The demons were dancing on the walls again.
“Do you see that?” Jon asked anxiously waiting for the reply. His big eyes opened even wider from just above his bedsheet.
“See what?” Alexandra yawned, her eyes drooped from exhaustion. “Do you see them dancing?” there was urgency in his voice, almost pleading.
Alexandra reluctantly sat up and rubbed her eyes. All she could see were the patterns the night-light made on the ceiling. “There’s nothing there,” she said half annoyed “it’s just the shadows from the night-light. Go to sleep.” She promptly laid back down and snuggled deeper into bed.
“Are you sure?” Jon wasn’t convinced.
“Yes, go to sleep.”
“Jon, wake up!” Alexandra was shaking him. Jon’s eyelids fluttered but he was hardly conscious. He felt her lift him up from his upper back and swing his legs over to the side of the bed. “Come on, you need to use the bathroom.” Jon’s body seemed to switch to automatic, and he felt himself controlling his legs to get up and walk without even thinking about it. His eyes were still closed, but he could feel Alexandra holding his arm and leading him out of the room and into the bathroom. “Okay, come on and go” she prompted. With his eyes still closed, Jon managed to aim and pee in the toilet without incident. Being that she was seven years older than him and a bit of a stickler for hygiene, Alexandra forced Jon to wash his hands afterwards, not caring that he was basically sleepwalking. Alexandra then led Jon back to his bed and tucked him in. She knew he would not remember any of this in the morning.
She hated when he picked on Jon. It seemed like Jon could never do anything right. There he was, threatening Jon with the belt if he didn’t quiet down and behave. Alexandra often thought it was unfair to expect Jon to be still all the time. He had so much energy and he did harmless things. Why was Daddy always so angry at him? “He’s not doing anything!” Alexandra could never just sit by and watch. She was fiercely protective of Jon. This sometimes led to her being punished and having to sit in the corner for what seemed like eternity. It didn’t matter that she was in middle school, staring at the wall for an hour apparently was an appropriate punishment for all ages in this family. One time Jon got in trouble on purpose just so he could sit at the opposite corner of the kitchen and make Alexandra laugh when no one was looking. Alexandra holds this memory and many others like it, deep in her heart.
“Mommy, Jon peed in the bed again.” Alexandra wasn’t sure what to do. She was sleepy and that was the routine. Tell Mommy, she would be upset but change the sheets and then everyone could go back to sleep again. Alexandra had been trying to wake up at a certain time at night in order to wake Jon and prevent the accidents, but sometimes she was so tired she slept through that time and it would be too late. Jon had night accidents often, even though he was plenty old enough to use the bathroom on his own. Apparently this time Jon had one too many accidents because Mommy was annoyed enough to wake up Daddy. Jon was startled out of his sleepwalk state by being yelled at and then forced to acknowledge that he was too old to be wetting the bed and it must be because he was lazy. Jon felt frightened because he knew he was in trouble but he was not fully awake to quite process why. But the shock of the sudden spankings did the trick. Alexandra cried as daddy got the belt and spanked Jon hard on the butt twice. She yelled at him that it wasn’t Jon’s fault, but it didn’t matter. Apparently Jon needed to learn his lesson. As Jon cried from the sting, Mommy mindlessly changed the sheets, grumbling about how Jon needed to wake himself up and use the bathroom on his own while Alexandra tried her best to comfort him by cuddling him in her arms. As his cries turned to sniffles, Alexandra led him back to bed, gave him a kiss on the cheek and told him it would be okay. She sat and waited until he fell asleep again to go back to her own bed. From that point on, she made sure to be extra alert at night it would never happen again. And then whenever it did happen, Alexandra would quietly change the sheets herself and put them in a pile in the corner of the room until morning. Then she would make Jon take them to the washer because she did not want to touch his peed on sheets. And she would help him load them into the washer because if no one else was inconvenienced by this then he would not get in trouble for it.
