I’m unsure when I awoke, but it was the overbearing feeling of claustrophobia that returned me to consciousness. I struggled against my bindings. The dirty cloth jammed into my throat tasted bitter. I heaved, my breaths cut short by the makeshift gag.
To say I panicked was probably an understatement, however what I felt in that moment was a quiet calm. A steely determination not to die.
It was like a math puzzle. *My hands are bound behind my back. My mouth is obstructed. My eyes, they stung from whatever foreign bodies invaded them.* But there was something else, a heavy pressure on my chest. Once I realised the weight pressing down on me, I felt it all over my body, it was cold and wet. At that moment, I knew I was going to die.
My eyes tried to cry, but through the stinging pain and dirt I couldn’t even feel them. I wished I was back at home and in my bed. But I wasn’t, I was here, buried in the ground like an overly fresh corpse. My head whoozed as my brain attempted to keep its grasp on reality.
The soil above me was well packed; around my legs and torso, I could barely move. I squirmed, but this only tired me out and what oxygen I could get was not enough to sustain this level of activity for more than a couple of seconds. I pulled against the restraints that held my wrists together, so tight my hands were swollen and numb, completely useless. I pulled harder; the sharp pain telling me to stop, but I continued anyway. With all my strength I persevered, the excruciating agony spreading up my arms and into my stomach, realising itself as nausea. I relented and caught my breath, my face tingling from the exhaustion.
The sickness in my gut rose to my chest. I did my best to keep whatever was in my stomach there, knowing that if it did come up, it would choke me to death.
I weighed up the options in my head. *I need to dig out. I can’t use my feet, I can barely move them. It has to be my hands, I need to break those bonds.*
I prepared to tug against the bindings, my wrists throbbed with only gentle pressure. I needed to do it in one concentrated effort. I breathed slowly and with purpose, working myself up to it.
The binds will break, or you will break; or you die.
It’s an odd feeling, knowing that if you don’t succeed, you will die.
You don’t know your true strength until you need it. In the face of death, effort becomes extraordinary.
An unreal pain rose forth; a thousand shrieking voices telling me to stop, the limits of my body and mind exceeded.
It wasn’t the sound of the bones in my hand breaking that was horrific, that just sounded like popcorn in a microwave, it was the vibrations that reverberated throughout my whole body, through my soul. Before I could wriggle my arms out from behind me, the vomit came forth. Heaving with the excruciating agony, my airways became blocked.
With limited time, I shifted my hands up my body and to my face. My fingers scratched at the soil above me, which came away with surprising ease. The cold air was refreshing against my exposed skin. I groped at the cloth that filled my mouth and pulled it out. I coughed against the bile that I’d inhaled into my lungs and pushed as much out as I could before I caught my breath.
It was dark, I couldn’t see a thing. Feeling around with my good hand, I found the weight that stopped my legs from moving. Large stones had been placed on my stomach, and I assumed also my legs; I was still trapped here in my impromptu grave.
I was unaware of my exhaustion; my head fell backward, and into the position it had been in for the last, God knows how many hours or days. For the first time I was aware of the sounds, the birds chirping, the small animals skittering around me. I assumed I was in a forest, but I didn’t know where. I didn’t know how I got here. And I didn’t know if whomever put me here was coming back.
I shouted for help, my throat raw from the sting of stomach acid. I sounded like the child I was. I tried again and again. And at some point, fell into unconsciousness.
A wet clammy feeling woke me, and I realised soon it was a tongue.
“Help!” I shouted.
The dog was licking my eyes.
“Hello?” I heard from a voice I didn’t recognise.
“Help, I’m over here,” I responded gruffly, acutely aware of the throbbing pain in my hands and face.
The dog barked.
“What have you found, boy?” he asked his pet, “Oh Jesus fucking Christ!”
“Can you see me?” I asked, looking into the darkness.
“St-ay th-ere, I’ll go get help.
“Shit, no signal. I’ll have to go back to the car.”
“Please don’t leave me alone, I don’t know if they’re coming back.”
