Authors: ML Ross
© 2014 by ML Ross
rights reserved, including the right to reproduce or distribute this book, or
portions thereof, in any form without written permission.
by ML Ross
is a work of fiction.
characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously.
similarity to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, or
events, is coincidental.
they lived happily ever after,” Mother reads, snapping the book closed.
to grow up to be a princess and marry a handsome prince,” I say dreamily with
my tiny palms on my cheeks and my elbows on the floor as I lay on my tummy with
my feet flapping like a mermaid. I study the picture in the storybook of
a beautiful princess in the arms of a handsome prince on his magical horse.
all of these books are make-believe. They aren’t real. There is no
such thing as happily ever after. No handsome prince will come riding in
on his horse to save you from the evil queen in her castle.” My mother
pushes herself up from the floor and stands tall above me with her hands on her
hips. “The world is evil, Amy. Boys will hurt you and girls will
laugh at you,” she says sternly as she stomps off to her bedroom, leaving me
all alone. Again.
flip through the pages of the storybook over and over as drops of my tears
splatter on the old torn pages. I have to believe that there is truth in
these books, that there is a handsome prince that will come riding in on his
magical horse to swoop me up into his arms. I have to believe in a
happily ever after. If I don’t, I won’t survive this prison.
For eighteen years I’ve been hidden from the world. I’ve never been
to school. I’ve never had a best friend. I’ve never been kissed by
a boy. I don’t watch TV. I don’t have a computer or a phone.
I’ve never been to a shopping mall, a party or a concert. I live in
complete and utter solitude.
I’m not completely alone. I have my mother. As a small child, I have
memories of my mother sitting on the floor with me making funny faces and
playing hide and seek, and then other memories of her rocking me in her arms
while crying and squeezing me so tight it hurt. Sometimes she would lie beside
me in bed at night, singing nursery rhymes softly in my ear until I closed my
eyes, but then I would hear her cry herself to sleep. I remember her big blue
eyes that sparkled and the smell of her long blonde hair when she wrapped me in
her arms while reading books to me, but that was so long ago. That mother no
longer exists. Over the years, her body has become thin and frail, her
hair dull and lifeless, her blue eyes opaque and tired, her mind lost.
house we live in is one of those manufactured homes you can just drop anywhere.
It’s a small box that heats up like an oven in the summer and in the
winter it feels like we live in an ice box. It has basic furnishings.
Everything is plain, nothing is colorful. With each passing day, it
feels like the walls are slowly closing in on me. It’s too small and
dark. I’m becoming claustrophobic. Our house is surrounded by a
thick forest of trees and a tall wooden fence that lines the perimeter of the
one-hundred acre property. We never leave. Ever.
I was little, I wasn’t even allowed to go outside. I would sit on my
knees on the tattered green couch that sat in front of the big window and stare
outside for hours. With my small hands folded under my chin along the back of
the couch, I would daydream. In the summer, I would watch the birds and
the butterflies flutter around the trees and I would imagine myself climbing
the trees and swinging from their branches. In the spring, I would watch
the rain drops splatter against the window and I would imagine splashing in the
puddles and singing as loud as I could to the sky above. In the fall, I would
watch the leaves turn beautiful shades of orange and then fall to the ground
and I would imagine jumping into a great big pile of them and throwing handfuls
of them up in the air. In the winter, I would watch the huge flakes of
snow flutter from the sky, dancing in the wind and imagine catching them on my
tongue. I rarely felt the warmth of the sun, the wind in my hair, or the
rain prickling my skin. I rarely played in the snow or went for walks
through the trees. I would beg my mother to take me outside. Sometimes
she would promise me that she would after her nap, but that time never came.
my mother wasn’t asleep, she spent time teaching me to read and write. I was
able to read pretty well by the time I turned seven, since that’s what I spent
most of my time doing. While my mother slept, I would sit in my room
reading and studying my school books all day. My room is not a typical
room for a girl. It’s not painted pink or purple and it doesn’t have lacy
curtains covering the windows. My room sits in the back of the house and
is completely shaded by the trees. No light ever shines through my
window. My room is dingy and always dark, with one twin mattress in the
middle of the floor and a small lamp that sits next to it. I spent many hours
in my room, alone, just reading everything that I could get my hands on.
