A battered little girl.
A panda bear.
A set of fists.
And a skeptical therapist.
We have a lot to do in this chapter so let’s get started. One night I said something to my mother and step dad. Something like I didn’t want to go back to visit Char. Something ominous and haunting before I went to bed that left them staring, their minds reeling, at the cryptic meaning. The energy behind it and the facts that I might be facing at that house during those visits. It caused my mother to make calls all week and on Friday night she called Char telling him that Uncle Savior and Aunt wanted us to spend the night and was it okay if we missed this one visit. He was more than willing to shirk his duties as father so he let us go.
I remember that night we did spend the night at Aunt’s house and her and Uncle Savior went out for the night. They got Rocker to babysit Less, my cousins, and I and off they went.
Rocker was a young girl probably fifteen with her hair in her face, a black denim jacket on her back, and an Ozzy shirt under it. She was quiet and did not know what to do when Less exploded on her.
That night Less screamed and howled. She yelled at the music that was playing and she fought with Rocker. She ended the night by screaming, “Fuck you!” at Rocker and kicking her over and over again. Then Less ran off. Slammed the door to my cousin’s room and disappeared. When Uncle Savior and Aunt got the report, they were furious, threw Less in the car and took her home.
That was the moment it all broke.
Rose and Mumble screamed at Less for hours. They threatened her and they grounded her from everything they could think of to make her crack. Because they had a theory. They had some inclination as to why Less was acting the way she was and they wanted to test their theory.
Finally Rose hit with the heavy blow. “Fine, you want to be hateful! You want to tear up this house and disobey us, then we are done! You are going to live with Char! You will live with your father from now on!”
Legend says that Less dropped to her knees that night and begged not to be fed to Char. See, he was molesting her. And as soon as she begged for reprieve from him, Rose asked why and the entire story burst out.
I remember that night I was still at Uncle Savior and Aunt’s house when they got back from dropping Less off at home and Aunt told me I could watch TV until I fell asleep. At the end of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula the national anthem played. Then the colored bars telling me TV was over for the night. Then static. Something had come to an end. I went to bed and the next morning something new had started.
When I got home that afternoon all the curtains were pulled and the lights off. The entire house had a feeling of calm surrealism to it. Nothing seemed in place. Everything seemed to be floating. I was told to sit on the couch, and Aunt went into Less’s room to talk for a while. Mumble seemed haunted. He stared at me with trembling hands. When Aunt came out of the room, she kissed me and told me to take care of my sister.
Guardian nodded and promised he would. He did in one way or another for decades. After a while Rose walked out of Less’s room and nodded to Mumble, who took me into the front room and sat me down. He closed his eyes, lit a cigarette with shaking hands, and took a long drag.
“So we talked to Less last night and we argued with her for most of the night. But your mother has been on the phone, you see. All week she has been on the phone. No accident that you stayed the night at Aunt’s last night. No accident at all. See then the kicking and now I am here with you and well, it’s pretty far-fetched. See, it is very far-fetched. See, Less is in trouble.”
Guardian stepped forward. “What kind of trouble?”
“The big kind.”
“She didn’t do it. She is not the one that did it. I did it. I am to blame,” he said.
“No, not that kind of trouble.” He flicked his cigarette. “No, dammit. Just, no. See we need to focus on her right now, you know? We need to focus on her.”
“Okay,” Guardian said. “I can do that.”
“See, Char has been touching her.”
Guardian lowered his head and growled.
“You don’t know what I mean by touching, but—”
“I know exactly what you mean.”
“You do?” He drew on his cigarette, smashed it out half-smoked, and lit another one. “Dammit, I thought maybe we got lucky.” He scowled and pulled a sliver of tobacco out of his mouth. “Shit. Well fuck. Okay. See we need to focus on Less right now. You know that, right?”
“Then if I ask you if you were ever touched, you would know what to say?” Mumble said.
“Yeah, I would know what to say.”
“So you were never touched in a bad way by Char?”
“No,” Guardian said.
“Good. That is real good.”