“I won’t be long, I promise. Come on boy.”
“Please,” I began to cry, “please don’t leave me here!”
I heard the hurried footsteps of the man fade, as branches broke and dry leaves crunched. The darkness clung to me like a blanket, keeping me unaware of my surroundings. My relief was palpable, but my anxiety grew.
I didn’t fall asleep. I listened to the forest, waiting to hear the distant sounds of humanity approach. And when I did, I heard the almost synchronised steps of multiple people.
“Hello?” I shouted into the darkness.
“Hey!” A man shouted, “Over here!”
“Does anything hurt?”
I cried, knowing I was finally saved.
“Take your time, we’re here now.”
“My eyes sting. My wrists really hurt. I think I broke something in my hand.”
The man took it and I winced.
“Does that hurt?”
I nodded, gritting my teeth.
A splint was applied, bandages were wrapped around my wrist.
A woman asked, “Is it okay if I put this mask over your mouth?”
“Just breath slow and deeply, okay?” the woman said.
One by one, I felt the weights on my stomach and legs lift. The warm sun beat down on me; I breathed deeply on my mask and the world faded out.
A combination of cleanliness and disinfectant greeted me when I awoke. The soft bed was welcome. I afforded myself a smile.
“Francis?” I heard, “It’s your father”.
“Dad? Where are you, I can’t see,” I said panicked.
I felt his hand grasp my arm.
“You have bandages on your eyes, don’t worry. We are so happy to see you,” he responded.
“What’s happened to me?”
There was silence.
I heard him sigh.
“We don’t know. The police are looking into it. The important thing is, you are here now, and you are safe.”
“Thank you, Dad. It’s scary not being able to see you. Is there anyone else here?”
“Yes, your Mom, Uncle and sister, they’re here too.”
“Mom, where are you?”
“She’s next to me.”
“Why doesn’t she speak?”
“She’s a little shook up by everything.”
I heard her chest heave as she began to cry.
“Everything will be all right,” my Dad said, soothing her.
The door opened and I felt cool air rush in.
“She’s just gone to get some fresh air.”
“I’ll go see if she is okay,” my Uncle said.
“Where’s Abby?” I asked.
Her cold clammy hand grasped my arm.
“I’m here for you. How are you feeling?”
I contemplated the question.
“I’m not sure, I think the drugs are affecting my thinking.”
“We’re just glad to have you back,” she said, squeezing my arm.
I heard a chair scrape along the floor next to me.
“Do you know what happened to you?”
“No, Dad, all I can remember is leaving school,” I took a moment, “Then, nothing… apart from waking up, *there*.”
“Maybe you should get some rest…”
“Good afternoon,” came a voice I didn’t recognise.
“Hello officer, Francis is awake,” my Dad responded.
“Do you mind if I ask some questions?”
“Are you sure *now* is a good time?”
“Sir, I know it may be difficult, but now is the best time to do this. To get any information at this point could prove crucial.”
“It’s fine Dad, I don’t know what help I can be though.”
I heard my father get up.
“Thank you,” said the other man, sitting down in the chair, “What’s the first thing you remember?”
“I remember waking up and struggling.”
“Do you remember anything before that?”
“Just leaving school.”
“Where did you go, did you walk straight home, take the bus?”
I grimaced, trying hard to recall.
“I was outside the main school building, I saw Dad’s car, I think, then…” I said trailing off.
“Did you get in?”
“I don’t know.”
I heard the officer’s hurried pencil write. The scritching sound of it dancing over the paper was something I was never aware of before. But now I couldn’t see, my mind latched onto it and produced a vision of the man sitting next to me taking notes in a small scratchpad.
“I remember struggling, panicking that I couldn’t move my feet. I remember the pain in my eyes as I struggled to open them.”
“But nothing after seeing your Dad’s car?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” my Dad said unsure.
“We’ll let you rest now. If you think of anything, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll visit you again once you are back on your feet.”
“Okay,” I responded, glad the questioning was over.
“I’ll need to check your car,” he said to my father.
