It was one of those nights where you’re just waiting for something to happen. You know when your instincts kick in and start tossing around little red flags in your mind, simply to warn you that you’re being watched? Well, that was the night that a little girl showed up on my doorstep.
Before I get into the story of what turned into the greatest night of my life, please allow me to introduce myself.
Renee’ Hawthorne. Publically, I’m labeled as a freak, although I’m yet to understand how or why that came about. If I ask my mom what’s wrong with me, she says nothing; supposedly I’m beautiful. She says that she adores my scarlet colored hair because it reminds her of her sister’s; plump curls framing my face and neck. On the other hand, even of all my awful features, my father speaks only of my eyes; he claims it’s the best thing about me. But that’s only because deep navy is his favorite color.
I don’t care what compliments they give me, they still can’t convince me that I’m even relatively pretty. I’ve come to believe the inconsiderate comments I hear behind me at school. Even so, every time someone’s laughing, I still think it’s about me. That has just become a routine for me to overhear what other people say about me. It happened so often that I used to think they did it on purpose so I could go home and wail into my pillow.
I’m a deathly pale femaleand I relish it. Although it still drives me crazy that I’m fourteen and four feet and seven inches tall. If you’re anything like me, it’s the height you’re made fun of for. (One of the many things I hear behind my back.) I’m constantly reminded of my petite height.
My living situation…what shall I make of it? I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. Proclaiming to the world that your parents resemble emotional alcoholics isn’t exactly what you’d label and call an easy feat. Every small word you say to them could make them explode. Simple words turn into head on, full throttle wars. The best way to describe my parents is like the flip of a coin. If it lands on tails, you better watch out.
I know what you’re thinking; you’re stereotyping us as I speak. Don’t even make me out to be the victim here, because I know I don’t deserve the respect of innocence. It’s absolutely not like you’re assuming. Mom and Dad keep to each other unless I’ve spoken to them when they’re livid. But if I remain silent then they omit me from their outbursts. I can’t stop and think about it; bathing in misery and shame and collecting condolences of sympathy is not an option. Trying as hard as I can, I keep my home situation to myself. The truth stings when reality smacks you in the face as you hear bloody murder screams from the neighboring room each night. You realize your parents aren’t perfect; as nobody is. But my parents are as from perfect as is allowed.
That’s enough about me. Let’s get back to February 17; my favorite night I’ve ever lived.
It was about seven thirty and a relatively quiet evening. Everyone was doing their nightly routine. Dad was asleep early for the night, Mom was vigorously cleaning and I was watching television as I usually did after supper. The tune from the doorbell blared behind me and I jumped, breaking my steady train of thought. My mother, with her deep brunette hair frayed and sticking wildly out of her loose ponytail, hastily wiped her hands on the laced hand towel and quickly started for the door. You would not believe your eyes as to who stood before her.
There was a little girl standing unsteadily in the doorway, gazing up at my mother like a deer caught in headlights. The haggard little thing looked like a rag doll from hell. She had long, knotted blonde hair piled up on her head with thick mud caking what seemed to be every strand of her thick hair. Her frail face looked like it had been chucked down a garbage disposal. Dirt and grime covered her innocent little face, with little space between her eyelids and the curve of her face without muck. Looking at her was like drawing a face in the mud and giving it a name. Her emerald eyes shone like a cat’s, yet empty and obviously mistrusting. A closer look would’ve shown that she held secrets and long stories about things that she should’ve never even came close to seeing. And as attires go, this one was atrocious. Her frail body was cleverly hidden underneath a very haggard looking sky-blue sweatshirt that went well to her bony knees. Overall, she appeared to be forgotten; helpless.
My mother seemed to be indifferent to the reject appearance. “Can I help you?” She batted her eyelashes and waited patiently for an answer. Gripping her right wrist, her hands rested in front of her stomach.
“Um, I don’t know…Could y-you p-please tell m-me where I-I um, am?” the child quickly stammered, violently shaking from the freezing weather. I felt a knot quickly forming in my throat the more I thought about what kind of life this girl must have lead so far. Which couldn’t have been much; as I rudely stared, I estimated she must have been about five or six years old. I was utterly curious as to what kind of lifestyle this girl was raised in, and who could’ve let a little girl like this go. How could you mistreat someone so badly to the point that they couldn’t handle it anymore? Little girls don’t run away. I quickly swiped away a tear as questions immediately began racing through my mind as if my brain had suddenly become a search application on a computer.
“Come in and sit down. I will be right back in a few minutes,” my mother Cherish smiled warmly. I was silently in shock. Rarely had I ever heard my mother give anybody that much hospitality. Spinning on her heels, she quickly headed for her bedroom, leaving the stranger to herself.
The girl nervously glanced around, and I heard her quietly give a sigh of what sounded like relief. She gently tip-toed with her bare feet across the tiles on the kitchen floor into the living room where I had been quietly listening, keeping my opinions to myself. The stranger stared at me as she lowered herself onto the soft love seat, and I had a mind to stare right back. I reminded myself of a dog protecting her territory from strangers. A thought of generosity flashed through my mind and I started to grin at her.
