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Hell And Back

By:Natasha Madison

Prologue


Walking into the bare room, I look around. A small dresser with three drawers sits up against the plain white wall.

A couple of shorts, shirts, and some socks fill the drawers, but most  are empty. The small toddler bed lies in the middle of the room.

Two nails hold up a dusty sheet in the window to block out the light. It  used to be navy, but the years of wear have turned it to baby blue.

I look down at my three-year-old daughter curled up into a small ball.  Almost like she is guarding or protecting herself from whatever evil is  lurking around us. She's seen enough blackness in her three years to  last a lifetime.

She cried enough tears and heard enough sobs to fill twenty years' worth of scary movies.

When the doctor placed her on my chest I vowed to love and protect her,  but I've failed her. I've failed myself. But no more. From that fateful  day I vowed to right all the wrongs I did to her.

I've escaped the horror we've endured. The bruises are starting to fade.  The black and blues have now turned into a greenish yellow.

The scars will fade, too, but the terror, the memories … nothing will erase them.

I wake my girl up and grab her from her bed. "Momma, we habe to leabe again?"

"No, baby, I just want to show you the stars outside." I tuck her into my chest and make my way to the porch.

No one knows about this one-story house my grandmother left me. Which is why we are safe. For now.

The yard is overcome with weeds. Something I plan to rectify tomorrow.  We've been here for the last seven days, staying inside. Trying not to  bring attention to us. I've done my best not to be too jumpy, but every  time I hear a car door slam shut, I hold my breath, hoping no one is  coming up the steps that lead to the front door.

We haven't even opened the windows. It is almost like we're shuttering  ourselves inside this temporary safe haven as if we don't even exist.

Opening up the screen door, the rusty springs make a loud squeaking  noise in the dead of the night. Trying not to make it slam shut, I hold  the handle till it shuts softly.

The sounds outside are quiet. Serene. No car sounds, no horns honking,  no rushing, just crickets. I settle into the swing I know my grandfather  hung to make sure my grandmother had somewhere she could sit and watch  the stars.

For thirty-seven years, they did it all together until death came and  took my grandfather in his sleep. Ten years later, he came and rescued  her from the pain of ALS. Her knitting, cooking, cleaning, gardening,  baking all came to a halt the minute her hands shook so badly she  couldn't hold not even a fork to feed herself.

Settling myself into the swing, I fold one foot under me, pushing off with the other one.

"So many stars, Momma." My brown-eyed girl looks up, pointing to what looks like a million twinkling lights in the sky.

The darkness of the sky makes them sparkle like diamonds. Some are  small, some are blinking. All are beautiful. It's peaceful. It's  everything I remember it to be.

It's hope, hope for change. Hope for the future. Hope for the end of the  nightmare I have been living the last four years. "Look, baby, a  shooting star. Make a wish."

She closes her eyes, and I see her lips move, but no sound comes out of  her mouth. I lean down kissing her forehead, making my own wish.

I do this for the next thirty minutes, maybe more, pushing myself on  that swing with one foot. Once I know she is asleep in my arms, I get  back up to go inside.

The whole time I never realized that the neighbor across the street has  been sitting in his living room with the lights off just staring out the  window at two broken girls sitting across the street.





Chapter One





I wake slowly, the sun trying to fight its way through the sheet. I look  down to see that we haven't moved since coming in from outside last  night.

Stretching carefully, I lean down to kiss her head, making sure I don't  wake her. I take a second to breathe in the moment, thinking about how I  got to this point in my life.

They say you never know hell until you lived in it. I can assure you I know it. I've lived in it. I've asked to die in it.

I know that you might look at me and wonder what I'm talking about. How  can a twenty-four-year-old, who is also a mother, know what hell is?

I can say it didn't happen overnight. It happened gradually, slowly. So  slow, in fact, I didn't even know it was happening until I was sitting  in the middle of it.

