I can see me as clearly today as I did that night. It was pouring rain pitch black. The rain was exceptionally cold or perhaps I was in a sort of shock that had me experiencing the rain at a much cooler temperature. The rain pounded relentlessly against the windows of the car. I sat alone in the backseat and my sister Brenda, who was eight years older than me, occupied the front passenger’s seat. While she had her eyes deadlocked on the front door of our house, I stared out the window in the opposite direction.
Daddy was not just a drunk. He was a mean, merciless, abusive drunk. We never knew when the whiskey would go down wrong and he would turn on us. Sometimes he didn’t. Most times he did. That particular night the drinking prompted Mom to accompany me to bed. She wasn’t the sort of mother who tucked in her children so when she took me to bed I knew what it meant.
“Sleep in your clothes and put your shoes by the bed so that you can slip your feet in them. And no matter what stay with Brenda. Don’t come back into the house.” Her instructions were unnecessary at this point. Despite not even being school aged, I knew what Daddy’s drunken rants meant. In a few hours I would be awakened by a ruckus that would be my parents literally fist fighting.
True to form, I hadn’t been asleep long when I heard it. The sound of your father slamming your mother into a wall while punching her viciously is unique. One that I can’t describe and one you should never know. I barely had enough time to roll to a sitting position and shove my feet into my shoes before Brenda filled my doorway. There were no tears or words. She simply snatched me up and ran. Mom made sure the three of us were a well-oiled machine highly skilled in escaping.
As Brenda carried me to safety she never glanced to the kitchen to see exactly what our parents were doing. But being carried with my head over her should I had an uninterrupted view of the violence. Some nights the three of us got out before Daddy threw the first punch. That would not be the case that night. Mom was taking a beating though I had no time to react to it. Mom’s mantra was no emotion, stick to the plan.
And the plan was that Mom would keep Daddy from attacking Brenda and me. Our job was to get to the car, lock all the doors except the driver’s side, start it and wait exactly five minutes. At the end of that five minutes if Mom hadn’t appeared we were to get out of the car and run across the street to our neighbor’s house. If the worst happened, Mom was badly injured or dead, and Daddy appeared I was to lock the driver’s door and Brenda would blow the horn relentlessly until someone rescued us. Under no circumstances were we to get within reaching distance of Daddy.
Once Mom made it out, she would slide into the driver’s seat of the car and off we’d go to a hotel. How long we would stay in the hotel would depend upon Daddy’s rage. Most times it was only overnight but other times it would be days weeks or months. Yet, we would no doubt return. And that fact often left me hating my mother for returning more than I did my father for drinking.
On that night, however, there would be a new addition to the routine. Through the rain, just outside my window, I saw an older version of myself. Her facial features were obscured but her hair was the same wild mass of curls I currently had. I was transfixed.
“It won’t always be this way,” she spoke to me. I blinked a couple of times thinking I was hallucinating or dreaming but Older Me remained. “There is someone who loves you and will take care of you. Be strong.” Before I could respond or at least ask Brenda if she saw Older Me, Mom exploded through the front door and Older Me was gone. Never to be seen again.
Not until I was grown and married did I recount this story. The moment was so profound and personal I wanted to be the only one special enough to know about it. Many times later, in great fear of my father, I would try to conjure up Older Me. I never could. Yet, one very distinct message remained. Daddy wouldn’t kill me as I feared. Older Me was proof that I would live to adulthood.