TRIGGER WARNING: Violence. Guns. Shooting. I don’t know what else, but please don’t read if you’re feeling fragile.
It was a whole year before I saw that card again. During that year, we took a vacation to my aunt’s place out in BC. There, I saw the whitest people I’d ever seen. When time came to return home for school, it was to find myself presented with a new house, in a new neighborhood. There, my room had been transplanted into another room. It was like a time capsule, preserved in almost its entirety. Everything was reorganized, everything was clean. I remember the smell like it was yesterday. The smell of cleaner and detergent everywhere, mixed with fresh paint.
Upon seeing it, I turned to mom and said I didn’t want any of it anymore.
I pointed into my room and said “Get rid of it. All.”
Mom grinned. I didn’t realize it then, but it was the first time I’d spoken since our second burglary. “Okay,” mom said with tears in her eyes, happy tears. “We’ll get rid of it all.”
Pointedly, I walked away from the room, clutching my stuffie to my chest.
I spent that first night back in our house in mom’s room, sleeping with her. The next day, mom had some friends over who helped her sort through my room. My cousins were there, but I barely remember them talking to me, or me to them. They went through my old stuff, and I pretended to watch the Lion King. Then, it was all gone.
I walked into a fresh, empty room. Mom stood beside me, arms crossed. They’d even put a base coat over the walls so it was no longer the color of my previous room. “How’d you like it?” she asked with an unsure smile, as if afraid I would break down.
But I grinned at her. I nodded. Then, I forced myself to speak. “It’s perfect.”
Mom burst into tears and bent over to hug me.
We went shopping after that. I redecorated my once children’s room into crisp blues and whites, but with no cartoon characters anything. I was an adult now.
“I’m thirteen,” I announced when she offered me a ‘Frozen’ themed bedspread.
Mom beamed. All this talking was making her smile, I was finding out. She let me pick out everything. New clothes that were mature and severe looking. New posters of nature and wildlife. No cartoons. I even asked her for a guitar, because I knew that one of my teachers had said music would help me. And I wanted to ‘get better’, whatever that meant. I was an adult now. I had to take care of mom. Dad was fully gone now. All that had been left of his pieces and collectibles had been sold during the move, I was told. We needed the money, I was told.
But what I thought was that we didn’t need any more burglaries. We now had nothing they could want. Even our TV was small and cheap. But most importantly, anything Dad had owned was gone. There was nothing left for ‘them’ to come back for.
We never spoke of the second burglary. Of how ‘they’ had come back for the game. Mom never asked what I had been doing with the game in my room. I never asked her why the game had been hidden in a wall, or how ‘they’ had known to come back for it.
I just figured that whole chapter of life was over with. Father was gone, and with him were all his things. That was it.
I threw myself into my schoolwork, into talking, into performing as a person. I had to take care of mom. I had to be ‘good enough’ to fulfill Father’s place in the world. I saw myself collecting precious things like he had, all while destroying crime. I wanted to become a lawyer some days, a cop on other days, and when I was tired, a vigilante.
Over the last year, my marks had improved dramatically. So much so that I was moved from the special education section into the ‘normal kids’ section. I made no friends. But I studied so hard that I won a letter of congratulations from the principal and a spot on the honor roll. That year, at the end of the year, mom took me to visit some people at another school.
“Cross your fingers sweetie,” she’d said before we went in.
In there, all the other students were wearing uniforms. They looked serious. The adults were serious too, dressed primly. I was set in a room and given an exam. Like all my other exams, I set my unicorn on my desk to watch over my back, and I picked up the pen.
Once the exam was done, I sat in a room with a white woman who was blonder than mother and who had a strict bob. She smiled at me. “Your mother says you enjoy school,” she said tartly.
“I’m going to be a lawyer,” I said fiercely, daring her to contradict me.
She smiled sweetly. I hated her.
“You do know,” she said to me “that we do not accept special needs children.”
I glared at her.
“If we were to accept you, you would have to function as well as the other students, and will receive no extra help or special treatment.”
I glared at her angrily. Mom wanted me to come here. So the lady should give way. Mom must have what she wants. I would do it to keep my mom happy.
She looked pointedly down at my lap, where the stuffie sat in my hands. “You wouldn’t be able to bring your unicorn.”
