The screams coming from our house were heard by the next door neighbors on
both sides of my parents’ house that day. Mrs. Lambert lived to the right of us. She pushed on her screen door, loosening the hinges even more, with her bony hand to investigate. She was married twice. I don’t know what happened to her first husband, but she looked like a skeleton.
Whenever my mom invited her over for dinner, she always declined with a shake of her head. It isn’t polite to stare, but I couldn’t turn away from her beady eyes in the middle of her shrunken head. It was like she was scared of being in a normal house with normal people. I was glad she had never set foot inside my parents’ house, but I kept this to myself.
Our windows were open all the time except during the rainy days. I hoped my mom didn’t tell Mrs. Lambert about my birthday party. I doubted she would come, but this was the last person I wanted to see because she would ruin it. I didn’t like how she talked either. Her voice was high-pitched and nasally. Her conversations usually went the same way with my mom.
“You know how Jonathan doesn’t like me eating past six o’clock.”
“I’m well aware.” My mom gave her a short eye roll and prolonged her exhalation, all the signals of annoyance.
“Oh, stop it! Jonny means nothing by it.” This sounded convincing enough to me, but not my mom.
“Your flimsy justification doesn’t erase the sting behind his words, and the last time I saw Jonny, it seemed he had put on weight himself.
Mrs. Lambert stammered out her words. “Well, I didn’t come over here to argue. I just wanted to wish you a good day.” And with that, she left without another word. My mom later confessed she probably shouldn’t have made those comments about our neighbors. She didn’t exactly feel bad enough to apologize to either one of them, but expressed her regret. She had been friends with her since grade school. I’m not sure about her husband.
Our neighbors to the right were more personable. I didn’t mind calling them by their first names. Pamela and Marcus were the only adults invited to my birthday party. I made sure of it.
The day prior to my birthday I arranged the top of my desk with an assortment of balloons, paper streamers of my favorite colors, birthday paper plates and napkins, and random noise makers. I wanted everything related to my birthday as close to me as possible minus my presents. My parents had hidden them in their bedroom. It was off-limits to my sisters, and I didn’t feel like getting into trouble even though I was dying to know if anything on my wish list was in their bedroom.
My dad had already eaten breakfast by the time I came into the kitchen. He was sipping his coffee as I waited patiently for my eggs and pancakes. They smelled good and tasted better. His glances at me became longer and longer. I could tell he had some fatherly advice to give.
“Jackie, don’t let anyone say you can’t do something. If you want to do it, then do it. Once you have it in your head you can’t, you might as well give up the ghost.”
“Thanks, dad.” “I’m not kidding around.” “I know.”
“Things like that don’t leave, and set you up for failure again and again.” His advice would be over when he would knock his knuckles on the table. He hadn’t done that yet. I hoped it would be soon. “I want you to see things the way you see them. I want you to see things with your own eyes. I want you to be your own person, Jackie, but carefully.”
“That’s what I want to hear.”
I wondered how many times my sisters had heard this. They had no problem tuning him out during dinner time even when he pointed his index finger at them. That finger always lingered when he came to me. It made me feel important and anxious at the same time. He would end his speech with our responsibilities to one another.
He continued, “I’ve been around here longer than you and your sisters put together.”
I knew this wasn’t true. I was almost eleven. My sister Margery was seventeen and Alice was fifteen. I knew how to count. My dad wasn’t forty-seven. He nodded a few times at his own words, and finally knocked on the table with his knuckles. This was my cue to put my plate in the sink and grab a plastic bag from the cabinet.
My plan was to help my parents after breakfast, but now I wanted to be by myself. My excitement of turning a year older bubbled inside me as it did earlier. After I closed my bedroom door, I removed my diary under my mattress, and scribbled the date with my special pen. It had my name on the side of it, and was a gift from my best friend, Sherry, from last year’s birthday.
July 2, 1981
Tomorrow is my birthday. I can hardly wait. turn eleven. I can’t believe this. I’m four years away from being a woman. My mom says you become a woman when you’re able to have children. I think you become a woman when you can wear a bra. I’m still flat chested unlike my sisters. I wish I could be like them. Don’t tell anyone. They would rub it in my face. I try not to show my disappointment in being treated as a girl by my parents because I don’t feel like a girl anymore. I’m no longer in the single digits. At least my mom doesn’t tell the story of how I was a blessing even though I know I was an accident. My sisters will always be better than me. It isn’t fair. I wish I had been born first. Then they could be jealous of me. My parents probably got me stupid gifts. If my mom actually knew me, she’d know I really wanted a white bra with lace around the edges. I wish I could wear a dress like Margery. And why don’t boys call me? Other girls in my grade have boyfriends already. It isn’t fair. Sherry told me she’s a woman now. Her mom let’s her wear a bra. You want to know what my mom did when I asked her to buy me a bra? She touched my chest. How embarrassing! IT’S SO NOT FAIR!!! I stormed out of the room. We haven’t talked about it since. This was two weeks ago. I’m going to be the only one not wearing a bra to my party. How lame! I just want everything to go perfect tomorrow. I haven’t felt this nervous since I don’t know when. I almost feel like vomiting. I better go downstairs before my parents look for me. They have no idea I have this. I promise to write soon.
