“Who’s been into the god damned graham crackers?” my father screams from the top of his lungs in the kitchen. The resounding “not me” rings one at a time from all four of my siblings. With me being the oldest at home, I am sure his attention will focus on me, and I am right. The worst part is that I’m not allowed to eat the “family food,” according to him. He justifies this commandment because I didn’t keep the bathroom clean enough for people to move in and out of, although without a bedroom it’s the only place I have to keep my clothes. But that doesn’t matter.
I crank my headphones up as loud as they will go and he steps in front of me. I keep my eyes lowered so as not to challenge him the way you should do with a dangerous dog.
He pauses in front of me and taps his foot. I refuse to look at him. He grabs my headphones in one hand, ripping them and a handful of hair from my head and tossing them onto the floor.
“I asked who ate the graham crackers.” His voice is shaking when he speaks. That’s a bad sign. “I also noticed someone drank some milk. There’s more missing than when I left. Is that you too?” He typically uses a pen to create a small line at the level of liquid in the jug. When I did take a drink, it would be small enough to balance it out with a bit of tap water. But not this time. It’s been several days since I’ve eaten. I ate at my boyfriend’s house a few days ago. He’d made me a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and force fed me. I was stuffed after a few pieces. It was comical.
I keep my voice as non-emotional as I can. “I didn’t drink any milk and I didn’t get into the graham crackers. I know I’m not allowed to eat.”
My siblings, situated in different areas of the adjoining living room, watch with curiosity to see what the end result will be this time. Surely they’ll have a story to share with their friends at school tomorrow.
“Then who did, know-it-all?”
I shake my head, desperate for the right answer but unable to provide one.
My father’s head teeters back and forth and he smiles, cupping his hand behind his ear. “What’s that? Am I supposed to hear your brains rattle?” He lowers his hand. “I can’t hear nothing. Nothing in that head of yours.”
My eyes move back to the floor and I wait.
He smacks the side of my face hard enough for my view to change directions and my hair to cover the stinging burn in the shape of a handprint across my cheek.
“Fine,” I say, finally caving in and not caring anymore but still not knowing who the culprit is, “I’ll confess to eating your graham crackers even though I didn’t. Is that what you want? Does that make you happy?”
I manage to rise to my feet in front of him. Although I’m not as tall as he, I’m more of a barrier than my other siblings. He doesn’t appreciate the threat. His eyelids twitch and water builds inside his lower lids while he determines if he should be afraid or not.
In slow motion, he brings his fist across his body through the air to backhand me. I stare as it swings downward, the other direction, crushing my ear against my head. For a brief second, everything sort of goes black. Not exactly black, but more of a dark gray with little glistening stars in it. My vision quickly returns, but the sound remains absent.
My father yells at me. I can’t tell what he’s saying, but his mouth is contorting rapidly, and I see saliva spitting out a couple of times with the exploding closed letters.
I shake my head in an attempt to clear it, but nothing happens.
He leans in and his mouth widening as I view the crevasses in his teeth and the wiggling muscles of his tongue, but there’s no sound. Lifting his hand again, I can tell I need to brace myself for another hit—and this one will make the last one forgettable.
“Wait!” I try to get his attention but cannot hear my own voice. “I can’t hear!”
For a brief moment, it’s as if I delivered a fierce blow because he pauses. The significance dawns on me and I repeat it over and over again. “I can’t hear. Oh, my god, I’m deaf!” I know my lips are moving and my breath is forced out my mouth.
My siblings all stare at me as if they’re disappointed that none of them had wagered this as happening. They are all totally caught off-guard.
No one moves toward me. My father leaves to go upstairs, probably to his room. After a few moments, the rest of the room returns to their activities.
I sob in silence. My body shakes and my breath heaves in my chest, unable to catch my breath. All I can think is that my boyfriend isn’t going to want me now. What good am I? I run to the bathroom and close the door.
Opening the cupboard, I remove my favorite shirt. My boyfriend gave it to me last week, and I put it on. I grab a tissue and wipe it across my face, throwing it away. I leave. I need to find help. Someone will be able to help me.
I walked the silent length of the city to my boyfriend’s house. He calls the authorities because they’re the ones who are supposed to come to the aid of those requiring help. The take me to my house and wait out front while I grab a few pairs of clothes from under the bathroom sink. No one in my house makes any effort to communicate with me. I return to the front and climb into the waiting car with a grocery bag of clothes, hoping my others will be there when I get back.
I spend a few days in foster care with the kids who are out of control, and then my big day in court comes—the day when all the violence against me will stop. Even more importantly, the violence against my siblings will end. We’ll all be free, even if we can’t stay together, and I’ll have done my job as the eldest sibling.
My hearing has returned, mostly, and seems to improve each day. I know how fortunate I am because I thought it would never return.
The courtroom is a small room with a stand at the front and a table to each side. I sit down in the metal chair next to the state worker representing me, and my father sits at the other one.
The judge takes a moment and reviews the small stack of papers in front of him. “You Ralph and this is your daughter?” He indicates me to my father.
“Did you hit your daughter?” he says.
“Yes, I did.”
“You’ll need to find another means of discipline.”
My father rolls his eyes. “That’s the only thing these damned kids understand.”
As if the first two exchanges don’t account for anything, the judge repeats the exact same thing with the exact same inflections. “You’ll need to find another means of discipline.”
“Sure,” my father says and glares at me. “Another type of discipline.”
“Great,” the judge says and gathers up the paperwork, stacking them and bouncing them to make them even before stapling them together. “Bring in the next case.” His face shifts to the door where another family comes into the room.
“You get to go home now,” the worker beside me says cheerfully. “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
I grab my grocery bag of clothes beside me and slowly walk toward the exit. My father waits for me at the opening. He doesn’t even try to disguise his hatred, and the coldness leaves no curiosity as to what will happen when we get home except for what the discipline is. He’ll make sure this never happens again.
It’s a long way from over.