that you tell me that it is Sunday.
The courthouse is not open on Sundays.
I am free.
I am free from the horrors of foster parents. I am free from the violent scenarios my father laughed about: “big black girls” who would want to beat me to smithereens with the mouth I had on me.
But it is Sunday so I am free.
Something in me breaks. There is a flood of calm but from this moment onward, I am a broken person.
Years from now, you will decide that one of my most suitable punishments will be to require that I walk the three miles to work and three miles back. I will be sixteen. In the heat of summer, I melt. In the darkest of nights, I worry about men hacking me to little pieces behind the old barns on the way back. One man will ask if I need a ride in his truck. I will not take candy from strangers and I will decide the same of taking rides in trucks. Years from now I will see rain compounding the darkness after a night shift and I will ask my father for a ride home. I will not be allowed rides home, not even from the Vietnam veteran I work with, nice old man that he is, offering me rides and subverting malicious intent. My father will reject me. Years from now I will presume of every man that I am not worth his protection or love and, years from now, I will require extensive therapy.
You drive me home. I shudder and seize, confused as to whether I should cry for help or cry with relief. I do not yet understand the tectonic shift taking place within me but years from now I will learn to be insufferably alone, woman warrior. Take no prisoners. Take no bullshit. Take nothing and give nothing. Prepare for war because war has been waged on a heart so young.
My father parks in the garage. You offer me a hug. You offer to order a pizza to make amends. I press into you, nodding and numb.
Years from now I will move three-thousand delicious miles away from you.
Years from now I will not be made easily available for conversation and you will wonder why.