I am seven years-old. It is somewhere in the middle of the night, the time where little girls should be dreaming. I am in my bunk bed, the lower one, since I am the oldest. I am awake, listening. My sister Cookie, three years younger, sleeps above me. Lori, the youngest, is in a small twin bed across from us.
It starts like it always starts, like the buzz of the storm before the hurricane hits, when the air feels electric, when the roar gets slowly louder until there is nothing else. My father is yelling, swearing at my mother. I can hear them move from their bedroom down the hall, across the wooden floor to the kitchen. It’s always the same: I hear them, he screams, she screams, he curses her, us, the day we were born. Sometimes he hits her.
Tonight is different. Tonight the yelling rolls through the house like thunder. His voice comes closer, closer, he’s in our room. I squeeze my eyes shut, hold myself stiff, pray. I prayed a lot as a little girl; there was never an answer.
“Get up,” he yells, “Get the fuck up now.”
When I open my eyes, he’s already dragged my youngest sister, Lori, from her bed. Lori is still half-asleep rubbing her eyes. She knows not to speak. Cookie climbs down as fast as she can. She is little, frail, pale skin and big eyes. I get out of bed and we look at each other, look at Lori. I am big for my age, “big-boned” was what they called it then, my two sisters both seem so much tinier. We know not to look at my father.
He pushes us all into my parent’s bedroom. My mother stays in the kitchen. The yelling that had pelted us constantly all of a sudden stopped. It was quiet, like the inside of a hurricane. I remembered learning that in school. He lines us up by size against his dresser with me the first one, then Cookie, then Lori.
He goes to the closet, tossing things out. I can hear him cursing softly now. He finally emerged and I see green greenish-blue metal in in his hand. I blink and look again. What he has in his hand is a gun.
The three of us are still, so very still. I am squeezing Cookie’s hand and I am praying Lori is holding hers. I don’t pray for God to save us, because it hadn’t happened any other time I did.
My father takes me by the shoulders, pulls me close to him. I can see the gun coming toward my head. I say nothing, but I am cold, very cold, but I can feel a hot tear roll down my cheek. I feel the barrel against my head, cold, too, my father pressing it against my head.
I hear a click, but nothing. I tell myself, the green blue thing is a fish, a fish that will swim away. Click again. Nothing. My sister’s hand loosens and falls away. “Maybe she swam away,” I think, “swam far, far, away.”
One more click. Nothing, no one moves, not even my father.
Finally, he says, “All of you go to fucking bed, I’m sick of you all.” I take my sisters and quickly get them back into bed, try to cover them, touch their hair, their faces, try to tell them it will be OK. Then I get into bed, but I don’t sleep well.
I’ve always been a light sleeper.