Broken by Rachel Carpenter

Credit: Philipp Wüthrich

Riley slowly got out of bed, wincing with every movement she made. She struggled to put her clothes on and then staggered her way to the bathroom. She got out her makeup and started applying it for school, making sure to cover the things she did not want people to see. She stared at herself after applying the makeup, walked away from the mirror and broke the trance.

“Hurry up, Riley! You’re gonna be late for school!”

Riley grabbed her backpack and gingerly walked down the stairs, wincing when her foot would collide with the floor. She made her way to the kitchen to grab something to eat.

“Your father is gonna be home around six and need to be home by then. You know how he gets when you aren’t home on time.”

“I know, Liz. He shows me every time I’m late.” Riley said while stuffing her lunch into her backpack.

“Riley,” Liz said holding Riley’s hands. “I know you think your father hates us but he doesn’t. He loves us. There is still good in him, okay?” Liz’s gaze met Riley’s eyes. Riley saw even Liz did not believe what she was saying. Liz was only saying that to make herself believe it.

“I’m going to be late,” Riley said pushing Liz away.

“Riley,” Liz said grabbing Riley by the wrist, “was your dad always like this? Before I met him? I love him, but I just want to know.”

“No, Liz, he wasn’t always like this. But when mom died he started drinking a lot.”

“He wasn’t like this when I first met him,” Liz said leaning up against the kitchen island.

Riley shrugged her shoulders, “He hid it. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but I couldn’t. He threatened to kill me, and I believe him when he says that. I’m sorry, but I really have to go.” Riley grabbed the car keys and left Liz in the kitchen on the brink of tears.

***

“Riley! Wait up!” Logan said waving his phone around in the air.

“Logan! What’s good?” Riley chuckled as a smile grew across her face.

“The group is going to meet up at the lake, you wanna come?” Logan jogged to catch up.

“Yeah, I guess so. How long do you think we’ll be at the lake? I have to be home by 6, maybe even a little before then.”

“Riley, you gotta be kidding me. You still have that 6’oclock curfew? You have to tell your dad to back off. You’re 17 and should be able to hang out with your friends,” Logan suggested when he finally caught up to Riley.

“Believe me, I want to tell him, but I can’t and you know it. You’ve seen how my father is, but not even at his worst.”

“Can we get serious for a second?” Logan stopped Riley and put his hands around hers. “If you ever need a place to stay and things get too out of control, you are always welcome at my house. My mom loves you like you’re her own child. Has he gotten worse?”

Riley’s eyes shifted away from Logan’s gaze. She thought, “How can tell him? He wants me to leave and so do I, but he doesn’t understand that I can’t leave.”

“I’m fine, everything is fine,” Riley said pulling away from Logan.

Logan knew that Riley’s father had become worse. Logan grabbed Riley’s hands and pulled her back.

“Riley, please, show me. What did he do to you?”

Riley was very hesitant but knew that she could trust Logan. Riley pulled him to her car and raised her shirt. Exposing Riley’s ribs and midriff. Bruises and scratch marks covered her body.

“Riley,” Logan gasped as his fingertips skimmed her injuries and Riley winced when his fingertips brushed over an extra sensitive bruise.

After a minute, she pulled her shirt back down and retrieved a makeup wipe out of her backpack. She wiped her makeup off revealing a bruise on her right cheekbone and below it, another bruise on her jaw.

Logan took a step closer his hand gently ran across her face. “You have to go to the cops, Riley, or run away and live with me. I can’t keep watching you live this way. It’s destroying me.” Logan’s eyes were killing Riley.

“Logan, you know I can’t do that, and I can’t run away and leave. He has threatened me and Liz that if we tell anyone, he’ll kill us. He doesn’t know you know and I’m risking a lot by telling you this. We’re both stuck there.”

“Why don’t I come over, tonight? He usually controls himself when I’m there.”

“Then the next day he becomes really frustrated that I brought a friend over and takes it out on Liz and me,” Riley’s eyes were on the ground and she was fiddling with her car keys. “I don’t think I’m going to go to the lake, today. I have to go home and help Liz with dinner anyway.”

“Riley, if you don’t tell someone I will. Your father is cruel and I can’t watch you get abused over and over again. As your boyfriend, I need to protect you especially if it’s your father who’s hurting you.” Riley could tell what Logan was saying came from a place of love, but what he might do could get them both in trouble. Riley also feared Logan wasn’t going listen to her.

“Logan, listen to me, stay out of it. I only tell you this stuff because I trust you to not share this information with anyone. If you tell someone else who is going to try and ruin things, I’ll break up with you. You need to understand it’s not that simple,” Riley got into her car and slammed the car door shut.

She left Logan with nothing, but an idea.

When Riley got home she helped Liz cook dinner, did the dishes, and cleaned the house as much as she could. She went to her room and did as much homework as she could within two hours. All she wanted to do was lay down and take a nap, but she knew that if she did she would be in major trouble, if her father found out. She could not risk it.

Ten minutes before six o’clock, Riley walked back down the stairs, again wincing with each step. She and Liz set the table for dinner, sat down and waited for Riley’s father to come home. With each passing moment, Riley and Liz feared which personality would walk through the door. The loving father, or the anger driven alcoholic.

Riley glanced at the microwave clock 5:56.

