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A Guardian’s Beginning

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Growing up in the poor inner city, Angel’s family never had much going in their names. Her father worked late nights at a local shipping company, and her mother did her best to provide by babysitting local children as a paid service when she wasn’t staying home to take care of her two daughters.

Angel, the eldest of the two children, was the established spitfire of the family. Known at school for her wild temperament at even a younger age, Angel made it a point to let everyone know that no matter what her situation was, she was proud to be a member of her household. She was proud of her mother, her father, and her baby sister. Her sister, however, was largely meek and timid in comparison to her older sibling. Growing up in her older sister’s shadow, she found herself struggling to keep up with Angel’s antics and accomplishments, and had even gotten herself into trouble chasing after her from time to time. None of that mattered to Angel, though. The years went by, and her love for her sister only grew in time. Things were somewhat perfect in their modest, run-down family apartment…until her mother fell ill.

Worn down by age and overexertion, the woman’s body had begun to fail. First, it was her stamina. Then came the fevers and coughing fits. Eventually, as her condition worsened over the course of several months, the family was forced to set aside the vast majority of their spare funds – which barely amounted to anything – just to afford a trip to the doctor and the following medical expenses.

Time passed, and for a while, very little changed. Angel and her sister were preparing for their entrance into middle school when their mother’s medical situation to a sudden and unexpected turn for the worst. As it was, the family’s money was already running low, and with medicine costs digging into the finances needed for basics such as food and clothing, a hard decision had to be made. It was a choice that Angel’s father had seen coming, as indicated by his steady decline in mood, but when the time came, he made the choice. Their mother would have to forego her medications from then on.

Time moved on. Angel and her sister progressed slowly through the public school system, soon approaching their 7th and 8th grade graduations. Their father was still working hard at the factory to keep food on the table, and their mother was still there at home in bed to greet them every day when they rushed inside from their drop off at the bus stop. Life was admittedly far from perfect, but things were tolerable.

Graduation came. Angel progressed into high school just one year ahead of her sister, who was soon to follow after her. Their parents, both overwhelmingly proud of their successful children, managed to save up some money to buy a nice cake for her in celebration. However, their happiness was not to last. The evening following their joyous little party, Angel and her sister were woken in the night by a terrible retching. Just down the hall, their mother was suffering through one of her worst coughing fits yet, with her husband waiting nearby with a glass of water, utterly helpless. When her coughing had gradually subsided just enough to take a swig of water, the situation became agonizingly clear as the rim of the cup came away colored red by the blood dribbling slightly from his wife’s pale lips. Her condition had again grown worse.

Life spiraled downwards immediately following that night. Try as he might, Angel’s father was unable to earn enough money to purchase his wife’s medications anymore, and Angel saw the resulting changes take place over the next few months as her mother’s health continued to degrade. She went pale, her features gaunt. She grew weaker day by day. Eventually, she could hardly summon up enough energy to speak, let alone walk, and it took all of Angel’s courage and strength to keep from breaking as her sister openly wept at her mother’s bedside every evening.

Another week went by. Angel moved on into 10th grade, with her sister close behind. Life was bleak. Things dragged on, with little hope in sight until finally, the inevitable quietly came to pass. It was on a snowy Tuesday morning, when Angel woke and moved to rouse her sister, that a wail of gut-wrenching sorrow broke through the morning quiet.

Her family mourned. Unable to afford a proper funeral, their sorrows were at least lessened by the generosity of their neighbors, who had known for quite some time what was happening. Everyone in the neighborhood pitched in, and a small service was held that weekend.

 

Life moved on quietly after that. Angel and her sister no longer heard their mother’s voice when they returned home from school. Their father slept alone at night in a cold and uninviting bed. Days passed.

 

Their father began to drink. It was small amounts at first, nothing terribly noticeable, until one day he returned home early and drowned himself in whiskey while his two daughters watched. He grew unresponsive, and when he moved to kiss them both goodnight later that evening, Angel’s sister visibly cringed at the stench of alcohol that lingered on his breath. Nobody said a word.

 

The days came and went. Life at school progressed as well as it could, with lunch money now having to be spread throughout the week in order to sustain both girls. Their father had taken to returning home early on a few days to stop by the liquor store. He drank, and then retired to his room in silence immediately following dinner. Angel watched as she and her sister cleaned the dishes. Neither of them spoke.

 

Graduation time came again. Angel moved on into 11th grade, and her sister into 10th. They sat together after school that day and shared a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, the sweetest tasting thing they could afford with what little pocket funds they had left. Then, they returned home. Their father had come home from work early again, as indicated by the sheer number of beer bottles scattered about the living room. However, the man was nowhere to be found. Hesitantly, Angel went to check the master bedroom after sending her sister to their shared room, only to find their father asleep on the bed with a picture of his wife tucked against his chest. The frame was cracked, its glass smudged by countless fingerprints. Angel left him alone for the night.

 

Summer passed, and as the new school year approached, Angel held her sister’s hand as they went to talk to their father about school supplies on a calm, Saturday morning. He had skipped work entirely the day before and instead chosen to sleep, so the girls had no hesitations when cracking open the bedroom door to wake their father. An airborne liquor bottle greeted them instead, shattering violently against the wall beside the doorframe. Acting on instinct, Angel shoved her sister back into the hallway, then threw the door wide open. The man inside the room was furious. His hair was disheveled and untrimmed, his eyes red and puffy as he glared at her from the bed. Before Angel could speak, another bottle slammed against the wall, and he began screaming curses that damned Angel and her sister.

 

You filthy money-sucking PARASITES!!!” He roared, his hands waving wildly in his drunken rage. “If it wasn’t for you, she’d still be alive! I’D STILL HAVE MY LORRAINE!!!”

 

Angel closed the door. Behind her in the hallway, her sister was already a crying, trembling mess. Reaching out to take the younger girl’s hands, Angel pulled her sister close and hugged her quietly until the shaking subsided. Then, she guided her into the kitchen for a small bowl of oatmeal and some milk before telling her to go and wait outside. Her sister, too afraid to do anything else, did as she was told. A few minutes later, Angel emerged from the little apartment with a small wad of cash and a bruise on her cheek. When asked about the money and her face, she remained silent and simply led her sister down the street towards the discount store.

 

“…I got us money for our notebooks.”

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