Friday, March 12, 2010


Tampa, 1985

"You’re crawling away like a roach!” Bernard shouted.

I got out of bed, put on my robe, and walked down the hall into my parents' bedroom. Sally lay on the bloodstained carpet, halfway between her bed and the door. She tried to move, but Bernard wouldn’t let her go. He kicked her in the stomach and she moaned, her eyes rolling back into her head. I froze in the hallway and wondered how long it would be until he killed her. He got just a little bit closer each time. Her mouth looked mangled and distorted; Sally must have said something stupid for Bernard to go after her face. She probably made a crack about his toupee or bad breath. Sally and I made eye contact; I wanted to kill them both.

"Get out!" she tried to say, choking and gurgling instead.

Bernard turned to see who lurked behind him. I looked at him, arms folded in front of me, bored with their routine.

"Enough," I said. "Can't you give it a rest, today of all days?”

He looked surprised to see me.

“I don’t have to put up with this shit anymore. I’m calling the police," I said.

As I turned and walked back down the hall, I could still hear Duran Duran playing in my room as if we were all in the midst of some tacky video. The music got louder as I got closer. I almost reached the doorknob, but Bernard grabbed my hair and dragged me back to their room, his fingers digging into my skull. It felt like fire. He threw me on the bed and stood scowling over me. Did he expect me to cry? I sat up and spit in his face.

"You’re the fucking roach," I said.

My friends had taught me to spit like a pro a few summers back. I made a mental note to thank them.

"You think now that you're sixteen, you're old enough to take me on?" he whispered through clenched teeth.

I braced myself.

He slapped me over and over again; first one cheek, then the other. My face stung at first, but quickly went numb. I held back my tears because I knew it infuriated him. Bernard punched me, his fist hard like concrete, and I fell off the bed. Sally moaned when I landed on the floor. Bernard was strong. It wouldn't take long for him to break a bone and I was already starting to bleed. Maybe he needed a cry or a scream to let him know he'd won. I vowed to last all night. He didn’t seem to care that our bruises would show. After drinking all day, Bernard wasn't thinking clearly. None of us were that night.

"You call the cops on me and I'll kill you," Bernard said, always so dramatic.

He stood back and smiled at his bruised and battered women.

"Besides,” he continued, “you don’t have the nerve. You’re lonely and weak, just like your mother. Don't interfere again; do you hear me? You learned something tonight, Olivia. Happy birthday."

He calmly left the room.

I had to breathe in shallow gasps, the pain stabbing at my lungs and back. My whole body ached. After what seemed like hours, I rolled over and looked at Sally. She cowered in the corner of the room, swaying and moaning, hands over her face. She looked worse than I felt. Her nightgown ripped to shreds, breasts already bruised and bite marks on her stomach. I slowly got up and sat on the bed. Sally resembling a rape victim was nothing new. Glancing at the mirror, however, my heart broke to see a face similarly bludgeoned. I tapped at the bruises with a reluctant finger; everyone would see them when school started the following week. Turning toward Sally once again, she looked back at me.

"I never thought he'd turn on you," she whispered through tears. "I should have known better. My father ignored me for years before the beatings began. I told myself I'd get out of there and look what happened. Perhaps it's our fate to suffer."

Sally paused for a moment before crying again.

"This is not the time," I said, "for a heart-to-heart talk with your daughter."

I turned away in disgust. The bitch never had timing. She looked defeated and probably thought the same about me. I shook my head and she slowly got up and sat next to me.

"You're sure you'll be different," she struggled to whisper, pushing bangs out of my eyes. "But, we're the same, you and me."

She put her arms around me and I started to cry. It had been ages since we last touched and Sally’s despair felt worse than Bernard’s punches. No motherly love or concern presented itself. While Bernard beat me, Sally whimpered in the corner, relieved to have a substitute.

"You understand," she whispered into my ear. "You finally understand."

I removed Sally's arms, unwilling to be her partner in a life of misery.

"No thanks," I said through gritted teeth.

I half-crawled, half-stumbled to the bathroom and threw up. Afterwards, as I gently splashed cold water on my face, I felt dizzy with fear. Could my life go either way? I thought about years spent witness to beatings and rationalizations.

"Money doesn't solve everything," Sally would say after each violent encounter, "but it cushions the blows."

I had always ignored the rage, smiled and played dutiful daughter in exchange for trips with friends, pretty clothes, and my own phone line. I gripped the sink until my knuckles turned white. Complacency led down a dead-end street with Sally waiting at the end. Were there degrees of selling-out? Would I end up like her after all?


Dizziness vanished. Bernard and Sally would not turn me into a casualty of their personal war. My dear mother refused to protect me so I had to save myself. I stood up straight, never once blinking as I stared into the mirror.

The police were useless, Bernard knew too many of them. I had to end it myself.

I walked past Sally, down the hall and into my bedroom. I switched records and put on Words by Missing Persons, turning it up as loud as it would go. I even sang along for a moment.

"What are words for," the singer whined, "when no one listens anymore. When no one listens there's no use talking at all."

I walked downstairs to the library, still humming along with the music, and opened the door. Bernard had fallen asleep on the sofa. He seemed content with hands folded on his chest, as if ready for the coffin. I walked over to his desk; he kept a loaded gun in the bottom left-hand drawer. I picked up the weapon, but didn't bother to look at it; Bernard held my interest as he slowly breathed in and out. I walked over to the sofa and put the gun to his head. For a moment, I wondered what he would have said to me the following day. In the beginning he used to apologize to Sally and buy her expensive gifts. Would he have apologized to me? I put the thought out of my head and looked down at him again. Feeling a sudden wave of pity, I leaned in and kissed his forehead. My lips lingered for a moment and I thought about the kindness in killing him. He felt cold to me already; the time had come to put an end to the pain and set us all free. That was the first and last time I kissed my father. I put the gun back to his head and shut my eyes.

I smiled and pulled the trigger.

The noise made me jump. I almost didn't look down, but I wanted to make sure he was dead. Blood splattered everywhere, our maid was going to be angry. I couldn’t tell if Bernard was breathing so I backed up and emptied the gun into his chest. My hands calm and steady as I fired. Having never picked up a gun before that night, I impressed myself.

When the gun ran out of bullets, I could hear Sally screaming on her way down the stairs. She ran into the library and looked at Bernard, then at me. I could barely conceal my excitement.

"You're next," I whispered.

Sally screamed one last time and fainted. I sat down at Bernard's desk and listened to the music coming from my room. here to order Olivia's Kiss on Kindle.


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