The imperious sound of forks clinking against the china plates is what she hated most as a child.
They would have family dinners and not speak to one another. Her siblings spent most of their time at their friends’ houses, and her parents always fought. It was rare eye contact was made and silence would loom over the table. Everyone would part ways and go to their own rooms when the silence would become too overbearing. Her mother was unhappy often so that meant being locked away in her room when she was not cooking or cleaning. Their father was mad at the world and took his personal failures out on the family.
Isabelle, Izzy for short, dreamed for a normal environment. Her life had been like looking through a window. She would observe others and their family dynamic wondering what she did wrong that she could not have that. She fenced herself in for all these years. She had built her walls so high due to all the emotional abuse she had to endure. She wanted to be free, but she was frightened. For so long, she did not know what it meant to live.
Her brother turned to drugs when he realized their home life was complete shit. Izzy thought he would be the most successful. Justin had it all together. Athlete, girlfriend after girlfriend, straight A’s, he had the world at his fingertips. The switch flipped. Something in him changed. He did not have the motivation or the courage anymore, letting life get the best of him. Things took a turn when she thought her brother had taken it too far. She knew something was up with him when he would come home, barely able to stand up straight, eyes bloodshot red and hardly open, he had no clue where he was or how he got home.
Justin would fumble towards his room, but he would find himself in the bathroom passing out on the floor. Their mother was sealed away from the rest of the world. She never checked on them or their younger sister, Morgan. Izzy would talk to Justin often and explain how if he got a scholarship for college, he could leave this place for good and chase his dreams. Justin wanted so badly for their mother to give a shit. He wanted to feel a connection with her, and he never did. Their mom was lost, a mere body with no soul.
Justin would hang out with the wrong crowd. It started with weed and Izzy always knew when he walked through the front door because she thought a skunk had found its way into the backyard again. The drugs offered Justin feelings he could not get at home. Izzy wanted so badly to help him, but she was struggling too. Their mother refused to see that the kids were a mess. The toxicity in the house was a stench that would never go away.
Izzy was at school in her English class, which kept her the sanest. Her phone buzzed. She slipped her hand into her jean pocket, taking her phone out carefully as her teacher would not see. She held her phone under her desk reading the name that popped up on her screen: Nathan. He was Justin’s best friend. The message read, “You need to get over here now.” She immediately gathered her belongings and slipped out the back door. She drove her mom’s old Honda the 20 minutes to Nathan’s house. He lived on a crowded suburban block. Families there always seemed to have it together, children playing out in the yards and riding their bicycles. Must be nice to have a normal family, Izzy would think to herself. She worried about her older brother and she had to care for her younger sister. She became the mom when she so badly wanted to live her life too, but she had no other choice.
Nathan was the one who introduced her brother to weed. He was a good kid, but he did not come from a stable home life either. He had started a a huge fight in the courtyard of their high school one day with Justin. Anger was common among the two of them. Izzy did not remember the story well, just from bits and pieces she heard from Justin. Her brother had been in the parking lot walking to his car, and in the process, he ran into Nathan and his band of misfits who were known for causing trouble. They hung out in the back lot by the dumpsters getting high and causing chaos for anyone who passed by.
“Hey man, you know you’re not supposed to walk through here.” Nathan yelled.
Justin kept walking to his car with his head down and his hands in his pockets. Nathan approached him and said it again grabbing his arm this time. Justin broke out of his grip and said, “Listen, don’t touch me.”
“You got the wrong dude.” Nathan responded with a smirk.
That was it, downhill from there. They fought and somehow from that fight they ended up becoming the best of buddies. Weird what brings two people together, Izzy thought, but it worked.
When Izzy got to Nathan’s house, the stench was overwhelming. The mix of weed and Tostito pizza rolls was one she knew all too well. Nathan lived in the basement. Not sure how because the chill was unbearable, she always wore a hoodie when she knew she was going there. It was always 15 degrees colder down there than the rest of the house. He slept on a beat-up couch with a lousy pillow and flimsy blanket. His TV was situated on the floor with a few DVD’s. There was one large window which sunlight seeped through. Pills were sprawled across the coffee table. Nathan was in the back-corner hovering off Justin. Izzy ran over.
“I, I, I don’t know what happen. He was fine, then started acting strange, and then fainted.” Nate said.
The bags under Justin’s eyes were dark and consuming his face. His hair was disheveled, and his body felt cold. Izzy lowered her face to his checking to see if he was breathing. He was, but the breaths were low and sporadic.
“I’m so sorry Izz, I didn’t know what was going on until I saw the pill bottles.” Nathan said as anxiety overcame him.
“I don’t want to hear it, Nate. You don’t think I know what you guys are doing?” Izzy responded as the fear made her voice crack.
They both managed to pick up Justin struggling to bring him to the bathroom.
“Nate turn the shower on,” Izzy croaked. As the ice-cold water dripped from the shower head, Justin was sitting upright against the wall, as Izzy proceeded to stick her finger down his throat. It took 2 times, but he managed to vomit. Justin slowly came to consciousness after coughing uncontrollably, as his pale face regained its color.
“Damn it, Justin, you could have died.” Izzy muttered as her voice raised another octave.
Nathan brought Justin some crackers to settle his stomach.
Once Justin started to come back to reality, Izzy drove the Nissan home. She parked the car in the driveway lopsidedly, left the key in the ignition, and just sat there in silence with her brother. Their mom was home locked away in her room again because the light was dim but seen through the curtain. Luckily their dad’s truck was not there.
“I’ve never done that before. I didn’t know my limit.” Justin managed to say breaking the silence.
“You scared the hell out of me.” Izzy responded as the tears began to form in her hazel eyes.
Another long pause of silence.
“You’re the only one I have besides Morgan. I can’t afford to lose you too. Mom is completely lost, and I need my brother to help me through all of this.”
“I know Izz, I’m sorry. I’m just trying to work through my own shit. I know I lost myself for a while and this has been taking a toll on you.” Justin said as he looked towards the floor, fidgeting with his hands.
Izzy stared out the window of the Nissan focusing on the dim light coming from their mother’s bedroom. The light that somehow foreshadowed her mother’s cry for help.
“We have each other and we will figure all this crap out. I want to get mom and us out of here and work towards a better life. Just give me a chance to make the changes and do just that.”
Izzy looked at her brother. Justin looked drained, like this life had taken all the color from his face.
“Okay,” Izzy mumbled.