The first time the toilet flushes on its own, I dismiss it as an issue with the plumbing in the new-to-us house. I have other things on my mind: navigating our newly integrated family, figuring out what to call the woman who is not yet legally my mother but who doesn’t get hung up on such technicalities as she lays down rules and seems to be aware of my every move. I’m leery not only because I don’t want to lose my freedom but also because some of the rules — such as being in the house by sunset — are contrary to my survival instincts.
This had never been the safest course of action in my previous family; nighttime was spent on the rooftop—out of reach of Mamita’s rage — watching the Florida night sky until Dad’s headlights appeared in the distance. I’d wait until I heard the distinct sound of his Thunderbird — the engine always sounding as if it was at the end of a taut chain — wanting to go faster than the suburbs would allow. Only after the T-Bird turned onto our cul-de-sac would I scurry down the flagpole, onto the AC unit outside my bedroom window, back into my room, and under my Goofy & Pluto sheets. Once my father’s keys jangled at the front door, I knew I had made it through another night safe from my mother’s hands reddening my back, her nails digging into my scalp, and her constant tirade reminding me of my worthlessness.
Although I haven’t been hit, or even yelled at, since the move, being inside at night feels foreign and disconcerting. Within days of the flushing toilet, however, other oddnesses start to occur that take attention away from my curfew.
Home alone watching television, I startle as the antics of Bo and Luke Duke are interrupted by the sound of a slamming cabinet door in the kitchen. At first I ignore it, my attention intently focused on watching the boys jump through car windows and The General Lee flying through the air during yet another chase with Boss Hog. Then, with the unmistakable second slam, the fear triggers the wiring on a thousand tiny hairs that spring upright on the back of my neck.
Tentatively, I walk towards the kitchen. As I step from the dining room’s rug to the kitchen’s tiled floor, I react quickly and dodge right as a plate flies out of the cabinet and shatters upon impact against the wall next to my head. I stand, shaking, in an empty kitchen, the broken plate at my feet.
My soon-to-be mother would correct my language when I recounted the story later: “You mean the plate fell from the shelf and almost hit you.” Although I try to point out that a falling plate tends to drop vertically rather than flying out horizontally, she will not hear it. To her, this assessment isn’t a question but a statement of unquestionable fact.
I know better. Regardless of verb choice and semantics, this cannot be explained away. Unlike the dismissal of the self-flushing toilet, there are no plumbing issues that could cause the cabinet to send a plate flying towards my head.