By Laura Mitchell (a.k.a. BlindzonElyzon)
Disclaimer: The characters are the creation of my imagination. However, their circumstance is one that truly exists for far too many families. Copyright December 2, 2000.
Violence Warning: Violence is represented and graphically portrayed in this piece.
Acknowledgements: Chantal, this would have never gotten done without your encouragement and occasional threats. As always, thank you for being there for me and even more, being here sooner. <G And too Sir Kamelot, my indebtedness continues. As always, thank you for…everything. You’re a dear friend. Lastly, to our Elfen Queen Lariel, there were times I was definitely not thanking you for posting this challenge in the first place. It tested me to say the least and because of that and the initial encouragement you gave, I can now say thank you.
Clarification: My mother asked me to include this section. This is not based on actual events in my own life or childhood experience. Sadly, it is based on that of a very special person and loving friend.
Feedback: If you feel inclined to do so, it will be appreciated and responded to. Please send your feedback here: Blindzonelyzon@aol.com
* * *
The answer is not always what it appears to be. Often, on the surface, what is deemed to be the solution may in turn be the truer problem. However, there can be a type of blindness that goes deeper than any physical manifestation. A soul can be blinded by so much more, enveloped in the darkness of hatred and anger. And sadly enough, these emotions can consume its bearer.
Such is the case with Hanna.
* * *
The weekly meeting with the school counselor had become more of a ritual for Hanna, rather than anything therapeutic. The fact that she was made to attend these appointments in the first place due to her grades falling and troubles at home, didn’t help, but Hanna didn’t trust Mr. Joiner and therefore kept her thoughts to herself.
Hanna sat in front of Mr. Joiner as usual. Unwilling to make eye contact, her face expressionless and barely uttering a word in response to a posed question, she allowed her mind to wander. Escaping into her own thoughts had become habitual of late, something that allowed her to cope with the reality around her. Which she wanted no part of. Reality had even begun to creep into her night dreaming, distorting it and waking her in terror. The only time she truly was free of her life was in her daydreams, the ones she had more control over.
A voice crept into her private wanderings through glimpses of time spent with her family. Her mother, at the dinner table. Expressions of happiness and an air of contentment, as the two sat together talking and laughing.
The intrusion now drew her back to conscious thought.
Knowing acknowledgment of some sort was required, yet not having heard the question, Hanna did what she always did. Shrugged her shoulders, never once looking in his direction. She continued to cast her gaze outward to whatever lay beyond the smudge covered window.
Trying to resist further, the vision slipped into another. She could hear her name being said and the echoing sound of laughter as she played on her swing. Her mother smiling behind her, pushing her higher and higher.
“Hanna, did you hear me?” Mr. Joiner voice was steady and unreadable.
She tried to respond in a manner that would elicit the least amount of additional explanation, “Yeah.”
A slight exhalation of breath could be heard just prior to Mr. Joiner’s question. “So then, tell me what I said.”
Hanna sat there, neither moving nor making an attempt to speak. She was uncomfortably aware that she was being watched intently and yet she remained still.
“I gather from your lack of response that you do not recall what has been said.”
“No.” she said flatly.
“Good. Finally an honest answer.” Mr. Joiner’s chair scraped the tile floor as he pushed it back to stand. Moving out from behind his cluttered desk, he moved to look out of the window.
Hanna’s usual view obstructed, she realized that this was the first time she ever really looked at the man. The middle-aged man’s appearance was that of any typical white male school administrator. Balding, grayish hair, on the short side of male height, white-shirted with rolled up sleeves and loosened tie, navy blue slacks, all presented in a slightly rumpled manner. Somewhat fascinated with the lack of individuality he portrayed, Hanna found herself staring at the man.
Without being fully aware of it happening, Mr. Joiner had shifted from foot to foot enough to have turned partly in her direction. Now looking at her directly, he only said, “hazel.”
Unsure of his meaning, a puzzled expression quickly crossed her face before returning to its normal demeanor.
“Your eyes, they’re hazel and this is the first time I’ve seen them.” His words were said as if in observation rather than as a commentary. He continued, “I would have been concerned if you had heard what I said just then,” he nodded in the direction of his desk, “because I’ve said nothing since you got here.” He glanced down at his watch. “For half an hour, we’ve been sitting in silence.”
Hanna remained unmoving, not yielding eye contact and for the first time, she was mildly curious as to what the man before her was saying.
Leaning back to rest against the heat register under the window, Mr. Joiner fixed his position to face Hanna and meet her at eye level. “Hanna, you’ve been coming here for five sessions and in each one, I’ve done most of the talking.” He hesitated before continuing, “I would like to be able to help you Hanna, be the person you can talk to about what is happening with you and at home…but I can’t force you to tell me anything you don’t want.”