“I don’t understand, I didn’t pick them up from school; they walk home.”
“You’re not a suspect, but we’ll need to check your car.”
“Whatever you need to do to find out what happened.”
The chair moved and the officer left.
“Are you sure you saw my car?” my Dad asked.
“Yes,” I responded.
“How are we doing?” said another voice, I tried hard to keep track of where everyone was in the room, and while I couldn’t see, my mind’s eye was aware.
“Okay, I think,” I said.
“Good; I have some medication for you. How are you with swallowing tablets?”
“I take them all the time,” I replied.
“Thank you. Mr Jones, visiting time is almost over.”
“I’ll leave you two be. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Thanks Dad, I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
The Doctor waited for my Dad and sister to leave before talking.
“I’ll put the pills into your hand, put them in your mouth and I’ll give you a cup of water.”
I felt the tablets get pressed into my palm. I necked them back and took a swig of the water.
“I wish all my patients were as good as you,” the Doctor said.
“Just one injection to help you sleep and we are all good.”
As soon as the needle pierced my skin, I began to feel tired.
“Is bacon and eggs something you like?” the nurse asked.
“I love bacon and eggs.”
“Well, you are in luck.”
The smell wafted over and made my mouth water.
“But before food, I’ll need to check your wounds.”
“Okay, but as long as I get to eat that, it smells great!”
“Don’t worry, all in good time.”
She unravelled the bandages on my hand and held it. I winced.
“Does this hurt?”
“Okay. Do you know how this happened?”
“I broke my hand by trying to break out of the cable ties that bound me.”
“Wow, you are a little hero. We’ll make sure you get better.”
I smiled, feeling her re-wrap my hand with fresh bandages.
“I’m going to remove the dressing around your eyes, okay?”
Her warmth was obvious as she leaned over me. I was aware of her removing the cloth from my face.
“Thank you; good, you are healing just fine.”
“I can’t see,” I said, feeling the air on my face.
She went quiet.
“Nurse, what’s wrong with my eyes?”
“No need to worry, with trauma like this, it may take a while to get better.”
Her hands gently touched my face and I winced.
“Did that hurt?”
She dabbed my face and I shouted, “Ouch!”
“Don’t worry, it’s just a bit of disinfectant. Your wounds look good, healing well.”
And with that, bit by bit, she replaced the dressings.
The days were long. There is only so much that can entertain you in the dark, when you mostly play video games and watch TV. I found the first couple of days the hardest. Trying to visualise what was going on when the characters spoke. To someone who cannot see, a laughter track is somewhat mocking. *What are they laughing at? I need to see it!* Anxiety grows when you are not privy to the visual aspects of the program. This meant any TV programs I had not seen before were now no longer exciting, but tinged with apprehension and restlessness. I was happier when a re-run of my favourite shows came on. Something I could see, even without my eyes.
“I can do it myself,” I said to my Dad as I touched the handle to the front door.
I opened it and recognised the familiar smell of our house. I held onto the frame as I felt inside for the wall to the living room.
“You don’t have to do this on your own,” he said.
“I know, but I want to.”
I took off my shoes, the parquet flooring cold under my feet. It was like I was learning how to walk again. I shimmied along the hallway, feeling for the opening to the living room. When my toes touched the carpet, I smiled to myself. Leaning over, I grabbed the cold leather of the couch. Moving around to the front, I flopped back onto the furniture.
“Ouch! What are you doing?” my sister blasted as I came to rest in her lap.
“Sorry,” I replied, feeling her slender frame inch out from under me.
“Francis hurt me,” she whined.
“Oh honey, don’t be nasty,” my Dad replied.
“Look what you did to me!” she continued.
“Go to your room! Now!”
I turned my head side to side in reaction to what was happening, frustrated not seeing the events play out in front of me.
My sister stormed out of the room. I visualised her leaving, her angry footsteps dampened by the carpet, before turning into thuds in the hallway and then decaying as they began to fade with her ascent of the stairs.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think she likes you being the center of attention.”
“I’m glad to be home,” I said.
