I sat in my father's study. Alone though I was, I already quaked with fear. My chest muscles tightened as I heard the slow, heavy footsteps make their way down the hall. The doorknob clinked and turned and the door creaked open.
There he was, standing his full height of six and a half feet. He would have seemed intimidating even to a grown man, but to a ten-year-old, he was nothing short of monstrous. What hair he had was salt and pepper, cut close, and confined to the sides of his head. His face, once handsome, was now middle-aged and, at this moment, burning with anger and disappointment. A pair of icy eyes shot daggers at me from the doorway.
Unable to tear my gaze from him, I watched as he came into the room and closed the door behind him. "Michael," he said, quietly. "Do you know why you're here?" My father never once raised his voice that I can remember, but then he didn't have to. He had found other ways to be threatening.
I nodded my little head. "Yes, sir."
"Why are you here, Michael?" he asked.
I took a deep breath. "I broke the window with my baseball, sir."
He nodded slowly. "That's right. And you know what has to happen now, don't you?"
I swallowed hard, the anxiety rising within me. "I'm going to be punished, sir," I said.
"That's right," he repeated. For a moment, he was silent, as if he were searching within him for the will to follow through with his plan. Now, as an adult, I imagine this is what he thought, but as a child, I imagined he had no hesitation whatsoever. At last, he began. "Pull your pants down."
There was a part of me that hated this the most: having to expose myself, making myself that extra bit more vulnerable. Hating it or not, I had no choice but to obey. I undid my button, unzipped myself and let my pants fall around my ankles. My underwear soon followed. Now, I stood before my father, naked from the waist down and deeply embarrassed.
"Now turn around," he said. This I did as well. I knew what was coming next. "Bend over." As soon as I heard the command, I assumed the position. Embarrassment burned in my face, but this was soon replaced with terror as I heard the clinking of my father's belt buckle. Leather slid against fabric. I knew, after a moment, that the belt was in his had, a suspicion he confirmed when he gave a sickening warning crack.
I was nowhere near ready for the first strike. It seared my flesh, causing me to cry out. This was a mistake which I quickly tried to control. In my experience, any sound I made seemed to spur him on, making the beating last longer. The second and third hits came in rapid succession. He continued to strike me with no pattern or rhythm. At last, I could bite my tongue no longer. I wept and screamed and begged for mercy until finally I could stand no more and fell to the floor in a battered heap.
My father's voice came from above me in a quiet growl, barely above a whisper. "Get up." Hastily, I obeyed. I stood and fumbled with my pants, twisting and bunching my underwear as I pulled everything up all at once. All the while, my father stared down at me, the whites of his eyes seeming to glow with hot rage in the dim light of the room. The time I spent squirming beneath his gaze felt like hours. At last, he spoke again. "Get out."
I didn't need to be asked twice. I practically ran from the room and didn't stop moving until I reached my bedroom. There, I pushed the door closed behind me and immediately sank to the floor in a puddle of defeat. After each beating I received at my father's hands, I remember feeling like no one in the world could hate another person as much as I did him, and yet what could I do? I was a child, powerless, locked in the lair of a monster. Perhaps I could have told someone, but never did I think they'd believe me. It seemed I had no choice but to suffer through it, until I either reached the age of escape, or some other miracle occurred to free me.
The rest of the night is a blur, but I know that I managed to fall asleep. I know this because I remember waking up. There I lay in bed when a strange sensation began to work its way up one of my legs. In my half-awake state, I knew something was in the bed with me, but I did not have the wherewithal to react. It was long, thin, and leathery against my skin. I felt it snake over my flesh, stopping here and there to "lick" at me. That's the best description I can manage for what I felt. At last, with my eyes closed, I felt the thing poke out from beneath my sheet and caress my face. There, it seemed to stroke my forehead gently, the way a mother might to comfort her feverish child.
This, at last, was too much. Suddenly wide awake, I jumped up and threw the covers off of my body. What I saw in bed with me left me utterly perplexed. There, next to the space where I had been lying, was a leather belt, buckle and all. Completely forgetting my anxiety of a moment before, I picked it up and began to examine it more closely. As I did this, however, a frightening realization crept over me. The dark brown color and the basketweave pattern left no doubt that this was the very belt my father had used to punish me only hours before.
What was it doing here? Surely it couldn't have been the belt that had crawled into bed with me, licked at my skin, and stroked my brow. The thought was ridiculous. And yet here it was. It definitely had not been there when I fell asleep. It was simply beyond explanation.
