It was dark and he had her pinned up against the wall. He pushed his face to her face, nose to nose. "There isn't anywhere you can run that I won't find you," he threatened. I believed him. She turned her head to the side and locked eyes with me. I winced and tried to ask her if she needed me to call someone. Not the police. Last time they came the beatings just got worse. I was the witness... the watcher... as he held her pinned to the wall. I was always the watcher. Even when he beat her behind closed doors I could hear her quiet pleas that he not wake up me and my brother. She was worried, even as her body was being used as a punching bag, for the tranquility of her children. "Let them rest. Let them not hear or know." Her incantations and utterances failed, because my sleep was never deep enough to ignore her, our, reality.
I could see her flesh turning red from his grip around her arms. That night after he left to wherever he'd go after he was finished raging, my mom shook me awake. My brother was in bed with me, our two small bodies buried under the blankets and still shaking from the fearful scene we witnessed earlier. It wasn't the first time, but my mother resolved that it would be the last. "Jasmine... pack a bag we are leaving," she whispered, and then she swept out of the room and I heard rustling in her bedroom. She was packing. We were leaving. I knew what to do. I'd practiced it several times already in hopes that I might run away, though I never planned far enough to know where I'd run away to. I packed my things and my brothers things, making sure not to forget his E.T. doll. The fur of the doll was matted and worn down in places and the eyes were full of scratches and marks from where Isaiah dragged E.T. across the floor. I grabbed Strawberry Shortcake because she smelled like dessert and childhood and maybe a nice home with no stress about not having enough food stamps. We arrived at an nondescript building. It said "Y.W.C.A" on the outside and I had no idea what those letters even meant. My mom rang a doorbell under the florescent lit awning. A old white woman answered the door, looked around, and then ushered us in with a confusing sense of urgency. "He didn't follow?" she asked my mother, as if she knew her. "No. It is just us." That was the last night we saw him, my father, and the first night in a long string of nights to sleep in a homeless shelter.
My mom did it. Something snapped in her and that beating was too much. The first time he hit her I was 6 months old and in her arms. His hair trigger temper was tripped and he picked up a chair and slammed it across her back indiscriminately. She said I went fly, and thankfully landed somewhere soft, though years later her body still ached in places where the chair struck a blow. That beating wasn't enough. She stayed, stuck with a new baby, and tried to hold her marriage together. Years later after my brother was old enough to form words I remember him bravely screaming at our father to stop hitting hurt. My brother was full of courage. I was more calculating and spent my time thinking of ways I wished he would die. I don't know what was different about that night. Maybe it was how her eyes fixed on mine. Maybe it was because this time she knew I knew. I'm not sure. For whatever reason that moment was enough. Something inside welled up with bravery and she found the strength to leave. She resuced me and my brother. That was the night we left.