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Taylor's Time!

Hey you!

Long time and all that!

Well, not really, right?

I don't have much to say this time; Taylor wrote her own intro this week!



- Kendra

The Fighter

CW: Graphic violence, drug use, child abuse

Gabriel, you are not just my cousin, but my childhood hero and my brother, through and through.

This piece was written for you.

This story is dedicated to every child courageous enough to stand up to their abuser, and to the siblings who faced their abuser's wrath so that those they loved wouldn't have to.

"A survivor is a fighter in disguise." - Taylor Anne Vigil

We laughed until our bellies hurt, my brother and I, as a pack of infected dogs burst out of a vent to attack me on our "Resident Evil" video game. I'd leapt out of my skin, practically jumped out of Yariel's lap, my heart hammering, my lips cracking into an embarrassed smile.

Yariel looked at me and cracked up. His laughter, joyful and contagious, got me laughing too.

An all too familiar angry voice called our names. I flinched, knowing immediately what we were in for.

"It's okay, Nita,." Yariel assured me, peering down "Stay behind me. I won't let him hurt you again."

My fingers rose to my cheek, my face flushed. My cheek stung and burned with the memory of our father slapping me for not folding my laundry in a timely manner.

Slowly, I nodded.

We walked down the dim hallway, my hand in Yariel's hand. I stayed behind him as instructed when we reached the living room. CruzCruise stood beside the coffee table, scowling at both of us. CruzCruise was our father, but Yariel never called him father or dad, so I didn’t either. CruzCruise lit a cigarette, puffed once, then blew out the smoke. I wrinkled my nose at the scent.

CruzCruise pointed to the couch where my backpack lay unzipped. My unfinished homework was strewn all over the cushions.

"Where's this supposed to be?"

His voice was flat, like he already knew the answer. He often asked questions to trap us. His eyes found me behind Yariel. I froze, knowing what was to come. CruzCruise raised his voice.

"Are you so stupid you can't put your damn bag away, do your own homework, clean up your own mess?"

I flinched, preparing to be slapped with an open hand or whipped with a belt until my skin burned.

Yariel squeezed my hand tight. Only he knew about the day I'd had at school, the bullying by both teachers and students. I'd cried as I'd walked off the bus, ran home, and clung to Yariel, completely neglecting my bag and my homework. I hadn't even thought about the drama it would cause.

"Don't talk to her that way!" Yariel snapped.

I flinched again. Yariel never never raised his voice to CruzCruise before.

CruzCruise stepped slowly toward us. At fourteen, Yariel was thin, lanky, olived-skinned like our father, with dark brown hair that curled over his ears, and the faint outline of a mustache and goatee. His voice was caught somewhere between child and adult, no longer a boy, but not yet a man either. Now, for the first time in his life, he was standing up to our father and abuser.

CruzCruise flicked his cigarette, ash tumbling to the floor. He took a second puff and blew it into Yariel's face.

"What did you say, boy?"

I crept further behind my brother, pulling lightly at his fingers, but he paid me no attention. His hand tensed in both of mine. His voice was deeper, rougher, angrier.

"She's not stupid."

CruzCruise was directly in front of us now. His nostrils flared.

"You're quite the tough guy now, ain't ya boy?"

Yariel said nothing, but I could see the muscles clenching in his arm, feel the tension in his fingers, the heat wafting off his skin. CruzCruise's eyes were locked on me now. He reached out, intending to grab me.

Yariel backed up and pushed me further behind him. His voice was calmer, lower, but still deep in its tone.

"Don't touch her."

Everything in me trembled. I wanted to leave, to go back into our room and play video games like nothing happened.

"Or what?"

Yariel drew in a deep breath, but said nothing. CruzCruise gave him a light shove.

"What're you gonna do, boy?"

There was a tone of mocking laughter hidden in his gravelly voice. He shoved Yariel harder and taunted him. I pulled hard at Yariel's hand.

"What're you gonna do, huh? You gonna fight me? Is that what's gonna happen? Huh, tough guy?'

Suddenly, unexpectedly, CruzCruise reached for me. I let go of Yariel's hand and backed away.

Yariel grabbed CruzCruise's arm.

"Don't you touch her!" Yuriel’s voice was fierce, strong, defiant. CruzCruise's shock showed on his face. Yariel met his gaze and held it.

Deliberately, CruzCruise lifted his cigarette to his lips. He blew more smoke into Yariel's face, then pressed the burning end into the soft flesh of Yariel's cheek.

My brother screamed. He staggered back, holding his cheek, and stumbling to the floor.

"Go, Nita!" He yelled.

I stood frozen in the hallway, unable to move, to react, to do anything. Yariel looked at me.