“Me too,” my Dad said earnestly.
But to be honest, I wasn’t glad. In hospital, I was cared for 24/7. Now back at home, it felt foreign, somewhat alien. Unable to see, I was trapped in my own body.
“Dad? When will my eyes get better?”
“I’m not sure, let’s let the doctors worry about that, okay?”
“Okay,” I responded.
“Do you want the TV on?”
“No, thank you. Can you put on some music?”
“Sure, whatever you want.”
I sat there, listening, wanting to cry, but was unable to. I pined for my old life.
I could recognise garlic, tomato and onion as my mother cooked, the ingredients intertwining with each other in my nostrils.
“Are you making bolognese?” I asked.
“Yes, wow, that’s a good nose you have there,” my mother responded.
“Get your sister for me, it will be ready in five minutes… Oh, I’m so sorry, I completely forgot.”
“I can do that, it’s all right.”
“No, no, no,” she replied apologetically.
“Shane! Get Abby!” she shouted for my father.
I heard the door to the study open.
“I can’t, I’m on the phone,” he replied.
“Fine, I’ll do it myself,” my mother replied, storming out.
I giggled, hearing the same stomping steps I heard my sister make only hours earlier.
“Abby, food will be ready in five minutes.”
My sister’s muffled voice was distorted by the floor above.
“What are you grinning at?” my mother asked, re-entering the kitchen.
“Nothing,” I smiled further.
“It’s good to see you smile anyway.”
“This is good,” I said, “Much better than the hospital food.”
“Thank you, I’m glad at least one of you appreciates what I do.”
“This is nice mom,” Abby replied.
My father sat next to me, but didn’t say a word. I could almost feel the tension between him and mom.
“Well,” my mom asked.
“It’s okay, I suppose,” my Dad answered, reluctantly.
“I don’t know why I bother. I spend all day washing clothes, cleaning, making sure the family has a nice meal eat.”
“THAT’S ENOUGH, JENNIFER!”
And with that, as if a key was slotted into place to unlock a door, I remembered something.
*I’m in my room. I press pause on my game. I hear shouting from below. I leave my bedroom to see my sister on the landing. She is frightened. I creep down the stairs, and she follows. I peer around the doorframe of the living room, to see my uncle and mother fighting through the kitchen door.
“What do you mean you can’t leave him?” my uncle says.
“It’s not as simple as that,” my mother replies.
“Sure it is, you just tell him you will go to the police if he doesn’t let you.”
“What and tell them he hits me? He’s never laid a hand on me.”
“You’re the woman, they always take your side.”
“No! They will take the children away!”
Uncle Jack hits Mom across the face.
“FUCK, why did you make me do that?” he says, before pacing back and forth.
Abby is now crying.
I hold her close and tell her everything is going to be fine, that I’ll tell Dad, he’ll sort it out.
“NO!” she shouts, before running upstairs.
“OI! Who’s there?” I hear Uncle Jack saying, before I run upstairs behind my sister.
“Were you listening?” he says to me, as I stand at the top of the stairs.
“Yes, I saw it all, and I’m going to tell my Dad.”
“NO! You **CAN’T** tell him,” he demands approaching me.
I run into my room and close the door.
“Francis?” he says in a quiet voice.
“Go away! I want my Dad.”
“Please come out and speak to me.”
He knocks on the door.
“Francis, it’s not what it looks like.”
I listen to his voice, it could be my father talking.
The door reverberates as he plunges his body into it. I grip my knees as I make myself as small as possible.
I hear him leave.
“There’s blood!” my mother cries.
“Francis, are you there?”
I became aware. I was on the floor. I felt the chair underneath me.
“Let me get you back upright,” said Dad, lifting me.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” I said, still wondering what happened.
“Shane, Francis’s eyes!”
My father dabs a cloth to my cheeks.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“It’s nothing to worry about.”
“We need to call the doctor,” my mother demanded.
I brought my hands to my face and touched the cloth that covered my eyes.
“We’ll go in the morning. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine, Dad, I promise. I remembered something.”