My parents dumped me off on my grandparents when I was eight. It seems  partying and parenting don't go hand in hand. Something they thankfully  figured out before I ended up dead with the two of them.         

     



 

They were on the road, following their favorite band from state to state  when their car was hit head-on by a semi whose driver fell asleep at  the wheel.

I know I should have been sad, but I wasn't. Maybe this is why God is  punishing me. I really didn't know my parents. All I knew was my  grandmother, who loved me unconditionally. She made it possible for me  to grow up being a normal kid. And like any normal kid, I was ready to  leave home the minute I hit eighteen. Ready to be my own person. Ready  to take on the world.

I was your typical college student trying to better myself. Trying to do things on my own.

Not only did I move away from Nan, I went to a community college some four states over.

It all started like any other Saturday morning. I was doing the breakfast shift at the diner in town.

The diner was filled with early rising families and truckers passing  through town. What made this day different was the party of four guys  who looked like they hadn't slept yet. Chances are this was the last  step before hitting the hay.

I didn't give them a second thought till they sat in my section. I went to their table, asking for their order.

It took a second for my eyes to meet his. It took me a second more to  fall for that lopsided smile and lone dimple. That second I fell for him  will always be the one moment I wish I could go back and change.

Because from that second on, I was under Adam Fletcher's spell.

Were things perfect? No. I found out he had no job and wasn't attending  college either. Instead, he was just living day by day, as if it was his  life's goal to do so.

Not every single eighteen-year-old has goals. I was not in it for money. I was in it for love. Boy, was I fucking naïve.

It started with coffee dates. Oh, those sweet first dates, where he just  held my hand. Talking about the future he wanted to have, or was trying  to have, I should say. He never really achieved anything to make it his  goal.

I should have seen the signs in the beginning as well. The times he missed dates, saying, "Sorry, babe, I lost track of time."

The times he didn't call when he said he would call. "Sorry, babe, my phone died."

The fact he always started out the day energetic and hyper, only to end  it looking ragged and sleepy. "Sorry, babe, was up late."

A junkie. That is what he was. Something I knew nothing about. Something  I would spend the rest of my life fighting or, better yet, running  from.

A small voice and little fingers bring me out of the fog of the past and  back into the present. I look down at my little girl, who smiles up at  me.

"Morning, Momma," she whispers, leaning in to kiss me.

"Morning, baby, are you hungry?"

She doesn't answer me. Instead, she just nods.

"Let's go downstairs and get you some food." I pull myself from the bed.  I don't have to turn around to know she is right behind me.

"Momma, can I have more cereal with milk?" Her voice is barely a  whisper, a soft voice she learned early to use so as not to wake the  monster who was living with us.

"Yes, you can, angel." I fill up her second bowl and add a heaping  amount of milk. It's finally time she gets to eat what a normal kid  should eat.

We both look malnourished. I'm maybe a hundred and three pounds of skin  and bones, and my little girl doesn't look any better. Forced to survive  on maybe a meal a day.

I often didn't eat just to make sure she had enough so her tummy wouldn't hurt.

I look around the sparse house. The curtains downstairs are in dire need  of replacement, but they keep the sun out, making it feel like we are  invisible. Nothing about this place has changed from when I moved in or  from when I moved out.

The house was a gift from above. It was our ticket out. I lost contact  with Nan when Adam and I got together. The phone calls home became fewer  and farther in between.

Most of the time he didn't want me to call her because she was a ‘nosy bitch' according to him.

I mean, I suppose if you base it on the fact she cared and worried about me, then yes, she was definitely a nosy bitch.

It was that phone call three weeks ago, the one that gave me hope and showed me there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

I sat there battered and bruised, one of my eyes swollen shut while my  little girl sat next to me, making sure she didn't touch my ouchies, and  there were many.

I dialed the number I hadn't called in a while. A number he isolated me  from. It wasn't her who answered, though, and when I asked for Nan, I  was given the news she had passed but had left strict instructions her  phone number was to be transferred to her lawyer in case I called and  was ready to come back home.

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