Things are not always what they seem, and people are not always who they appear to be.
The first time I can remember it happening, I was in kindergarten. Back to the days of Velcro strap shoes, back to the days of snack times and care free, mindless classwork; back to Mrs. Longwood. Never can I forget her face when I close my eyes, the long, red hair with those big green doe eyes that can just melt a heart. She left an impression that we could never forget even if we tried.
Mrs. Longwood was young, on the side of 25 young and probably fresh out of her teaching degree, though I wouldn’t have suspected until I was much older. She was also freshly married by the looks of it and still briskly moving through the honeymoon stage, sometimes adding a collection of new lovey-dovey photos to her desk featuring her and a tan, tall, muscular husband that she never spoke of during class time. She had a love and appreciation for what she did and you could tell the kids just shone in her eyes, like we had become a part of her.
Halfway through my kindergarten school year, we were laughing and squealing as we told jokes during snack-time and that same tan, tall, and muscular man arrived in the doorway with a small bouquet of flowers. Mrs. Longwood rose to her feet and strode across the front of the classroom, blushing a bit but grinning with her teeth showing. A beautiful smile. Many of the children were being boisterous and focusing on their friends and snacks but I watched every movement.
There was a strange, red glow coming from her husband. I had to blink twice to make sure I wasn’t seeing things.
After the incident with the bouquet of flowers, Mr. Longwood hadn’t snuck into the classroom for months and our teacher’s once-peppy grin slid off of her face until it was completely replaced with a sad frown. The kindergarten teacher we had grown to love was coming into class a few moments late, frazzled, completely undone with less fun things planned and less jokes to share with the class. It was easy to see that our lovely teacher was going through something truly horrible and beneficial to her sudden unhappiness. Within a few weeks, she was showing up to class with her hair out of its usual ponytail and the bruises under her hairline were visible when she would lean forward to help a child in class. Her long sleeved shirts would sometimes hike up along the edges to reveal more bruises and the awful story they told as I aged and realized what had happened to my teacher.
One day Mrs. Longwood came into class and the red glow about her was tantalizing. In one day she had gone from dull, lifeless, pale, and almost sickly to a vibrant red that filled the room with light – but nobody aside from me noticed.
Our kindergarten teacher didn’t show up to school the next day, or the day after that – and pretty soon, we were assigned a new kindergarten teacher. In a few years, I found out the truth. Mrs. Longwood had killed her abusive husband on her last day teaching us, and taken off to another country where her whereabouts were unknown.
I didn’t necessarily understand the powers of the red glow until I was ten years old, in fourth grade, and our father fell victim to the bottle. My little sister Sydney was merely five years old and didn’t quite understand the sudden trauma to our parent’s relationship. Even I had trouble understanding, as it seemed things were going swimmingly and then BAM! Overnight, everything fell to pieces.
Our father started staying out late nights after his work in construction and I’d hear my mother mindlessly pacing downstairs until he made it home past midnight, according to my bedside alarm clock. When he got home, most of the time harsh whispers would be exchanged and I’d make out the occasional, “What would your kids think if they knew what was going on with you?” with the backlash in return: “I don’t give a fuck, Martine, I need someplace to get away.”
After a few weeks of this and barely seeing my father, the one who used to plant kisses on our foreheads before bed and lull us to sleep with a good bedtime story, I noticed the red glow. It was faint at first but it grew in size until our father was drowning in it. Things gradually declined until he was banging through cupboards when he came home, and making my mother scream with his harsh slaps to her face.
Then one day, I looked out the window and I watched the red glow, what was left of my father, hop inside his old, beat up BMW and pull out of the driveway. I watched the red glow back out of the driveway and pull all the way down the road, never looking back. And then the red glow disappeared and it never returned.
When I turned sixteen, life was well torn-apart and the remains of what was left over were sitting around me like burnt ruins. The best thing to come into my life, OUR lives at this time, was my mother’s new boyfriend, Derrick. He was the turn-around of all things in our lives that had led to failure and let us down. A shining star in a burning building, somebody sent to save our lives.
My mother’s relationship with her new boyfriend extended past the realm of “things are getting serious” and in less than a year, wedding arrangements were being made and my little life as a teenager was full of joy as I realized I would be getting an amazing father and my mother would forever be happy. But as time progressed, my mother was seemingly becoming more nervous and rushing to perfect things in a way that didn’t seem normal to me.
“Mom?” I asked one day as I pushed open her bedroom door. “You seem extremely stressed. I want to be able to help you…”
As I flicked on the light to demolish the dim one already lighting up a small section of her bedroom, I noticed the red glow. But instead of it overtaking my mother’s small frame, it was settled upon her stomach area. She glanced up at me and she lied straight to my face, I knew, as she told me that everything was fine and it was just wedding stress.
Two weeks later she told me that she and Derrick were three months pregnant already and expecting a new child.
As unsurprised as I was, I attempted to act the part. Not only that, but I was super excited for my parent and one new parent-to-join. I had some mixed, strange feelings about things but as I watched my mother’s stomach swell, I realized I had to shake them aside and deal with it in my own way. I felt like it was my mind’s way of telling me that I had adjustment issues to conquer in my own life and not let it affect what I had with my loved ones. But there was that lingering feeling that something was just off….and as her stomach swelled, the red glow grew larger and larger.
When my mother was six months pregnant, she woke up one morning to a near-empty house as Derrick had already left for work and I was the only one there on a Saturday morning. She was screaming bloody murder and as I rushed to her side to assist her, she grabbed ahold of my shirt’s throat and pulled me close to her. The words fell out of her mouth like spit and sent a rush through my heart: “The baby is coming, and it’s coming NOW.”
I offered to call 9-1-1 and clutched the phone in my hand ready to go, but my mother shook her head and said they would take too long, and that this was urgent…my head swam as she screamed at me in a way I had never imagined her to do, and told me that I would have to help her deliver the baby and that she could do this; that she’s done it before.
As she pushed, I grabbed her hand and held on tight, hoping for the best. I tried dialing Derrick but received no answer as my mother screamed in the background, “Just HELP ME!!” in a manner that both shattered my ears and made my blood run cold. She sounded as if the life had escaped her.
And then with her last push, I heard the tear.
Her skin was splitting open in the stomach area.
The baby’s eyes shot open with a fury as its hands escaped the womb and swung wildly, searching for its way out of my mother’s body and into my arms. I backed myself up into the corner as my mother’s last breath and horrid screams escaped from her lips and she collapsed into the puddle of blood left behind.
The glow escaped her body and the baby emerged as it fell out onto the floor with a sickening, “Plop!”
I know they always tell you that evil doesn’t exist, and nobody can be born that way – only made that way. But as Derrick rushed through the door and saw me backed into the corner, stricken and rocking back and forth as I watched the baby curl up to my mother and attempt to nurse for the first time, his face revealed exactly how he felt about his new son.
“Do you see it?” he asked me as he grabbed the largest kitchen knife possible in his hands.
“Do..D-do I see what?” I questioned, catching my breath for the first time in minutes.
“The glow…that red glow.”
“Yeah, I see it…” I responded, my voice trailing off into oblivion.
He steadied the knife in his hands and I closed my eyes. I couldn’t watch.