I didn’t want to go home.
But I knew I had to.
I didn’t want to get beaten.
But I knew I would.
In a messed-up way, I accepted my fate.
I knew there was no other way out.
Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when the first thing that greeted me when I stepped through the front door on Saturday evening was my father’s fist.
The force of the blow knocked the air clean out of my lungs and I dropped to the hall floor on my hands and knees.
“I knew it!” Dad snarled as he towered above me, bleary eyed and stinking of whiskey. “I fucking knew you were whoring around,” he roared. “I told your mother and she wouldn’t believe me.”
I didn’t have a chance to respond or defend myself before he reached down and fisted my hair, dragging me further into the house.
“Get off me,” I screamed, clawing at his hand as it painfully dug into my scalp. “Stop!”
This is it.
This is the day you die.
“You’re a little tramp,” my father snarled, not stopping until we were in the kitchen.
He literally dragged me to my feet only to fling me away like a ragdoll.
My face hit the corner of the kitchen table with a thud and I collapsed on the floor, landing hard on the cold kitchen tiles.
“Your cunting school called!” Dad roared, his words slurring as he closed the space between us. “Told me what your teacher caught ya doing, you dirty, little whore!”
“I didn’t do anything!” I screamed as hot tears pooled down my cheeks. “I’m bleeding,” I sobbed, clutching the side of my face as wetness trickled down my fingers.
“You’ll be bleeding a lot worse by the time I’m finished with you!” Dad roared in my face.
Grabbing my arm, he shook me so hard that my head snapped back and forth violently.
“You little tramp, riding in the fucking changing rooms.”
“I wasn’t!” I screamed, trying to pull free from his hold. “Get off me!”
“You want to end up like your mother?” he sneered. “Is that it?” He shook me harder. “You want to be humped with a baby at sixteen?”
“Get off her!” a voice cried out.
My eyes landed on my eleven-year-old brother standing in the doorway and my heart sank.
“No, Tadhg,” I strangled out. “Go back upstairs.”
“Get the fuck out, boy,” Dad barked, releasing me. “If you know what’s good for ya.”
“Leave my sister alone,” Tadhg growled, taking a step into the kitchen.
“Your sister’s a cunt,” Dad slurred, focusing his attention on my little brother. “Are you going to defend a cunt, boy?”
“Ollie,” Tadhg called out bravely “Get help.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my nine-year-old brother cowering in the hallway with three-year-old Sean tucked under his arm.
All three boys were reincarnations of our father, with sandy blond hair and big brown eyes, and all three boys in this moment were staring at our father in horror.
“Get your holes up that stairs before I redden them,” Dad snarled.
Sean scrambled for the staircase and Ollie dove for the front door.
But Tadhg stayed where he was.
“You can’t do that to her,” he challenged, glaring at our father with his chin jutted out. “Joey says we don’t hit girls.”
Shaking, I scrambled to my feet and hurried to intercept Tadhg before our father could.
“Go next-door to Fran and phone Joey,” I pleaded, as I tried to shove him out of the kitchen and out of harm’s way.
Even though he was only eleven, he was already taller and stronger than me. But he was my little brother and I would protect him with my life.
“Please, Tadhg,” I begged him. “Just go.”
Tadhg wouldn’t budge.
“I’ll protect you,” he told me before turning to face our father.
Oh god, no…
“I’m not afraid of you!” he hissed, taking a protective stance in front of me. “You think you’re all tough, but you’re nothing but an alcoholic scumbag who goes around hitting girls!”
Our father took a menacing step closer and my heart seized with dread.
Out of sheer panic, I threw my arms around my little brother, and braced myself for impact.
The blow came between the middle of my shoulder blades, taking with it the air from my lungs and my legs from beneath me.
Crumpling to the floor, I curled up in the smallest ball I could as my father’s boot connected with my back over and over.
“Stop!” Tadhg was screaming, beating his fists against our father’s back. “You’re killing her.”
“Tadgh, run…” Gasping for air, I tried to scramble to my feet, but Dad caught my ponytail and dragged me clean off the ground.
