The night before my eleventh birthday my older brother beat me with a broom stick. My mother was still working three jobs then and was working second and third shift, which meant there was no one to notice, no one to tell. It was just as well. Mother was always so tired and, though it would hurt her now to admit it, she often needed us kids to pretend things were better than they actually were. It was the way we got through life. Pretending and not telling each other about the things over which we had no control.
We had been playing Go Fish, my brother and I, and I asked him if he had any twos and, instead of saying “Go fish” the way you usually do, his face went all still and weird, and he said, “Go to hell,” and cracked me with the broomstick, the nearest thing he could grab, until the broom stick actually broke and my guts felt bruised and busted and completely mashed up inside.
I tried not to cry. I was already old enough to know that crying never makes things go easier, the way bleeding never makes a hungry wolf’s meal die any faster or better. But it is a hard thing to do when you are eleven and you are trapped inside an apartment living room with a psychopath who is also your brother and is who is also the person who is supposed to be watching you.
And it was harder also because I was scared. This was a new kind of thing. My brother had beaten me before. He had twisted my arm until I begged for mercy. He had punched me in my breasts and pulled my hair, but he had never hit me so hard with a stick before. And it was awful, the heavy, thick lash of it already raising bruises like giant fingers on my skin.
And it was hard also because his face had gotten so awful. So still. So quiet. Not my brother’s face at all but a mask like one of those guys in the movies mom never let me watch. The guys who moved with long knives through dark shadows.
I hated crying. I hated seeing the shifting medley of joy and contempt on my brother’s face. And because I could not look at him seeing me like this, I looked down at the scatter of cards on the ground. The hands we had played fanned out like twisted rainbows. There were several twos in his hard of cards. And then, the Queen of Spades and I discovered the thing that would forever change my life. I realized I could pretend my brother was not alive, that he did not exist, and if I wanted it badly and pretended hard enough, it could be true. My brother could disappear. He could no longer exist for me.
And that is the moment I gained control of my whole life. I closed my eyes, fixed my mind and when I opened my eyes again, my brother had vanished. I made my brother a ghost.