Our house was cool and comfortable; that doesn’t happen much here in Miami. Most days it’s hot and humid, nights too, but thankfully, not tonight. My parents are divorced because my father beat Mom one too many times. He’s in jail and we ….. We are poor.
I have a little sister. Her name is Debbie. She’s too young to understand things like that. I’m fourteen, going on twenty, so I understand just fine. Summers have no air conditioning and winters have no heat. But tonight, it was nice.
My sister sleeps comfortably in the corner of a small room, one of two that we call bedrooms even though they’re more like large closets. Mom sleeps in the other corner. I’m too old to share a room with my sister so I get a closet-bedroom to myself. We all share one bathroom—it’s a very small house.
Mom does the best she can, and she does it by working two jobs. This morning before school she told me that if she wasn’t home by six, then she’d be working late at her second job and not to worry. She reminded me that my one and only job, after school of course, was to babysit my sister. To me that seems like two jobs, but who’s counting.
We had no money for luxuries like steak, pizza, chocolate milk, or gas for hot water. But that was okay. There was still half a jar of peanut butter, a fresh jar of jelly, and more than a few slices of white bread in the frig. My sister ate before she fell asleep, so there’s plenty for me.
After I eat, it’s time to get ready for bed. I’m not sweaty but I take a cold shower anyway. I’m not sure why, I didn’t need one, I just did it. TVs don’t work well without a cable service so there isn’t much to do once you’re ready to go to sleep. I crawl into bed making sure I don’t lie on the two springs in the middle of my mattress. If you sleep in the shape of a comma, it isn’t that bad. I’ve slept on that bed for the past five years. Before that, I slept on the floor. It doesn’t really matter, when there’s nothing better to do, you fall asleep fast.
I don’t know what it is because I was sleeping, but it’s loud enough to wake me. My eyes are wide open. “What the hell was that?”
“Ew! I’m telling mom.” My sister’s up too. I jump out of bed to check on her.
CRASH. It was the sound of glass breaking.
Debbie looks at me. “Is that Mom?”
“I don’t think so.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m scared Bobby.”
“Stay here. I’m going to find out what’s going on.”
“I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t!” Debbie starts to do what Debbie does, cry.
“Don’t cry and don’t move. I’ll be right back.”
I go to my room and put on my slippers which were actually old-worn-out sneakers that no longer fit. If you take the laces out and curl your toes, you can wear them like slippers. I grab my baseball bat just in case.
As I pass the front door I hear another crash. Someone was throwing large rocks through our windows and this one lands right at my feet. Most houses in Florida are built at ground level, but our house was built with a crawl space under it. To get in the front door, you have to climb five steps. The windows are higher too and not easy to climb into or out of. They aren’t the best way to break in. Why throw rocks?
The crashing stopped, but then the banging started. “Let me in!” Bang, Bang, Bang, “Let me in!”
The door is locked and there’s no way I’m opening it.
Suddenly, the banging stops, and all I can hear is my sister crying. I go back to check on her and just as I enter the room, a rock comes crashing through the window. Glass goes everywhere—Debbie screams.
I see her huddled in the corner. “Are you okay?” She keeps screaming but nods her head yes.
“I hear you two in there! This is your father and I’m telling you to open that door!”
Debbie stops screaming and between sobs whispers, “Don’t do it, Bobby.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t.”
“God damn you son! This is your father! You do what I say and open that door. Now!”
We have two phones in the house, but the service was turned off months ago for non-payment. I try the one in the bedroom anyway, but the line is dead. If only we had a phone, I could call the police. Last year I asked Mom if I could have a cell phone. Mom said she’ll let me have one when I can pay for it. She didn’t pay me to babysit. Maybe this will change her mind.
Father went back to the front door and started banging and kicking. We live in an old house with an old wood door. After years of sun, rain, heat, and humidity, the door looks pretty ratty. You could hear it too, in the way the kicking and pounding damaged it. The door was beginning to break.
“Debbie, listen to me. You have to stay right here. Do you understand?”
She nods and between snivels, “Where’re you going?”
“I’m going to see if we can get out through the back door.” It’s a lie. We’d have to go past the front door to get out the back, and the door was cracking. “I need you to stay here until I come back. Understand?”
“You need to be very quiet and stay put!”
She nods and I head for the front door with my baseball bat, just in case.
He kicked, and the right bottom corner of the door flew past me. He kicked again, and the left bottom corner of the door flew past me. He pounded with his fists and the middle of the door started to split.
It’s all on me, the door has nothing left. One more kick, one more pound, and he’s in. I have no choice. I raise my bat, elbow up, adjust my feet, and take my stance. When the door flies open, I’ve got one swing, and it better be a grand slam.
The Door at Night
The story behind a door challenge to build back better.