It was a chilly night in Las Vegas as my parents piled me and my two younger brothers into their beater of a car, yet another gift from my grandfather. He had told me that he knew my mother needed it for us kids, me in particular, having been walking several miles alone to and from the local high school on a daily basis. The car however did not end my struggle and this was one of the rare occasions I was offered a ride. We were all going out to a late dinner and I was excited to be a part of the event instead of left at home to watch my brothers as my parents stayed out most of the night.
Fifteen minutes prior I had grabbed a bottle of Tylenol out of the bathroom cabinet. Slowly, I opened the bottle and counted the pills in my palm, one by one. There were 17 left and I had decided to take them all. I wasn’t sure if they would get me high or kill me but I was fine either way.
As we headed to an old rundown casino, in the heart of down town Henderson, my parents started to fight with each other mercilessly.
“You are a slut Melinda, you wouldn’t come home last night and I know you were out fucking that idiot, Squirrel,” my dad shouted.
“You are a liar!” She reached her head into the back of the car, “Your father is a liar kids! A liar! Let’s all laugh at your dad, kids! Insecure Anthony with a small dick! Ha ha ha!”
“You are ruining our night out before it even happens. We can’t afford to go out again, Melinda. I should tell your father what you really do with his money, gamble it all away.”
“My father wouldn’t believe you, he hates you. He knows what a loser you are. You can’t even provide for your own children”
My dad slammed on the accelerator and swerved past the casino.
“Shut the fuck up!” he shouted, spit flying out of his mouth as he flicked his cigarette out the window.
“What the fuck are doing Anthony? You passed the restaurant!”
My youngest brother, Gooey, started crying.
“Anthony!” she screamed, “Look what you are doing to our son! You are ruining everyone’s night!”
“Fuck this shit. I don’t need this. We are going home!” my dad countered while making a sharp u-turn.
My mom put her hand on his leg and slid it up towards his crotch, “Come on, Anthony, I was just messing around, I’m really sorry. Kids, tell your dad you wanna eat, tell him you are sorry.”
My middle brother, Aaron, and I said our apologies, but little Gooey continued his crying. Actually, it was getting louder and turning into a scream.
“I said apologize, Gooey!” she shouted. When he didn’t comply she reached back and slapped him hard in his face.
My dad turned the car around, “Jesus, Melinda! Stop abusing the kids! Alright already, I’m heading back to the restaurant.”
A few seconds later we pulled into the dark parking lot, my Gooey was now wailing at full lung capacity. That’s when I noticed the smoke. Almost simultaneously, I smelled the char.
My mother must have smelled it then too because she whipped her head around.
Gooey’s hair was on fire.
Without taking a breath I reached my arm over the flame and smothered it with my hand, burning my palm.
“It was your cigarette Anthony! You flicked the cherry onto Gooey!” my mother shouted.
“What?” my dad said, a bit shocked.
After parking the car he got out and walked over to the passenger door and released the restraints from the seat belt. He picked Gooey up and began examining the newly blistered bald spot.
“Shit, son. I’m really sorry. You OK?”
“It was an accident,” he explained as if that would make it better.
Gooey shook his head then with tears still streaming down his face whimpered, “I’m ahh kay dada.”
“I’ll make it up to you, Son. After dinner we will play some arcade games.”
This cheered Gooey up probably a bit more than it should have. The rest of us exited the car and we walked down the old stairs and into the smoke filled doors of the casino. Once inside we made our way past the poker tables and slot machines and into the dimly lit Mexican restaurant. It was over capacity and there was a twenty minute wait. My father instructed the three of us kids to sit down at a vacant booth in the waiting area as he and my mother went to the bar for margaritas. As I took my seat I started to feel lightheaded. I looked down to see my hands shaking.
TheTylenol was kicking in.
We waited there alone until our table was ready. Once we sat down I could tell my parents were already enjoying the high from the liquor because they were flirting with each other. The waitress came by to get our order.
“They are all having water,” my mother stated with a smirk. “We will take another round of margaritas and keep them coming.” She let out a giggle and a little shrug appearing to feel rather entitled.
“Can I have a quesadilla?” I asked half to my mom, half to the server.
“NO ASTERISK! You can share my nachos as usual. you love nachos, remember?”
“Actually, I’m kind of tired of nachos.”
“Sorry about her, she must be on her period,” my mom explained to the waitress.
After our order had been completed, my mother looked over at me and with bulging eyes and half whispered, “What is wrong with you? Are you paying for this dinner? This is exactly why we usually leave you at home. We aren’t made of money. I was going to let you play at the arcade after dinner and now I’m not so sure.”
“I don’t want to play at the arcade, I want to go home. Leo is supposed to call and…”
“I don’t want you talking to boys. All you do is tie up my phone like a little whore. What’s wrong with you tonight anyway? You are pale and slurring your words. I bet you stole my liquor. I marked the bottle and I am going to check it when we get home. If it’s lower than the line I drew, you are out. You can sleep on the streets for all I care,” she threatened.
“I didn’t drink your alcohol.”
“We will see!” she said, almost excited at the thought of catching me in a lie.
I didn’t speak the rest of the dinner. Just as out check was due to arrive my brother Aaron started to get impatient, “I want to go to the arcade!” he whined.
“I want to go gamble, Anthony. Give the kids some money. Asterisk, take your brothers to the arcade,” my mom ordered.
“I don’t want to go. I’m not even done eating.”
“You have had enough, look at how fat you are. Every time you come back from your grandmothers you look like a fat pig.”
I reached for another nacho and she ripped the plate away, “I said take your brothers to the arcade. If you don’t get up now I’m not going to give you any money.”