P.S: I think I love Danny.
P.S.S: I think Sherry does too.
I thought I had brought the birthday decorations back to my room. I guess I hadn’t because when I went to the living room my dad had already ripped open the red balloons. His cheeks were getting their workout. I counted his progress. There were
fifteen. I tore into the blue ones, and handed him one. I watched him take a deep breath, then blow. His process was a sight to see.
My mom was in the kitchen making my vanilla cake. I requested a lemon filling and frosting. It smelled so good. I knew she would let me have a taste of the frosting if I went in there, but I wanted to help my dad instead. She usually saved some for me anyway.
My dad and I were making good time when one of the balloons broke in his grip, making a loud pop. We both jumped a little bit. He then exaggerated his movements, and it sent us into a fit of giggles. After all the balloons were gone, and our cheeks couldn’t take anymore, they were ready to be hung. I handed them one by one to him in the archway. We next coiled streamers to be hung in the archway and outside the front door. The house was looking more and more like a party celebration.
I was thinking how I would remember this day for the rest of my life when someone knocked on our door. My parents didn’t hear it the first time, but I sure did. I guess girls have better hearing than their parents.
“Someone’s at the door, dad.”
“Are you sure?”
Before I could answer, the knock became more insistent. This time because he put down the streamers on the floor.
“I can get the door, dad.”
“Let me see who it is first.”
My dad could be overly protective. He turned halfway to me. “This better not be one of your sisters.” I smiled. I wished it was. She would be in so much trouble. There was a time for pranks. This wasn’t one of them.
I followed slowly behind him to see who was at the door. The third loud knock brought my mom out of the kitchen. She nudged me aside and went to my dad. He opened the door enough for me to see a police man.
He said politely, “Mr. and Mrs. Simms.”
“Yes.” They said in unison.
“May I speak with you in private?”
The police man must’ve seen me because he pointed in my direction. My dad ushered my mom outside and closed the door behind them. I wondered what they were talking about, and it didn’t take long to hear my mom’s voice.
“Oh, God! Not Margery!” I scrambled to the door and pressed my ear to it.
“I think you should sit down with your husband, ma’am.”
“I want to see her.”
“Let’s give it some time, ma’am.”
“Where is she?”
“The scene is still being processed.”
“My poor baby. Was she decent?”
“Yes, she was found clothed.”
There was silence, and I moved just in time when the door swung open. It hit the wall with a thud. I stood there, unable to move, inches from my parents and the policeman. I had not obeyed my dad. He didn’t say anything. I watched him help my mom inside. She looked out of it, not sure of where she was.
“Mom? Are you okay?”
“Not now, Jackie. Go to your room.” When I didn’t move, he raised his voice. “Right now, Jackie!”
I stood my ground, but it was no use. The police man knew what to do in these situations. He took my hand and led me away from my parents. I asked questions along the way, but he gave no answers I wanted to hear. We entered the kitchen instead, and around the same time my mom let out her first scream.
I had known friendly policemen, but he was not so friendly. The way he looked at me scared me too. I didn’t want to see him anymore, and turned my back to him. This is when I noticed my mom had taken my birthday cake out of the oven. It rested on the stove burner. I wanted a bite, but I didn’t have any for fear he might tell my parents what I had done. He finally left the kitchen when he heard commotion, but not before ordering me to stay in the kitchen.
I finally learned what happened in between all the sobbing and talking of Mrs. Lambert with my parents. I was for once happy she had come into our house. My sister liked to take long walks. My parents saw our town as home sweet home. Young children played outside without any danger. Boys rode their bikes up and down the roads all hours of the day without fear. Girls ran back and forth among their houses without a care in the world.
This changed when Margery was discovered by an elderly man walking his dog. He had noticed her legs sticking out of the bushes. I couldn’t believe someone would be so cruel to my sister. She was annoying at times, but she didn’t deserve to be beaten. She had been the first murder in over five decades.
It became almost unbearable for my sister Alice after her death. My parents never let her out of their sight, and dad insisted on having a strong teenage boy with her every time she left the house. I wish he had said that to me. If I wanted to go anywhere, it would be him with me. He didn’t think the boys in my grade could protect me. He didn’t know the strength of Danny.
I cursed at Margery for ruining my birthday as I laid in bed that night. It wasn’t right of me to feel this way, but I did because mom never frosted my cake, and dad blew up the balloons for nothing. The streamers were useless. The plates and napkins wouldn’t be unwrapped. My friends would never see me blow out eleven candles. I never would eat any of the food I requested.
As my eyes finally closed, I stayed sleeping until late into the next morning. I spotted them before I sat up. My parents had not forgotten. There were more presents than I imagined. The biggest one was wrapped in shiny red paper. I hopped off the bed and went to my knees. I tore off the wrapping paper. This present was on my list. I had finally gotten a boom box. I was so happy. I wanted this feeling to last.
I grabbed another one. It was from Margery. She must’ve given it to my parents before she went for her walk. She liked to leave things until the very end. Tears fell down my face as I tore off the wrapping. I opened the box. It was a necklace with my initials on it. It was the similar to the one she wore. She had never taken it off. She wore it everywhere. I closed my eyes and promised to Margery I would do the same.