“That’s good,” my father responded, “What was it?”
“I saw… mom with Uncle Jack, in the kitchen.”
“What?” he said anxiously.
“They were arguing. Abby was upset when Uncle Jack said you hit mom.”
“I knew it! I knew something was going on between the two of you, but no, I was the crazy one. How long has this been going on?”
“It’s not what you think!” The words sounded more desperate than when Jack said them.
There was a moment of silence before Abby screamed.
“I’ve had enough of this,” Dad said before storming out.
“Dad?” I cried uselessly.
I winced as the front door slammed shut.
“GET TO BED, BOTH OF YOU!” Mom shouted.
Abby left the room sobbing.
I got up from the chair and held my hands out in front of me, reaching for something to attach to and find my way upstairs.
“Oh, Francis, I’m so sorry,” she lamented.
I ignored her, stubborn to find my way on my own.
I fumbled to the stairs and crawled up, hoping my mother was watching me. Seeing her pathetic progeny struggle, blinded, to get to bed.
I turned to the right as I got to the landing and proceeded to crawl my way into my bedroom. I grasped my bed sheets and hoisted myself onto the mattress.
“You shouldn’t have said anything!” my sister said stuttering.
“Leave me alone.”
“I don’t want Mom and Dad to break up,” she said, holding back the tears.
“Nor do I.”
“Uncle Jack said, if Daddy didn’t know, they wouldn’t break up. He said, if you can’t see it, it isn’t happening.”
“He hit Mom.”
“NO NO NO NO NO!” she shouted, pounding on the wall.
I jumped as I heard my mirror shatter, hundreds of shards of glass rained to the floor.
In the morning, I was in the living room. My sister sat in her room, grounded for the outburst in my room last night. I listened to the news as my Mom ate cereal on the couch next to me. I was all too aware of the crunch and subsequent chewing each mouthful broadcast. I took the remote and turned up the volume.
“Not too loud,” she said.
“I can hear you chewing and it sounds like a pig eating shit.”
She snorted, “If what you said wasn’t so funny, I’d smack you round the back of the head for swearing.”
The doorbell rang. My Mother left the room to answer it.
“Hello Doctor, thank you for coming on such short notice.”
“That’s not a problem, now where is the little guy.”
“He’s in here, listening to a pig eat shit.”
“Oh! An inside joke,” she said embarrassed, “come on in.”
“Right, let’s see what we have here.”
The doctor removed the bandage around my eyes and pressed.
“Everything looks okay, oh yes, I see, some of the paper stitches have come lose. Did you hit your head?” he asked me.
“Francis fell off the chair last night at dinner,” my Mother said nervously.
“How did you manage that?”
“I remembered something that happened from before.”
“Before you were injured?”
“You don’t need to tell him, Francis.”
“If it’s important to know how he opened these wounds, I think it may be pertinent.”
“I remembered Uncle Jack hitting Mom. And before I realised it, I was on the floor. I told Dad that Uncle Jack had been round and argued with Mom.”
“Is that true, Mrs Jones?”
“My husband and I are going through a difficult patch. His brother came over to talk to me.”
“Did he hit you?”
My Mother didn’t respond.
“Where is your husband now?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have you reported this to the police?”
“Does he know about this Uncle Jack?”
“Yes, he’s his brother.”
“Is it possible he’s looking for him?”
“I didn’t think of that,” she said panicked.
“Ma’am, I think it may be best to call the police.”
I heard Abby scream from outside of the room.
“Abby, honey?” Mom said, “Come back.”
Mom left the room and ran upstairs after my sister.
“Well, it’s nothing serious. I’m going to put some antiseptic on and get those wounds wrapped back up,” the Doctor said, concentrating on me again.
“When will I see again?” I asked.
“Uh, that’s not for me to say, kid,” the Doctor replied, uneasy to have been put on the spot.
The cream stung, but the paper stitches did not.
“You’re brave. I’m going to make a call now, are you okay by yourself?”
I nodded. He rustled my hair. His footsteps disappeared into the kitchen.
