Trigger warning – child abuse
Bianca, 3-6 years old
”I’m so grateful you’re bringing her along”, my mother says blissfully. ”I can’t believe you have the energy for it, with all the children of your own”. Eric’s mother looks delighted hearing this.
”You know what they say – it takes a village to raise a child”, she smiles.
It’s weekend and morning. This means I’m going to the park with Eric’s parents and their kids. Before going there we’ll have breakfast at their house and afterwards we eat lunch together.
”But don’t let her watch any Zorro”, my mother entreats. ”She is too young for that series and overly sensitive. It only gives her nightmares”.
I fall asleep in the car, but wake up excited when we arrive. I love my second cousins, I feel like they’re my siblings!
”Can you wake Eric up?” His mother asks.
”Jippiiee!” I race to Eric’s room. Outside I hear his voice:
”Oh no it’s that kid…please keep her out!” His little brother is guarding the doorway. I throw myself underneath the brother’s arms, slide into the room and leap on the bed. I’m expecting Eric to laugh – or more interestingly, curse – but today all I hear is:
He peeks out from underneath the pillow. I see tears in his eyes.
”My body hurts so much”, he says.
”Where?” I ask.
”Everywhere”, he replies.
”I’m the Doctor, you’ll be fine”, I promise.
He takes off the duvet and looks at his arms and legs. There are blue marks everywhere. His movements are slow, disoriented. He lifts his t-shirt and contemplates his stomach, which is almost completely bluish black. My shoulders feel heavy, I want to disappear.
”Did I do that?” I whisper. I shouldn’t pounce on people, mom says. They get bruises.
”No no”, he answers. ”No, it’s not your fault.” I’m frozen for a little while, then I scream:
”Help! Eric needs a Doctor a real Doctor!”
Eric’s mother walks into the room. She takes one good look at him and declares he’ll have to wear long jeans today instead of shorts. Then she reassures me he only got hurt because he was playing too much. I shouldn’t worry – he’ll be fine in no time. I don’t feel convinced, but Eric is shaking his head now. He doesn’t want me to argue. When she’s out of the room, he mumbles:
”I don’t even play anymore. I’m too old. I don’t even play.”
”I’m sorry for jumping on you”, I say. Together we make our way to the living room and sit down on the carpet. One of the sisters is put as a lookout in the doorway. Zorro’s sword fights are epic, but we’re strictly forbidden to mimic combat movements. It is a strange rule in a house where almost nothing is off-limits. Today, only me and Eric’s brother pretend to duel. Eric won’t stand up once he’s seated, not even when breakfast is served. One of the sisters brings him a bowl of cereals.
The time has come to pack everybody in the minivan and go to a playground or public garden. I’m waiting for the big fight to commence. I never remember why we do it, but it’s somewhat of a tradition. There is only one goal: not one foot in that van. If one or two kids manage to escape, the parents have to contend themselves with bringing only those left along. I’m looking to Eric’s brother and he’s looking at Eric, who won’t budge as the adults draw near.
”You’ll have to carry me”, he says.
It feels surreal, everything which happens next. Eric’s father kicks him and he curls into a ball. The parents decide to carry their son, but drop him on the stone stairs. Somehow we make it to the car. Eric whispers I should run away, but I won’t leave him.
On our way to the park, the minivan stops like it always does. Eric’s mother turns around in her seat.
”This will only be a short break. We’re almost at the park”, she guarantees. Eric’s father gives his youngest son a knock in the back, between the shoulder blades. Then Eric’s brother knocks the eldest sister in the back and she knocks Eric and the youngest sister, who knocks me. Is this some kind of game? I look around, wondering who shall I hit and catch Eric’s mother’s eyes.
”Guinevere?” She asks.
We’re waiting for Guinevere. Who is she? They say she is a little girl like me. We always wait for her, she has to come before we can leave the car and every weekend she is late. Sometimes we wait for another girl called Giselle. I’m feeling sleepy now and lean carefully on Eric’s arm, so as to not hurt him.
It seems Guinevere came and went while I was sleeping. Why do I always miss her appearances? Everyone is still in the car, but seated in different places now.
”Time to go to the park!” The parents announce in cheery voices.
A chilly wind is shaking leaves off the trees, making me wish I had trousers and a sweater instead of this summer dress. We should move in order to stay warm, but no one is going down the slides or running around. The children are complaining of aches and pains in their bodies. Eric’s father laughs, calling us sissies. One of Eric’s sisters is sitting on a bench, crying silently. She and Eric are given something to drink and it seems to make them feel better. Eric who is too old to play makes an effort for my sake, until he suddenly stops:
”Man I’m tired.” His sister has nodded off on the bench.
”Let’s go home and each lunch before everyone falls asleep”, the parents say.
”And everyone survived today too!” Eric’s father states at the lunch table. He always says this. And I always wonder what we survived, especially when I’m hurting.