I started collecting secrets when I was just six years old. It began the night that I first saw him lay his hands on her.

Fear of the dark pulled me out of bed, down the stairs and to the kitchen door, where from the shadows I saw my father strike my mother across the face. I swear as I watched him slap her, I could feel the very same sting in my heart. I wanted to scream out but couldn’t. Then the same thing that brought me down the stairs, took me back up them; fear. Instead of finding comfort in my parents arms that night, I went back to bed alone and curled up into a ball, trying to become as small as I felt. I hugged my knees so tight, I thought that I might just send them through my chest.

I never told a soul. Not my mother, my teachers, I didn't even tell my baby brother about it. Although he was just 1 year old, and could never understand, I just couldn't risk hurting him the way that they had hurt me. After that night I became more aware, and I started to unravel all these little black lies. By the age of 8 I had seen and heard things that no 8 year old should ever have to witness. I had felt things that no 8 year old should ever have to feel.

The night my my mother left him, seemed like just another day. I watched her pour a little too much rum in her coffee before she rushed me out the door and towards the car for school. When she picked me from our small town school of 200 kids, grades 1 through 8, she had my brother strapped in the back seat, and of course a coffee in her hand. I always noticed that she liked her ‘adult’ coffee.

Come time for dinner I barley ate which was nothing new. Instead I stuffed my old sweater pockets with chicken that I would later take out to dog, and when I got caught instead of scolding me, my father picked my up and put me on his shoulders. Up there I felt as if I was on top of the world, and nothing could ever hurt me up there. I cut apple blossoms from our trees, and brought them inside to the kitchen table, in hopes to take them into my teacher the next morning. Unfortunately I never got the chance to.

When it was time for bed my parents had gotten in another argument. They usually had arguments in front of us, but not like this. Both of them had too much to drink, but this time just like rivalries at war, neither one of them were backing down. I held my brother tight as I climbed under the kitchen table. I held his face in my neck and rocked back and fourth, I couldn't let my baby brother, so pure and untouched, witness the poison between my parents. I closed my eyes and hoped that we would vanish, just disappear into nothing. Either that or drown in the tears from the two of us. My eyes quickly shot open when I heard the cracking sound of the living room drywall. Only seconds after I realized the gaping hole in the wall was much too large to be from a fist. It was from my mothers head.

It was almost as if the world was moving in slow motion, as I watched the handcuffs snap around his wrists. My father, my hero. I didn’t even notice my feet carrying me towards the cruiser as it pulled out of the drive way. My was father in the back seat shaking his head at me, looking at me in disgust as if I had betrayed him. He thought I was the one to call the cops, but the neighbours must have heard the screaming. Didn't he know how good I was at keeping secrets?

A quick 42 hours later he was home, and another 42 hours after that so were we. My mother always left with us, but never for good.

I remember one day at school, about 2 weeks after that nigh, I had a Family and Child Services worker come to my school so she could ask me questions in private. Of course I never told her about the empties, and how my dad started keeping them out in the barn instead of the house. I did this for the same reason that I decided not to tell her that just last night as I laid in bed I could hear them yelling, again.

The years to follow were all the same. We had regular checkups, where they would come and inspect the home and ask the same old genetic questions, and in return I would give the same old generic answers that I know my parents would want me to give. I didn't do this for them though, I did this for my brother. Although my parents had already torn our family apart, I knew that if I told the truth, if I spilled these secrets, I would be the one to destroy us entirely.

As I grew into my teenage years I tried to spend as little time at home as humanly possible. I was out all hours of the night, and sometimes I even spent days couch surfing. I always came back though. I always came back for my baby brother.

The two of us had always talked about how we would run away one day, we’d leave this broken home and our town of secrets in the dust; but we never did. I wish so much that I could have gotten him out, I would do anything to give him the life that our parents never gave to us.

I worked 2 jobs, trying to save money, but I could never save enough to get us out. This was probably due to the fact that I spent majority of my pay on groceries and alcohol.

How stupid of me to develop a drinking problem, after going through the things I have gone through, and seeing the things I have seen. I started to follow down the same dead end road as my parents; but after all, I am my mothers daughter.

The difference between us though was I am a lover, not a fighter. I think because of my lack of love I received as a child, this caused me to take love form anyone who was willing to give it, in any form. I kissed so many boys, and so many bottles, that I lost track by the time I turned 19.

Now I sit her at the age of 22 while my husband’s passed out drunk on the couch. My body is slow and worn from lack of sleep and nourishment. No more parties and reckless teenage years, I now lack sleep from my racing thoughts and never conquered fear of the dark. As I place a bag of frozen peas agains my bruised and swollen cheek, it sends chills down my spine. I try to warm my body with a coffee, adding just a little too much rum, and wonder why I ever let myself become so good at keeping secrets.