“You’re a little fucking liar,” he snarled seconds before his fist connected with my face. “A dirty whore.”
“Shannon!” my little brother screamed, flailing helplessly. “Shannon!”
“I’m sorry,” I strangled out, coughing when blood trickled down the back of my throat. “Please, stop –”
Another punch to my face had my teeth rattling so hard in my mouth that my legs gave out once more and I collapsed on the floor, feeling a chunk of my hair rip from my scalp.
“Leave her alone,” Tadhg sobbed, throwing his arms around my body. “Please don’t hurt her.”
I heard my little brother’s scream just as he was dragged away from me.
“Dad,” I gasped, desperately trying to drag air into my lungs. “Dad, please just –”
His boot connected with my face and I lost focus.
My head drooped.
My eyes rolled back.
He’s going to finish you off.
Shaking, I curled up as small as I could and clenched my eyes shut.
You’re back in that room with Johnny.
He’s telling you he loves you.
Kick after kick after kick.
Spluttering and wheezing, I desperately tried to cling to the image of his face.
It was fading out.
My body wasn’t hurting as much.
I wasn’t feeling the kicks or the blows now.
I couldn’t hear the screams of my brothers.
Everything was warm.
Warm and light.
Just close your eyes and give in.
Close your eyes, Shannon, and it’ll all be over soon…
“He’s coming!” I heard my other little brother, Ollie, scream as the sound of the front door slamming filled my ears. “Get off my sister!”
Using every ounce of energy left inside of my body, I forced myself to cover my head with my hands and protect myself from my father’s blows.
It’s not over yet.
You are not going to die in this house.
I could hear voices then: both Mam’s and Joey’s.
I could hear Joey.
He was here.
And suddenly the pain was gone.
The kicking stopped.
The feel of two pairs of hands wrapping around my body filled my senses – what was left of them – and I opened my eyes to the sight of my little brothers’ attempting to protect my body with theirs.
Tadhg was bleeding.
At least, I thought he was.
His cheek was smeared in bright red blood.
Maybe it was my blood.
I couldn’t tell anymore.
Gasping for breath, I struggled to drag air into my lungs, as my vision blurred for several beats before finally coming into focus.
My mother was standing in the middle of the kitchen.
My father had retreated several feet away from me, staring cautiously at the door.
Mam took one look at me, Ollie, and Tadgh huddling together on the floor and burst into tears.
Joey, who was frozen in the doorway, had a different reaction.
Dropping his gear bag on the floor, he lunged for Dad, spearing him to the ground.
“You fucking bastard,” he snarled as he buried his fists in our father’s face. “You dirty, fucking animal!”
Rearing back, he punched our father and then jumped to his feet.
“Hit me,” he demanded, dragging Dad off the ground. “Come on, asshole.” Shoving his chest, he gestured for Dad to punch him. “Hit someone your own fucking size.”
“Joey!” Mam cried out. “Please don’t
“Shut the fuck up!” Joey roared back at her. “You are the most pathetic excuse for a mother that ever walked the earth.”
“You little shit.” Dad swung out with his fist and caught my brother’s cheek. “I’ll put manners on you yet, boy!”
“Did you see that?” Joey demanded, directing his question at Mam. “Did you see him hit me?” Dodging another punch from our father, Joey reared back and leveled our father with a fist to the face. “Can’t you see what he’s doing to your children?”
Blood sprayed everywhere.
Dad staggered backwards, collapsing on the floor, and Joey dove on top of him.
“Joey,” I strangled out, clutching at my chest, feeling like my breastbone was about to collapse inside of my body. “Stop! He’s not worth going to prison over.”
Joey didn’t stop.
He just kept swinging.
“Get off him,” Mam was screaming. “Joey, stop – you’re going to kill him!”
“Good!” Joey roared as he straddled our father and continued to hit him.
His fists were moving so fast I could hardly keep focus.
“Joey…” Spitting out a mouthful of blood, I scrambled onto my hands and knees and dragged my broken body over to my brother, desperate to save him from doing something he couldn’t take back. “You promised,” I slurred as I weakly tried to pull at his arm. Feeling woozy, I shook my head and tried again, forcing my hands to comply as I clutched his forearm. “You promised you’d never leave me.”