"It's okay, sissy! Just go into the other room!"

CruzCruise kicked Yariel as he went to get up. Yariel collapsed, coughing and clutching his stomach. CruzCruise turned toward me. I whimpered uselessly, pathetically.

"Leave her alone!"

It was Yariel. He'd risen to his hands and knees, breathing hard. His fists and teeth were clenched. His dark eyes burned with hatred. I'd never seen him so angry. CruzCruise turned back around and kicked Yariel again. Yariel choked in pain, holding his side. His eyes were shut tight.

"Do-n't touch h-r." He growled between coughs.

Trembling, he got up, gripping the couch for support with one hand and holding his side with the other, knowing he would be hit again. He charged, placing his hands on CruzCruise's shoulders, trying to knock him down, but CruzCruise was bigger and stronger. Within seconds, he'd forced my brother back onto the floor and attacked. He pinned Yariel, the hero of my childhood, to the wall, kicking him viciously in the ribs, the stomach, the face. The harder Yariel fought to get up, the angrier CruzCruise became. Blood dripped from Yariel's nose and mouth. He struggled to protect himself, raising his hands to no avail.

My tears burned tracks down my cheeks, my hands pressed to my mouth. When I heard the unmistakable snap of a bone and saw my brother's lips part in silent agony, I finally stepped in. I ran up to CruzCruise, grabbing his arm. I cried. I begged him to stop. He elbowed me down, sending my scrawny eleven-year-old body to the floor. I scrambled to my feet and latched onto CruzCruise again, but my efforts were useless.

"Go, Nita!" Yariel winced as he rose. "Get out of here!"

Why was he still fighting to get up? Didn't he know that he would be beaten again if he did?

I wondered, then I knew. If Yariel subjected himself to CruzCruise's anger and rage, it meant that I wouldn't have to face it. He was putting himself in harm's way to keep me safe.

Despite my anguish, despite the pain of seeing him hurt, I listened. I rushed down the hall to our mother's empty room. The bathroom door was closed and locked. I didn't need to turn the door handle to know; the used needles on the carpet told me that I couldn't rely on her now. I retreated to my bedroom and slammed my door. Squeezing my elbows to my ears like a vice, I crouched beside the bed and waited. I waited because I had no chance of stopping CruzCruise or waking my mother from her drug induced state. I waited for the beating to stop. I waited for a neighbor to call 911 as they'd done so many times before.

I don't know how long I sat there like that. What I do know is CruzCruise eventually gave up.

Someone stumbled through the hallway. It was Yariel. It had to be. I stood and opened the door. My brother hobbled towards me, bearing no weight on his left leg. One of his hands grabbed the wall for better support. The other clutched his ribcage. He stumbled into the room.

“Close the door,” he wheezed. He lay against the bed and closed his eyes. In the dying daylight that streamed through the window, I could see Yariel's wounds. His nose was broken, crooked and bleeding. The exposed skin on his arms and shoulders was covered with deep cuts, oozing red. There was a gash across his eyebrow.

Seeing Yariel battered and bruised was nothing new to me. Years ago, CruzCruise had made him quit middle-school to "help the family get through a tight spot." I was too young to understand what was truly going on. What I knew now, was Yariel had become CruzCruise's fight slave.

Every week, a brawl was held in our backyard. Blood and bare knuckles, money exchanging hands, a badly beaten Yariel, all etched into my memory. The images crawled into my nightmares. Yariel acted as if the fights never happened. He bathed in Epsom salts, iced his swollen joints and rested when needed, but he never discussed his thoughts or feelings about the savage circumstances forced upon him.

Now, in the dim light of the room, he looked at me and smiled weakly. His words were strained.

"I'm okay, sissy.'

Night fell before the paramedics arrived. I watched them tend to Yariel from the doorway, standing beside a woman in uniform. They stitched the wound above his eye and listed the wounds they could see.

"Second degree burn, Several lacerations, broken nose, fractured ribs and fingers, a punctured lung."

Yariel coughed violently. He leaned away from them, and threw up onto the carpet. Tears welled in my eyes. I slid behind the officer, my stomach squeezing at the sight of the dark red blood stain.

What had CruzCruise done to him?

Two policemen led CruzCruise to their patrol car as Yariel was placed into an ambulance. I sat on the porch with the woman, trying my best to answer the questions she posed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my father staring at me.

Was he really the same man who'd taught me how to tie my shoes? The same man who'd comforted me when my favorite wrestler suddenly passed away? The same man who rescued our neighbor's dog from their burning home?

No. The drinking changed him. The drugs changed him. He wasn't my father. Not anymore.

Our mother was gone. That was the only way to put it. There were no other family members to come and claim us.

We were on our own.

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