The only acknowledgment she gave him was the blinking of her eyes, yet somehow this was signal enough for Mr. Joiner to continue.
“Hanna, is your father still living at home?” The question was said softly, no hint of demand, only that of concern.
Hanna didn’t know why, couldn’t figure it out within herself, but found herself answering mutely and with a slight nod of her head. Her eyes remained fixed on his. She found herself wanting to break free; sudden panic as if trapped…caught... and yet she remained still.
Years of practice in covering her emotions, denying them to come forth and present themselves, of burying them deep within. Hanna had perfected this blunted exterior all in self-preservation. Necessity taught her well, as did ridicule. And yet, she felt the control slipping away, and she couldn’t understand why.
“Is he still hurting her?” he inquired gently, coaxing the truth out from behind its protective walls.
She felt as if her body was going to explode from the tension, the inner turmoil. Wanting to hold this information back, keeping the family secret was a lesson she learned quickly and yet now, something deep within her was trying to push the truth to the surface, releasing it. The conflict raged within her, but only shone in those hazel eyes and with that, he obtained the confirmation he was seeking.
“I’m sorry for this.” He said sincerity evident in his tone. “I can only imagine what you have been through and what you may feel…or maybe not let yourself feel, because of all you’ve seen and lived with.”
She couldn’t understand it, how this was happening, the invasion into her thoughts. She could feel the loss of control growing and continued to battle it. Somehow this man was getting in where he didn’t belong and Hanna had no idea as to how or why she was allowing it, or even more, how she could stop it. Passive escape is what she had learned, to within herself and the place she had made safe, and somehow he was gaining unwanted entrance.
Sensing her fragile state and mounting fear, he knew if he pushed too far now, he would lose her altogether. She had done more today in facing the demons she lived with, than she had ever in her life. Knowing this, he had to provide a safe way out for her, an avenue of further revelation, not retreat.
“Hanna, I would like you to do something for yourself. I want you to write about your life…” He paused seeing the barely noticeable flinching motion at his words. Continuing, he said, “But not of your life as it is now, instead how you would want it to be. However you would wish your life to be, write about it.
Mr. Joiner said nothing further, allowing what he had said to sink in and be processed by the silent girl. The panic that had been visible in her eyes was now receding and being replaced with a thoughtful look.
“Good.” He knew she had already begun. “I want to see you back here on Thursday at two.”
Without hesitation, Hanna rose from her chair to leave. Before she could turn the door knob, Mr. Joiner spoke to her again, “Hanna, take care of yourself.”
She slipped from the small office saying nothing and quickly closed the door behind her.
* * *
Hanna had delayed the inevitable as long as possible, but she did eventually have to go home. The shortened days and early darkness of nightfall, robbing her of the extra hours alone and away. The alternative to staying out was far worse, if not for her, then for her mother. She had learned that the previous year and refused to think any more about the consequences for her actions. She just vowed to not do it again.
She entered the house and quietly closed the door. Unaware she was even doing it anymore, she stopped to listen, holding her breath, trying to assess the mood of the home. Detecting nothing, she slowly began breathing again and continued into the kitchen to get her dinner before retreating to her room.
Moving throughout the darkened house, not needing the lights or wanting them, doing nothing to draw attention to herself, Hanna walked into the kitchen. There, sitting alone was her mother. The small glow of her cigarette providing the only illumination.
The single word uttered seemed to startle the woman, causing her body to jump in response.
“My God Hanna! I wasn’t expecting you home yet.” The words were spoken sharply.
Hanna’s mother pushed back her chair, nearly knocking it over in her hurry to move to the sink. At the same time, Hanna reached for the light switch and flipped it on.
In seconds she took it all in, the smashed plates on the floor, the broken microwave door, shelves and their contents no longer on the walls, the phone ripped from its perch, and the blood. Blood everywhere she looked. Hanna could not help but notice how it clashed with the daisy yellow coloring of the room and found the darkened red offensive to the brightness.
Her mother kept her back to Hanna, speaking softly. “I’m sorry…I wanted this cleaned up before you got home.”
Wanting to ask what happened, but already knowing the answer, Hanna crossed the room to stand alongside her mother. It was then she saw the bruising and swelling on her mother’s face. Gently she reached a hand to her mother’s chin and turned her face to her. The right eye was swollen shut and the left was little better. Traces of blood smeared beneath her mother’s nose and mouth, accentuated by the darkened circles forming beneath the eyes and over her face. Hanna noted the normally immaculate blond hair of her mother, now matted and crusted over with dried blood.
