A Little Taste of Home

by Danny Rader

Smoldering paper
Smothering walls in thick grime
“Help find my lighter”
The air here is thicker than I remember, every breath leaves a taste in my mouth that drinks will fail to wash away. They hit me in waves, the memories of this place, and right now all I can remember is brushing my teeth. Scrubbing harder and harder, gums sore and bleeding, all while I prayed to whoever the hell actually listens up there that I wouldn’t go to school with cigarette breath. I couldn’t keep the smell off my clothes, but I could control my breath.
I’ve only smoked one cigarette in my life, and by “smoked” I mean I took one long drag before the coughing started. I don’t remember a taste, or a desire to do it again, just a painful burning. All night long I could feel it, the mucous amassing in my airways as my available breathing room narrowed with each passing minute. No amount of inhaler puffs would be enough that night.
He sits there, seething
Molten words erupting out
“No one wants you here”
They say there were Ten Commandments, but there was an eleventh in this house:
Never do anything while he’s awake.
“He’ll go to sleep soon enough, then you can do what you need to do.” It worked until it didn’t, which was more often than not, but I tried to bite my lip and keep the peace. Sometimes he would nap, other times he wouldn’t—there was no telling after the strokes. I knew better than to walk past him and try to cook anything. When I did risk it, the results were always the same.
He’d throw away the groceries I bought.
He’d turn out the kitchen lights with me inside.
He’d shut off the burner, or unplug the microwave.
He’d get in my face, screaming loud and screaming often.
He’d taunt, shove, hit, and kick—always trying and failing to provoke.
I had one thing going for me when I lived there. He wanted—needed—a reason to have me kicked out. I never gave him one. Never. I came close, time and time again I blurred the lines, but I resisted until I couldn’t anymore. When that moment came, I got out and never looked back.
My room is silent
These walls a cage—holding in
What I couldn’t say
There was another unspoken rule to this house:
Always lock your door.
I do it now without even realizing. Locking doors behind me is as natural as breathing, because I know what happens when I forget. Another memory fights its way forward. I’m taking a timed quiz for stats. Twelve minutes left on a forty-five minute timer. I’m on question six of ten and confident. I assure myself I can do it, but I’ve made the fatal mistake. He walks into my bedroom, behind me he’s screaming at the top of his lungs.
There is no pause button for these quizzes, or my stepfather.
They don’t know I’m gay
Was too busy surviving
To ever tell them
For three and a half years I sat here in silence. When I come here now, I’m reminded of what I’ve fought so hard to forget. For years, even before his strokes, I was always the “little faggot.” I wanted so badly to prove him wrong, to have just one thing to hold over him considering how much he held—holds—over me.
The door leading away from this place is an arm’s length away, but still I hesitate.
I want to be who I know I am, but the moment I make that decision, the moment they find out and I have to look him in the eyes—He’ll win this war we’ve raged for so many years.
My secret is the only defense I have left.
I don’t know how to give that up.
I don’t know if I can leave.
I will not be caged
He does not control me now
Who will I become?