I had to learn how to cook soup on the stove and heat up leftovers in the
microwave when I was hungry, because my mother would sleep through most
mealtimes. I would eat at the table alone and then fix my mother
something when she finally got out of bed. I kept the house clean and
made sure to keep up on my schoolwork. Every day was the same.
the time I turned eight, I started to notice a change in my mother. I
remember the day the fat man brought the boxes. I was so excited. I looked
forward to the boxes every month, even though, most of the time it was just
food and supplies. Sometimes, there was something extra for me.
This time in particular, I found a doll. I remember jumping up and
down and squeezing her to my chest. I named her Chloe. She was made of
fabric, her face drawn with black stitching and her yellow hair made of yarn.
She was used and worn and I had two outfits to dress her in. One was a
yellow dress and one was a pink jumper. I would change her clothes every
day and I would carry Chloe around with me everywhere I went, and at night I would
curl up with her in bed and tell her stories. I would tell her about
princesses and handsome princes and magical horses. She was my best
friend. I wasn’t as lonely anymore. Then one day, my mother told me Chloe
was dirty and that she could no longer stay with us. She pried the doll
out of my little arms as I screamed and clutched her with all the strength that
I had. I just wasn’t strong enough. I watched in terror as my
mother set the doll on fire. She held me while I sobbed as the flames
took Chloe from me. That was the day I realized something was wrong with
When I turned twelve and
started menstruating, things got worse. She would wash my hands in
scalding hot water because she thought I was dirty, or she would cut my hair
off because she said I looked like a whore. It was then I started to ask
questions like, where is my daddy? Why don’t we ever leave the house?
Why can’t I go to school? Why can’t I have friends? My mother
would never answer. Instead, it would trigger an episode, some worse than
others, so I stopped asking.
was thirteen when the skinny man in the suit came to the house for the first
time. I had never seen such a look of terror on my mother’s face. I
was used to the fat man in the suit coming with the boxes. He never came
inside and sometimes he would wave to me. He wasn’t scary. I had
never seen the skinny one before. I heard her whisper,
he found us,
she hid me in the pantry and told me to cover my ears and close my eyes and to
stay hidden. No matter what.
did as I was told, but nothing could have blocked out the horrifying screams
that I heard that day. I’m pretty sure several hours passed before she
let me out. I remember her opening that pantry door and me seeing her
face swollen and red. Her arms and legs were mottled with black and blue
bruises. She never stopped crying, even as she dug the hole in the
ground underneath the pantry floor. It took her all night and most of the
next morning to dig that hole as she continued to cry. She told me that
comes back, I need to hide there.
came back a week or so later. My mother heard his car coming up the
driveway and she was able to get me to the pantry before he made it to the
front door. I climbed into the hole and then she covered it with a heavy
piece of wood to conceal it. The hole was big enough for me to sit with
my knees held to my chest. It was unbearably hot and I felt bugs crawling
all over me and tickling my skin and playing in my hair, but I kept still and
stayed hidden. Tears and dirt dried on my cheeks. My stomach
screamed in pain and my throat became raw. I think I sat in that hole for
two days before my mother finally let me out. She slid the heavy wood
board over to allow me to crawl out. She never said a word. I
remember vomiting as soon as I was able to stand on my feet. I drank and
ate and then crawled into my bed where I lay sick for three days. My
mother just kept wandering around the house, scratching at herself and
mumbling. Hot showers became more frequent after that day.
