She had endured her childhood in that house and learned patience at the hands of her tormenting brothers and indifferent parents that all things eventually come to an end.
Pain. Sadness. Hope.
She remembered her shoulders pinned to the beige melamine floor by her oldest brother’s knees, her chest compressed to the point of almost being unable to breathe by his weight upon her, the slaps to her face by her other older brother while they both taunted and laughed at her struggles and pleas, and how she would focus on the sparkles on the popcorn ceiling, imagining them to be stars she could travel to, away from all of that. The stars would begin to twinkle as her eyes filled with tears.
Patience came to her when she was eleven, long after her hope was gone. Her eldest brother was arrested and sent away. It had never occurred to her that she might outlast the pain of him, and her hope sparked again as she finally saw that it was only a matter of time before she, too, would move on from this place.
Her sadness gave way to resolve, and her other brother for a while wavered in his appetite to physically torment her when she grew older and stronger and resisted his more menacing advances. But still he came, seeking opportunities to hurt her in his anger at their shared, miserable situation.
She kept her hair short to avoid hair-pulling and wore baggy clothes that hid her profile and skin, both making it harder for him to catch and hold her and to hide the bruises.
Patience was with her through the teenage school taunts of “Tomboy!”, “Dyke!”, and “Bitch!” from those unlucky enough to have had not yet learnt compassion and respect. She gave up trying to date when her brother spread rumors about her being a slut, a whore, and frigid. She laughed at his stupidity and used her anger to harden her resolve.
Once, her mom tried to reach out to her and seemed to want to hear why she was so unhappy all the time. But she had no words for her experience and didn’t know where to start, so she broke down sobbing.
“There, there,” her mother said, cradling her head and stroking her hair. “Maybe if you weren’t so frumpy-looking, you could find a boyfriend. That’d cheer you up! Want to go shopping?”
Her other brother eventually left for the service after a few years, and she was left alone with her parents. No longer shaded by fear, she blossomed. She poured herself into books and school, and earned a scholarship to a school far away.
The last night she spent in the house, she vowed to use her patience to come back some day and have it torn down and restore the lot to natural habitat. She wanted to destroy the cage that had held her all those long years.
She went to college, got a job, and saved her money. Her father died, and she did not cry because he was never there to learn why she should cry for him. Her mother sold the house, moved to Peru, and married a plumber. She saved more money.
Now, decades since she had last been in the neighborhood, she sat looking at it from across the street in a car. In the passenger seat was her handbag, and inside was her checkbook, backed by a bank account to buy this sliver of the world at almost any price.
The house looked smaller than she remembered it. The shabby, overgrown yard she had hid in as a child was now lush, trimmed, and well cared for. The faded, powder blue paint of the past was cloaked by a warm umber, which made the house seem to nestle snugly into the ground. The concrete steps to the porch that she had fallen down and broken her wrist on after being shoved were gone, replaced by a wooden stoop with blooming flower pots on each step. A minivan was parked in the driveway.
A girl, maybe eight, rode by on her bicycle with a big smile and waved. She waved back.
Her dark reveries were interrupted as the front door to the house opened and a toddler and a pre-schooler burst out, clomped down the stairs, and began to chase each other on the lawn. Two obviously harried but smiling adults followed carrying backpacks and bags, and loaded up the van. She watched them corral the children into the vehicle and leave with the windows down, singing to the radio.
A faint smile crossed her lips as she started the car and drove away for the last time.