Reason to Breathe

1. Nonexistent

Breathe. My eyes swelled as I swallowed against the lump in my throat. Frustrated with my weakness, I swiftly brushed the tears that had forced their way down my cheeks with the back of my hand. I couldn’t think about it anymore - I would explode.

I looked around the room that was mine, but had no true connection to me - a hand-me-down desk with a mismatched chair against the wall across from me with a three tiered bookcase that had seen too many homes in too many years next to it. There were no pictures on the walls. No reminder of who I was before I came here. It was just a space where I could hide – hide from the pain, the glares and the cutting words.

Why was I here? I knew the answer. It wasn’t a choice to be here; it was a necessity. I had nowhere else to go, and they couldn’t turn their backs on me. They were the only family I had, and for that I couldn’t be grateful.

I lay on my bed, attempting to divert my attention to my homework. I winced as I reached for my Trigonometry book. I couldn’t believe it was sore already. Great! It looked like I’d be wearing long sleeves again this week.

The aching pain in my shoulder caused the images of the horrific exchange to flash through my head. I felt the anger rising, making me clench my jaw and grit my teeth. I took a deep breath and allowed the dull wash of nothingness to envelop me. I needed to push it out of my head, so I forced myself to concentrate on my homework.

I was awoken by a soft tap at my door. I propped myself up on my elbows and tried to focus in my dark room. I must have been asleep for about an hour, but didn’t remember dozing off.

“Yeah,” I answered, my voice caught in my throat.

“Emma?” the small cautious voice called out as my door slowly opened.

“You can come in Jack.” I tried to sound welcoming despite my crushed disposition.

His hand gripped the doorknob, as his head - not much taller than the knob - peaked in.

Jack’s enlarged brown eyes scanned the room until they connected with mine - I could tell he was nervous about what he might find - and smiled at me in relief. He knew way too much for his six years.

“Dinner’s ready,” he said, looking down. I realized it wasn’t the message he wanted to be responsible to give me.

“Okay, I’ll be right there.” I tried to smile back to assure him it was okay. He walked toward the voices in the other room. The clatter of platters and bowls being set on the table along with Leyla’s excited voice awaited me down the hall. If anyone were to observe this routine, they would think this was the picture perfect American family sitting down to enjoy dinner together.

The picture changed when I crept out of my room. The air became thick with discord with the crushing reminder that I existed, a blemish to their portrait. I took another deep breath and tried to convince myself I could get through this. It’s just another night, right? But that was the problem.

I walked slowly down the hall and into the light of the dining room. My stomach turned as I crossed the threshold. I kept my gaze down at my hands that I twisted in anticipation. To my relief, I wasn’t noticed when I entered the room.

“Emma!” Leyla exclaimed, running to me. I bent down, allowing her to