Standing, knees bent, feet firmly planted on the ground, my forehead opens up with the sounds that are emitting from my core. I lift my voice, my heart, my soul, in a celebration of the savior. I breath from my diaphragm, I sing with such passion and freedom, the notes bathing over those around me. Collectively, we come together in song, a wellspring of purity and kindness and joy. We resonate peace and love. And forgiveness. An a cappella baptism of harmony.
In between songs, my head pounds, the migraine beating deep into my brain, swelling out though my eyes, pushing my teeth up and out of my gums. But when I open my mouth in worship, and sing the praises of the Lord, I am free of pain once again. Light radiates from my face and I am full of tranquility and hope once again.
Early morning, I am awoken by the sound of my bedroom door flying open.
“Get up,” barks my stepmother. ”Get dressed. We’re going out.”
I look over at my alarm clock, and 6:00 am stares back at me. I know better than to ask questions. I have not survived this long by being stupid. So I quietly get dressed, put my bed clothes into the laundry basket and tredge to the bathroom. Within minutes we are in the car, headed towards La Habra.
“Where are we going?” I want to ask, but don’t. We sit in silence, the only sound coming from her lungs as she sucks on cigarette after cigarette. Smoke fills up the car, and I long to crack open my window just a bit, but I am too afraid. Instead, I hug my purse to my chest and stare out the front window, afraid to know where we might end up.
An endless number of intersections, bus benches and shopping carts on the sidewalk pass before we finally pull into a parking lot. Without a word, Shirley turns the engine off, gets out of the car and throws her cigarette on the ground. As I come around the back of the car, I stomp it out, preventing the world from going up in flames.
I look up at the sign perched over the small building and take in what I am reading before following her into the little glass office. The sky is gray, a gloomy summer morning with hours left before the clouds burn off and make way for the sweltering afternoon.
I look around at the moving supplies, reading the truck rental rates on the wall, still clueless as to my surroundings.
My step mom moves up to the counter, her mouth set in a concrete downturn. Her eyes piercing, stormy with anger and hatred. Pointing at me, she tells the man at the counter, “She’s moving out and needs boxes. Enough for a small room.” He gathers what we need and leans the cardboard boxes against the wall.
“Fourty five dollars and sixty three cents,” he says.
She hands her American Express card over and then orders me to pick up the boxes and load them into the car. I bend over to collect my gift, making eye contact with the store clerk before quickly looking away. He is witnessing my blessed release and my total rejection, all in one fail swoop. I am humiliated and wanted to disappear.
Clutching the boxes to my body, I use my backside to push through the front door and head out to the car. On my heals, Shirley spits into my ear, “You have one week to be out. We’re done with you, you little bitch. Done. Happy fucking birthday.”
The lyrics are a blessed salvation, they lift me up as I crumble to my feet. I am saved. I am new. I am loved. The notes go higher, grow louder, and carry me into the arms of a loving father. The voices around me, they are my new family. The will never let me feel unloved again. I am home. Finally, blessedly, I am home.