“Hi! My name’s Renee’! What’s your name?” I piped up cheerfully. I took an immediate liking to her, as if she had been my best friend for eons.
“I’m not sure,” she replied quietly, keeping her head drawn to the off-white colored carpet. I silently hoped that she was the not shy, happy-go-lucky kid. Obviously it was a long shot in the dark.
I tried again. “I was thinking that you might want to come to my room and see if any of my clothes fit you. You want to?” I was thinking that if I attempted to keep up even a small conversation it would gently encourage her to talk.
She cocked her head to one side and cracked an inch of a smile. “Really?”
My eyes grew wide as I heard distinct yelling in the other room and I froze in place.
“Does it really matter? Really, Cherish. I don’t care if she is alone, I couldn’t care if she was half-dead, WE DON’T HAVE THE MONEY. We barely have the money to feed that brat that we’ve already got!” I could tell it was my father’s voice that screamed that. I felt as if he had slapped me square in the face. No…slapped wasn’t even the right word to describe the aloneness I felt, how much trust just snapped in half with those few words.
“She is MY daughter! You knew I had intentions on having children and I am glad of it. Although I’m damned sure I could have picked a better man to share a life with!” It was my mother’s voice that answered him. A smacking noise echoed.
The girl faced me and I immediately noticed the obvious fear radiating in her eyes. “Are they always like this?”
I hesitated. “…yes,” I admitted.
“My mommy and daddy used to act the same way before I ran away,” she started. I took a chance and predicted she was going to go into a long spill of a story, so I interrupted.
“Why don’t we go into my room so you can try on clothes while we talk? Well, no, wait. I think that you need to take a bath and warm up first before we do that. Don’t you think?” I asked, exasperated. Honestly, I just wanted to be out of earshot before the heated argument continued or even ascended. I didn’t want to be the one responsible for contacting the authorities.
After I persuaded the girl to take a warm bath, we ended up in my room so she could try on outfits. All that time Cherish and my father Richard were still arguing, but it was peaceful in my room.
“Oh, I like this one!” she exclaimed, about a grass green shirt and old jeans that I had kept from when I was younger that she had tried on. It was slightly baggy, but it didn’t seem to bother her.
“Yeah, it is cute. It matches your eyes perfectly!” I cried, smiling with amusement. We had finally found on outfit that she actually liked. After about twelve of my best (and smallest) outfits, it got slightly aggravating.
“…So my eyes are green?” she asked. Curiosity was obvious in her tone; how could she not know her own eye color?
I ignored her simple question. “Aside from that, what do you want to be called?”
“Um, I’m not sure. You pick a name!” she giggled, obviously thinking it was a game.
“Well, how about Elizabeth? I’ve always loved that name.”
“Okeydokey! What’s my last name gonna be?” This girl was amazingly unconcerned.
“I thought about that, and so I picked out Etherson,” I answered, looking her straight in the eye. She never even blinked.
“Etherson,” she repeated. “Elizabeth Etherson! I like that name!”
“Now remember, you can’t ever change it,” I reminded her, trying to make her conscious of her decision. She was making it painfully obvious that she didn’t care.
“Yup, I know!” she exclaimed, and clicked her tongue nonchalantly.
“Alright, so your name is Elizabeth Etherson,” I told her. “You stay here, and I’ll be right back.”
“Kay,” she answered, occupied by the toy that she had found in my closet. Perhaps someone forgot to teach her common courtesy because asking was clearly not a priority of hers. I left her alone to deal with the situation later. How much later, I wasn’t completely sure of.
I slowly sauntered to the living room in search of my mother and immediately found her. So much for the search mission. It seemed like she had been crying, as she had her head resting on her knees, her legs drawn tightly to her chest.
“Mom? You okay?” I asked gingerly, leaning down to the floor to gently touch her arm.
She sniffed, raising her head. “I’m alright, I guess.” Her voice wavered. “You need something?”
“The girl is now Elizabeth Etherson,” I proclaimed proudly. You couldn’t deny the amount of pride in my voice of being creative enough to name a person.
“Oh, so you never thought that your father and I would say no?”
“Well, ah, not exactly…” I mumbled, turning my face to the carpet. The toe of my shoe dug into the carpet as I distracted my attention.
“He did, so put that in your little pipe and smoke it.” Cherish’s voice rose.
I held back my tears, not wanting to cry in front of my mom. I was majorly used to her attitude, so that time it shouldn’t have mattered to me.
“So what now?” I asked her.
“You may have been wanting to hear this, and so here it goes. Your father and I are getting a divorce. We are moving out, and taking Elizabeth with us,” she managed, almost choking as tears were welling up in her hazel blue eyes.
It was true. I have wanted it since I was a little girl. I always dreamt of it, assuming it would mold our lives into something easier and quieter, like the tranquil lives most people lived. But I didn’t understand why she was just then realizing that it was what she needed to do all along. I felt so confused.
I slowly ran my hand through my hair and started to sob.