The horror begins quietly, in the midnight hours between May 11 and May 12, 1994, after one day has faded and before the next has begun. I've been sleeping for hours, curled on my side and wedged among my many stuffed animals, surrounded by the white, filigreed metal of my daybed, one palm pressed flat under my pillow. Then, through the fog of sleep, muffled voices push their way into my brain. An argument. A high voice, a low one. They come to me as if through deep water. I've heard this angry duet before, and it awakens me no further. I remain submerged, and moments later I slip back into unconsciousness. Uncountable dreamless minutes pass.
The stillness is shattered by my mother screaming, "No! No! No!" Over and over and over. My body lurches into a sitting position as quickly as my eyes open, and suddenly all the lights are on inside me, my blood is slamming through my veins, a high humming is beginning in my head, and I can feel my eyes continuing to open, stretching wider and wider, as though alertness alone could serve as a defense. I'm frozen bolt upright, palms flat beside my thighs, fingers clenching the sheets tighter and tighter as my mother continues to scream. She's so loud it's inside my every cell, so loud her screams turn the wall beside my bed to paper. That wall is all that separates my room from the living room, which opens up into the kitchen. I think she's right in the middle, in the broad opening between those two rooms. I can hear her voice ring off the linoleum, the sturdy cabinets and drawers. We are maybe fifteen feet away from each other. We live alone. Just the two of us.
Panic spills out of me in one word: "Mom?!" Then I try to recall that word, to pull that air back in, gasping sharply because I realize, suddenly, that she can't answer me without giving me away. I ball my hands into fists and my spine bends down sharply, as though expecting a blow to the head. I shut my eyes for just a second and will myself to disappear. Then I open them wide and listen for any sign that whoever's out there with her has heard me. I hope that her terror has drowned me out. The screaming continues, and I hear no footsteps approach my room, so I assume I'm safe. Something terrible is happening, and I can still try to get help, try to get us through it. Mom is still screaming "No!"
I swing my legs over the side of my bed and take two steps to my bedroom door. My electrified body registers my footprints in the short, bristly carpet. I lift my bathrobe off the hook and wrap it around myself, holding my breath as the slightly rough terry drags across my bare skin. My partially open door lets in a faint orange light from the kitchen; the dimmer switch must be on low. But the hinges are on the far side, so I can only see down the hall, away from the screaming. I cannot risk opening the door farther and peering around to see what is happening. I don't need to see. I need to survive. Mom is still screaming "No!"
I grip the door handle tightly in my sweating palm, turn it slowly. I hold the latch in while I push the door shut, as silently as possible. There is no quiet way to push the button to lock the door, and it sounds like a gunshot announcing my presence. I flinch and wait, but nothing changes. I sit back down on the bed. My feet hover parallel to the floor. My posture is perfect, and my eyes are still wide-open; even my ears feel wide-open. Mom is still screaming "No!" I can think of nothing to do but wait, silently, and strain to piece sound into meaning.