Even though I had no interest in arcade games, I did have an idea of how to spend my quarters so I stood up. My brothers followed. Suddenly I was sick to my stomach.
“Let’s go,” I said.
My father reached over and handed us each two quarters.
“That’s it?” I asked rather disappointed.
“You are an ungrateful little bitch,” my mom spat out.
“Just go, Asterisk,” my dad warned pleading with his eyes.
My brothers got up to follow me to the arcade. I made a pit stop in the ladies room and barfed up my nachos. The Tylenol had come to take it’s revenge and I was grateful for it, feeling fat and guilty for the food I had just consumed. I wiped the splatter off my face and gargled with some water before finishing the walk with my brothers. Once to the arcade they excitedly ran in. I sat down on an old chair next to a phone booth, inserted a quarter and called Leo.
Not two minutes had passed when my bothers ran up to me begging for more quarters.
“I don’t have any money for you, ask dad,” I suggested. Both boys ran off into the casino. Several minutes later they returned with our father, he was already stumbling.
“Asterisk, you need to stay here with your brothers, your mom is gambling and you know how that goes. I can’t drag her away from the machine. Here,” he said wile handing me two more quarters, “can’t you just keep them entertained for another half hour?”
“I’m not their parent! You are!” I screamed in my own defense.
My dad just gave me his usual pleading look that made me feel guilty so I took his hand out and continued with my phone call. The second two quarters didn’t last my brothers any longer than the first. I handed them two of mine.
Almost two hours later my dad finally returned again. Gooey was asleep on the floor under the pay phone and Aaron was satisfied pretending to be playing a game even though he didn’t have any money inside. Leo had hung up only a few minutes prior and I was going through my phone book in desperate search for a number of any friend who’s parents might let them accept a call this late on a school night.
“Let’ go,” he said, “I’m taking you kids home.”
“Finally,” I said while rolling my eyes. “Where is mom?”
“Pfft! That bitch wont get off the fucking machine, I’ll come back for her later. I felt bad for you kids being here all alone but you know your mother, ‘Her Highness’ only cares about herself.”
Once we got back to the apartment I tucked my brothers in their beds. I fell asleep just as my dad was leaving.
It was roughly three am when it happened.
I jumped suddenly in my bed and was startled awake by a loud crash. The front door had been forced open, glass was broken and I could hear the door handle as it punctured through the thin wall. My parents were screaming and I could tell my brothers and I were in for yet another round of the usual weekly chaos.
Half asleep I could make out bits and pieces of the yelling match, “You fucking whore! You were out fucking the neighbor!”
“Screw you, Anthony! How dare you call me names! Go fuck yourself!”
“All I have ever done is love you, and you repay me by parading around the town looking like a tramp and sticking your tits in the faces of strangers! Everyone has to notice perfect Melinda! We all know you are the town slut.”
It was the same fight, just different night. More things were thrown, more glass was broken, Gooey started crying and then my bedroom door was forced open.
It was my mother, in tears.
“Your father hit me! Look at my face, he’s not man. He is a coward! What kind of man hits a woman?”
Immediately after my father stormed in, “Your mother is a liar! Don’t believe her! She’s drunk and she fell into the couch! I never raised my hand to her!”
“Leave me alone!” I screamed, “I have school tomorrow! You both are pieces of shit!”
My mother lunged at me, forcing me off of my bed and onto the floor. She rolled me onto my back and sat on top of my stomach forcing my arms down by her legs. When she was certain I was pinned she reached he hand back and started hitting me in my face.
“Stop it Melinda!” my dad shouted after a minute or so, “shes had enough, Jesus!”
“Did you hear what she called us?” my mom spat back.
“She’s just a kid!”
“Fine,” my mom responded out of breath while removing her weight from on top of me.
“This isn’t the end, you will learn to respect me,” she promised. Then she stormed out of my room and locked herself in her own.
I cried myself to sleep.
The next morning I woke up to my alarm and made my way into the bathroom. I took a hot bath before covering the marks on my face with foundation. My eyes were swollen and puffy from crying so I smeared my eyeliner on a bit thick in an attempt to hide them as well. Once satisfied that I didn’t look like too much of a hot mess, I exited and strapped on my backpack.
I was almost to the front door when I heard her.
“Stop Asterisk, right there. Come here for a minute,” it was my mom. I couldn’t believe she was up already. Not wanting a repeat of the night before, I turned around as instructed and made my way into our tiny kitchen.
“Stand right there, I want to show you something,” she said as she opened the freezer door and removed a bottle of vodka. “See this?” she asked while pointing to a black line.
“This is the line I drew last night, and see right here?” she said pointing to the alcohol level roughly an inch below.
“I didn’t drink your booze!” I screamed.
“Shut up! You will wake the house. You are a liar and I have proof right here. Don’t think that you can fool me. I already called the police and they told me that I should put you in a rehab. Go to your room and pack a bag, someone will be here to remove you from the house shortly.”
“You are crazy!” I screamed while running towards the front door. She grabbed me by my hair and began dragging me towards my room when the door bell rang.
It was the police.
My mom opened the door and two armed officers walked inside.
“We are here to help your mother. Do you know what you do to her when you act out like this?” a woman in a uniform asked me.
“I didn’t do anything!” I replied in between sobs.
“She is trying to help you,” the woman insisted. “Now we are here to escort you to the facility where you can get the treatment you need. You can come with us willingly or we can do it the hard way.”
“I’m not going anywhere! I didn’t do anything!” I pleaded.
“You are coming with us,” the officer reinforced.
Out of shock and fear I bolted through what was left of the front door. Before my boot could even hit the pavement the female office lunged at me knocking me to the ground and forced my hands into metal cuffs. I was then pushed into the back of a police car and taken to the mental hospital.