This post is part of a series that contains strong language and heavy subject matter. Click here to start at the beginning or consult the table of contents.

I was ecstatic when Christmas vacation finally came. What kid isn't? No school and you get presents. The fact that we were going to Michigan to visit my maternal grandmother couldn't even dampen my joy.

Nita Jean was a hateful woman that never met anyone she couldn't find a backhanded compliment for. But being out of state with my family meant that I only needed to maintain one mask. I had almost forgotten what that was like.

There was one extra issue that was a bit worrisome: while there, we would be meeting her fiance, Dwayne. We could only imagine what this character was like: who in their right mind would willingly pledge to spend the rest of his life with an old hag like Nita Jean? Was she really the best option that was available to him?

Then we got to Michigan and met Dwayne. He was calm, quiet, and kind. Nita Jean would command him to do this or that, and he would oblige. He didn't even seem to mind when she would berate him for doing it the "wrong" way. I lost count of the number of times I saw him tie her shoes, then retie them saying, "Is that better, darling?" without a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

What did he see in her? Why would he put up with being treated like nothing more than an indentured servant? What could he be getting out of making that creature his spouse? There were quite a few times that I wanted to stand up for him but knew better than to draw Nita Jean's ire.

His timidity and quiet kindness extended to the rest of us, as well. Nothing seemed to bother or annoy him, which I loved. The prospect of being related to someone with an endless well of patience was intriguing.

When Nita Jean suggested that I stay at his apartment one of the last nights, I jumped at the opportunity to spend extra time with my soon-to-be step-grandpa. Knowing how skittish I was of men, the fact that he had gained my trust was a crucial factor in my mom allowing me to spend the night with him.

At Dwayne's apartment, we talked about my favorite music and video games. I told him about the King's Quest series of point-and-click adventures. I had recounted the full story of at least one and a half of the games to Dwayne when he offered me a drink. Other than when I was at Ian's house, I wasn't allowed to drink coke that late at night, so I accepted.

Ian had spiked my drinks with alcohol before. This one was spiked with something else.

Stay quiet. You have to be quiet.

Those were my first thoughts when I woke up naked. I couldn't see the room around me; I couldn't remember how I got there or even where "there" was. As my eyes began to adjust, I saw Dwayne sleeping next to me in the bed. The grey hair on his chest rose and fell as he breathed.

I tried to inch my way out of the bed, but my legs betrayed me, and I fell to the floor. Pain. Piercing, stabbing pain. My fists and eyes clenched; my toes curled; I swallowed the cry that was trying to erupt from my throat. Eventually, I was able to move. My clothes were strewn around the room. It looked like they had exploded from my body.

I grabbed my underwear, pants and shirt as quickly, and quietly, as I could manage. Using whatever I had gathered up to that point, I tried to cover myself on my trip across and out of the room. If I had been able to think clearly, I would've realized that anyone who wanted to see what I had to offer had already done so.

The only other room in Dwayne's apartment that had a door was the bathroom, directly to the right when leaving his bedroom. But the relative safety of a locked door wasn't why I chose that as my hiding place: I was naked, and the bathroom was the only place where that was normal.

After locking myself inside, I couldn't contain my sobbing any longer. I held my shirt hard against my mouth. I was only one room away from him. Please don't let him wake up. Oh, God, don't let him wake up.

It wasn't until I had managed to compose and clothe myself that I looked up to see the back of the bathroom door. A hanger held lingerie that I knew must have belonged to Nita Jean. My stomach clenched, and I started to dry heave. It was so loud that I was sure Dwayne would wake up. He was coming. He would find me.

I pushed myself against the bathroom door, knowing that it wouldn't do any good if he wanted in. As I lay gagging against the door, a familiar voice whispered in my ear, "How could you be stupid enough to believe that someone could actually love you? You're stupid; you're worthless; you'll never amount to anything. You come from trash; you are trash; you will always be trash. You're only fit to be a human condom: used and thrown away."

For the first time in a long time, I prayed with actual hope that I would be heard: "God, please just let me die."

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