THE STRUGGLE

Juanita Aguilera

Karla glanced at the clock; eight oíclock, and he father was still not at home. Her body shook, and tiny rivers of sweat race down her neck. Experience had taught her where he was; out with his friends getting drunk. Soon enough he would be slamming that door open, quickly penetrating the house with the pungent smell of alcohol. He would find any excuse to get upset and beat her mother, as he always did when he came home drunk

She couldnít help being angry about feeling so frightened. She wondered why she couldnít be, like her friends, thinking about boys and having fun. It was her right. Karla was now twelve years old; she was supposed to be going through a very special time in her life. Her friends always talked about how great it was to be in junior high.

"Look at that guy," her friends would always say. "Isnít he cute? Come on; letís follow him around. Maybe heíll notice us," they would giggle. "Karla, donít be shy. Weíre just trying to have fun."

They seemed to be having the time of their lives. Why wasnít she? Her parents were not giving her the opportunity to focus on her studies and enjoy life. Instead, they were forcing her to concentrate on hiding her pain, as well as her bruises.

"What happened to your arm, Karla?" one of her teachers would ask.

"Uh, oh, itís nothing," she would lower her head. "I got hit with a basketball during the PE class."

"You look sad today, Karla. Is there anything that I can help you with?" another teacher would ask.

"Iím all right. I just had a hard day. I stayed up late last night and Iím tired," she would lie.

Karla quietly sat in the corner of her room, waiting for the door to slam open. She was hiding from the man with strong hands and harsh words. She didnít want to hear his words; they hurt as bad as his punches. He would soon be entering her room if her mother didnít give him the fight he wanted. She had sat there so many times that she knew the location of every chip and scratch in the wooden floor beneath her feet. Karla had touched them so many times that her fingers had no difficulty finding the ones she had decided to trace that day. Every time she sat in this spot, she tried to discover a new chip or scratch. If her search were in vain, she would make a new one herself. Many times she had to sit there for such a long time that she would make a switch and explore the walls instead. She felt every bump on the textured wall and even enjoyed scraping off some of the paint. Although she very much hated hiding there, for some reason she, felt protected by those peeling walls and wooden floor.

"God, please protect my mother. Make him go straight to bed," she begged. "Make him drink so much, that heís too drunk to beat us or scream."

Everything seemed so quiet outside her room. She wondered if her mother was also waiting for the slamming of the door. Karla wondered if her mother was hiding, like she was, from the man who caused so much pain. Hesitantly, she decided to look outside her room to find out. Her eyes were saddened by what they saw. Her mother was not hiding as she expected; she was moving quickly around the house, picking up everything that was out of place. Wanting everything to be perfect, she rearranged the knick-knacks. She ran to the kitchen and, once more, wiped the counter top and rinsed the sink. It was funny, but it seemed as if she was expecting someone else, not her drunken father. Her mother seemed to want the house to look just perfect for the cruel man who was about to enter. There was no dust anywhere in sight and everything was perfectly in place, but her mother continued to rush from one place to the other, inspecting every corner.

Suddenly, they heard the sound of his dragging foot steps as he tried to walk up the stairs. Her mother ran to open the door for him, and Karla ran to her room to hide in the usual corner. She knew she would soon hear the loud screaming voices. They sounded like the threatening thunder she heard on that horrible stormy night when they had lost their power for two whole days. She knew the horrible screams would be followed by the cries of pain that her mother would try to keep inside, as if wanting to avoid scaring her.

Karla wanted to do anything but hear the sound of the fighting voices. For a while, she prayed and begged God to make this her lucky day. Her mother would be beaten anyway, but she begged God that it wouldnít happen in front of her, as it had happened so often.

"Please God, have the neighbors call the cops as soon as the screaming starts. I donít want him to hurt my mother," she hid her face between her arms.

Karla didnít want to see his strong, powerful hand strike and turn her motherís face, splashing blood from of her nose. It was unbearable to see the deep, painful look in her motherís eyes. They begged her for forgiveness for allowing him to have gone to her room, and for forcing her to see it all. She couldnít handle hearing the sound of her motherís crying voice, gasping for air, and begging him to stop. Karla didnít want to see her motherís frightened expression, as she saw her daughterís eyes widen, as she hatefully saw her fatherís brutal personality.

Waiting, she sat there with her head on her knees, her eyes tightly closed. Her arms were tightly wrapped around her folded legs. She started rocking herself back and forth, hoping she would pick up a rhythm that would keep her concentration, rather than focusing on the things that would soon take place outside her room. Her heart started beating faster and she could already smell the penetrating odor of blood and feel the pain in her heart. Karla couldnít wait any longer. Why couldnít he start now, so it would be over with?