The implications of the scene before me must have been so frightening to my young mind that I shut down entirely. I simply left the belt where it lay on my floor and hurried out of the room. Little did I know how that decision would play out.
The rest of the morning proceeded as usual. I forced down a small amount of breakfast and went off to school. It was only when the time came to turn in my math homework that I realized I hadn't done any the night before. Instantly, I panicked. Failure to return my homework meant I would have to stay after school. This, in and of itself, would not have been so bad, except for the fact that it knocked my mother's after school schedule off kilter. That meant that dinner might not be ready by the time my father came home from work, and I knew that my mother would not hesitate to throw me under the bus when he demanded to know why.
Sure enough, it all played out exactly as I expected. That evening, I sat once more in my father's study, shaking like a leaf about to lose its grip on the tree. But something was different. I seemed to be waiting and waiting. My father had yet to walk through that door as he always did, belt in hand and ready to command me. As the seconds ticked by, my dread grew and grew.
Suddenly, the door swung open and slammed against the opposite wall. I jumped to my feet at the eruption. There in the doorway stood my father, his eyes practically glowing with rage. He appeared to be empty-handed. "Where is it?"
"What, sir?" I asked.
"You know what!" he barked. "My belt! You've taken it, haven't you?" He stalked toward me, his hands balled into fists at his sides. "You thought you could trick me, didn't you?"
"I didn't touch it!" I yelled. As soon as the words crossed my lips, however, the memory of my morning discovery came flooding back. The belt, as far as I knew, was still in my room on my floor, and soon, he would know it. Then, there was no telling what kind of beating would be in store for me.
"You little bastard!" My father's booming voice pulled me out of my mind. I looked up just in time to see him lunge toward me. Terror propelled me into action and I managed to dodge just outside of his grasp. I bolted for the door and kept running. Down I went. As I passed the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of my mother. Her nearly skeletal frame leaned against the counter with her back turned to me. For a brief moment, I thought to run to her for protection, but I knew she would not give it.
I ran on and on, up the stairs, and finally landed in my bedroom. There, I slammed the door shut and pressed my body against it, but it was no use. The door shook and jiggled beneath the force of my father's fists. All the while, I stared at the belt---the reason for all of this madness---which lay on my floor right where I left it.
At last, I could hold my father back no longer. One swift punch to the middle of the door sent me scurrying to the other side of the room. The door flew open just as it had downstairs in his study. I knew he could see me, but instinct caused me to duck behind the bed nonetheless.
My father's burning eyes landed immediately on the belt and then shifted up to me. "I knew it!" he bellowed, and he stepped toward me once more.
Unable to fight them any longer, I felt hot tears roll down my cheeks as I begged for my father's mercy. "No!" I cried out. "Please don't hurt me! Please!"
My father had nearly reached the bed when, suddenly, a remarkable thing happened. He let out a sharp cry and fell before my very eyes. His body hit the floor with a thud. "What the hell?" I heard him grumble.
Instinctively, I climbed up onto my bed to see what had happened. There, I saw my father, sitting on the floor where he had fallen. He was hard at work trying to extract himself from his favorite belt which had somehow wrapped itself around his ankles. He seemed to forget all about me in his struggle, which became wilder and wilder as he went.
Suddenly, the belt began to move. As I looked on in utter shock, it wrapped the remainder of itself around my father's wrists as well. Now he was completely trapped, able only to yell obscenities at the object which should not have been able to do what it just did.
The belt did not stop there, however. I watched as one end snaked up my father's arm and found its way around his neck. The rest followed suit and seemed to tighten. The rage in my father's eyes was replaced with fear as he clawed at his own neck with his newly freed hands. Each end of the belt seemed to have a mind and consciousness of its very own. Both ends stretched out in a different direction, causing the middle portion around my father's neck to squeeze tighter and tighter. His grumbles gave way to stifled chokes. His face grew pale and then began to blue. He reached out for me, wordlessly begging me to help him. I never moved a muscle. I could only watch as the belt slowly choked the life out of my father.
When the deed was done, he slumped to the floor. The room was silent. All at once, an unfamiliar feeling rose up within me. It wasn't terror, or anxiety. It was peace.
Gingerly, I approached the body and uncoiled the belt from his bruised neck. For a long time, I simply looked the object up and down, marveling at what a wonderful thing it was.
I only let it go when those men came and took it from me before escorting me out of the house. I never saw that belt again, and I highly doubt I ever will, even if they do let me out of this hospital and back into society at large. But I can assure you I'll never forget the one thing that saved my life when I needed it most.
Written by Jdeschene