Just as my eyes slide shut I feel a soft hand caress my right arm.
An even softer voice asks, “Do they hurt?”
Hazel is on her side facing me. Her fingertips ever so lightly trace the swollen skin of my scars.
“Not anymore,” I answer.
“Will you tell me how you got them?”
Her voice is so gentle, so sincere, so raw. I hold my breath, no longer tired at all. I’ve never told this story to anyone, but when Hazel and I are together like this—exposed and vulnerable after having consumed each other so completely—I feel powerless to keep up my defenses.
I sigh and turn my head to look at her in the dark. “When I was eight Logan and I were playing hide and seek. I saw my mom leave her room to go downstairs so I decided to hide in her closet. I accidentally knocked over a box. Some needles and shit spilled out. Before I could clean it up my mom came back and found me. She started screaming and threw me back so hard that I fell into her vanity.” I try not to cringe as I remember the excruciating pain that tore through my small body. “There was a lit candle on it and the whole thing crashed over landing on top of me. The candle burned my arm and the broken mirror sliced it up.”
My eyes have adjusted to the shadows enough to make out Hazel’s features—her bottom lip juts out in a frown, but her fingers continue to stroke my arm. For a second it helps. It feels fucking good to say it out loud and have her be the one to hear it.
But I don’t want her pity.
I tuck my arms a little further under the pillow and grunt. “She said it was an accident. Probably was.”
Hazel pulls her hand back, but doesn’t move her body. “You moved to the foster home a few blocks from our house when you were eight.”
She phrases it like a statement rather than a question, but I answer anyway.
“Yeah, later that year. Logan and I spent most of our childhood in and out of foster homes. We had actually been in two different ones before we turned six. We would stay there for a bit, but a few months later our mom would take us back home before abandoning us all over again. I guess you only get three chances, though, because after we moved near you, we never went back home.”
Hazel scoots closer as she rests her head on the pillow next to me. “You never saw your mom again?”
I roll onto my back to look up at the ceiling. “No, we did. She would come to visit us maybe once or twice a year, when she was sober enough to remember, anyway. When we were about fifteen she got married to some guy who seemed to be a good influence on her. We met him a couple times, and as far as I know they’re still together. We don’t really keep in touch.”
Growing up, there were always rumors about Logan and me. More than once we got into fights because some douche classmate wanted to tease “the loser foster kids.” But nobody ever asked us sincerely about our mother or where we came from, so I got used to not saying anything. Hazel doesn’t press further now, either, but I can practically hear the million questions forming in her head. I might as well get this out now so we never have to bring it up again. I don’t like thinking about it, let alone talking about it.
“Look, my mom was an addict. Heroin was her preferred vice, although I’m sure she wasn’t picky. We never knew our dad, but there were plenty of men around to entertain her. She worked two jobs, a convenience store during the day and a bar at night, and we were left by ourselves a lot.”
“I’m sure she cared about you.” Hazel sounds sincere, but I can tell exhaustion is catching up to her.
“I guess in her own way.” I pause, wondering if it’s true. I think back as hard as I can to try and remember at least one good memory from my childhood. One time my mom came home early from work and took Logan and me to see a movie. She let us each get our own bucket of popcorn and I remember feeling like the coolest little shit. I saved that bucket for weeks and carried my toys in it. I chuckle to myself at the memory. I haven’t thought about that since . . . well, probably since it happened.
“I can’t speak for your mom, Tristan, but as someone who once fucked up her own life by thinking being high was the only feeling worth living for, I know how awful it is to later deal with all kinds of regret and self-hatred.” Her voice gets heavy as she continues. “But it’s hard to give up something that lets you forget all the bad stuff that’s happening, especially when it makes you forget to see all the good you have. That’s not an excuse, it’s just hard. It’s hard to face the fact that you have no one to blame but yourself for being so weak. I just want you to know that I bet it hurt her, too. More than you’ll ever know.”
I want to believe her, but I can’t let go of the fact that I still wasn’t good enough to keep my mom sober.
That I wasn’t good enough to keep Hazel sober, either.
I swallow thickly. “It’s hard to feel sympathy when the pain is both selfish and self-inflicted. She made her choice, and that’s fine. I can even understand her being weak. But her priorities were clear when she chose drugs over her own sons. So yeah, maybe she cared, but just not enough.”
The air shifts and the room goes quiet for a few minutes, except for the soft, sad music still playing in the background.
“I’m sorry, Tristan.”
By the way Hazel’s voice is barely above a whisper and the last syllable drops from her lips slowly, I can tell she’s falling asleep.
I know she’s apologizing because she feels bad about my fucked-up childhood, but something about hearing those exact words at this exact moment feels important.
Rather than feel that usual sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, instead my chest feels tight and I have the urge to wrap Hazel in my arms and kiss her forehead until I fall asleep.
But I don’t.
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All rights reserved. © 2016 Jessica Serra Huizenga