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By Martina Frasca

Stuart Wood photography,

Raindrops fell on my roof top one raindrop after another. I was an 18-year-old Georgia girl in her bedroom most of the day except when I was out exploring the bare woods that surrounded my house. I lived in an attic with books, a rack of clothes and ripped shoes next to my mattress that was on the floor. I didn’t mind. I kind of liked it. It was quiet except when the hardwood floor creaked. The main level was our kitchen, bathroom and the living room which I liked to call the Beer cave. That's where my mom usually was. She slept on the couch like she was dead with broken glass around her from beer bottles. My-nine-year old brother Jerry was usually in the basement. He stayed down there most of the time except when he needed to leave the house. I never blamed him. I wished I had the chance to hide too. My father.....I missed my father. Mike Lamino. A 53-year-old man that was at war. I rolled out of bed and flopped on the floor. I was not in the mood to start my day. The same routine over and over again. I wished I had a life like a normal teenage girl. A girl who had parents who cared for her and loved her. A girl who went to college and got an education. A girl who had a job, made friends and maybe grabbed a coffee at Starbucks once a week. I grabbed my red robe that was on my chair at my wooden desk and put on my black slippers. I started to go down the creaky wooden steps and then jumped onto the railing as I slid down my spiral staircase. I went into the kitchen, grabbed a frying pan and started cooking scrambled eggs for my brother and I. My mom served for herself when she felt like it. I worried about her because sometimes she would go days without eating but she did not accept anything when I offered her food and eventually I had no choice but to give up on her. I went into my brother’s room and saw he was still sleeping so I left the eggs on his desk. I always felt responsible for Jerry. I grew up practically raising myself and I did not want that pressure on my brother. I snuck into the living room to check on my mom who was also passed out. Not a surprise at all with two beer bottles on top of her. As I started to walk out of the living room, I heard my mom wake up. "Bethany! What are you doing? Where's my beers?" She yelled. Here we go again I thought to myself. "You finished your beers mom, they are all laying on top of you." My mom sat up, picked up the two beer bottles that were laying on top of her and threw them against the wall while knocking down a vase that was on the television. "I want more beer," she screamed. I walked out and ran back up the steps towards my room. I usually began my day being a caretaker for my younger brother and being verbally abused by my mom. I got used to it but sometimes it would get violent which scared me. Those two beer bottles she threw at the wall could have been my head. That almost happened once but I ducked. I got dressed, grabbed a water bottle, my backpack and headed out. I loved the woods, especially in the fall. It was so quiet and no one bothered me. It gave me time to think. It was the perfect time to wear my brown hiking boots with my dirty ripped blue jeans and my green camouflage jacket with a black tank top underneath. My long brown hair hung down my back up to my hips. I loved the way my hazel eyes stared into the sky looking at the sun coming through the tree branches. I usually brought a small book that I kept in my back pocket. I would find a log by the brook, skip rocks and sit and read for hours just to get away. As I walked through the woods kicking rocks down the dirt road, I had a feeling. A strange feeling like someone was following me. I turned around and all I saw was the long trail of colorful leaves from the trees. I continued to walk and all of a sudden I heard footsteps. I felt my heart starting to race. I turned around once more. About fifty feet away from me I saw a man. We stared at each other for a moment. I pulled out a pocket knife I hid in my boot for protection. I never kept it in my backpack because reaching in my boot was much faster. He started to walk towards me as I kept stepping back trying not to trip over myself. "Stop!" He said "don't be afraid...Bethany"