One day soon though? Shush whimpered in silence.
“Maybe one day?” Guardian said.
“Yeah, maybe one day,” Mumble said. “Just keep remembering when they talk to you that Less is what is important.”
Guardian nodded and lowered his head.
Later that day at the police station they asked me if I knew when Less had been molested. They asked me if I had been abused, too. They asked me so many questions and they didn’t believe a single one of my answers.
I found myself at a therapist a few days later. She was a rotund woman. I remember gray hair, a blue dress with small red flowers on it, and stuffed dolls. These are the dolls they show you when this sort of thing has happened to a child. Anatomically correct dolls are handed to you and they ask you certain questions about where hands have been and what parts of you have been engaged.
Guardian knew all the answers and how to present them, and when we were done with that session, it was clear to that woman that something was not right. She talked to my mother and we were told about the meetings.
I arrived the next Thursday, maybe Wednesday, at about six in the evening. It was at the same building and the offices were closed down. A large living room with matted green carpet, scratchy red and gray wool furniture, and a large table sat in it, and in the corner of the living room sat Punchy.
There were a few volunteers present with crafts and games to play and we all had a blast. The room was shown to me that first night and it went like this.
We could do anything we wanted. No rules, except we couldn’t hurt one another, and we could play the games or sit on the furniture. Then I was brought before Punchy.
He stood as tall as me. Was a stuffed panda bear with the fur matted and gone. His flesh threadbare and his head lobbed to one side. His left eye was gone and his arms sagged limp. He seemed at the same time helpless and empowered. And the volunteer who showed him to me patted the bear on the head.
“We call him Punchy and he has more love in him than anything I have ever seen.” The man’s deep rich black face grinned when he waved a hand at him. “Punchy can take it,” he said.
“Can take what?” Guardian asked.
“All of your anger. All of your rage. He is full of love and he wants you to take it all out on him if you need to. Go ahead,” he said, waving a hand in Punchy’s direction. “Go ahead and punch him. He is here for your anger.”
Guardian punched the panda with a slight hit. The Styrofoam beans inside sounded like a sigh when I hit him and the man beside me grinned. “If you get upset, I want you to come over here and give him a punch. He loves you so much he will take it. No questions. No tears. Punchy will take it all with love. He knows that sometimes kids like you need to hit something, and he wants to be that thing.”
Guardian walked over to Punchy and laid a kiss on the bear’s forehead. He was so small, and Punchy so big, that he could barely reach the stuffed bear’s forehead.
We were dropped off every week, either Thursday or Wednesday, and crafts, other kids, and smiling volunteers was what we found. I remember at one point looking around the table and seeing seven other kids, all laughing and playing the game they had set out before us, and through the smiles and the giggling I saw deep sadness and hurt. I looked at the volunteers and could see it on their faces. They could see what I saw. Every one of those volunteers knew the children standing around them had been broken.
When Guardian looked at the girl, he saw a pretty girl barely holding it all together. I will try to tell you what I remember of her and maybe you can see what he saw.
She was thin. It looked like she didn’t get a lot of meals. She wore a blue dress with a white sweater over it and it seemed as though she carried the sadness of scores of people on her shoulders. Her hair was caramel colored and her face thin. When Guardian saw her, he knew what he was looking at. Here was a victim. Here was a girl who needed help. An image of Less. That doesn’t sound right. Maybe an image of all the world’s sadness. That is wrong, too. Within her he saw the thing within him that was sobbing. He saw the walking embodiment of Shush. A creature he did not know, but we could all feel.
No name to give you. I will not try to name her. I don’t remember her name and it suits us all if I don’t give you one. I want you to place upon this small child any name that comes to you. Maybe you have seen a girl like this. Maybe a boy. A child so broken that pain and sorrow radiates off of them. Maybe you never have seen this Avatar of Broken but whatever child you have seen, or if you can imagine a child like this, I offer you the right to lay that name upon her. Place the pain of a child in need on this little girl.
She can take it.