I turned sixteen, I remember my mother hitting me for the first time. It
was after another visit from the skinny man in the suit. Her eyes were
dark and she was screaming at me as if she had no idea who I was. Her
words made no sense. She came at me in a fit of rage and swung her fists
at my face. I fell to the floor holding my head, trying to protect myself
as she continued to swing at me with her fists and kick at me with her feet.
Eventually, she grew tired and collapsed next to me, repeating over and
over that she was so sorry. I shuffled to my room, and curled up on my
bed and cried myself to sleep. The next morning she put a lock on my
door. She told me I needed an escape or I would end up crazy like her.
Every time she had an episode, I would lock myself in my room. Sometimes she
would pound on my door and scream until she exhausted herself and I would hold
my pillow over my ears to drown out the noise.
day I turned eighteen, my mother gave me permission to leave the house.
Kind of. She warned me about the world outside of the fence, the
evil world filled with boys that would hurt me and girls that would laugh at
me. She made me promise to stay within the fence and never let myself be
seen. She’d say,
don’t get dirty Amy
the devil is watching
the longest time, I accepted that our lifestyle was normal. I knew my
mother was sick, but I also believed that she was protecting me from an evil
world, sheltering me within the walls of the fences to keep me safe from boys
like the skinny man in the suit. I believed other people lived within
fences without cars, computers or phones and never left. I didn’t know
any different. I think it was when I started getting novels in the boxes
and reading about other’s lives that I realized I was different and just how
sick my mother might be. The only books available to me were school
textbooks and the classic novels that are usually required reading in high school:
Romeo and Juliet, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in
the Rye. I must have read Romeo and Juliet about twenty times. It’s my
favorite. I live through my books. I escape into the world of the
characters, because otherwise I might die from loneliness or just go crazy like
my mother. I have to believe that the love I read about is real. That it
isn’t all just make-believe like mother says. That the world really isn’t
evil. That not all boys will hurt me and that not all girls will laugh at
me. Every once in a while, I would find a magazine at the bottom of the
box. Newsweek or Time mostly. Sometimes People. Although I
read every single page to keep up on the latest technology and world events,
nothing in the magazines interested me as much as the perfume advertisements.
There was one in particular that I tore out and kept under my mattress.
The picture is black and white. A woman and a man are holding each
other in a tight embrace. Their shoulders are bare. Her head is tossed
back with her eyes closed and his lips are touching her neck. The look in
his piercing blue eyes as he peers up at her is full of passion and desire.
I imagine sometimes that I am her, that someday a man will look at me
also keep a journal to escape the craziness. I write about all the things
I think and dream about. It’s like my security blanket and it brings me
comfort. I mostly write about wanting to be normal. I’m not a normal girl
and I’m not sure I’ll ever be. I wonder if I even look normal. My hair is
long and stringy and hasn’t been cut in years, at least not since I was twelve
when my mother took scissors to it. It’s a dirty color and falls lifeless
around me. My face is gaunt and my eyes are dull. My skin is pale.
I think I might be too skinny, but my boobs are huge. The clothes I have
been given are getting too small. The plain cotton t-shirts are too snug
for my maturing body, and the long cotton skirts that have a stretchy waistband
are strained across my growing hips, the hem becoming shorter and shorter.
I look…what’s the word? Frumpy.
long to be a normal girl that gets grounded to her room for too much cell phone
usage or the out-of-control teenager that is late for curfew because she was
sneaking a kiss with her boyfriend. I think about what it would feel like
to have a mother that takes me shopping and bakes cupcakes with me or a best
friend to talk to about my first boy crush, or how I would feel if a boy asked
me to dance at prom. I hope that maybe one day my mother will get healthy
and we will leave this place and live a normal life. That maybe one day I
will meet a prince, a man that won’t hurt me, a man that will love me
unconditionally and accept the broken person I’ve become. I dream of
becoming a mom and doing normal things like going grocery shopping and pushing
a stroller through a park or a museum.
been writing these thoughts and dreams in my journal for as long as I can
remember, but as each day passes, I lose more and more hope.