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Jessica rushed into the kitchen. The sunlight filtered in through the window on her mother's graying hair while she stood over the sink washing the dishes from breakfast. Jessica was full of wonder and excitement of what the day would bring her when she once again explored their family's farm. She grabbed a sack lunch from her mother and rushed off, hearing the words, "Don't get too close to the ponds and be home before dark." As the old screen door slammed her mother smiled and shook her head wondering if her youngest daughter heard a word that she had said.
Jessica loved to have the freedom to explore and play. She loved her special places. Places where the alfalfa grew tall and green, so tall that when the wind blew it looked like waves on the water. She loved the big oak trees that had branches spread out everywhere, giving such wonderful shade for those hot summer days. She loved her special place by the little creek where she could put her ankles in, and watch the tadpoles swim. The place where she would lay on the moss covered rocks and watch the clouds pass by. These were her special places. Peaceful places that she could go to escape.
Jessica decided on this day that she would walk a little further than usual. She came upon a field of wild flowers. The colors, violet, red and pink were sticking out from the field in odd sized blooms while butterflies flew from flower to flower. She felt the warmth of the sunshine on her bare arms, and the gentle breeze as it ruffled her hair. Jessica searched until she found a place where the grass grew soft and thick. She pulled an old quilt out of her backpack and spread it out on the ground.
Here she set, she was alone and felt tranquility all around her. At times like these was when she forgot all her troubles and all of her worries. These were the places where all the bad things floated away. She could set for hours and enjoy the quiet, but time passed quickly. If only Jessica could stay there forever. She had stayed long enough; however, it was time to go home. There was a chill to the air, and the sun was drifting far into the western sky. She had to be home before dark or she would be in trouble. As she walked home, the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach got heavier and heavier. Once she opened the back sliding door and walked into that kitchen, her happy little world faded away like the colors of the evening sky.
The scent of her mama's fried chicken emanated the air as Jessica walked up to the house. Opening the door Jessica wondered if all was well in the household. She did not see her daddy when she scanned the kitchen and living room, so she rushed off to her bedroom. Through the bedroom door, she heard her older sister Carrie's music playing. Anxiety filled Jessica when she opened the door, and wondered what in the world her sister was thinking, playing her music so loudly. She never understood why her sister would do things that she knew would make daddy mad.
That night their mama called Jessica and her sisters to the table, where there daddy was already sitting. As always, there was a feeling of tension in the air. The only thing that intruded the silence was the sound of the silverware scraping against the plates as the family began to eat their supper. Her sister Carrie was the only one absent. Through the wall, the sound of the blow dryer could be heard. Jessica's dad began to get angry because of her absence from the table. Jessica wished her sister would hurry. She knew it is only a matter of time before he would blow.
Jessica was startled by the violent sound of the chair scraping against and crashing to the floor, as her father got up and stomped off towards the bathroom. Everyone set quietly at the table, fearful of what would happen next. Time seemed to stand still as the family set and listened to the yelling. Jessica's mother said, “Honey, why don’t you go see what is going on?” Jessica anxiously got up and slowly walked down the hallway fearing what she may find behind the closed door. Scared, she opened the door and found her sister standing beside her father with the blow dryer cord wrapped around her neck. Tears streaming down her face, Jessica ran into the kitchen to get help.
That night Jessica went to bed and felt for her sister as she came in once again silent and broken. Nothing was said, and the lights went out. It was scary to Jessica not knowing what would happen from one day to the next. Sometimes days would go by and nothing would happen. Her sisters would do what they were told, not disappoint their father in anyway, and things would stay peaceful. Other times there would be tears, violence, and fear. Winter seemed to be the hardest time for Jessica. In the winter months, there was no escape. Daddy would not work as many hours and he would come home early. The cows needed to be fed and the wood needed to be cut. The older sisters were expected to be waiting at the door with their coat, hat and gloves on to help their father after he got home from work.
One day, Kim the oldest did not feel well. When daddy came home that night, he saw that Kim was not ready and went to confront her. Jessica nervously stood in the hallway watching as her daddy opened Kim's door, "What do you think you are doing?" he said. "I haven't felt good all day; Mama said that it would be okay if I stayed home tonight." she said. "I don't give a damn what your mama said, you are going to get off your butt and come help me."
Reluctantly Kim started to walk passed their father, and in some unseen way angered him. Jessica watched as her father slapped her oldest sister hard across the face, and in horror heard her sister answer him back with "I hate you." Jessica watched as he twisted her sister's arm behind her back, and wrestled her to the bed. Scared and wanting to stop him, Jessica ran over to her bent father's back and started to hit it with her small fists and cried, "Daddy, no, stop it, you're hurting her!" it only angered him more, and he turned around and threatened her with the same punishment. Scared, Jessica wished that she could do more, but knew that she could not. She turned to walk away and hoped that he would soon tire out and stop. Seemed like that was the only way that it would ever stop is when he just could not physically do anymore. Then he would just get up and walk away, leaving the girls behind crying.
Jessica had not experienced her father's wrath first hand, not as her sisters had. There were times he used the belt on her, but she tried so hard to keep from angering him that it did not happen often. What Jessica had experienced were visits from him in her bedroom after darkness had fallen, and after everyone was asleep. They were visits that he saved only for Jessie. She never understood the time that her father spent with her in the dark, she dreaded seeing his figure in the doorway, and she grew to hate the night. Jessica never told anyone, and it haunted her for the rest of her life.
She stands silent and still above her father's coffin, numb, void of feeling, and unable to cry. Jessica wonders how she should feel for such a man. How she should feel for the only father that she has ever known. She stands above the coffin and asks herself why, if only she could understand why it all happened. Her resolve is broken when she feels a gentle hand on her shoulder. She looks up to see her sister, "C'mon Jess let's go home, he's gone."
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The Kelsey Briggs Story
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~In Memory of Kelsey Briggs