The welts on his butt were painful to see. Red, raised, and swollen, the outline of the belt clear on his pale skin. Alexandra had shouted and pleaded for Daddy not to punish Jon. She forgot what his supposed “offense” was, but she was certain that the crime did not match the punishment. Five powerful whips of the belt. As Alexandra had yelled and protested, Daddy had threatened to increase Jon’s punishment if she didn’t stop. So Alexandra turned her head and cringed, biting her tongue as she heard each angry whack. Jon sobbed from the pain. He was used to being spanked, hard, often and also pinched which left bruises, but this time was more severe than usual. He had very little meat on his bottom and had felt each blow with its full force. Afterwards, Alexandra got a washcloth and put ice in it and then held it over the marks on Jon’s little cheeks. She cried from seeing him in pain and cried from feeling helpless and cried from the rage that roared inside of her. Her heart broke in a million pieces and silently screamed at the injustice, the abuse that she felt helpless to protect him from. This moment would haunt her for the rest of her life, a moment to sum up the many cumulative moments that would give her nightmares as an adult, waking her up with tears in her eyes.
“I wish I could take you with me” Alexandra said tearfully to Jon. She was 17 now and leaving to college. She meant that statement with all of her heart. Jon was crying. He felt like he was losing someone more like a mother than a sister. He was bigger, but still that goofy little boy who Alexandra had shared a room with for all those years. He was bullied at home and at school but the bully at home was by far worse because Jon looked up to him, even as Daddy treated him like he was an annoyance. A constant disappointment. Jon tried so hard to please him, but it was never enough. Jon started getting easily angered and this showed in his behaviors. . He was getting into more and more trouble at school. And more withdrawn at home. Except for with her. She knew what would happen when she was gone. He would be on his own, with no one to protect him. But she had struggles of her own and felt that if she didn’t leave she might try something drastic. And if she did that, it would make things worse for everyone. So she had to try to save herself. Jon understood this as much as he could at the time but still felt like he was being abandoned. She had been his safe place. His constant. Things would never be the same again.
Years have passed. Alexandra is grown. She’s lived a lifetime in a short period of time. So has Jon. He’s grown up to be an angry young man, reckless and defiant with any authority figure who would challenge him. He has two daughters. He seeks approval from women and clings to their affection. He gives them all he has at the slightest sign of appreciation and then wonders why he keeps getting burned. Alexandra hardly sees him anymore. He is more of a stranger than not. Jon is often ill-tempered with their parents, especially their father. Jon yells and curses at them, but he seems to try to hold it in as much as possible. Alexandra sees how their parents push his buttons and how easily Jon’s buttons are pushed. She watches this circular exchange with despair because she knows that it could have all been so different if only she had stayed. If only she had raised Jon. If she had been able to do so. But she tells herself that it is not her fault. That it was not her place. And wishing for that now can never change what has already been done. So she tries her best to forgive herself, to let go of the guilt. And she is mostly successful at this after years of therapy for this and other reasons. But it still gets to her. It always lingers.
Alexandra is sitting in her home, far away from the childhood memories. For some reason she is feeling nostalgic and her mind wanders to a time when Jon was still untainted by the harsh lessons he was forced to learn. She misses that little boy so much. The little boy she still sees inside of him now. His generous and gentle spirit, so accepting and loving. But the man he grew up to be only knows anger and resentment. How to defend himself and how to stay just one step ahead. But Alexandra loves him all the same. Defending him to the last stand. Because she remembers. She has a hard time forgetting.
“Are you sure you can’t see them moving?” Jon is certain the demons stop their dance as soon as Alexandra opens her eyes.
“I’m sure, there’s nothing. It’s your imagination.”
Despite wanting nothing more than to fall blissfully back to sleep, Alexandra knew that Jon was not okay. “Are you scared?” she asked.
“Yes” he whispered, as if saying it too loudly would cue the demons to turn it up a notch.
“Okay”. Alexandra threw her sheets off and dragged herself out of bed. “Move over” she bossed to Jon. He scooted over willingly while Alexandra sorted out her pillows. She laid back to back to him, a protective manner of sleeping so that there were eyes on either side of the bed should any monsters try to creep up on them during the night. “Do you feel better?” Alexandra wanted to make sure her efforts weren’t in vain. “Yes” Jon replied. She could tell he was already getting sleepy. She waited until she heard deep breathing. “Jon?” No answer. She smiled and closed her eyes. What he didn’t know was that she had nightmares too and she took comfort in him just as much he took comfort in her. They sleep deeply and the demons grow bored and leave.