EXCERPT FROM ELLA
*warning for graphic material
Late night is my favorite time of day. When he is sleeping and the TV is off, I can breathe. All is silent. I am left to myself. Not even he can bother me. He fell asleep on the couch hours ago, giving me time. There are those moments before he passes out in front of the tube. I wonder if I’ll go insane. I can’t even watch television without a hassle. I wish he’d leave me alone.
What I wouldn’t give for a good book right now. I wish I had a book to read, so I wouldn’t have to think so much. Some days, all I do is think of all that is happening and wonder. I wonder why my life is like this and why Mother went away. I wish my favorite writers would write faster. I read all they write and read them again and again, but my eyes get tired. And I end up sitting and thinking, thinking and sitting, and waiting, waiting, waiting for sleep.
Every night, I go through the same routine with few exceptions. After dinner, I do my homework for two hours. My father has this idea that I should study for two hours. I don’t know where he got the idea that 7th graders were supposed to study for two hours, probably from some paper sent home from the school, but he thinks it is an unwritten law. He makes me sit at my desk for two hours even if I finish early.
“Read something,” he’ll yell up the stairs if I ask if I can watch television. “At least, use all that damned shit I bought you. That computer wasn’t fucking cheap you little, ungrateful witch.”
It usually goes something like that for two hours. It is the same every night, except Friday and Saturday nights. I get to do the weekend homework on Sundays. And yes, he was nice enough to buy me a computer to do my writing. He says it cost him fifteen hundred dollars, but I know he stole the damn thing. On the nights I finish my homework early, I type in my computer journal like tonight. I like to rant and rave about school, but usually, I bitch about my dad. I never run out of things to say about him.
Well, back to the routine. I told you about the homework part. After I finish my homework, which he of course checks, I am allowed to watch exactly one hour of television. When he is in a good mood, I’m allowed to choose the shows. Those nights are rare, but when they occur, I take advantage. I turn it to MTV. He hates this channel. He sits next to me on the couch and grunts his disapproval.
He will even goes so far as to bash a song or two, but when he lets me control the set, he doesn’t change the channel. He just sits there and watches right beside me. Sometimes, to show my gratitude, I’ll lean my head on his shoulders. And on nights that he is really pleasant, I’ll let him hold my hand. I may not get along with him, but since my mother died two years ago, he is all I have.
After I watch my hour of television, he tells me it’s time to get ready for bed. Bedtime around this house for me is nine o’clock. I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent arguing and pleading with him for a later bedtime, but he is stuck on his routines. Bedtime is nine o’clock. Sharp.
So, up the stairs to get ready for bed, which isn’t a simple thing for me. I have to look my best. Imagine going to bed for the night with snarled hair! I won’t have it. No. Not at all. I must groom with care. The routine will probably bore you, but here it is anyway.
First, I put on my pajamas. There is no sense in brushing your hair when you have to pull a shirt over your head! I brush my hair for ten minutes. I love the way the brush feels in my hair. I run the brush through from front to back again and again. One hundred times. After I brush my hair, I tend to my nails. I clip them, file them, and wonder how they would look with those fancy nail polishes I see advertised on television. My dad won’t let me wear nail polish, or makeup for that matter. He says it would make me look like a tramp. I don’t want to look like a tramp like that girl Jessie at school, but I do want to paint my nails. It might make me feel more grown-up.
After I do my nails, I go to the bathroom. I brush my teeth. I can hear him now saying five minutes, floss, and use the mouthwash. He likes me to use spearmint kind. He is very particular about my breath. Then I wash my face. I go back to my room, check myself in the mirror, and hop into bed with the light on. Dad always shuts it off for me. I count the minutes until he raps on the door.
One, two, three quick, light knocks.
“Are you sleeping?” he asks every night.
He opens the door, shuts off the light, and gets into bed with me.