STRAWBERRIES by Lynsey Gates

Images by Sierra Lake

He had finally left the house, I was alone. It felt great to be alone.  Trapped in my room all the time wasn’t fun.

It was always dark and cold, no heat. My floor was cement with a thin layer of carpet on top. My bed was a thin mattress.

I never knew when my uncle was going to turn into a different person. Some days, he was just angry and took it all out on me. I didn’t always live with him. I used to have a family who loved me and cared for me. When I was 6, my mom and dad got in a car crash. My mom went into a coma and never woke up, and my dad died when the truck hit the car. I was transferred to Arizona to live with my uncle.

When I first moved in with him, he treated me like his own child. He loved me and bought me things that I wanted and needed. He always accepted me and didn’t get mad at me for messing up. He spent more time with me than anyone else. He called me his.

After living with him for a few months, he got a girlfriend, Teresa. She never really talked or interacted with me. She seemed like she had something wrong with her. Teresa’s face was pale and she looked tired. She never seemed to sleep.

I didn’t have a connection with her, but my uncle seemed to care for her quite a bit, so I stayed out of their relationship. After they were seeing each other for quite some time, things started to change. He started to lose weight and his face drooped low. My uncle became angrier than before, and seemed to forget about me at times. It was like Teresa had given him something to make him crazy. Sometimes he would yell at me just for asking him “how was your day?”

I remember the day that I learned the truth. I came home from school, sat on my couch like I always did, and listened to my music while I ate an afternoon snack, strawberries. My uncle wasn’t home. He was out at the store or something. I was enjoying having the house to myself. I ended up making brownies, and thrashed my kitchen. The brownie mix was oozing over the counter and on the oven racks. The house smelt like burnt chocolate. I didn’t bother to clean up because usually my uncle came home and cleaned.

I went to my room and shut myself in there. I lay down on my bed, not expecting it to be the last time I had a big soft bed.
My uncle walked in the house. He shouted for me, “Sara! Sara where are you?” I heard him, but hadn’t responded. I figured he would just decide to come into my room to talk to me. But it was over 10 minutes that he hadn’t come to my room. I heard no footsteps or dishes being washed. The television wasn’t even going. The only sound was the ticking of my clock. I was worried. A million questions went through my mind: Is he okay? Why is it so quiet? Why did he call my name?

I stood up and put on my slippers. I stepped out of my room, quiet, not trying to put too much weight on the floorboards. Right outside my door, I saw him there in the living room, sitting in the easy chair, pulling his hair. I noticed that his shirt had brownie mix on it, flakes of it on his shoes too. His eyes looked gray, dark bags under them.

I was scared.  I tried to enter my room again and leave him be, walking weightless. Two steps away from my door, my foot fell too fat and the floor creaked. He turned and the glare in his eyes scared me. Something on his face looked like he was scared as well. I studied him for a minute, until his finally mumbled my name.

“Sara,” he said.

He got up and started walking towards me. I didn’t know what to do. I ran to my room. I shut my door. I locked it.
I sat on my bed in the corner, trying to hide my loud breathing with the unicorn blanket my father gave me before he died. I didn’t want my uncle to hear me or try to get in my room. I had no idea what was wrong with him. He was always this upbeat happy guy, but now he was just a mess. His footsteps were loud and came toward my door fast.

“Sara! Will you just come out here?”

He sounded pitiful, but I felt like it was just a trick. I kept my mouth shut, waiting for him to leave.

“Sara, please! Just let me in!” he said.

I didn’t want to give in. But his voice got sadder as he kept talking.

“Can I just explain to you some things? I know you don’t want look at me. I know I look scary. But I need you.”

Then something else, a sound, someone choking, but backwards.  The pleading pathetic person now had a sound, then his tears. This, man who was so strong, who I’ve never heard cry before, was crying on the other side of my door.
I knew that his crying was his way of talking to me, and not the someone else he’d turned into. I knew he really needed me. I ran to my door. I unlocked it. My door flew open and he grabbed me. A little bit of fear in me before his arms hugged me tight. His tears were on my cheek, in the middle of that hug.

“I’m so sorry for the way I’ve been treating you lately, Sara.” He said.

I didn’t get it, why sorry, why now?

“Then why do you do that to me?” I said. “You’re supposed to love me and care for me no matter what.” I didn’t know what he would say. The two of us in that moment in my room, who he was then and who he was in the photo of me and him Newport, his arm around me, the sand dunes in the background.

“I never meant to hurt you.” He said, “If I do again, it’s not me.”

“If it’s not you,” I said “Then who is it?”

I didn’t understand.

“Drugs,” he said, and put his head down. I didn’t want him to end up like anyone else who became addicted, where the drug slowly began to take over their life. I hugged him, just as tight as he hugged me before. My eyes started to water, my cheeks wet from the tears.

I could never hate him.

He was the person who gave me what I needed. He was the person who was there for me when my real parents weren’t. He loved me like his own.

I remember one time. My uncle bought me a puzzle with ponies on it. It was different shades of purple and pink. I loved it. We brought it home and dumped the puzzle out. To me it looked like a broken picture with weird edges and ends. My uncle explained to me how to fit what pieces together, how the round part on the pieces fit into the ones with the hole that matches. It took me time to catch on, but he didn’t give up on me. The confidence in him back then when he helped me. He stayed there until the puzzle was complete. I wish somehow my uncle could be the same person he was when I was just a little girl, but things change. Now, I’m the one who tells him how to do things, because he forgets sometimes. All I can do is love him, and hope he changes for the better.


Written by Lynsey Gates
Images by Sierra Lake