Hanna was barely able to recognize her mother’s face with it being so distorted and deformed by the swelling and bruising. Looking her over further, she took note of the torn blouse, ripped at the collar and revealing additional bruising about the neck. Smears of dried blood adorned the shirt in a grotesque pattern, mingled with what looked like food remnants.
Hanna felt the fury welling inside her. The long ago anger, had at some point mutated into a latent rage. Something deep within her that she knew existed and still had some control over. But not now. Seeing the beautiful face of her mother fall victim to his assault and defiled in such a vicious way, this was more than she could withstand anymore.
“I’ll kill him.” The words were spoken through clenched teeth and barely audible, but the intent was clear.
“No Hanna!” The pleading from her mother cut into her. “Please don’t say such things!”
She could feel the desperate grasp on her arm, hear the sound of fear in her mother’s tone, and yet all she could think of was ending his life.
“Please, please don’t think like that…he’s gone now…” her mother’s voice choked, unable to speak as the tears came to the surface and sobs took over for her words.
That very moment became a defining one in Hanna’s life and without another word spoken, she retreated to her room.
* * *
Desperately she wanted to slip away to that better place within her. Hanna searched for the comfort her imagination provided her, wanting to envision the bedtime ritual she had created. The one of her mother singing softly to her, lulling her to sleep with words and love. Yet she could not.
The unwanted tears streaked her face and angrily she wiped them away. Thoughts charged by rage raced through her mind. Emotions once suppressed were now unrelenting in their assault, as if making up for lost time.
Hanna sat on her bed, head in hands, trying to pull herself back together. Taking in long, slow breaths, she regained her composure and was able to focus her scattered thoughts. The years of training, stuffing away the pain and horrors of her life, served her well and her thoughts slipped to safer grounds. The words from her earlier session with Mr. Joiner reverberated in her mind, ‘do something for yourself… not your life now…how you would want it to be…how ever you would wish your life to be.’
Lying back on her bed, Hanna fixed her gaze out the window into the blackness of night. Projecting the images forming in her mind onto the canvas of the moonless sky, she began to view the life she could create for herself.
* * *
Just coming home from school, Hanna turned the corner to her home and stopped dead in her tracks. In front of her house, the third on the left, were her mother and father arguing. Usually the arguments were kept to the confines of their home, but for some unknown reason today was different.
Slowly Hanna advanced, hoping she could go by them unnoticed, trying desperately to make herself invisible. Only a house away, she heard her mother yell in defiance, something she never heard before.
“Enough! I’m finished with this and I’m finished with you!”
Her mother turned and began to ascend the front steps to the house when her father took action. Lurching forward, he grabbed at her wrist and pulled her back, turning her to him in the process. Face to face now, he said something, something Hanna couldn’t hear, yet somehow she knew what it was.
Frozen in disbelief, all she could do was watch as her father brought his hands to her mother’s throat and begin to squeeze. Her mother tried to fight him at first, struggling wildly to escape without success. She grabbed at the hands clenched about her neck trying to free herself as the color in her face turned from milky white to a curious crimson red. His response, maniacal, almost gleeful laughter of his power and control over the helpless woman in his grasp.
Somewhere deep within her, at the very core of her soul, Hanna felt the fiery flames let loose. Aversion, refuge, denial were not options for her. She made the irreversible decision to stop him…permanently.
Each step taken in his direction strengthened her resolve. Hanna came up alongside him and with all her might and hatred, delivered a smashing blow with her curled fist. The weight of the impact set him off balance and loosened his grip on the choking woman. Unable and unwilling to stop herself, she allowed her own body to ram into his. The end result, his body slamming to the ground and the wind knocked from him, leaving him motionless.
She felt empowered. She felt invincible. She felt she had to finish what she started.
Standing over the prone man, Hanna took vengeance for every blow delivered by her father onto her mother. Each kick and every punch was judgement passed and sentenced delivered. Initially still gasping for air, he attempted to fight off the assault, but it was in vain. Hanna’s actions were that of a possessed assailant, striking without hesitation or relent until her prey moved no more, not even in breath.
It was over. The reign of fear would be no more.
* * *
Clothes and bed sheets were drenched in sweat. Despite her rapid breaths and pounding heart drawing her first attention, she did note her lips contorted into a grin. The nightmare that had tormented her for so very long, now provided her the solutions she was seeking and the courage to carry it out.
* * *
There was a change in her, not a visible one, something less tangible that Mr. Joiner could sense in her. He watched her come into his office, sit in the chair in front of his desk, and assume the same position she had on previous occasions. But there was something different, he just wasn’t sure what it was…yet.
Quietly, she responded, “Hey.”
