There was always a light in the dark. It dimly shined down from her room at the top of the stairs and no matter what I was always able to see it directly. It was the most noticeable at night when the house was dark and quiet after a long day of chaos. Almost like the low buzz emitting from the bulb was completely aware of the silence and needed to sever our rare moment of solace. I hated the light. Sometimes I would even close my room door to avoid it.
I knew better than to try to sleep while that light was on because though it illuminated her room, it cast a shadow of darkness over the rest of the house. Though the signal of the light would play as a symbol of warning to us, letting us know that she was either going through withdrawals, high, and/or intoxicated, her reactions would always be unpredictable. I think that is what always scared me the most. Some nights when the light was on, she would simply want company. Someone to join her in a card game or board game of some kind that would typically last all night and through the early hours of morning. Whichever one of us was unlucky enough to be her card buddy would have no hope of getting any sleep that night. We would shuffle away the hours of time with games of “Spades” and “I Declare War” until our fingers grew numb enough not to care. These were her more peaceful reactions.
But there were times when it seemed as if the light that filled her room burned too bright and sparked a fire within her as she went through her withdrawal stages. She would randomly barrel down the stairs, turning on more lights as she went, and barge into one of our rooms. My sister would always be the unlucky prize behind door number one. My mother would roughly flick the light switch on the wall of the room and that’s when the commotion would begin.
It would start off with my sister Lashawnda groaning awake from the sudden brightness in the room and my mother asking drunkenly for money. It never took long for things to get violent. That was when I knew I needed to stop hiding and step into the light. By the time I would open my door and begin the short walk into my sister’s room to defuse the situation, my mother’s spark of insanity had already gone nuclear. She would begin to toss my sister’s entire room around in search of the money she knew we collectively hid from her and that was somewhere within the space. She would look through all of our usual hiding spots first, like old Nike Air Force One shoeboxes that lined the floor and shelves of Lashawnda’s closet, underneath the mattress pad of her black bunk bed, or inside the small grey speakers connected to the Windows desktop computer. We knew better than to keep those original hiding spots. If there was one thing we learned faster than anything taught to us in school, it was to hide our money well whenever we were at home. When my mother was unlucky in her search and when she would grow tired of us trying to physically restrain her from ripping through the contents of the room any further, that was usually when things would go south. My mother would throw the last object that she was searching across the floor of the room just to spite my sister and ruin one of her material objects. It was then that she would turn on one of us.
My mother would quickly shake off our hold and storm out of the room, leaving us underneath the gleaming light that seemed to blare down upon our sleep-ridden eyes as we stood there waiting. Lashawnda and I knew she was far from finished with her path of destruction. We closed my sister’s thin wooden door and locked it. We knew it would not keep her at bay very long. The door and the lock were worn out from being burst open repeatedly. Lashawnda and I stood in our pajamas, attempting to quiet our shaky breathing in order to listen to whatever room she was grabbing her weapon of choice from that night. Our mom had taken away Lashawnda’s cell phone and the purple cordless phone she kept in her room. I was only nine and did not have a phone.
As we listened, we heard the unmistakable sound of a kitchen drawer slam shut and my mother’s deafening monologue of unintelligible rage. Lashawnda and I briefly glanced at each other and set our stance more firmly on the black-carpeted floor beneath our bare feet as we listened to our mother approach the door once again. My mother stuck what we could only assume was the thick carving knife from the kitchen between the medium-sized gap where the lock of the door lay and the locking mechanism screwed into the frame connected to the wall. The door was so worn out that we could easily make out the lock being tampered with by some sharp object just thin enough to be wedged in between the two. The buzz emitting from the dim light bulb in the dusty ceiling fan above us was almost calming as Lashawnda and I seemed to hold our breath in anticipation for the door to give way. The old door popped open with lightning speed, the handle landing harshly on the wall behind the door where there was a permanent, imprinted knob-hole from the many times this had occurred.