The Doctor’s faint voice barely made it into the living room, so I got up and felt my way to the kitchen door and listened.
“The Jones residence… Domestic abuse… No, not the husband, the Uncle… I’m not sure she wants to press charges… I know, but there are kids here… Thank you… Yes, I’ll stay here.”
When the police officer arrived, Mom told me to go upstairs and stay with my sister.
I entered my room. She didn’t say a word. But I knew she was there. Her anger and upset from the night before hung in the air, it was almost tangible.
“I’m scared,” I said honestly.
She didn’t reply.
“Abby? Are you okay?”
Her uneven breathing worried me.
“Abby, what’s wrong? Are you worried about Mom?”
Her breathing hastened. Before I knew it, she pushed me to the floor. Small pieces of mirrored glass lost in the carpet fibres dug in, an unexpected acupuncture to my lower back.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I shouted.
“UNCLE JACK SAYS NOT TO TELL TALES!” Abby shouted back.
With that, it all came back.
*I’m walking hand in hand through the forest out the back of Uncle Jack’s house. Abby is upset that we’ve had to stay there while Mom and Dad go away for the weekend. She lets go of my hand, and pushes me over. I fall into a ditch. She jumps on me and rakes my eyes. What she shouts at me is muffled by her hysteria, but I know what she is saying. I lie in the ditch, holding my hands to my eyes, trying to protect them. She relents. I cannot open my eyes. I feel a crack as something large is driven into my forehead. As I pass out, I hear her call for her Uncle Jack.*
She slammed her knees into my arms, holding them flat on the floor. Her hand reached into my mouth and I bit down in defense.
She screeched, “UNCLE JACK SAYS NOT TO TELL TALES!”
Gripping my mouth, she pulled, forcing it open. The weight on my teeth grew, and in turn they sunk into the muscle of her hand. Her strength was inhuman, fuelled by her anger.
I exhaled as the teeth in my lower jaw snapped like matchsticks under the pressure.
“UNCLE JACK SAYS NOT TO TELL TALES!” she screamed.
I squirmed under her, reaching for her hair. The cold metal of the instrument in her hand slid in on each side of my tongue.
“UNCLE JACK SAYS NOT TO TELL TALES!” she wailed.
The scissors closed, ripping through the flesh.
I screamed and pulled on her pony tail with all my might. In one smooth action her body rolled off and I listened to the bone crunching sound of her head hitting the side table, and then nothing.
I choked back the blood that tried to slither down my throat. Quickly I turned over, the liquid dripping onto the carpet in front of me.
Through my bleeding mouth I shouted for help, “Mooooooom.”
Two sets of feet thumped up the stairs and my door swung open.
“Oh my God, what’s happened?” Mom said.
“Call an ambulance,” the police officer said calmly.
My arms let out and I gave in to the darkness that overcame my body.
That was ten years ago now. It was my therapist’s idea for me to write this down. I’ve not spoken about this to anybody, not even her. She said if I don’t feel comfortable talking about it, then I don’t have to. But it may help me come to terms with who I am today if I do.
To be honest, I don’t think it’s helped. To dredge up those old memories fills me with the anxiety I felt at the time. However, sharing this anonymously, that does make me feel better. For people I don’t know to understand what I went through, what created who I am. Yes, that is a comfort.
When I finally healed, I had a lisp. Something my Doctor said may go over time, it didn’t. I went back to school though. Most of my friends didn’t want anything to do with me. Who can blame them. The kid who has to wear a face-mask, because his real face is too shocking to see, isn’t going to be popular. I had one friend throughout that though; my Dad. He got me through it. He went out of his way to teach me how to use a computer for the visually impaired. I love him more than he will ever know.
And the ironic thing? Because of what my sister did, my parents worked through their issues and stayed together. Uncle Jack was incarcerated for three years. He lives out of state now his probation’s up. My sister Abby, she’s in a Psychiatric Hospital. My parents still visit her every week.
But I can’t go, because I know what she’ll say, and I just don’t want to hear it again.