Windows of a Teenage Girl

When I was 15 years old, I stared out my window longing for freedom. I sat on my bed and rested my head on the windowsill and I fantasized about crawling out and seeing my friends. But I didn’t. Doing so meant the end to my little life. And while already having lost the freedom to talk on the phone, to wear pants, to wear makeup, to socialize, or to even get a glass of water without asking, why I felt so afraid of the consequences is beyond my comprehension now. But I feared leaving and so I dealt with the sadness of my little room and the darkness of my home by writing poetry and taking two pills a day–one tiny white pill called Zoloft and one larger one with another name I don’t remember, but it was supposed to help me stop pulling out my hair.

***

Hair flying wildly, as  Nick would storm into my room red faced and scream at me to start closing my blinds. He could see me undress when he walked over to that side of the yard to smoke his cigarettes. I don’t know why I always forgot to close my blinds. Maybe I didn’t want to lose sight for even a second, of the promise of freedom outside that window. Closing the blinds meant I felt protected in my home, but to be honest, that home did not protect me. And so I kept forgetting to close my blinds when I undressed, and my step-dad kept forgetting to not smoke on that side of the backyard and look in my window.

***

Windows were places to dream on long drives. On drives to my step-grandmother’s house, I sat in the backseat looking out the car window and dreamed of seeing my secret boyfriend, Ryan, in another car. I fantasized that if that ever happened, I would press my hand up against the cold glass, spreading my fingers out like a starfish and mouth to him “I love you.”

***

You may think I was always good, but when I was almost 16, there were a couple of months where my sister and I would open that window in our room and push out the corner of the screen so we could sneak out to smoke cigarettes. I remember it clearly now. We turned our fan on when we went to sleep and its noise muffled the sounds of our secrets and cries. At 2 o’clock in the morning, when everyone in the house was asleep, the fan would also muffle the sound of us crawling out the window. After we successfully crawled out, my heart pounded and my adrenalin rushed as we stuck the cigarettes in the empty Bic ink pens. This way our fingers wouldn’t smell like cigarettes and give us away. We didn’t leave our house–We just sat on the grass with our backs against the cold brick wall and took long drags, holding the smoke in our lungs for as long as we could, and then slowly blowing it out. We smoked just one cigarette each, but that cigarette was our secret freedom— the one thing we did that he couldn’t take away. And after that cigarette, we slowly crawled back through the window, while praying to God, no one heard. My heart didn’t stop pounding until I stepped out of my mother’s car the next morning and walked up the steps of my school.

***

School had come and gone and during the summer between my sophomore and junior year, my step-dad found a house that could embody everything he wanted our family to be. It sat on three acres of horse property in the hills of the Alta Loma suburbs at a price only dreams could afford. Yet even I at that time hoped that this house could change us. The one-story home with the attic, double sided fireplace, and horse property appeared like a fairytale waiting to rescue us from the chaos of our lives. In the attic of the home, some 30 feet from the floor, sat a window. If our step-dad got this house, the attic would be my sister’s and my room, but only under one condition– he would put bars up in the attic window and cut the large tree out side of it down. This way, he said, we couldn’t run away.

***

Away was all I wanted one night— I couldn’t wait for freedom anymore and so I cut the screen in my window. I couldn’t open it like I had before because we didn’t have that fan anymore and I would make too much noise trying to push out the screen that evening. Looking back, I know I was serious about leaving. If I wasn’t serious, there was no way I would have cut that screen. Cutting the screen meant abuse ten times worse than what I experienced that evening. Cutting the screen meant I had to leave or risk the consequences. I think I was going crazy that night as I threw away all my belongings into big black trash bags.

“What are you doing?” my sister asked. And I just threw my head back and laughed and laughed.

“Does it matter anymore? Does it really f@#$ing matter?” I said.

Could anyone blame me? I had just experienced my step-dad throwing me against the towel cupboard, calling me a slutt and a whore as he forcefully rubbed lipstick and mascara all over my face, my neck, and my arms until I was covered in red and black streaks smeared with tears and sweat. And just when I thought it was over, he pulled out my blue and green, flower- covered poetry journal and read each page out loud, tearing it out of the book and throwing the crumbed pages and more soul-killing adjectives in my face. I fought back by pressing my knees against my chest and dreaming of my next poem.

And so after I threw away almost all that I owned, I took my backpack and my sister’s backpack and packed in each: one pair of jeans, one t-shirt, a hooded sweatshirt, a toothbrush, deodorant, and a pen—my ultimate weapon. Then I hid the backpacks in the old, ripped, box spring of my bed, so that when our step-dad checked under it to make sure we cleaned up the mess he left after destroying our room, he wouldn’t see. After he checked and went to bed, I took out the scissors and cut the screen and promised my sister that we would never have to live like that again. And looking back at this story years later, I have only one regret. Anthony—I’m so sorry I didn’t pack your bag too.

***

Too soon after CPS forced our stepfather to leave, I snuck out my window and hopped over the brick wall. It was the first and last time I ever did it, but I did. My mother was asleep and I had a girlfriend over for the night. She had a crush on my next-door neighbor and wanted to see him. Without any thought, I pushed out my screen and we crawled through the window and we didn’t come back ’till 5 in the morning.

***

Morning on our darkness wouldn’t come for some time. We dwelled in it for a while despite our attempts to move forward. At the beginning of my senior year in high school, my mother found a small apartment not far from our former home. She had to switch from being the sick and weak mom, fighting Lupus and Epstein bar virus as she made our lunches, did our laundry, and cooked us dinner to being a strong, single, working mom.  Because she had not worked in 8 years, the humble job she found could only pay for so much. My 11-year-old brother slept on the couch in the living room. My sister and I shared a room again. My mother slept, lonely, and scared in the master bedroom. Sometimes late at night, my sister, brother, and I could hear noise coming from our mother’s empty room. One of those nights we developed enough courage to open the door and face the intruder. And there we found our crying mother–crawling through her window back into the house, still holding the half empty bottle of Jack Daniels–so we wouldn’t see how drunk she was. We were all mourning the morning of our lives. But morning would come indeed. Mine came first. My sisters second. My mother next. My brother last.

***

Last day of August 2007, I wrote in my diary, “In my new room behind the safe walls of my loving father’s home, I close the blinds when I undress and the window screen remains sealed tight.”

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