It was my sister's birthday, a normal chilly and cloudy Wednesday in February. I was in the sixth grade, old enough to walk myself home from school. I was a little upset because the present that I had saved my lunch money for weeks to buy her was not for sale at the after-school commissary.
I was distracted trying to come up with a good idea for a last minute gift. I took my usual shortcut through the neighbors camellia bushes, when a hand reached out and grabbed me.
He pulled me close to him as he started to ask me questions about kids that I supposedly went to school with. I could smell the beer and cigarettes on his breath as I started to shake. He stroked my hair as he gingerly lifted my shirt. All I could focus on were his dirty fingernails, fingernails that looked as though he had been digging in the dirt without a shovel.
I started to struggle and then remembered what my mother had said about going limp, pretending to pass out. As he grabbed me harder and tried to pull me to the street, I dropped all of my body weight to the ground and broke free and ran. The branches of the camellia bushes and the early spring bamboo shoots cut my arms and legs, but I did not stop until I got home, breathless and crying.
When I stormed through the door, my father (awoken from his afternoon nap) bellowed, "What the Hell is wrong with you?" I locked the door behind me, but that wasn't unusual in my father's house.
"Nothing", I replied, "I couldn't get B's birthday present today." I teared up at the memory of the lost gift that had seemed so important just a short while ago.
"Oh, shut up, it's nothing to cry over," as he rolled over and went back to sleep. The butt of his cigarette was still smoldering in the ashtray. I stared at the smoke, trying to process what had just happened.
"Jesus Christ, Heather, get the door."
I pulled back the curtain to see him standing at the door. Dark, sweaty skin, dirty clothes, I felt like I could smell him through the glass of the door. He grinned at me as though we were age old friends. I dropped the curtain and returned to the chair.
The handle jiggled as he tried to open the locked door. I could hear him trying to talk to me through the door, the dog in the backyard going crazy as he tried to peer through the front porch window.
"Heather! Who is out there?" My father's anger was rising and I needed it to, for just once to unleash on someone who was not me. For just once, I needed it more than anything to just protect me.
I blinked hard and shrugged my shoulders. "I dunno, Daddy. I just don't know that man."
He yanked open the front door and saw the man sprint across the yard and out of the neighborhood.
Although he has been in innumerable nightmares and every dark alley and corner I have ever walked past, I never saw him in person again.
I should have told. I should have told my dad when it happened. I shouldn't have felt ashamed or dirty. His behavior could've stopped with me.
But I was 11.
I grew up in fear. With my father, you never knew what might set him off on any given day. My siblings and I would often cower at just the sound of his footsteps coming towards us. On this day, the one day that I needed his anger to be directed elsewhere, it failed me.
While the entire event is traumatizing and scarring to me in different ways, I think what I was most struck by was the fear that my father, who had always seemed like this gigantic force of nature, might not be able to fight off this guy. That he might not be able to protect me. Or that he wouldn't want to...
I wrote this in response to the NaBloPoMO writing prompt for the day ~ Has anything traumatic ever happened to you? Describe the scenes surrounding a particular event.