She heard the slamming of the door and the sound of his footsteps moving in the house. The sound of the footsteps was broken by her motherís soft voice asking, "How did it go today? Do you want to have dinner? Itís all ready to be served."

She didnít hear her father respond to her motherís questions, but she did hear a loud sound that was produced by her motherís body hitting one of the walls. She then heard his loud, angry voice screaming at her and saying, "Donít try to act the perfect wife that youíre not, bitch! Who in the hell are you trying to fool, following me around like a puppy and acting as if youíre happy to see me come home! You are nothing but a piece of trash, and donít you ever forget it!"

Then Karla heard the sound of her motherís apologetic voice saying, "Iím sorry, I didnít mean toÖ"

"Shut up! Didnít you hear me say that I want you to stop your little act?" He struck her one more time, and knocked her down to the floor. Karlaís mother didnít say a word, but her father wasnít happy with that either. "Come on, bitch! Arenít you going to get up and apologize again? Come on. Let me beat the hell out of you. You know I love to knock you down to the floor where you belong. You are nothing but a piece of trash," he continued.

"Donít! Please donít, Karla isÖ" she implored.

"Shit, donít you hear what Iím saying! Shut up! I donít give aÖ" he struck her again.

Her motherís voice begged, "Stop, the neighbors are going to call the police! Theyíre going to come! Please!"

"You wonít shut up, uh? Iíll just have to shut you up myself. I donít give a fuck if they come. Iíll come out of jail, and come back!" he assured.

Karla knew that, this time, her mother would be strong enough to take as many punches, slaps, kicks, and pushes as it took to tire him. That night, her mother wouldnít, for any reason, allow him to come into her room to beat on her, too. She would continue begging him to stop until he was tired enough to stop. It was just what he wanted.

"No, please! Please! You are going to kill me! Stop!" she continued.

The beating took longer than ever. Karla could no longer hear her motherís cries or pleas, only her fatherís painful words, punches, and kicks. She was more frightened than ever. She couldnít avoid it; many horrible thoughts came to her mind. The thought that her mother might be knocked unconscious, made Karla panic. Maybe he had killed her this time. She wanted to run out, but she couldnít. She was too frightened, and her legs refused to take a step. Why hadnít the neighbors called the cops? Why hadnít she heard the sirens or the hard knock on the door? Karla remembered how angry her neighbors had gotten the last time. They had called the police, and her mother, as always, had denied that he had beaten her. She told the police that it was a lie, that she had tripped and hit herself against the wall. Her mother refused to admit it and press charges. The neighbors were furious. They threatened to ignore the next beating. Karla couldnít understand how they could keep their promise. This beating was surely the worst; he could have killed her.

When everything was calm, Karla ran to her bedroom door, wanting to see if her mother was okay. She stepped out of her room and saw that everything was dark. All the lights had been turned off and Karla didnít know what to do. She didnít know if it was safe for her to be out looking for her mother. Although it was very difficult for her to see in the dark, she moved slowly through the house, trying not to make a sound. After a few minutes, her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she could see where she was going. She listened to every noise, hoping to locate her mother. Karla could hear only the sound of the howling wind hitting the living room window.

As she peeked into the dining room, she saw her mother sitting in the dark. Her arms rested on the wooden table, motionless. On her motherís face she could see the shiny mixture of tears and dark red blood that had burst out of her broken skin. It was as if she did not feel the pain of the swelling and the cuts on her body. Her mother just sat there like a zombie, her eyes focused on one spot of the table. They would not move, not even to blink, as the tears continued to run down her cheeks. She made no effort to move her trembling fingers to wipe off her tears.

Karla hated to see her mother that way. Her heart always tightened in pain. She couldnít help crying and, as always, felt deeply confused about what to do. Should I go to her side and comfort her, or should I let her cry herself to sleep on the table? she debated. Going to her meant that she would have to meet her sad eyes and see that apologetic expression that she hated seeing. It meant hearing her broken voice trying to convince her that her father was not a bad man. Telling her that alcohol, not his lack of love, was to blame for his actions, that alcohol was the reason for his transformation to the cruel man who had just beaten her. Although Karla didnít understand, she knew that her mother wanted to believe all those lies because she needed them to justify her decision for staying with him. With hesitation, Karla decided to comfort her mother.

Karla walked over to the table. She sat next to her mother and waited a few minutes before speaking. "Mom, you look bad," she said as she brushed the hair from her motherís face. "Are you okay? We should go to the hospital."