We smiled at each other and we were together. Not in any way that can be qualified. Not in any way that can be defined. I will not allow you to insinuate girlfriend and boyfriend. I will not allow you to assume brother and sister. Just let me and this girl be souls in need.
She talked very little. She touched my shoulder a few times. I touched her hand. Then her eyes widened and she walked away. She crossed the room to a small door that led to a closet and she closed it.
Guardian followed her but stopped outside the door. He pressed his back against the wall beside the door and slid down to the floor sitting beside the closet. The eyes of a volunteer watched as Guardian sat and ever so gently but with a voice of strength Guardian spoke.
“You are not alone,” he said. “I am with you.” Long moments of nothing before, through the crack on the bottom of the door, she reached out with four fingers. Guardian laid his palm on her fingers as the only way to reach her.
They were cold. They were soft. And he touched them very gently as within the closet she dealt with the weight of whatever pain had been forced upon her. The scrap of paper came after a while. It was folded but had no straight edges. Just a ragged bit of paper to speak a ragged set of words.
He hurt me.
That is what Guardian was given. That is all that was said. He unfolded the paper and folded it again. He closed his eyes and felt his rage growing. It was a bit of boiling water. When water boils first you get a set of tiny bubbles framing the inside of the pot. Then the entire pot begins to hiss. As Guardian’s mind began to hiss and growl, he folded the letter over and over. Then the first of the bubbling.
This came with a cry. It was a sob deep within our mind. No guidance. No idea where it came from. Then another big bubble and before you are ready for it you have a rolling boil.
Guardian stood. He did not even for a second wonder where he was headed. He stomped straight for Punchy and he dropped to his knees before the great enveloper of anger. Punchy stared at Guardian with his one good black eye and his lobbed-over head and he seemed to nod.
Guardian began to punch. Lightly at first. Just enough to let the beans within Punchy sigh. Then a little harder. Guardian looked the creature in the eye and its head lobbed forward. And the fists increased. Harder and faster. The sighs intensified until Punchy was hissing. Soon an uncontrollable assault of rage for a girl. For all girls who are shown things they can’t see and still stay innocent. Soon more. All children. Fists a flurry for the one within who sobbed.
Kids came to the couches and love seat. They stared and they cried as Guardian laid it all on Punchy. As he set all of the darkness that children should never see on the one ready and willing to take it.
There is not much information Guardian will give about how he felt at that moment or what he was thinking. We know he was screaming. We know he was shouting. He told Shade one night over the campfire in the Wasteland that he screamed out, “Not her!” He punched and he howled and at some point, that little girl we have no real name for stepped out of the closet. Watched the only one willing to fight for her and she stared with dead eyes at Guardian as he fought.
And what was he fighting? All abusers. Those prepared to harm all broken children. He screamed and he punched, and as he did Punchy’s head bobbed forward and back, encouraging him. Telling him that it was all okay. That he was ready for Guardian to lay it all on him.
Before Guardian was done, Punchy split right down the middle. He broke open and beans poured out. They were the sort that are stuffed in bean bag chairs. They poured out of Punchy like a wave that covered Guardian’s thighs as he knelt and surrounded him with a wide circle of exploded pain.
When Guardian rose and stumbled back, he looked around the room and saw everyone crying.
The small, broken girl.
Everyone in the room sobbed and Guardian dropped to his knees and stared at his fists. A gentle hand was placed on his shoulder as the girl touched him in thanks.
Rose never took us back. Maybe she thought they would ask her to replace Punchy. Maybe she knew that if I stayed in that place, a dark truth she was not ready to hear would bubble out of me like water bubbling from the bottom of a pot. I don’t know why she never brought me back there.
Never saw that girl again.
Never forgot the panda that soaked every bit of pain for all of us. The creature of love that let me beat it to death if that would save any of us even a little.
To the girl I say I love you. I wish I could have done more. Guardian fought for you if only for that one night. He is sorry he was taken away from you.
To Punchy and all creatures like him I say, you are beings of God. Those given the sacred duty of taking hate that does not belong to you. I will never forget you. Or the room full of kids that you died for.