Nerve

One of the times that my grandparents intervened, I was nine.

They had this idea that I was the one getting the worst of the physical abuse. I wasn’t. It went Mary, me, Carly. Mary got the worst of it.

But when my grandparents stepped in and took me away from my mom, she didn’t fight them and I didn’t correct them.

Well, I should have. I should have said, “Take Mary too. She annoys Mom even more than me.”

But I didn’t.

My grandma said, “the guest room will be your room.”

I couldn’t believe it. They told me I would live with them from now on. I cried because I didn’t know what else to do. Then I sat on the floor of the guest room and brushed my American Girl doll’s hair. This was before my grandfather started to hit me, before he ever hit my grandma in front of me. Nan and Papa’s house was a safe place. I sat there and brushed my doll Samantha’s hair and I won’t lie, I didn’t even think about Mary. I was so so happy to be someplace where everything was safe and okay.

The next few days were wonderful. I rode my bike outside and felt…well, there isn’t a word for the way that I felt. There just isn’t.

Mom called crying and wanted to see me. I went back to my house that weekend. I was supposed to go back to my grandparents’ house on Monday.

My mom sat on my bed and pleaded with me. “You’re really that scared of me? You really don’t want to be here anymore? Really?”

And she looked so heartbroken and I didn’t want to make her feel so sad.

I said, “I don’t know.”

“What don’t you know? You love me right?”

I nodded and stared at my lap.

“So say you’ll stay here. You’re my kid, you should be with me.”

“Maybe…”

“What do you mean maybe?”

“Well, maybe as long as you stop getting mad and hitting us.”

Her smile fell. Her face turned to stone. She stared at me like she was so angry.

“You’re saying you’re going to hold this threat over my head my whole life?”

“No, I just meant-“

“You’re saying if I ever even raise my voice a little, you’ll be running back to Nan.”

“No, no…” I tried to figure out what to say. She did a lot more than yell and she knew it. This was after the time with all the cuts and welts on my arms. As much as she tried to hide it, my grandmother saw the scabs.

“If that’s what you’re gonna be like, then maybe you should live with Nan. Maybe we don’t need any kind of relationship. I’ll tell you this much, I’ll never look at you again if you do this to me. If you ruin my family.”

I believed her. I believed I was ruining everything. I felt crushed that she wasn’t going to change. She’d admitted as much.

But I couldn’t let her hate me.

I told Nan and Papa I didn’t want to live with them.

There was a social worker who talked to me. I told her I fell.

She turned my arms over and looked at all the scars from the cuts.

“Jennifer, you can tell me the truth. My job is to keep kids safe.”

I didn’t tell her the truth. Neither did Carly. Neither did Mary.

There was a file, but that’s all there ever was. A file. Some check-ins.

You know, sometimes it feels like nobody ever tried to help me. But it’s not the truth and if you hear me talking like that don’t believe me. People tried to help me and I didn’t cooperate.

I could have cooperated. I could have done better. I could have made something happen.

But when I finally had the chance to, I didn’t have the nerve.

I’m still like that, I don’t have the nerve to do anything real.

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Elizabeth Solorzano

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