"Who are you and how do you know my name?" I said with a shaky voice holding the pocket knife at him. "I knew I'd find you here. Bethany... Don't you recognize me? I'm your father." I froze for a second. My father? I hadn’t seen my father in years. He had been away at war. This didn’t make any sense. We use to write letters back and forth to each other but I felt bad because I stopped replying. I was too busy taking care of Jerry. I didn't know whether to believe him or not but I had to find out the truth. "Prove it!" I commanded him. He took his black leather wallet out of his jacket pocket and threw it towards me. I opened it. There was his license that said Mike Lamino and noticed he looked a little like the one picture that I have of him that was nailed to my wall over my bed. I looked up at him and felt tears coming out of my eyes. I ran towards him and jumped in his arms and gave him the biggest hug I ever gave anyone in my life. We finally released our grips and we both walked down the dirt road towards the house. My father told me all about the war. I told my father my dreams of being a regular teenage girl. "Well, that's going to happen sweetheart, as soon as we get you and Jerry away from that mother of yours. You are coming to New Jersey to live with me.” I looked up at him and gave a smile and he smiled back. As we got home I saw our beat up Volkswagen in the driveway. I never knew why we still had it. We hadn’t driven it in years. We went up the creaky steps to the front door of our wooden cabin. "It looks like someone tried to pick the lock." Dad commented. As soon as he said that immediately my excitement and happiness I felt turned into worry. I stayed calm as dad inspected the lock. It was hard to get the key in but we eventually did after a few turns and rough pulls. We opened the door and the house was quiet. I went to check on Jerry but he was not in his room. My heart felt like it skipped a beat. "Jerry! Mom!" No one was home. Wow! Mom left her precious couch? That was a shock. I thought to myself. "Your mother probably went out to buy more beer," my dad commented. "Yeah but where is Jerry?” Dad gave me a look of concern. “Follow me!” he demanded as he left the room. I quickly followed him out of the back door and into the old Volkswagen which is currently our only way of transportation. Dad sped all over town while I shouted Jerry’s name and dad shouted mom's name out the windows. We stopped at every bar, the mall, and every restaurant that was in our small town. They were nowhere. We tried calling mom and Jerry’s cell phones but no one answered. We eventually had no choice but to head home and call the cops. The cops met us at the house and looked around. I gave them a tour of the house and showed them all the rooms where mom and Jerry usually are. The cops noticed broken glass that was on the floor next to the couch where mom usually is. They looked at me with concern. That’s when I had no choice but to explain to the cops how mom acted and how her attitude is towards me and Jerry. When I was done talking I was out of breath. I never realized how fast I talked in an anxious situation. The cops then filed a report and told us there was only so much they can do right now. “Based on what your daughter has told me about your wife, I recommend sleeping somewhere else for safety reasons until the case is solved,” said the cop. My father nodded as the cop turned around and left. I looked at my dad worried. “But what if they come back?” I asked. My father gave me a nervous look and told me to pack up as he walked outside to the car getting it started ignoring my question.