He walked in already stumbling and she could smell the alcohol from his clothes. Riley closed her eyes knowing he had a bad day at work, ready to explode at a moment’s notice. She feared that he would take his anger out on her first and she also feared he would take it out on Liz first. She did not want this to be her life anymore. She wished Logan was there to protect her. Her father came over and kissed her head, then kissed Liz.

“How are my two favorite girls?” His breath smelled so bad it made Riley want to throw up. She and Liz both had their heads tilted toward their plates.

“Do you want to eat? I made some dinner.” Liz asked, tensing up as to prepare for a blow.

“Sure, what did you make? Did Riley help you? You’re so lazy, Riley. You should have seen what the other men were talking about. Their children are out in the world doing great and you’re here being a slob and not doing anything around the house. Poor Liz has to do all the cooking and cleaning herself.”

“I’m sorry, I’ll do more work around the house,” Riley said hunching over her plate even more than she already was.

“Did you get your homework done?” She could hear the anger in his voice and knew it did not matter what she said.

“No,” she said very softly. Her father slammed on the table and started screaming at Riley. She tried blocking out the sound. He grabbed her arm and she tried to break free, but his hold on her was too strong. He slapped her in the face multiple times and punched her in the stomach. Causing an involuntary gurgling sound to escape her lips. He hit her in the face again and her lip started to bleed.

“Seth, stop, please!” Liz shouted pulling on his shirt. He turned and smacked Liz; she lost her balance and hit her head on the wall. She grabbed the back of her head and stumbled over to Riley. She stood in front of her and fought with Seth, but he quickly overpowered her. Riley crawled to a corner and huddled into a ball. It seemed the more Liz got tired, Seth became more and more aggressive. Liz’s face was covered in blood and could not stand on her own. Seth was holding her up by her arm. Liz seemed lifeless. Seth let go of her arm and Liz dropped. He wiped the sweat from his brow and glared at Riley.

“Clean this up.”

“Y-yes, sir,” Riley quivered.

Seth left the kitchen, leaving Riley in the corner, blood coming from her lips and brow. He left Liz on the floor, practically dead.

***

Riley was cleaning the blood off the floor where Liz had been. Liz was now laying on the couch with ice on almost every part of her body. There was dried blood on her face. Riley hadn’t gotten the chance to tend to her wounds because no matter how much bleach she used, she could not get the blood stain off the wood floor. Tears were in her eyes, but she didn’t know if it was from the pain or the chemicals from the bleach. Riley stared at the bleach for a long time contemplating an end that no one should ever consider.

Unexpectedly, someone knocked on the front door. Riley quickly got up and looked through the peephole to see who it was.

It was Logan.

Part of her wanted to open the door and be in his warm and safe embrace, but the other part of her wanted to hide behind the door. She did not have time to clean herself up, but Riley knew that he would not leave without her answering. She slowly opened the door so there was a sliver of space, Riley hid behind the door.

“Riley? Is that you? Can I come in?”

“Now isn’t a good time,” Riley said fiddling with the doorknob and stifling back a sob.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Logan said pushing through the front door. As he stepped in the first thing he saw was Liz on the couch and how horrific she looked. Then he turned and saw Riley. As soon as they met each other’s gaze Riley burst into tears and flung her arm around Logan. She was in so much pain, but all she wanted was to be held and feel safe.

“Riley, we’re going to the police right now. Let’s help Liz get into the car. There’s no way we’re leaving her here,” Logan said pulling away from Riley.

Riley nodded her head and wiped away her tears. When they picked up Liz she groaned and held in screams. The car ride was silent. Logan was driving, with Riley in the passenger seat, and Liz lying in the back of Logan’s car.

They pulled into the police station. Before they went in Logan turned to Riley and said, “You are the strongest person I know. I believe in you and once you tell them what he’s done to you, and Liz, and show them, Seth won’t be able to do anything. He has no power over you. If you both need somewhere to stay come live with my family till you guys are back on your feet. Do you have an idea of what you’re going to say?”

“Yes, stay in the car with Liz. She’s in too much pain to be moved again.”

As Riley limped toward the police station entrance she thought about the good times with her dad and she almost started to feel bad about what she was about to do. But then memories from all of the abuse started to take over and fueled the fire burning within Riley. At that moment, Riley was the strongest she had ever been and felt more powerful than she ever had before.

***

Two months later

Logan gave Riley a nod of encouragement. In the past month, Riley and Liz went through a lot of therapy, but Riley was the only one that prepared to testify against her father in the trial. Liz was too mentally unstable to testify against Seth. Part of her still loved him despite all he’d done. Liz wasn’t even allowed to be physically present at the trial because her mental state had declined so deeply.

Riley walked up to the podium and addressed her father for the first time in two months. She gave details of the abuse and what it had done not only to her mental state but also to Liz’s. Riley made it clear that she never wanted to see her father again and that he had done enough damage to last a lifetime.

Riley walked out of the courthouse hand-in-hand with Logan happy with how the trial went.  Forty well deserved years, Riley thought to herself. She also knew that in some cases like hers, the victims weren’t so lucky. Sometimes the abuser would only get ten years and could work off the sentence with community service and good behavior. That is why Riley decided to become a lawyer. To fight for the ones that couldn’t fight for themselves.