" No Karla. Itís not that bad." She placed her hand over Karlaís, "This man is not your father," tightening her grip as she spoke. "This man is a stranger, " she continued, failing to hold back her tears. "Your father is different. Your father loves us. He is forced to become that stranger when he drinks," she cried.

Karla was tired of hearing those words. Her mother had to realize that she was no longer a child who could ignore what took place. She was a young woman who had the right to say what she felt. It was no longer easy to cover up for him when the neighbors called the police. She was tired of helping her mother lie and hide the truth. More than anything, Karla was tired of pretending in front of her teachers and friends.

"Itís not your father hitting us, itís the damn alcohol," she stood and paced around the room. " He doesnít want to do it, but he doesnít know how to control his drinking," she tried to convince Karla. "Youíll see, tomorrow things will be different," she returned to the table and caressed Karlaís hand. "Heíll be the kind man we love."

Karla knew that her mother was right; everything would be different the following day. Her father would apologize and say that he felt bad about what he had done the day before. For a few days, he would try to make it up by telling them that he loved them, and by taking them out to do fun things. She hated that because he confused her. For a few days, he would allow her to forget all the horrible things he had done while drunk.

For the first time, Karla decided she would not let her mother lie to herself. Enough of that had been done. She had been horrified at the thought of losing her; he could have killed her. It was painful to see how hurt she was. The swelling, cuts, and bruises shielded her motherís beauty. Her left eye was completely shut by the swelling. The ugliest black bruise surrounded it. Karla couldnít understand how her mother could even pretend to not feel the pain. How could she not feel the pain in her bruised arms and her bleeding knuckles? They were full of cuts and bleeding scratches. Although her mother tried to hide it, Karla saw that her eyes expressed great sadness and were screaming for help.

"Stop mom, please! Donít lie to yourself," Karla pulled her hand from underneath her motherís. "Heís the same man!" she shouted. Then in a whisper she suggested, "We could go to Aunt Marthaís house for a few weeks." She carefully took her fingers to her mother face and touched one of the cuts by her eye, "Mom, you need to take a stand. He needs to know that we are not going to allow him to continue getting away with this. Please mom, we couldÖ"

Her mother interrupted before Karla could finish, "How could you even say that, Karla? Donít you understand? Your father is a sick man. We canít leave him here alone!" she screamed. "Please donít talk bad about your father. Donít you feel any love? He loves you! I canít handle hearing you talk that way," she began to cry again.

Karla stood up briskly and hit the table, "Mom, please donít do this. Look at yourself! Do you think this is right? He could haveÖ"

Her mother had come out of her trance, but didnít respond. She seemed to have forgotten her pain, and put a lock on the horrible thoughts, only allowing the good memories to come out. She seemed to have imprisoned the pain and bad memories. She held back the painful images that had so frequently forced her to see her bloody, bruised body.

Karla had to admit that, like her mother, she had locked in the bad memories for many years. She had tried to remember only the wonderful days when her father stayed sober. She had tried to remember only the excitement she felt when she saw her father treating her mother with love. She loved remembering the glow on her motherís face, as her father put his arm around her. She would, many times, dream that he had stopped drinking, that he was an ideal father and husband. In her dreams she didnít hate him, the way she did many times. She didnít have the mixed feelings of love and hate that confused her deeply.

"You know that heís not always like this. He loves us! We need to help him, not desert him," her mother caressed her face.

Dreaming and good memories had gotten Karla through the difficult moments, but it was time to face reality. She wanted to make her dreams a reality and, for that, she needed things to be different. She would have to do something she had never done before: talk to her father about his drinking problem. While he was sober, she would have to tell him about her dreams. She would have to let him know how much she and her mother enjoyed spending time with him, and how much pain his drinking brought. She would tell him how much they needed him to change. She would make sure that he knew that, if he got help, they would stay by his side to support him.

Karla knew that she would have to start by convincing her mother to take a stand. She knew it would take time and that she was not going to change her motherís mind in one day. This had to be done with a lot of tact; she didnít want to lose communication with her. Karla understood that the situation would not change from one day to the next, but she had decided to make it change. She just couldnít allow that cycle to continue forever. They were all getting hurt. If she couldnít convince her mother to take a stand or make her father admit his problem, she would, then, stop hiding the truth. She would stop pretending and allow her teachers to help her. It would be painful, but she would no longer lie to the police if it came to take him away. She hoped for the best, but knew it would not be an easy battle.

She looked her mother in the eyes and held her hand. "Mom, we need to work together. This needs to stop."