Sal leads the way through the darkness. We walk a couple of blocks when a single raindrop falls onto my nose. Rain is closing in. I hope the place is close by. Stores light our way, the road clear ahead of us. I don’t know where I am going, but having a view of the road is comforting.
Sal stops in front of a small store with brown paper over the display window and the door. Sal pulls out the plastic case from his back pocket. I look around, trying to spot anybody that could stop us, but nobody comes. Sal opens the door. He lets me inside.
I walk into the darkness of the room. I can’t see much, only a counter at the back of the store. Something punctures through the thin sole of my shoe. Pain shoots up my leg. I raise my foot with a small shriek. Sal pulls out a flashlight from his backpack illuminating the way. He tosses it to me. I catch it with the tip of my fingers. I grasp the handle and point at the floor.
In front of my feet lay shreds of broken pottery delicately painted with flowers and birds. It must have been a home décor store. As I step forward, pain burns the edge of my foot. I grit my teeth trying to disguise the pain, but each time I take a step I can’t help but limp. A light shines from behind me. I turn around to spot Sal lighting me with a flashlight.
“Hurt yourself?” he asks.
I shrug, “A little. I’m fine really.” Sal shakes his head in disbelief. He drops his bag, closes the door, walks to me and kneels down. I know what he wants me to do. I wrap my arms around his neck as he slides his arms under my knees. I hold my flashlight with one hand and hang on to his neck with the other. The light from my hand lights the dim store. I light the way to the counter at the edge of the store.
Sal sits me on the dusty counter. “I know we barely know each other,” Sal sights his lips as he kneels down. He opens his bag and I shine light over him. “But you have to trust me and I have to trust you, else this is not going to work.” I nod like I understand when in reality his words feel meaningless to me. Like trust is something so simple, like it isn’t something that only appears in fairy tales and movies. As if it exists. As if it ever existed.
I look around the dimly lit store. The floor is covered in broken pieces of white porcelain. I light my flashlight at a small bulk at the corner. Two broken porcelain dolls lie on the cold floor. Their puffy dresses are covered in a thin layer of dust giving them a gloomy glow. I can see the head of the first doll. Her nose and frame are delicate with small cracks growing like ivy from the corners. The paint on her wide blue eyes and pink lips had faded to an almost invisible white. Glue holds two pieces of her head together, but it is peeling away. Her wrists are also glued together. Her waist has been crushed into tiny pieces of gray porcelain. The brown hair has been torn off one side of her head. She has been breaking for a while. Someone tried to put her back together only to break her again, slowly and painfully.
The other one’s head is completely shattered into unrecognizable pieces as if someone threw it into the ground in a fit of rage. The color of purple lips and blue eyes are scattered around it. The colors are still bright. The doll only recently broke, maybe by accident, maybe on purpose. All I can tell is that it was one fall that shattered the doll.
Sal pulls the bandages from his backpack and starts to bandage my foot. I squeeze my lips as the tight fabric wraps around my wound. He met me not a month ago yet he treats me with such kindness. He doesn’t know why I ran away yet he knows when to step back. I don’t remember ever meeting anybody as peculiar as him. I wonder why anybody would want him out of their lives. Should I ask? I’m not sure it’s appropriate.
“What are you thinking about?” He asks. I am so caught up in my head I didn’t notice when Sal stood up and sat next to me. I don’t answer for a moment, still second-guessing myself about the question I’m eagerly anxious to ask.
“Can I ask you something?” I mumble. Sal nods in the darkness. “Did you run away or get kicked out?”
“A bit of both.” He shrugs.
“My parents told me to leave or change. I left.” He explains, “They told me to leave because I’m gay.” I feel a cold shock run through my body. I can’t help but want to ask more. “You want the whole story, don’t you?” My curiosity must be obvious to him.
I nod, “If it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to know.”
He tilts his head forward slightly, almost trying to hide his features in the dim light. “It was two years ago now,” He begins. His voice is softer and more silent, shy even. “It was the middle of June; my parents were out visiting my aunt for the weekend. I come from a very religious family. My parents never accepted homosexuality. I was so nervous. I had been preparing for a month to come out of the closet. I told myself the moment my parents got back, I would do it.
“And so I did. I sat them down and I told them I am gay. My mom asked all sorts of questions. Are you sure? Does this have to do with never having a girlfriend? Do you want a psychologist to help you? It hurt hearing my mom ask those questions but at least she was reacting. My dad, on the other hand, didn’t say a word. He just stared mindlessly at me. After all the questions I broke down and told my mom I don’t want help. This is who I am. My mom was almost in tears.
“After that, my dad took my mom’s hand and took her to the kitchen. I heard them talking, my mom was crying. They didn’t come out for hours. I couldn’t stand the wait. I ran up to my room and tried to sleep the night but sleep doesn’t come so easily when you are dreading the day. When the morning finally came, I was exhausted. I got dressed, walked out of my room, and went to the dining table. My mom and dad were sitting there waiting for me. My mom was still in tears.
