Contributor: Judy Hall

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The worst part? I know who I am but I don’t know when I am.
There I am. I am twelve years old, my calico hair cut short. I am hiding in the backyard, in what we call the Children’s Forest and there are birds singing lullabies and if I didn’t know that Daddy is hunting me and he’s more than just angry I would think it is beautiful. But beauty doesn’t enter here. Daddy’s more than furious. There is no word in my vocabulary for what Daddy is except Daddy. Not the good Daddy who is funny and plays pinochle. Not the Daddy who takes us to Sunrise Mall and buys us bandannas from Spencers’ and shakes from Orange Julius. This Daddy is too scary for words and I have made him angry – again – and I have escaped, the quivering but resolute prey, and am hiding in places so obvious he would never look.
I am under a wild cherry tree at the edge of the Children’s Forest. I am wearing a Pac-Man t-shirt and pink panties and it is cold so I cover myself in leaves and dirt and lie down, a death design, only I am listening for the sound of Daddy calming so I can come in again, to find him smiling and asking me to play pinochle or just ignoring me while watching a Mets game. It is the sound of naught or the soft cadence of the TV and running water. My sister pacifies him after I infuriate him. He has said cruel things to her – slut and whore and lazy and useless – that I can’t allow so I bait him and he comes after me, his fists like anvils and his reach so, so long and I run. Then, when he can’t find me to batter me, to pummel me anymore, then my sister says sweet, soothing words and fixes him a drink in a Big Green Glass and then sits looking at her feet until he calms down.
That’s what I imagine. I don’t know. Maybe she hides too. I never asked her. But he always has a Big Green Glass when I come back and she is always there.
I make up stories to pass the time in the Children’s Forest, named this by my sister and me in the time before time, before we can remember because now that’s the name of this quarter of the huge yard, almost an acre, and this part is all trees and furry animals and bugs. My favorite story is about Now.
Now I am a grown up.
Now I am married and I am the Mama but I am alive.
Now I live with my husband and kids in a house which is clean in that way where you know people live there and have fun; not so clean so you think no one ever does anything in this house but clean in the way you know people care and social workers never show up to yell at you for the house being a pigsty.
Now I have a car, a red car which is mine and which works and at any moment I can go to my car and get in it and go away if I want.
Now my husband loves me and would not hurt me or our children.
Now I am part of we and we are a normalish family with bed times and meal times and homework times.
My stories are so real in the Children’s Forest, so real I sense them. They feel like the fading of the scars on my arms from the cigarette burns and the soothing of the ache from my shoulder wrenched too often and hugs which are frank and not I’m sorry for you hugs. They smell like clean laundry and strawberries plucked off the vine in the sun and mown grass early Saturday morning through the open bedroom window. They taste like chocolate, milky and melty, and sweet Mama kisses and bubble gum before it loses its flavor. And I smile thinking of the Now that will someday come if I can wait and grow up and get away, if I can get away alive everything will be okay and no one will beat me and I will be safe when it is Now.
There I am. I think I am about forty. I have long hair the color of autumn. I have a fire-engine red car and a tender husband and children who have never known terror or deprivation or flight. Something happens – some thing which scares me and makes me need to escape. I want to run to the Children’s Forest but I can’t find it.
I’m not on Long Island.
I am on Long Island.
I’m not twelve.
I am twelve.
I check my arms and there are scars, but the scars are faded.
I see the red car. But I can’t tell if it’s real. Is that my red car?
And now I’m being hunted again. I’m (un)sure it’s real and I don’t know what to do or where to hide because this isn’t my house. This place is unfamiliar. It smells wrong, it tastes wrong, it feels like another world where I can’t be safe. It looks like my house but I know it can’t be my house; it is my house in another dimension with an alternate me. I look but I can’t find the Children’s Forest and my sister is missing and there is a monstrous game of hide but don’t seek and all I know is that I must try to save myself
and I never remember what happens next.

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Judy Hall is a teacher of English both at the high school and college level. She's been previously published in Outsider Ink. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three children, one stupid cat and one evil cat.
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