My story begins in 1993 but the year of 2001 is my catalyst. Allow me to explain, I was an only child in an unstable family until 1999. Not only was my brother born that year but my parents got a divorce. Dad ran off to Kentucky with his mistress to start a new life, leaving my mother to care for me and my brand new baby brother on her own. I don’t know when exactly the beginning of the dark times in my life, I had been bullied since the first year I entered the school system. Now I was a big sister, a child of struggling single parent, being bounced from babysitter to baby sitter and all the while still being bullied at school. My safe haven was taken away and even my dog disappeared with my father.
There were only a total of five or six baby sitters but it seemed each one was worse than the last. The first was good enough but she got evicted. We then landed in a shabby trailer park with a lazy cruel woman who only wanted to get paid. I was glad to be rid of her and her but in comparison to woman who lived in a small hoarder’s home around the block, she was a joke. Even the slightest cross could set you on the shit list so badly so that she held my brand new bike for ransom. We tried the ghetto, the trailer park, the neighborhood, and when that all failed we tried a trailer in the middle of the country. The air smelled like dirt and tomales almost every afternoon. In retrospect the sunsets were nice, but being forced to wear a diaper and kick rusted old cans around with bare feet didn’t set right with me.
Finally we come to the last babysitter in the spring of 2001. At first I thought she was beautiful and kind. Her long brown hair flowed against her back, Crystal green eyes and the body of a dancer. I remember so vividly her spicy Hispanic attitude and the flare with which she would roll the words right from her tongue. She had this energy, full of fun and life. I couldn’t say the same for her son’s, J.R and junior but her daughter Marissa followed effortlessly in her mother’s genes.
I thought we had finally found a safe place. No more getting beat, no more cruel words and punishments from caretakers. I genuinely enjoyed their company. My brother didn’t too much care, of course, he was only two. I felt like his guardian, if anything upset him I was right there to aid. He was strange and alien to me but I love him even still. I just wanted to be the best big sister, although I know I was no better than any other sister.
For a while it was nice, there were no conflicts and lunch was always decent. I had a new friend and basically played all day long. I even began to develop a routine. Grandmother would pick me up from school and we would talk and laugh all the way there. Stopping each time for a bag of gummy worms or an afterschool snack and then off to the babysitters where my brother would already be. I would check on him and then immediately go to play with Marissa until my mother picked us up that night. I seem to have so many memories there from such a short period of time. I learned about Salina and genuine Hispanic cooking. I learned that drinks don’t always come during your overly spicy lunch. I experienced going to the supermarket and waiting in the car during a violent tornadic storm. Ironically only a week after the storm Marissa gave a piece of advice I didn’t quite understand. She told me her mother had hurt other kids. Broken arms, beatings and more, I just couldn’t believe it. She told me my brother and I should find a new babysitter. Warning the same would happen to us soon.
I never ended up telling my mom, though I know that may have made a difference, in fact I think I forgot all about it. She freaked me out, remembering what all the other babysitters were like, but I just couldn’t believe it with her. She had always been nice to us, she even gave me some new clothes and let us watch scary movie. At eight years old, I just didn’t know any better.
A couple days later J.R was sitting on the couch laughing. He said Candace had her hands over my brother’s mouth, she choked him. I ran to the back room to check on him but Candace was just brushing his hair. I didn’t think to question why she had him in her room with the door closed. If I could just go back and tell my eight year old self to tell my mother what Marissa had said. . .
For the next few days everything was normal and then Saturday came, turning me and my family into refugees of a tragedy that would echo through our family to this day. We were sitting down early afternoon eating hot dogs and chili. Delicious in fact but I remember begging for my drink to come early, I never handled spicy food well. My brother on the other hand could barely eat a bite. Candace kept yelling at him to eat his food. Even to me the tension was obvious but I tried to ignore the feeling that something was building. I finished my food and told my brother to come outside and play with us afterwards. All day we had been playing a game of freeze tags and climbing in and out of the giant oak tree in the back yard. I finish my hot dog and we run outside to play leaving my brother behind to finish his food. Next thing I know he’s walking outside with half a hot dog still hanging from his mouth, then Candace begins to scream at him to finish his food before he comes outside. It all happened so fast, the look of emptiness in his eyes was unmistakable, I knew something was wrong. I was frozen in place watching his every move. Candace’s yells became a matter of background.
All of sudden he dropped to the ground, first to his knees then plummeting head first into the concrete. I ran to him, trying to help him up as his eyes were still barely open. Placing his hands on the big yellow Tonka truck he loved so much the day before.
Candace picked him up from the ground, but his head only flopped over to the side. I wasn’t sure if he was even alive at first. After she laid him on a couch with a blanket and no further cares’ I began to beg to call for my mother. He needed a hospital and he needed it right that second, but the babysitter freaked when I mentioned the idea. I kept pushing and pushing, if we couldn’t call my mother we were going to call 911 but before I could do anything she unhooked the phone and locked me in Marissa’s bedroom. I couldn’t get out and the phone lines were off, there was nothing I could do except sit, wait, and pray for the evening to come in time.