“They gave me $4,000 and told me to leave. So I did. Needless to say, I never went back. I ran to New York, took a six month long trip around the states, and found a place to stay here. Then, I met people who accepted me for me. It’s more than I could ever ask for.”
I listen quietly to his story, each word ripping my heart to shreds. I was right. Other people have pain too, pain that’s just as bad, maybe even worse than mine. I climb off the counter and take off my backpack. Sal takes out the mattress and inflates it. “Sal,” I break the silence, “You are an amazing guy and I don’t know why anyone would want you to change.”
Sal gives me a small smile, “Thanks, Nicky.” I feel like my words are not strong enough to help with his pain, but at least I want to try. I pull out my blanket. Sal helps me onto the mattress. I put my blanket over me and watch how Sal covers himself with darkness. I wish I could help. I want to help. In between my thoughts, I fall asleep.
I have a nightmare, a hidden memory. I hear myself counting the seconds. Fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine. He moves up and down. It hurts. The bed creaks under us. He tells me to shut up, but I never listen. I can’t stop whispering. He knows it. But he still tells me to shut up. Seventy-three, seventy-four, seventy-five. He drags his tongue across my lips. I let him. I don’t mumble, but continue to scream in my head. Eighty-nine, ninety, ninety-one. It burns, every inch of my body burns. He pushes me even harder against my bed. He bites my lip. The metallic taste of blood fills my mouth. One hundred and twenty-two, one hundred and twenty-three, one hundred and twenty-four. She opens the door. I look at her, but I know she won’t do anything. She shuts the door. Ten more seconds. One hundred and thirty-three, one hundred and thirty-four. He pushes off. I watch him as he slides on his pants back on. He throws the covers over me, covering me from my feet to my nose. He walks out of the room as if nothing had happened. I lie there, covered in a blanket as if I was trash he wanted to hide, just pieces of broken porcelain. I don’t move, feeling my breath go up and down. It is better than feeling the pain.
Lightning wakes me up. It is still night. Rain falls outside, the darkness breaking only when lightning strikes. I count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder. Five seconds, then the thunder ends the quietness of the room. Tears flow from my eyes. I can’t stop them, the images from my dream still in my head. My body still burns, but the heat fades as I come back to reality. I am in New York, I tell myself. He is not here. He can’t hurt me here.
I roll around onto the cold floor. My hands clutch the dirty blanket. “Sal,” I whisper, “Are you asleep?” Sal replies with a low grunt. Should I continue? I don’t want to bother him, but the fear inside me is so intense, only talking do I have a chance to relieve some.
“Can I tell you something?” I ask, “something personal? Why I ran away?” Sal doesn’t reply. I can’t tell if he fell asleep again. But I have to say it out loud, confess it. “I remember I was eleven when it first started. It’s not like there weren’t any signs. My dad, he used to beat me before that. Whenever I did something wrong he’d just hit me. But I didn’t know any better and he was my dad. I figured it was ok. But then I came home from school one day, my dad had cooked dinner for me. I ate it and afterward I felt really weak. I went up to my room to rest, but I couldn’t make it to the bed. My legs gave in and I fell. My dad heard the thud; he walked upstairs and carried me to my bed. But then… he started to undress me. I tried to fight it but I couldn’t. And then… he… I was so scared. I couldn’t believe someone I loved would hurt me in that way.”
Rain patters against the glass windows. A breeze whistles in the night.
“When he was done, he threatened to kill me if I told anyone. So I didn’t. And he kept doing it, once in a while. He told me it was because I deserved it. Because he deserved me. Because he loved me. I’d try not to eat what he cooked but he’d take notice and he’d force me. And I was scared of what would happen if I didn’t, I was afraid of what he would do. My mom saw us a couple of times, but she never said a word about it. I guess she was just as scared.”
The light of the moon shines through the door. Heels pass the building, disappearing within the sound of the rain.
“It was one night two months before I ran away that I’d had it. He came home angry and drunk, he pinned me to my bed, and he broke my wrists. He didn’t tell anyone and he told me to suck it up. I was, I am afraid that he’d kill me if I told anybody. That day I decided to run away. I planned it for two months. I stole a little money every day, found a fake ID, took some jewelry from my mom, waited until my wrist healed and then in the middle of the night I ran away. And I’m never going back.” Tears fill my eyes as I finish. My hands are shaking and my skin is cold like white snow. I sob silently in the darkness. Just hearing it makes me realize what I really did. I ran away from hell. And I don’t regret it.
“I’m so sorry, Nicol.” A whisper breaks the silence. So he did hear it. “Is there anything I can do?” There’s nothing anybody can do. Only one thing.
“Help me forget,” I whisper in between sobs. The tears blend in with the sound of the rain. I hear the sound, hypnotized by its grim melody until I fall asleep again. I am blessed with a dreamless sleep the rest of the night.