I decided to participate in the 100 Days Project this year. Over the next 100 days I will write 100 stories about my life. One of the things I’ve always struggled with is not reflecting well on all the stories that have been woven together to create the life that I’m currently living. Part of that is wanting to avoid the painful parts of my past, part of it is being so caught up in the day to day that I don’t build in the space to breath and reflect. So that’s just what I’m going to do in these 100 days–pause, reflect, tackle the hard stuff, celebrate the good stuff, honor my story by telling it. There won’t normally be any rhyme or reason to what story I tell when, but I will start with my very first memory.
I don’t remember a lot about that night, but I do remember the darkness. My brother and I shared a room back then. It was a small house, so it must have been a small room. I don’t have any other memories of it, so I can’t picture what the furniture looked like or what might have been on the walls. All I can see is the darkness.
I’m too young to make out any words in all the commotion outside our locked door. I can hear sounds…muffled, frantic. I don’t know what they mean, but I feel the terror slowly filling my body and tying my stomach into knots so tight that even now, more than twenty years later, they still aren’t completely untied. As I sit there, the darkness and the sounds paralyze me. I don’t cry, I don’t move, I just sit. Even as a toddler I knew that what was happening outside those doors was the kind of evil that can destroy you.
Later on, too late to help any of us, red and blue lights would spill onto the front of our house, declaring to the world “something horrible happened here”.
It probably started as a normal night. A mother and father hurrying around to get themselves ready for a night out and the kids ready for a night in. The relief washing over them when the babysitter finally rang the doorbell. Kissing their two kids goodbye before scooting out the door. I don’t remember it all, but I’m sure nothing seemed out of the ordinary when my parents closed the door behind them. There was certainly no way for them to know the devastation they would return to.
At some points things shifted. Before the darkness I only have hazy memories of the night. The front door opening. A group of boys coming in. The clanking of bottles. Just fractured pieces of a picture that a toddler should never have to fit together. I’ve often wondered, which moment that night did she know what was about to happen? What was the first sign that these boys, her friends, were not the people she thought they were? If the horror I sensed in the house that night has lived with me so long, how did she manage to get up, walk out our front door, and live any semblance of a life?
It was just a few blurry snapshots of a night I didn’t understand, a few moments in the darkness, a few splashes of colored light outside my bedroom window, but that night will live with me forever. It’s the reason that as a kid I was terrified of teenage boys. It’s the reason I can’t walk my car alone at night. It’s the reason I slept with mace next my pillow when I had my own apartment in college. The thick fog of terror filled every corner of our house that night. It consumed me as I sat in the darkness, a child far too young to understand but absolutely certain that none of us would ever be the same.