“I shouldn’t have got you. If it hadn’t been for you crying and keeping me up all night I wouldn’t have been needing a nap. I wouldn’t have let my little boy go to that store. It’s all your fault, Della. All your fault. He knows it, too. He wanted to stay with me but I was so sleepy. So very sleepy. You wouldn’t let me sleep.” Mother roared and reared back and slapped me across the face. I stumbled backward and grabbed the edge of the bed before I fell down.
“If you had slept at night and let me be a good mommy to my little boy he would be alive. But you ruined everything. I didn’t want another baby. Your father wanted a little girl. He said it would complete our family. You didn’t complete us! You destroyed us!” I braced myself as Mother hit me again. I tried not to cry. I tried not to whimper. If I whimpered she would get angrier. I had to stay calm. I had to let her scream. She would cry soon and go to her room.
“Get on that bed and don’t move. The monsters under it will get you. They will come get you for being such a bad girl. They know it’s all your fault. They know what you did to me.”
I never understood her when she blamed me for my brother’s death—I was a baby when it happened—but I let her yell and hit me. If I fought back she only got angrier. Once she had hit me at breakfast and I didn’t wake up until the middle of the night. I had been on the kitchen floor with a pillow under my head and a blanket over me. She had put two plates of food beside me.
I didn’t fight back anymore. I was scared to.
“Get on that bed!” she screamed as I scrambled to do as she commanded. “Don’t come out. I don’t want to look at you,” she said before walking away and slamming the door behind her. I heard the familiar click and I knew she’d locked me in. My door had always locked from the outside. She controlled it.
“Good night, Momma,” I whispered as I pulled my knees up to my chin and rocked myself back and forth while I pretended that I had a better life. One where I could go outside and ride a bike.
I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling fan. I was in the guest bedroom at Braden’s house. I hadn’t woken up screaming. I had never dreamed of my mother and not woken up screaming with imaginary blood on my hands. Something had changed. The memory was one I’d forgotten but her words that day made sense now. I sat up and swung my legs over and stood up. I had dreamed and not screamed. I was afraid to hope, but I had never been able to do this. I opened my door and stepped out into the dark hallway. Braden would be asleep and I didn’t want to wake her. But I needed to process this.
I walked to the kitchen to get a drink of water.
Braden was standing at the counter with a glass of milk, staring straight ahead in deep thought, when I walked into the room. Her eyes shifted to me. “Della? Are you okay? I didn’t hear you.”
I stood there as it really sank in. I had dreamed of her. Yet I hadn’t had a night terror. “I dreamed about her. About my life then. And . . . and . . . I just woke up. No blood. I never saw the blood. I just woke up.”
Braden stared at me as she processed what I had told her. Then she set her milk down on the bar and ran over to me. Her arms wrapped around me. “You’re getting better. Already, you’re getting better,” she said in a teary voice.
I wanted to cry, too. I wanted to cry because I realized I might just have a chance at happiness. What if I was strong after all? What if, underneath all that fear, I had buried someone deep inside who was brave and could take on life without someone to lean on?
“I think I’m going to be okay,” I said out loud, because I needed to hear myself say it.
Braden squeezed me tighter. “I know you’re going to be okay. I know it.”
We stood there holding each other in the kitchen for several moments before I pulled back. “I’m not going to go crazy. I won’t snap one day and become her.”
Braden wiped at the tears streaming down her face. “I know. I’ve always known that.”
“But I didn’t. I had seen her. I knew what she could be. I didn’t want to be that too.”
“She was the woman who raised you but she wasn’t your mother.”
I nodded. I knew that now. I was going to be okay. “I want to meet my . . . I want to meet my birth father. I need to see him. I need to see his family, too.”
Braden nodded. “Good. I think you should.”
I stepped back and turned to go back to the bedroom.
“Della,” Braden said.
I glanced back at her. “Yes?”
“Call him. He needs to hear from you.”
She wasn’t talking about my birth father. She was talking about Woods. I would have given anything to hear his voice. But I couldn’t. He had moved on. He hadn’t looked for me or tried to contact me. I had let him go and he’d walked away. I couldn’t bother him now. “I can’t.”
“He misses you,” she said.
“You don’t know that. You assume it because you think what we had was a forever thing. But Woods has plans and I’m not in them. I gave him what he wanted. I’m not going to bother him again.”
Braden let out a frustrated growl. “Della, a call from you wouldn’t be a bother to him.”
She loved me and didn’t understand what I was trying to tell her. I knew better. “No, Braden. I’m letting him live. I’ll find my way soon. First, I have to figure out my past.”
She didn’t say more as I walked back to the bedroom. I closed the door and waited a minute to make sure she wasn’t following me before I let the tears fall. I didn’t want her to see me cry. She would call him. She would try to fix this. There was nothing there to fix, but she didn’t see it that way.
But now I knew I was going to heal. I was going to be okay. I had a future. I had to face what I’d lost. Losing Woods was my biggest mistake. I shouldn’t have left him. I should have been stronger then and fought harder. But I hadn’t. I would deal with that the rest of my life.