screaming at me. She’s always screaming at me. I don’t
even know what her problem is today, but it’s dark outside
and we’ve just arrived home from her sister Connie’s
house a couple hours away. On the way home, she got
so angry she kicked my dad and me out of the car to
walk on the side of the highway, only to come back and
pick us up about 20 minutes later. Now I’m standing
outside listening to them arguing about me in the house.
Something feels different. She’s angrier than usual.
Whatever they’re arguing about, I can hear my dad trying
to explain to her that I’m only 12, I didn’t know any
better, she should take it easy on me.
“She’s a little bitch is what she is! I’m going to beat
the shit out of her. She needs to learn, Robert.”
I’m scared, but I’m used to that by now. I know that
whatever she has planned for me is gonna be bad, but
there’s nothing Dad or I can do about it. If he can’t
talk her out of it now, nothing will stop her. I huddle
down next to the doghouse in the front yard and wrap
my arms around my knees. I’m not crying. I learned long
ago that it’s only worse if I cry, so I don’t shed a
tear. Max, our Rottweiler, is inside, barking at the
argument. I want to call him to me, but I’m afraid of
drawing attention to myself. I hear a smack as she hits
him and he yelps.
“Oh, Necia, don’t take it out on the fucking dog, for Christ’s
sake!” my dad yells at her.
I tense. I don’t want her to hit Max because she’s mad at me,
but I don’t want her to hit me, either.
Max pushes the front door open and runs down to the doghouse I’m
squatting against. He always knows when I’m scared or
hurt, which lately seems to be more frequently than
usual. He sits down beside me and leans into my shoulder.
I hug him to me and try to listen harder to what my
dad and step-mother are saying.
“Well, if you wouldn’t spoil the little bitch . . . you let her
get away with murder!”
“She’s just a kid! What do you expect?”
I can hear them stomping around the house, through the different
rooms, still yelling at each other. Most of their words
are muffled by the thick house walls, so I’m blindsided
when Dad rushes out of the house with two small duffle
bags in his hands.
“KayLynn! Come on, get in the truck, now!”
I scramble to the front porch and he grabs
my arm hard and pushes me toward the driveway.
“Go!” he yells. We’re both running toward his panel truck now.
I’ve never seen my dad act this way before and I’ve
certainly never seen him run; his multiple sclerosis
has gotten too bad. Now I’m really worried.
“Dad, why are you running?” I ask, but he ignores my question
and opens the driver’s side door and shoves me in, pushing
me across the seat.
“Stay down! Get on the floor!” he yells as he slides behind the
My step-mother has disappeared into the back of the house.
“What’s wrong? Where are we going?”
He slams the truck door shut and the engine makes me jump as Dad
turns the key in the ignition. He jerks the gearshift
into reverse and floors the gas pedal. Gravel flies
up from the ground as he speeds backward down the long
driveway and into the street. He’s about to shift into
drive when I pop my head up from my place on the floorboards
to see Necia burst out the front door with my new puppy
Stubby in one hand, and Dad’s .38 caliber pistol in
the other. She’s running down the driveway, waving the
gun between the dog and the truck. This is nothing new.
She’s pulled a gun on my dad and me before. I know she’d
never actually shoot at us, but I worry that she might
actually get away with shooting my dog. She’s yelling
“I’m gonna kill your dog, you stupid bitch!
You’d better come get him or I’m gonna fucking shoot
Dad tries to grab the back of my shirt, but
it’s too late; I open my door and jump out of the truck,
running toward my step-mother and Stubby. I’m about
a yard away from them when I stop and reach for the
dog. She drops him four long feet to the ground and
he lays there whimpering. My eyes are on him, and I’m
leaning down to pick him up when I feel something cold
slam into the middle of my forehead. I hear my dad yelling
in the background, but I’ve somehow forgotten how to
interpret language; his words are garbled, muted. I
look up into her furious eyes, her right arm extended
in front of her, the .38 pressing hard into my forehead.
Waves of heat and cold run through my body as I try
to understand what’s happening. My eyes immediately
fall on the gun’s safety switch. She never takes it
off when she threatens us— she just wants to scare us.
This time it’s off. I barely have enough time
to think oh, God before I see her finger twitch
on the trigger.
All those movies that show the moment before someone dies in slow
motion have it right, except the only thing I have time
to think of is how it’s going to hurt more than anything
she’s ever done to me. The fact that she is about to
become my murderer does not surprise or scare me. I’ve
been ready to die for a while, if only to escape her.
She pulls the trigger all the way back till it hits the metal
of the handle behind it. I even hear the metals click
together. And then I hear nothing except a louder click
that resonates deep into my ears through the bones of
my skull. Confusion floods her face. She pulls the trigger
again. Again, it only clicks. By the time she’s ready
to pull the trigger a third time, Dad is there grabbing
the gun away from her. She swings at him with the loaded
gun and he wrestles it away from her.
“Are you fucking crazy?” he’s screaming at her. “You just tried
to kill her! You’re not getting out of this by
flashing your badge, not this time.”
“Thaaat’s right, I can get out of anything because I work at the
prison. And for all the shit this fucking whore puts
me through, I should have every right to shoot her in
She turns to me and I instinctively back up a step.
“You bitch, I’m gonna fucking kill you! You’re worthless, I hate
you. Your whore of a mother should’ve aborted you.”
“That’s enough, Necia. I’m calling the cops.”
“Oh yeah, you do that. Let’s see how well they listen this time.
No one’s going to believe that little lying sack of
shit,” she says, nodding toward me.
“Get back in the truck, KayLynn,” Dad says.
“What about Stubby?” I ask.
“Leave him. Get in the truck.”