Mr. Joiner was not prepared for the response, none had ever been given before, so he proceeded cautiously. “Have you given any thought to what we last talked about Hanna?”
He thought he glimpsed the slightest makings of a grin, but as fast as it was there, it was gone again. More definitely he did see the nod given.
“Good.” There was an excitement churning inside him now, however not that of a breakthrough, more a gut instinct warning him, a sense of foreboding. “How about you tell me the very last part of what you wrote, the wish you created for your life.”
Her hesitation lingered into a minute, then two. Niether spoke until the silence was broken with the slightest of inhalations and the softest of words, “I didn’t write anything…I dreamt it.”
“Okay, how about telling me about it. Who was in it?”
“My parents and me.”
She said nothing else, instead only stared out the window. Mr. Joiner watched and waited until it became apparent she was going to say no more without some prompting.
“What were your parents doing in your dream?”
Quietly she replied, “What they usually do…” she hesitated slightly, “and more.”
Matching her soft speech, he pressed further. “What more, Hanna?”
“He was trying to kill her.” It was said without feeling or intonation, mirroring her appearance.
He kept on, ”What were you doing when this was happening?”
Hanna shifted in her seat, sitting straighter but still staring out, not showing any emotion for what she was saying. “I wanted to disappear at first…I don’t want him to see me…don’t want to see them.” Her countenance began to change with her next words, a determination creeping over her. “But then I had to …stop him…”
Mr. Joiner found his own body reacting to the unspoken words hanging there. His body tense and rigid, leaning forward, he pursued the elusive statement. “What did you do, Hanna?”
Cold eyes turned and met with his. Unblinking she stated, “I killed him.”
He could see it there in her eyes, something more than satisfaction, more than determination even. It was the look of one who had finally found the answer they sought and the courage to carry it out. It was vengeance.
“You want him gone…forever?”
“Yes.” The coldness of that single word uttered, caused the hairs on his neck to raise.
“Hanna, do you want to kill your father now?” Mr. Joiner found himself holding his breath awaiting the answer.
The lifeless eyes that had reflected her lack of hope only the day before, now shone brighter and succinctly she replied, “Yes.”
Even the knowing the answer to his question before asking didn’t prepare him for actually hearing it. Mr. Joiner knew right there that the girl before him could be lost forever if he did nothing to stop it. More bluntly than he had intended he asked, “And if you killed your father, what would happen to you and your mother?”
Stoically she replied, “ We would finally be safe and…the fear would be gone.”
“And is this the only way Hanna, to be safe and not afraid?”
A fleeting glimpse of confusion crossed her face before she responded with, “Yes.”
He saw it and realized the tormented girl wasn’t completely lost as yet. “Hanna, if I could help you…and your mother, would you want that?”
She cast her gaze downward and whispered, “I don’t know.”
* * *
Mr. Joiner had spent another hour with Hanna, trying to draw the girl out further. She resisted minimally at first to the intrusion into her dream, but slowly she answered more of his questions until he was able to determine the fantasy she had created was a reactionary one. No specific plan of killing her father existed. However he did realize if the girl felt so trapped and saw no other way out, she would neither look for alternative solutions and the possibility of her someday devising a plan and carrying it out would be inevitable.
His first instincts were to discuss the consequences of such an action as murder, even in the defence of her mother. He wanted to make her aware of what her future would become and the imprisonment that would occur. He wanted to discuss the effects of her actions would have on her mother, the guilt, the anger, the grief. Instead he steered the conversation to that of what Hanna thought she would accomplish with having her father gone. The result she wanted, not the means to accomplishing it.
Ever so slowly he pried his way into the dormant dreams of this young girl and discovered what her simple needs were. Safety. Not only for herself did she want this, but even more so for her mother. Somewhere along the way the child felt as though she had to protect the adult. That she was responsible for her well being. That if she were to do nothing, she could no longer live with the mounting guilt and turmoil that existed within her.
Hannah felt ensnared in the violence that existed in her home. She no longer was living, only surviving. He had to help her see an alternative solution, that options were there and so was the help she needed to act upon them. He wanted to help her find her way again.
* * *
“I have to do it…I need to keep her safe from him…” The words trailed off uncomfortably.
“Hanna, what is it you want for you and your mother? What do you want your future to be like?”
A long silence followed the questions. Mr. Joiner watched the girl wrestle with the struggle raging within her. A muted war as she sat there, shifting slightly in her seat.
“Have you ever thought about a year from now, what awaits you Hanna? Do you dream of what your life could be or are you too busy surviving the moment?”
She lifted her downcast gaze and looked at him directly, “I escape…we leave…that is what I dream about.”
