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Outrun the Sun
Just stay still. Keep your eyes closed. Don’t move. Pretend you’re still asleep. Terrified, I felt the hot stickiness of his breath, the tremble of his hand as he delicately lifted my shirt. I forced myself to listen to the voice that woke me, warning me to feign sleep. I knew if I let on, even in the slightest, that I was conscious, I wouldn’t walk out of this room. I knew I wasn’t walking out the same either way.
His hand quivered as the pads of his calloused fingers grazed my stomach, brushed along the ridges of ribcage. Making his way up my breastbone, he swept his entire hand, cupped my left, then my right, barely formed breast. Squeezing just slightly, curiously.
A tear began to form and then fall from the corner of my left eye that still lay shut. Just stay still. It’ll be worse if he knows you’re awake. My stomach turned as I inhaled his stale, ragged breathing. He was trying his hardest to stay undetected as he groped and pawed away at my childhood. Eventually, his hand, just the one, began to creep down. I twitched as he scraped past the taut skin around my belly button. His shook still, hand hovering in place. I inhaled deeply, turned my head to the side as if I were simply readjusting in my sleep. Still he continued.
I felt the walls of my life, the life I had constructed for myself, completely crumble to dust as he lifted the elastic waistband around my athletic pants, and then my underwear. Just a year or two ago I rid myself of the pink and purple panties that detailed the days of the week, and now I was being stripped of my dignity, stripped of my innocence, stripped of my happiness.
As the tears threatened to fall, I forced them back. He would not see me cry. He would not see me cry.
I remembered the riverbank. I remember popping the screen in my window, hopping out, and scurrying across the levee as the sun began its descent. I made it to the cleaning, the sandbar just in time to see The Delta Queen casino boat on its voyage back to Shreveport. I could see the patrons on the balcony, the glitter of their drinks in crystal glasses. “Oh look, Honey, look over there! It’s a little girl on the bank! Oh look! How sweet! She lives there!” I heard a woman say as she and her husband waved drunkenly at me. Yeah, look at me, the river rat child. I had brushed my hair, I didn’t see what the big deal was. It’s not like I was feral or naked. I still didn’t understand the effects of alcohol on the brain. The mundane made magical.
His hand became, all at once, more confident and more nervous as he rested on my pubic bone. It was as if he was just warming up, getting comfortable. I could feel his breath on my neck, hear his heartbeat quicken. He was excited. In the seconds that followed, I prayed to whatever God I didn’t believe in that I would black out or just die of heart failure right there. What followed stoked a hatred and a disgust within me, that never left. Just stay still. Just stay still. He can’t know you’re awake. So I listened. I listened for survival when all I wanted was death. I listened to the voice, desperately trying to drown out his ragged, stagnant breath, as his hands moved farther and farther, ripping away any shred of innocence I could have had left.
Then the phone rang.
He quickly removed his hands, and attempted to put my clothes as they were. The phone's shrill ringing continued. I heard him struggling to retrieve it from his pocket.
“Hello,” he answered in a rough, hushed voice, “yeah, yeah. She’s over here. She fell asleep while we were watching a movie. Huh? Yeah…” he continued as he left the room. I heard the door shut quietly behind him.
Get up now. Act like you just woke up. Don’t let him know you know.
So that’s what I did. I yawned, and stretched, taking stock of the room, planning my escape as he opened the door, surprise on his face at my opened eyes. He went to shut the door as I got up.
“Hey, wait,” he said, flopping on his bed he grabbed my wrist, pulling me towards him, “you should go back to sleep. You need your rest.”
Fear struck through me like ice water. Keep calm. Don’t let him know.
“No,” I laughed, “I know they’re all expecting me next door. I didn’t even know that Kayla and Hope had left so I better go on.”
“I told them I’d walk you over later. They said you needed to sleep. Come on,” he patted the mattress, “I’ll bring you over there in a little bit.”
“No,” I laughed again, “I told Uncle BillyJoe I’d sing for him soon. I’m sure he’s wondering where I am. I’ll see you over there after a while.”
I pulled my frail wrist from his hands, and walked out of the room, shutting the door completely as I did. Don’t run. Not yet. He’s listening. My heart was in my chest, sorrow at what I had lost and what I had learned wanted to burst out. Sobs threatened to break through in long, painful wails, but I would’t allow it. I walked gently, quietly, my attempt at normal, through the hallway, up the step into the dining room, through the front door. I heard the screen door creak and slam as I padded down the steps. As the flat sole of my left sneaker hit the dirt path, I heard Run. Run now. So I did. The early evening spring air stung deep in my lungs as I ran as fast as I could next door to my uncle’s house. I flew across the cattle gap, grasping my knees, hunched over trying to catch my breath.
“There you are!” Hope walked towards me. I began to quake with deep, pungent sadness, as the reality, not the full reality mind you, began to settle within my soul.
“What’s wrong? Ohmygod, Megan, what happened?”
“H-h-he.” I couldn’t catch my breath, I thought I might faint.
“Megan, breathe, you have to breathe. Tell me what happened.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Kayla asked, running towards us.
“She can’t tell me. I just found her like this. She can’t stop crying.”
“Megan,” Kayla knelt down in front of me, “you need to tell me what’s wrong.”
“H-h-he.” I fell to my knees unable to speak, unable or unwilling, or both to speak truth into existence.
“Who? Megan, who?” I simply nodded towards the house in the back of the path I had just come from, “Shannon? What happened to Shannon? Is he okay? I just talked to him.”
“It’s okay, Megan,” Kayla rubbed my arms, “just tell me.”
“He touched me.” I whispered.
I had known betrayal in the moments of my life leading up to this point, but the betrayal I experienced was always second hand. When my biological father abandoned us, he was, I suppose in his mind, simply leaving my mother. When my stepfather swooped in and saved the day, loving us beyond measure only to abandon us not once, but twice, he was, again in his mind, simply leaving my mother. When he told me at 8 years old to “be sweet for your next daddy,” he was, simply, moving on with his life because he and my mother hated one another. Both men had no idea that because they couldn’t bear to coexist with my mother, they were, in fact, breaking my heart, betraying my heart, and slicing the first cut in some very deep wounds others would sniff out only to plunge deeper and deeper, digging and twisting, and destroying any understanding I once had of true, unconditional, unadulterated love.
“No he didn’t,” Kayla said matter-of-factly as she stood up, “and don’t you ever say that he did again.”
“But he did.” I whispered.
“No, he didn’t, Megan. That’s enough.”
And with that final statement, she and Hope walked back towards my uncle’s house. I sat on the cold, wet ground, at the base of the levee, remembering a time when I would roll down this very hill with my sister, Erin, and my cousins, including Shannon, having the time of my life. How could that memory seem so distant when it truly wasn’t that long ago? Hearing Kayla’s declaration ringing in my mind, I got up, went towards the house. There was a birthday party going on for one of my other cousins. That was the first night I remember tasting alcohol. Crown and coke, my cousin William had given me. Or maybe it was Lynsi. I remember the two of them laughing as they kept gently pushing my shoulders back to keep me upright.
“What are you talking about,” I slurred, “I am standing up straight.”
“Maybe we should take your cup away,” William laughed.
I don’t remember going home that night.
Megan Prestridge is a 28 year old poet, teacher, wife, mother, worshiper, and creekbed runner. Megan's life has been a bit of a battle, but through her poetry, she has found solace. Life-long Louisiana resident, her writing has always been designed to hit somewhere deep in the chest; to leave something aching in the soul because that's what connects. We all have longings. We all have pain. Let's experience it all together through our words.