“But . . .”
He whips his head around to glare at me and I run back to the
truck. A few seconds later, he returns to the truck
with the gun, turns the safety on, and tucks it under
his seat. Necia picks Stubby up by his throat and stands
holding him like that in the driveway, smiling at me.
I know she’s going to kill him.
My dad shifts gears and drives away from the house as I continue
watching Necia out the back window. I watch her stand,
unmoving, till we turn a corner and she’s no longer
visible. When we’re a few miles from the house, Dad
pulls the truck over, takes the full clip out of the
gun, and puts both the clip and the gun in the glove
“Don’t touch that,” he says to me.
“Where are we going, Dad? What’s gonna happen now?”
“I don’t know, kiddo. You okay?” In one of his rare moments of
open affection, he reaches over and strokes my hair.
I can tell he’s trying not to cry. I’ve never seen him
cry before, being an ex-Green Beret, but I know that
the very few times in his adult life that he has cried
have been over me.
“I think we’re gonna go back to your Aunt Connie’s. We’ll stop
somewhere and call her in a while. You hungry? We didn’t
get around to dinner, did we?”
I shake my head feebly. “I’m sorry, Daddy,” I say.
“Sorry for what?”
“For jumpin’ out of the truck. You think she’s gonna kill Stubby?”
“Nah, she won’t kill him. He’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
We drive on for a while in silence and almost complete darkness.
Finally I ask, “Daddy, what happened with the gun? Wasn’t
it cleaned good? Why’d it jam?”
Dad inhales sharply. He doesn’t want to talk about this.
“I don’t know, KayLynn. I cleaned it last week after we went to
the range.” He hesitates. “It shouldn’t have jammed.”
I can almost hear the words he isn’t saying: But
I’m glad it did.
“Anyway, don’t worry about it. You want some food when we stop?”
I shake my head again. “No, I’m not hungry. Thank you, though,
He looks at me, searching my face. Finally, he says, “‘Kay, well
how about you try to get some sleep then? I’ll wake
you up when we get there.”
He pulls the blanket from the back of the truck seat down around
“Love you,” he says quietly.
“Love you, too, Daddy.”
Early this morning at Connie’s house, Dad calls the local police
for our town and tells them what happened last night.
Two officers go out to our house to talk to Necia, who
tells them she has no idea what they’re talking about,
that she doesn’t even own a .38 caliber pistol and invites
them to look in our gun cabinets as proof. By now, she’s
already hidden all the .38 ammunition.
She explains to them that she is an officer
at the penitentiary in a neighboring city and they end
up talking more about being cops than her trying to
shoot her 12-year-old step-daughter. She convinces them
that nothing of the sort happened, and shows them that
Stubby is perfectly alive and healthy to satisfy my
“lie” about her vowing to shoot him.
She even tells them that my father is molesting
me, when it is actually her. I explain this to the cops
over the phone, and many times in person. I explain
that my dad has never laid a hand on me, not even to
spank me when I was little. But she has the badge, not
me, not Dad. This is the third time Dad has called the
police on her, and the third time that they have left
without solving anything. I’ve begun to hate cops by
We stay with Aunt Connie for a couple of days to let Necia cool
down some before making the long trip home. In these
couple of days, I beg Dad not to take me back, for us
to stay here, with Connie, until we can figure out somewhere
else to go. I beg him to divorce her so that he and
I can move somewhere together and not ever go back to
her. After a long phone conversation with her, he tries
to convince me everything will be okay when we go back.
She’s sorry for what she did, she wishes she could take
“She even cried,” he tells me, says she misses us, misses me.
course she misses me, I think. She has no one to violate, no one to take her anger
out on. Yeah, she misses me alright.
If only Dad were in better health, maybe we could leave. But
he’s too sick and can’t work anymore, so I have to stay,
too. I imagine that I could mow lawns or wash cars to
support us so we wouldn’t have to live with her anymore,
but she’d find us anyway. Dad tries to protect me, I
know, but he’s just not strong enough.
The day we go back, I walk into the house trembling, anticipating
whatever punishment she has concocted for us running
away from her yet again. At first, I don’t see her,
which both relieves and frightens me. At Dad’s prodding,
I go to my bedroom and start unpacking my duffle bag
and sorting out the clean clothes from the dirty. I
take the dirty clothes into the laundry room and suddenly
I hear her raspy voice call my name. I put my clothes
on top of the washer and go into her bedroom, where
she’s lying down with a cold washcloth on her forehead.
She smiles weakly at me. Another trick.
“Come 'ere, baby. I’m sorry, honey. Come see Mama.”
Relieved that she’s in a rare good mood and thinking that maybe
she really is sorry, I take advantage of it and crawl
into the bed next to her and hug her tightly. I know
this will only last for a day or so, and I need to get
on her good side while I have the chance. She kisses
my forehead and rubs my back and all past transgressions
are once again forgiven. We lie there like that, my
head on her chest, for several minutes before she asks
if I’m hungry.
“I bet Aunt Connie fed you well, though, huh?”
I panic. If she thinks about Aunt Connie, she’ll remember we
ran away from her, and she’ll remember that she has
to punish me. Under my hot cheeks, I feel her tense
slightly, then relax.
“Let’s go make some dinner for your dad, huh?”
She seems to have forgotten and I am safe, for now. I know that
within the next day or two, I will bleed at her hands.
But right now, I’m content to live in the moment because
I am not in pain, I am not bleeding, I am not afraid.
I feel more love for her than is natural because she
has spared me, if even just for a day. I just want to
be near her, to make her happy, make her proud of me.
Tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, I
will hate her, so I revel in being able to love someone,
anyone, and in being loved back while I still have the