The year I was nine was the year before I wore a blue dress every day to school. I called that year my Year of Blue. I didn't give my ninth year a name. This was a year of too many names. The year my father drank too much. The year my father threatened invisible people with a gun in the middle of the night. The year my mother moved into my little pink bedroom. The year I couldn't picture normal.
The year I was nine I would dream that someone was putting socks and shoes on my feet. Still half asleep, I realized that someone was dressing me. I opened my eyes to see my mother standing over my bed with her coat on. Shh, she would whisper. Don't make a sound. She held up my coat for me to put my arms through. The first time it happened I asked her where we were going. She put her finger up to her lips. The universal sign for quiet.
I learned that it was important to be quiet. If he caught us leaving in the night he might get angrier than he already was.
Their bedroom was his bedroom now. At night he drank and pointed his gun at invisible enemies. We heard him kick the chair over as we tiptoed past the closed door. He told them that they had robbed him. That they owed him money. That he would kill them. Every goddam one of them. We heard a bottle smash as we closed the front door behind us.
We hurried out into the snowy night hoping the car would start. My mother had a name for her car. Snookie. C'mon Snookie, she would say as she turned the key in the ignition. Her hands trembled as she willed her car to start in the frigid winter night. We weren't going far. Only to her brother's house a few blocks away. My aunt and uncle left the key under the mat for my mother. Welcome, it said. On those frozen nights we let ourselves in quietly so as not to wake them. The blankets and pillows were waiting for us on the couch. We made our beds on the floor, my mother and me. I fell asleep immediately, still in the warm tights and socks my mother had dressed me in at home. My mother never slept.