“Tell me about it.”
Drawing in her breath, she spoke, “Sometimes it’s my Mom coming to me, sometimes it’s me going to her…she tells me it is over with him, we’re leaving for real this time…we move, taking our things, not telling him when we go or where…we leave…”
“Where do you go Hanna?”
“Away from here…a place he can’t find us…somewhere by the ocean, he hates the ocean…someplace he wouldn’t follow or want to be.”
“What do you feel when you are there?”
“Exactly. If you kill him Hanna, you will never be free…not of him or what he has done to you and your Mom.”
“She won’t leave him! He’s got to be stopped!” The words were spit out in fury and fear.
“And if you were to do it, stop him…kill him…you would become the monster he is now. You would never be free of him, you would be just like him. Is that what you want Hanna?”
His words struck her just as if she had been slapped. Shock and confusion ran across her face followed by disgust.
“That’s not true!”
“It is, Hanna, and you know it. He has no regard for life, doesn’t care about how you and your mother feel. It’s about what he wants and the power and control he has…it would be the same for you.” He spoke the words more calmly so they could be taken in to her thoughts, “Killing him would make you the monster Hanna, one worse than he is now. You would have the ultimate disregard for life and for what others may feel.” He paused before continuing, “Is that what you want to be…like him?”
A myriad of emotions fleeted over her face in response. As if being assaulted, she flinched and pulled back from his words. The only sound she made was a small whimper of the painful idea of the possible truth behind his words.
Mr. Joiner slid out from behind his desk and sat on its edge before her. “Hanna, it doesn’t have to be this way…we can work together to make this different for you.”
“I don’t know what to do…” The words were spoken in a small voice, “…she needs my help.”
“And you need mine.” He gently placed his hand on her shoulder. “Let me help you both.“
It was barely a nod of her head, yet the plea was unmistakable.
* * *
Exhausted from the events that had taken place, Hanna slowly walked home. Mr. Joiner had discussed with her the Genesis program, a place for women and their children to go to get a new start, be safe, and learn how to stop the cycle of violence. She had sat quietly and listened while he made the phone call to the place finding out both she and her Mom could go there as soon as tonight. Mr. Joiner wanted to take her home, but she refused. She wanted time to think, to be alone and clear her mind, but she did agree to his coming over to the house after she got home and if her father wasn’t there. Even a worker from Genesis would meet them at the house, but it was all too much to think about.
Hanna turned the corner to her street and stopped dead in her tracks. There in front of her house were her parents, arguing. A wave a nausea came over her as she felt her dream come to life.
She began moving toward them but it was as if everything was in slow motion, seeing the events unfold clearly and distinctly before her, hearing nothing except the pounding of her heart. She saw her mother yell at her father defiantly and turn to go up into the house. She saw her father grab at her mother’s arm and roughly pull her back to him. She even saw his lips move as he whispered his threat into her mother’s face and then his hands move to grasp around her neck.
It was all happening just as she had seen it in her dream and now she felt her steps quicken into a run, bringing herself upon him without his being aware. He must have felt her presence and began to look in her direction just as her fist made contact with his jaw. The full force of her body was delivered in the punch and sent him crashing to the ground, the breath knocked from him.
Hanna stood over him, glowering down on his gasping form, feeling the rage urging her on to finish him off. She wanted to do what her emotions willed her to, what her rage screamed at her to go through with. All her muscles were taut, wanting to react to the commands within her to finish this once and for all, and yet she hesitated.
She could see it there in his eyes…the fear. She was the source of fear, not the recipient. It was a powerful feeling to have this control over another and somehow, it disgusted her. All she had imagined she would do, all she dreamt of doing to gain control of her life, the hatred, the rage, the guilt, all of it began slipping from her.
The truer solution that she had been seeking was now becoming clear. The violence that existed would always be fed with more of its own kind. Hurting him, killing him would not…could not be the answer. Another way was beginning to show itself to her. She had done what she needed to do, protected her mother, saved her from him. It was now time to do this for herself.
Hanna heard the sound of her own voice, a low, clear tone, “We don’t want you back…so leave.”
Taking in a long breath and feeling a stillness come over her, Hanna turned to her mother and said, “ No more.” She looked directly into her eyes, “no more will we live like this.”
Her mother could only nod as she took Hanna’s hand. She reached with her other, to wipe the tear flowing down Hanna’s cheek and said, “No more, Hanna.”
* * *
The reflection of one’s soul is most often revealed in a single act. Sometimes, the most poignant act is the lack of one, which may lead to the hearing what truly lies within. And sometimes, to hear of what is already there, another may need to show the way.
Such was the case with Hanna.