‘Don’t you ever sleep’ Ian asked innocently one day
‘I do’ I snapped back
I didn’t like talking about the nighttime with Ian, or anyone for that matter. I wasn’t ready to go down that road. Not that I didn’t want to tell people but it was a lot to process. I was eight years old and I had a secret.
Ian and I were the best of friends, we do everything and I do mean EVERYTHING together. If one of us were having a problem, the other would come to the rescue to save the day. He was not only my best friend, he was my first and at the time only friend.
‘Let’s play a game’ he said
‘Okay’ I replied over enthusiastically
I started out hiding behind a concrete pillar under the bridge, then I ran from one to another, back and forth, finding sanctuary after every pass. Ian was busy throwing things at me trying to hit me; I would dodge them. Mostly he threw things we had out, silverware, old shoes, things we would pick up afterwards.
Then he threw a steak knife; wouldn’t you know it with my luck…
The knife hit me directly in the back of the leg, just a small gash but to eight year old me, my leg might as well have been dangling in front of me barely attached. I ran screaming to his Mom’s arms. I was safe there and for once, my mind seemed calm. Life was good, or as good as, it had ever been.
We were back at it before the band-aid even had a chance to soak the blood up.
This was life for about three weeks. I had been away from ‘home’ for about a month now and on a good night I would actually be able to sleep at night. On a bad night, I spend my time curled into a ball and watch everyone else sleep. It would be my first and really, my only family experience, here with these people, these homeless people, I found my home.
Ian’s Mom, the parent we spent the majority of the time with anyway had agreed to let me live with them, no questions asked, as long as I continued to attend school. Ian and I were both registered at the same School anyway. This made it easy going to and from without any parental involvement.
‘Why don’t you sleep Alex?’ she asked
‘I don’t really want to.’ I responded as politely as I could
‘Are you scared?’ She went on
‘No, I just… it’s complicated.’
‘We’re here for you, you know… If you need to talk, if you ever want to.’
She never pushed, always understood. and never questioned how an eight year old could be away from home, no family, no one worrying. She accepted that sometimes circumstances are rough and hard to explain. She accepted it because she herself had fallen on hard times and I found myself in the middle of it with them. I still would not have wanted to be anywhere else in the world then under that bridge with my family.
Ian and I would run off and build forts, tell scary stories, just explore the world from as far out as his parents would allow us the opportunity to do so. Sure, we would get into trouble, kids being kids and what not. Nevertheless, I would always be respectful and polite to them, how could I not, they did the same for me and I was ‘just’ a child.
I thought life had changed for the best and I would never go back. These people were my family and I would grow up here with my new brother; life would be worth living. However, the best laid plans of mice and men…
Things were about to take a sharp turn from where they had been going.
One day while at school, they randomly call me to the office. Escorted by the vice principle from the classroom to said office both my mind and my heart are racing. I thought for sure I had been found out, what if they tried to talk to me.
‘They would take you away’ I thought to myself
‘No one would want you’
My mind was racing, I was on the verge of crying and I looked pale enough to be dead by the time we reached the door. Nothing could prepare me for what I was about to face. The vice principle turned the knob, the weight of the old metal door made it difficult to open. Then I saw it, standing right there and at that moment, I knew there was no escape.
‘Thank you’ He said wearing his signature baby blue button up long sleeved dress shirt, cowboy boots and blue jeans.
He had one look and this was it, it never changed and to this day I avoid that color in button up shirts.
‘He has a Doctor’s appointment and I hate to pull him from class like this but it was the only time I could make for it.’
Hand in hand, we exited the building, he did not look at me; he did not say anything to me. He just smiled, he knew.
‘Get in the car’ He said, it was not a request. I was going to get in like it or not.
‘Okay Dad’ I said, I did not bother with the seat belt. It would have been better if he got into a crash that way.
He needed me; I was his paycheck and today was payday.
Just like that, I was taken from my dream and thrust back into my nightmare…