Looking back on how these situations went now, I realize I either had some sort of death wish or I was just incredibly naïve because somehow I always found myself being the one caught between my sister and whatever weapon my mother tried to harm us with that night. I rushed towards our mother to prevent her from going anywhere near Lashawnda with the knife she held firmly in her right hand. I could smell the overwhelming scent of the dark liquor mixed with whatever substance she had inhaled through the pipe she had made with an old ballpoint pen tube. Her hair was in a haphazard ponytail and her eyes looked maniac. As she began to spew her profanities and insults at me, I overpowered her with my height advantage of about three inches and began to force her back into the hallway. I could hear Lashawnda screaming at my mother as Lashawnda stood rooted to her spot in her bedroom doorway, afraid to jump into the fray with the knife being clutched between my mother’s hand and mine as I pushed her back into the wall between my bedroom and the bathroom. My left hand held her right hand. As I held her, I could feel my hand begin to weaken and waver. Unfortunately, I was right-handed too. Eventually, her force became too much for me to hold and with a small jolt of power from her, I stumbled back for a split second, only for one of my feet to bump one of hers. I tripped backwards over her and fell on my back.
I had the perfect view of the light now. I lay with my eyes pointed straight up at the ceiling. Fortunately, my mother had more or less been able to keep her footing when I fell. Unfortunately, that did not stop her from being even more pissed off than what she already was. She quickly kneeled down on the floor, straddled my waist, and pressed the blade of the knife down on my throat. I did not dare to move. I simply stared up at the light. The way I saw it, I needed to make my peace with the bright entity on the ceiling that I had grown to dislike so much if I was going to leave the world that night. I could hear Lashawnda’s voice closer to me as I lay on the floor. She was yelling at my mother still as my mother yelled a slew of unimportance at me. After laying there for what seemed like hours, I eventually felt the sharp steel of the blade lift from my throat and the 130 pound body lift off of my 110 pound one. As always, my mother began to yell about how we needed to get out of the house before she killed us both. Needless to say, after her little show of craziness, we obliged willingly. She would never allow us to take anything but the clothes we already had on our backs. Even if the winter was quickly approaching and even if we had no shoes on our feet. Trying to take anything would often lead to another physical showdown, so we scurried to the front door and left the house, Lashawnda cursing loudly at my mother and slamming the door as we went.
We would walk the streets in anger, talking animatedly to each other about how insane our mother was. Our little rants helped us to blow off steam, fear, and often plan ahead to when we would finally be old enough to live on our own. A few hours into our circling of the block, we would search for a stranger with a phone or stop in a gas station and use one there. It was then that we would attempt to call other family members who were unsympathetic or did not want to deal with the wreckage that always followed after Hurricane Laveda had struck. However, even though we always knew that no one would come to save us in these recurring situations, we always hoped for some kind of lifeline. We also had hope when calling family members because we did not want to face the reality of what would follow: our mother calming down and letting us back into the house as if nothing was wrong. And that is exactly what happened during our last walk around the block.
As my sister and I trudged our way back inside the house, everything was dark. The only illumination being the slowly rising sun as it streamed through the blinds of the window wall of the living room. We knew we only had about four hours to sleep before we had to get up for school that day. We never missed school, no matter what, because no fight was worth the awkward hell we knew we would face if we were stuck in the house with our mother for the rest of the day. As we silently made our way back to our rooms, we did not dare to speak of what had happened. I simply closed my door and lay back down. The sun shined dimly through the window behind my head. This light I did not mind because it brought a sense of peace along with it, and I preferred it over the one that shined from her room at the top of the stairs at night.
Ieisha Banks is a twenty-two-year-old aspiring writer from Chicago, IL and a current student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with a 3.6 GPA. Banks will graduate in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Creative Writing. She has been writing for nine years and has been published through organizations such as the Chicago Tribune, the Anti-Defamation League, and the America Library of Poetry. Upon her graduation, Banks plans to move to Euless, TX, settle down with her fiancé, and continue to pursue her writing career.