My world shook. How could I? To enter the world alone- I stared at my only friend, my only solace in the whole wide world. I heard the woman saying something about rules and regulations as if through a tunnel.
Then, quietly, I pushed the unicorn off my lap.
It hit the floor with a soft thud. Mom gasped. The woman stared. I glared at her.
“Try me,” I said.
When we left that building, mom had stacks of papers to bring home and sign. She was carrying the unicorn now, not me. The world felt huge and overwhelming, the very air pounding and pressing in on me. But I would not need my unicorn any more. I was an adult, and I was going to a very expensive school.
“This is really going to help you get into law,” mom said as we sat around the kitchen table with the paperwork and lasagna.
I nodded, eating diligently.
“You will have to keep studying very hard, though,” she said between mouthfuls.
I nodded some more.
“But I hope you can find some time to make friends. You know, get to know people?” And she cocked a smile at me.
I smiled back and added that to my checklist of things to do: Make friends. I must make mom happy and proud. She’d been asking me to make friends for some time now. My therapist kept mentioning it. But friends just didn’t interest me. You couldn’t focus with them. You couldn’t just be.
So maybe that would have to wait a little. Maybe once I was a big lawyer and I brought all kinds of criminals to justice mom wouldn’t mind that I didn’t have friends.
I was so busy thinking of that, I almost didn’t hear what she said. It jolted my head up, eyes wide. She smiled tearily at me and repeated. “Your dad would be proud, sweetie.”
It was like a small ray of sunshine piercing through the sky upon me. I found myself smiling, but felt a sharp pain at the same time. Father was something of the past, something I refused to think about anymore.
“Here,” mom handed me a tissue. I wiped my cheeks and sniffled. “You’re going to do great, sweetie.”
I nodded, balling up the tissue and rising to put it into the garbage. When I came back, mom was truly happy. Well, if this school made her that happy, I was going to make sure I succeeded. I would be the best. I would have to do it all without my stuffie, but I would. I was an adult, I was going to be a lawyer, and I was going to take care of my mom.
The next day, I went to school as usual. Mom picked me up from school, and we drove home. When we walked in, the door swung out of my hand and shut with a slam. Mom turned, I turned, and ‘they’ were there.
There was a large man behind the door. Another in the kitchen. Another sitting behind our kitchen table. All had handguns.
Briefly, I wished for my own gun. I wanted to be big and powerful and to defend mom.
“Come, sit down,” said the big man from behind the table. He was not wearing a black ski mask. Instead, he was wearing a hat. With a gesture, he added “Put the kid in her room.”
I was seized by the arm and dragged to my room. In there, the door shut, I just stood there for a minute. My mind had crashed. I was staring into the void, not seeing anything.
I came to when I caught sight of my unicorn on my desk. Snatching it up, I clutched at it and ran to the door. Pressing my ear against it, I could hear what was happening in the kitchen.
“We don’t have anything!” mom was saying.
“Oh I believe you, but I think you cheated me. I think you sold it.”
“What?” Mom sounded desperate in a way I never wanted to hear again.
“Just give us the list of whomever you sold things to. I want your bank account statements from the last year. That’s all. We’ll leave you be after that.”
“You promise?” Mom’s voice was trembling. “Because we really don’t have anything. We really don’t!”
“Oh I know. Living off your husband’s insurance. How else would you get your precious daughter to that school? No, just give us the list. We’ll find it for ourselves.”
“What are you even talking about?” mom asked, voice trembling.
There was a smack. I saw red and black at the same time. Mom started sobbing.
“There we go,” the evil man said. “Thank you for that.”
There was a moment of sniffles and sobs. “Here,” mom was saying. “Here they are.”
The man murmured. There was the sound of phone snaps, the sound some phones make when they take pictures. Then there was a sound of a chair being scraped back. “This is your warning. If we don’t find it- watch your kid.”
“What?” mom shrieked. “But we don’t have anything! We don’t!”
Another thud. Mom started sobbing again. But she was screaming now. “Don’t you dare touch my daughter! Don’t you dare!”
There was the sound of footsteps running away from my door. I yanked the door open just as I heard the gunshot.
I ran out into the hallway, screaming. Mom was laying on the floor, a puddle of blood already around her head. The man with the hat was on the floor as well, a broken chair over him. I crashed to the floor next to mom, screaming but not hearing myself. They picked the man up, limp as they lugged him to the door.