My words seemed to register with my brother because he exhaled a defeated sigh and leaned back.
Nodding stiffly, Joey let his arms drop to his sides and climbed off Dad.
“Teddy,” Mam sobbed, shaking her head. Clutching her stomach, she knelt alongside our father. “Oh, god, Teddy, what have you done?”
Numb, I scrambled back to where Ollie was sitting with his back pressed to the fridge, crying uncontrollably.
Tadhg on the other hand, was staring at our father with a terrifying look on his face.
I knew the look.
It was same look Joey wore.
“It’s okay,” I whispered, trying and failing miserably to comfort Ollie. “Shh, it’s okay.”
“I thought you were going to die,” he sobbed, throwing his arms around me, and causing me to flinch in pain.
“Ollie,” Joey barked, turning back to face us. “Go upstairs and get Sean.”
“Why?” our little brother sniffled.
“Because we are leaving!” Joey stated sharply. “We are not staying in a house with that piece of shit a day longer.”
Without another word, Ollie scooted out of my arms and bolted for the stairs.
“Tadhg,” Joey said, grimacing when he noticed the look of hatred on our baby brother’s face. “Go with Ollie.”
“But I –”
“Please,” Joey snapped, running a hand through his blond hair and streaking the tendrils red. “Go upstairs and pack your bags, kid.”
Tadhg gave Joey a hard look before finally nodding and stalking out of the room.
Turning his attention to me, Joey walked right over to where I was slumped on the floor and dropped to his knees beside me.
“You’re okay,” he whispered in my ear, pulling me into his arms. “I’m here…I’m here, Shan.”
Numb to the bone, I just sat there, slumped against his big body, my hands hanging limply at my sides, while my brother tried to comfort me.
My entire focus was on our parents.
“You’re bleeding,” Mam choked out as she dabbed at Dad’s face with the sleeve of her jumper. “Oh, god, Teddy.”
Her words caused Joey’s entire frame to tense.
“Are you fucking blind?” he roared.
Swinging around to face them, he gently brushed my hair off my face and pointed to me.
“She is bleeding,” Joey snarled, pointing to my face. “Shannon. Your daughter!”
“Shannon,” Mam wept as she cringed in horror. “Oh baby, your face.”
I didn’t care what I looked like anymore.
It didn’t matter.
Because my mother had just ended my world.
She went to him.
He beat us.
And she went to him.
She chose him.
Our own mother.
“Don’t you dare ‘oh baby’ her,” Joey snarled as he climbed to his feet and helped me up. With his arm wrapped around my shoulders, he walked me over to the table and lowered me onto a chair. “You’re okay,” he kept whispering, and I wasn’t sure if he was telling me this or himself. “You’re okay. I’m here. I’m right here, Shan.”
Grabbing a tea towel off the draining board, Joey returned to me and pressed it to the side of my face while I just sat there, staring across the room at the people who had brought us into the world.
“Shannon,” Dad slurred, shaking his head as if he was waking up from a deep sleep. “I didn’t mean to –”
“Don’t fucking speak to her, creep!” Joey roared, taking a menacing step towards him. “I will kill you,” he seethed, tone deathly cold and terrifyingly sincere. “Do you hear me? I will slit your fucking throat if you so much as look at my sister again.”
Ollie, Tadhg, and Sean all hurried into the kitchen then with backpacks on their backs.
All three of them went straight to Joey.
Because he was our protector.
He was the reason we were all in one piece.
He was our hero.
“Now, here’s how this is going to go,” Joey growled, standing in front of the four us, shielding us from our parents. “Either you –” he pointed to our mother, “find some maternal instinct deep inside that cold fucking heart of yours and put that bastard out for good, or I’m taking these kids out of this house and they are never coming back.”
“Joey,” Mam sobbed. “I’m so sorry –”
“Don’t apologize,” my brother spat. “Protect your children and put him out.”
“Joey, I –”
“Make a choice, Mam,” Joey snarled as he glared down at our mother. “Him or us?”
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