I walked while dragging my feet up the steps. When I reached my room I took my backpack off my shoulder and stuffed it with random clothes not paying attention to type or colors. Packing was the last thing on my mind. I heard a horn and knew dad was waiting. I quickly ran down the steps and out of the house looking back as if I were never going to set foot in that house again. “Where are we going to sleep? A hotel?” I asked while we headed down our driveway. “That’s the plan!” he responded. As soon as we settled into our hotel room I dropped my backpack and belly flopped on the bed. Dad and I had to sleep in the same bed since we could not afford a two bed room. All I did was shake all night. My mind wouldn’t shut off. How could Mom do this? It was all her fault. Mom had disappeared once before and came back but she never took Jerry anywhere. At that point I did not even care about mom. Why should I after everything she’s has put us through. But Jerry is different. I would have been lost without Jerry. He was like my best friend. While waking up I noticed that dad was packing up and cleaning the room. I asked Dad what he was doing and he said he thought it was best at that time to leave for New Jersey. I disagreed. “What about Jerry?” I asked dad once again. “We will not give up on Jerry but we cannot keep living in this hotel. We are running out of money and I need to get you out of this environment; we are not in the best town.” I rolled out of bed making a loud thump on the ground and remained still. I started to feel hopeless. All of a sudden I heard my phone ring that was on the bedside table. I jumped up as fast as I could and answered “Hello?” “Bethany Listen, I don’t have long to talk. Mom is in a bar probably getting drunk and she left me outside. I would have called sooner but I did not want mom to hear. Mom forced me out of the house. She took me to get me away from you and dad. She knew dad was coming home.” “How did you leave? The car is still in the driveway,” I asked. “We took the bus and I don’t really know where we are. I kind of fell asleep,” he replied. “We are not at a bar where mom usually goes.” “You have to trick mom into...” We were cut off. I quickly told dad about what Jerry said and he called the cops. Then Dad thought of something. He had realized if Jerry and mom had their phones on them, the cops can track them and see where they are located. We should have thought of that in the first place. I stared out the window until I saw the cops pull into the parking lot. I called Dad who was in the bathroom and without waiting I jolted down the steps and dad quickly followed. I repeated word for word what Jerry had said to me on the phone and gave the cops Jerry’s and mom’s phone numbers. As the words were coming out of my mouth I noticed I felt jittery. The cops then told us they would call us back in a half hour. While we waited, dad drove to a nearby diner and treated me to lunch but I felt too sick to eat. As I saw the waitress coming our way, I pushed the dish filled with pancakes towards the middle of the table giving her a signal I was done and I wanted to take it to go. An hour had passed since we last heard from the cops. Why aren’t they calling back I thought as I put pancakes in the plastic container. The phone rang just in time when we were walking out of the diner. Dad reached for his phone in his pocket and answered. As he hung up he told me that they found them in South Carolina and we need to go meet the cops and follow them. I never knew why Jerry didn’t tell me they left the state. Oh yeah… he fell asleep. It was three hours away from Georgia to South Carolina. It was going to be a long day. It already was. With three hours passing by while listening to the Beatles playing on the radio filling the awkward silence in the car, we arrived at Congaree National Park. We came to a stop and dad shut the radio as he pulled down the window to hear what the cops were saying. We were told to stay in the car until further notice. I took a big sigh and turned the radio back on feeling annoyed avoiding eye contact with anyone looking out the window. I wanted this over with. Twenty minutes later we were told that the two phones that they tracked which were moms and Jerry’s, were drifting along the bottom of the Congaree River. Dad and I turned to each other with concern. We were back to where we started and didn’t have any idea what to do. We drove to the nearest hotel. Dad tried to make conversation on the way but I gave one word answers. I was in no mood to talk. I was drowning in my own thoughts. Dad soon realized it when I was giving answers that didn’t make sense and remained quiet. It was a quiet afternoon while I stayed in the hotel room reading doing everything I can to get my mind off of things. It didn’t work. That night I couldn’t sleep. I was up until six AM staring into nothing but darkness tossing and turning worrying about Jerry. I grabbed my phone that was on the bedside table and noticed I had a voicemail. I also noticed I was on ten percent. I wondered what’s going to happen when dad and I ran out of battery since neither of us brought a charger. I listened to the voicemail and I heard, “Bethany it's Jerry. I’m finally getting a chance to call you. I am at someone’s house who was kind enough to take me in and let me use their phone. Mom threw my phone and her phone in a river. Don’t ask why. We are in South Carolina. The address I am at is 69 Bright Street in Rock Hill. I rolled away from the bar mom is at now and knocked on these peoples door because I didn’t know what else to do. Mom is at some bar right down the street that I don’t know the name. Bar hopping is all she’s been doing. Please tell me you got this message and you didn’t lose your charger and let your battery run low like you do all the time.” I didn’t lose it but forgetting it was probably equally as bad. I had a lot on my mind. I looked at the time he left the message. Only a half hour gap. I wondered how come I didn’t hear it ring and then I noticed it was on vibrate. I quickly nudged my dad awake and made him listen to the message. We then called the cops and ran down the steps that lead to the hotel parking lot. As we were anxiously waiting for their arrival I paced back and forth from parking space to parking space. When the cops arrived they listened to the message and told us to go get Jerry and meet them at the bar supposedly mom was at based on what Jerry told us. After the cop gave us directions Dad and I put shoes on and ran to the car as fast as we could, fastened our seatbelts, and took off. We didn’t even care that our hair was a mess and we were still in our pajamas. I can tell dad was nervous because he was fidgeting and his fingers kept tapping on the steering wheel. I decided to not say anything because I did not want to make him more nervous. I looked at each passing house I saw out the window. I wondered about the people that live there. What’s their story? The houses amazed me as they could easily be mistaken for castles and with a clean cut lawn too. How bad could their lives be with a house like that? We arrived at a small brick house with white shutters and a white door. It was obviously out of place between all the mansions we just passed. Dad told me to go get Jerry while he stayed in the car. He always stayed in the car so no one can hold us up and beg us to come in at the door for conversation. As I slowly walked up to the door about to knock, I saw jerry’s head peeking out of the window. The sight of him made me anxiously excited. The door swung open and a young girl no older than five held on to Jerry's hand passing it to me. “Here’s your brother!” She said pronouncing brother as brudder. “Thank you! Where’s your parents?” I asked. “My mom’s sleeping and my dad’s at work. Bye!” Before I had the chance to say anything she slammed the door. I grabbed Jerry by the hand and we ran to the car. Dad was standing outside with his arms open ready to embrace Jerry with a hug. As we were driving I soon started to think about the little girl that answered the door. I wondered what her life was like and wondered if she had parents that loved her unconditionally like parents should love their children. As we pulled up to the front of the bar we saw mom in the back seat of a cop car glaring at us. Dad told us to stay in the car while he went and talked to the cops. I slowly slid down my seat so I would not be seen by mom any longer. I instantly felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to hate her. Part of me did hate her. I hate what she did or should I say did not do. I hate that she neglected us, abused us, and made me raise myself and Jerry leaving all the responsibility on me as if we were a piece of trash and unwanted. I had a right to feel angry, but why did I also feel guilty? I lifted my head up just enough for my eyes to take a glance at my mom one more time. She laid her head back on the seat against the window with her eyes closed. As I looked at her I noticed my eyes began to water as I tried to hold back tears. I put my head down. I cannot get myself to hate her as much as I wanted to because she is my mom and she will always be my mom no matter what. I just wished we were enough for her to stay sober. The front car door opened and dad hopped inside and started the engine. He explained that mom was found passed out in the bathroom and tried to put up a fight not wanting to get up and she was on her way to the nearest mental hospital. I wanted to look at mom one last time as we were leaving but I couldn’t get myself to do it. Maybe that was best. The car was quiet as we drove home. I found a pen on the ground and started clicking it out of nervousness. Finally dad broke the awkward silence and told us to pack quickly because we were leaving for Jersey in the morning. I took a quiet sigh of relief. A fresh start will be good I reminded myself. I clicked the pen one last time and wrote “PHONE CHARGER” on my hand.

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