It was called many things – that period. Those days.

That Awful Day, my mother would call it with red eyes, her mouth wide, curling downwards in an ugly cry.

The Night of The **** was how the police liked to call it – the name Id hear the most, unable to change it, regardless of how mistaken it was.

Those days is how the single cop responsible for my case would refer to it, for he knew best: he knew it wasn about a single day. He had felt that terror, had seen it stretch through time, expand and drip down the clock that could not contain it in mere 24 hours. He had been there.

Soon, however, it would be called nothing at all.

The dreadful memory would fade from their consciousness, the lingering terror disappear from their nights, and all the traces a second-hand trauma could imprint into a third partys mind would dissolve, melting away magically… like therapy says it should.

Theyd forget it, without ever really knowing it.

Without knowing it wasn one evening. It wasn as bad as they named it. And it was worse than they could have ever imagined.

But if I had to give it a title – a faithful one, to capture all the ins and outs that saw me fall victim to him, unravelling all the events of that one evening… Well, I don know what words Id choose. All I know is… Id certainly not call it a night! It wasn self-contained like that. It wasn simple, nor concise. Actually, I wouldn even know where to start!

Probably, Id go with that day, some five years ago, when my parents took us on a trip to the mountains, back when they were still together… back when my brother, at once the pride of the family and the prodigal son, still lived with us, for he was just a teenager. A moody, bored teenager who didn want to look after his baby sisters – who walked too far ahead in the trail, leaving us behind to have our paths crossed by a crazy man in the woods. A man who did something strange to himself while smiling, who showed us what he did with pride, though we were too young to understand.

My mother was furious that night – angry at us, her young girls, for not knowing better – for not knowing how to spot danger or to shout for help, for just standing there watching, as if we wanted to see it. We weren smart kids, we weren sharp like her friends children, and she didn want to have to tell us everything. She had raised herself. My father had raised himself. My brother never needed his hand held every step of the way, why did we? It was frankly a disappointment to her, to have to teach us certain things.

Still, she did teach us, that very night, as necessity forced her to: Stranger danger she called that lesson. I couldn remember his face – the preaching we received for not being smart enough was the takeaway of the whole event, for in reality neither I nor my sister were particularly traumatized by what we saw. I don know how she took it, being younger than me, but I guess I just recalled that lesson – stranger danger – associated with the foggy memory of that mans distorted, bearded, ugly face. I had learned how to jump out of the way of a hobo, or anyone else that looked gnarly and crazy. If greater value than that was imbued, it wasn efficiently assimilated. I Guess we really weren that intrinsically smart…

But those memories didn come to mind often. It certainly didn come to mind then, during those days that led up to the fateful night. The lesson wasn there as I walked home from school, sulking, eyes glued to the ground… perhaps only that lingering feeling, that bitter taste in the back of my mouth – of not being smart. If I were, I would have known better than to watch Michael Campbell so closely throughout the semester. After all, why would he, the tallest, coolest boy in my class, ever be interested in me? I still dressed like a child, I wasn pretty enough, I wasn girly enough, I was just a messy 14-year-old struggling with how oppressive life had suddenly become! Struggling with discovering I wasn good enough…

Red had blotched my last report – so Danilo, my best friend, took pleasure in reminding me as we walked home from our very last day of class before autumn break. ”No wonder he got himself a new girlfriend… ” he taunted cruelly ”You
e getting sloppier by the day! And dull, too. You don even talk about anything interesting anymore. But Ah! What will your mother think? ”

We labeled ourselves best friends because we fit the criteria: we met in kindergarten and had been inseparable ever since. He was intelligent –
erdy, our colleagues would say – and we always paired up together for assignments and projects, we always had the best grades, and Danilo was always the teachers pet. By default, I was considered nerdy too. No one really took the effort to tell us apart when it came to grades and behavior, we were like one person, or two extensions of the same one… But between us, we were entirely different, and sometimes I could swear we hated each other, like an old bickering couple.

”…Shes gonna come pick you up, thats for sure. You
e gonna have to move in with her, and Ill have to find some new company among those phony, dumb, annoying people… Im gonna resent you for that! ”

We had this strange thing of thinking we were better than everyone else. We were better, and thats why we didn fit in too well. Danilo loved that word… phony… he used it to describe everyone who was remotely nice to us, assuming they always had concealed intentions. I got sick of hearing him say it back in the third grade!

”Anyway – Aren you gonna say anything?! ”

”Just shut up… ” I jammed my report into my jeans pocket.

”Its not cool to pretend you don care! And coming from you… its actually pretty phony… ”

But I did care. Excessively. My bones shook with mild terror: my world was threatened! Neither of my parents could find out about my grades slipping if I wanted to maintain my convenient though unusual situation of living alone with my sister Susie in the old brownstone passed down from my grandparents, from when our family was smaller, tighter, still together.

They got a divorce last year… Dad was having an affair. My mother was so angry when she found out – just angry, not hurt… She wasn the type to cry or show mild emotions. I guess I never did see her display sadness until… well! She wasn sad when she found out about the affair. Most of all, she was contrite, as shed call it: she deeply regretted dedicating so much of her time, health and wealth into being a good wife to him and rearing his two kids – she left my brother out of the equation, because he was already a self-made man, graduated in engineering and living abroad, so that she couldn possibly resent the parts of her she had dedicated into rearing such a brilliant child as he was! But resentment was wasteful in itself, and my mother – unlike me and my sister – was too smart to err twice: she enrolled in a university, chased a full-time job in an office and moved downtown to make it possible. Small, one-bedroom apartments were cheaper there, and studying was easier without the burden of kids, so Susie and I had an easy case of standing our grounds and staying behind with my dad, in the brownstone we used to live in before Susie was born, in the same quiet, peaceful little suburbia we had grown up in, where all the neighbors knew us and school was at a walking distance.

Of course, she had to feign some resistance, to pretend she wasn excited at the prospect of her new life with the child-free bonus. After just a little insisting, she consented, kissed us tenderly in the head as she rarely ever did, and we were allowed to stay behind with the promise she would come around every weekend.

My father had always been a tourist in his own house. Having officialized his relationship with woman number two, hed spend most nights out, in her place. Sometimes hed come home after work and stay for a couple of hours, watching TV and asking us random questions or making small talk to put in as much interaction in a limited window of time as he could, as if to fill some social parameter before moving on, saying hed just see her for a while and say good night. Hed initially come back very late, when we were already asleep, and wed only see him again in the morning, rushing to work while I made breakfast. Logic dictating that was a pointless effort, soon hed outright tell us he would spend the night out, until her place was his residence and ours was the hous

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