At 75 miles an hour, he braked fast and jerked the Jeep over onto the shoulder. By some miracle, no one plowed into us.
Cars and semis flew past us slapping gusts of wind against our Jeep. The passing headlights were the only thing lighting up the dark.
I braced myself for what was coming. My ass was about to kiss a belt on the side of this interstate in the middle of the night.
Kim, my little sister, shifted in the scant backseat that we had previously been fighting over and quickly made it so that no space separated us. Her hand found mine and as much as I wanted to throttle her, she was my only ally. Our relationship was still as difficult as any siblings' separated by less than two years. The difference was that ours was and would be forged in fire, and on the other side of that fire would be unbend able steel.
He threw the door open, jumped out, and slammed the driver seat into the steering wheel. Instead of yanking us from the car, he pushed his way into what little space was left of the back seat. With her clinging to my arm and digging into my skin, I could feel Kim start shaking. I looked him right in the eye as he started screaming.
The moment my mom had told me were were moving to Hawaii, she smiled, unable to hide her excitement. The fact that she could be so happy while delivering news she knew would crush my entire world, baffled me. When I asked if we had to move, she replied, "Of course." Like what reason would I have to possibly want to stay here.
Here. It was a dirty word that she rolled off her tongue like it tasted nasty.
How was I this woman's daughter?
Dad would fight her. I knew before he even asked if I wanted to go. I said no. He called his lawyer. It was a long shot. Custody is never awarded to the father unless the mother can be proven unfit.
I'd been here once before. Friends and family spewing ugly words about my dad, about my mom. Everyone feeling entitled to an opinion about how I should spend my life, where I should grow up, who made the better parent. But no one cared to hear mine. No one spewing those endless streams of hateful words ever stopped to ask what I or my sister wanted. No one could shut up long enough.
The thing adults don't stop to think about when kids are young, is eventually they grow up. And their memories come with them.
In that crowded courthouse, I was physically dragged away from my step-mom. Prevented from sitting or speaking to the one person who wanted to talk to me about anything other than that courthouse, or living on a beach, or the fact that my mom or dad was probably hiding a spiked tail.
So I sat in an uncomfortable wooden bench for several hours, with people who couldn't give a damn about my sister or me, trying to cheer up my sister. The ugly words about my dad never stopped. He was trying to take away our future. Our future of experience. Our future of travel. Our future of worldliness. Didn't he learn his lesson the first time. He should be grateful for the five years of weekends he'd been given. Just let them live. The kind of life he could give us was sub par in comparison.
The judge decided in agreement with my mother's minions. That this was an opportunity of a lifetime.
That judge was an idiot.
And as those courtroom doors opened, chaos ensued. Marching right up behind my dad, my mom yelled, "David West!"
"JoAnne," His reply was a warning.
My parents hated each other. Not the way I hated the popular girl at school who made fun of my goofy hair. But with a deep seated passion that made you side eye them when they mentioned the other. That kind of hate came from a place I'd never been to.
And never wanted to.
Before anything else was said, my arm was nearly yanked from it's socket by one of my mother's friends Mary.
My parents were standing at the top of the staircase, so Mary dragged me and my sister around them and down the stairs. I descended them as fast as my ten year old legs would carry me, craning my head around to watch the argument that she was quickly trying to get us away from. The yelling had started.
No one ever let us stick around for the good stuff.
The last thing I saw before being dragged out the courthouse doors, was my dad's face contorting when my mom stuck her finger in his face, his eyes doubled in size and the veins in the side of his neck starting to bulge.
For a split second, I wished he would throw her down those stairs.
After lighting a cigarette, Mary peeled out of the parking lot with Kim and I secured in the backseat. On and on she went about how great living in Hawaii would be. Looking at my sister, I could've drown in the sorrow I saw in her eyes, had I not been drowning in my own. Gazing out the window was safer and everything became a blur as I dreamed about a life without my mother.
The headlights of passing cars momentarily lit his screaming face. Spit was flying at our faces.
"We wouldn't be driving across country all the way to California in this damn car if you hadn't told your dad to take us to court! Do you know how much those lawyer and court fees cost? We can't afford plane tickets!"
I looked towards the passenger seat at the back of my mother's head. Without looking back at us, she just nodded her head in agreement with everything he was screaming.
I have never hated two people more than I did them in that moment.
My life was an injustice. I had been begging for someone to listen to me. I was straining to be understood. Straining to understand this twisted life I'd been given. But it's like one of those dreams where you're screaming and physically shaking people and no one even sees you.
This was the moment I stopped. I stopped pleading my case.
In the dark, my hand brushed the book my aunt had placed into my hands as she'd hugged me goodbye. A hardback journal.
After he finally tired of screaming and my shoulders sagged in relief that I'd dodged a whipping, I started scribbling in the dark, unable to even see my words. In the darkness of a life I couldn't escape, I found the one thing that had no choice but to hear my voice.
The blank page.