I couldn’t wait to start school and be a part of the world that my siblings disappeared into every day. Being left with a babysitter was becoming embarrassing and isolating. It was akin in childhood terms of going from maximum security prison general population to solitary confinement. Safer but destructive.

The babysitter was our neighbor, Joy Toll, she was kind but boring and doted on her grandson, Tyler, who she watched as well. She wasn’t a bad person just more interested in soap operas and needlepoint than parenting or dealing with reality. For example, that her grandson was a fucking asshole.

Tyler was to be indulged in everything and I wasn’t supposed to complain about the mistreatment. He could trip me, push me into the mud, slam me into the wall; but I needed to understand how hard his life had been and that I was lucky to go home to a family that loved me. To me this sounded like the ramblings of a mad woman who obviously hadn’t met my family or noticed my circumstances.

From that I learned that playing pranks and being mischievous was far more enjoyable at times than standing up for yourself and being drowned in a barrage of guilt and shame. I was the baby of the family at home and put up with enough of that crap in my off-time. Game on fucktard.

The little shit needed to be the first for everything, literally. First through the door, to the table, through the garden gate, into the car, onto the couch…it was exhausting. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I wasn’t expected to entertain him every moment I was there but I was. Any game I was enjoying had to end abruptly so fucktwit could join in, throw a tantrum because he was too dumb to play, would be losing, trash the game in anger, and then I would be blamed for being unkind. So I came up with a plan, an imaginary friend.

The friend had no name to make it extra maddening for Tyler. He would want to talk to my friend but she didn’t respond. He would ask why and I would reply, “Ask her yourself.” Tyler would then beat on me, get in trouble, and I got five minutes of solitude from his douchery while he sat in the corner. The first time I heard of the game “seven minutes in heaven” I thought they must have heard of, or tried, my game of gas-lighting Tyler.

He would complain to his grandmother that he needed to be first (through the gate/door/etc.) and I would calmly reply that I had not been first, I was second, my friend had gone first. After a week of this I think the poor woman was ready to seek out pharmaceutical assistance. Tyler was crying every day, I was smiling for once, and my mother was getting constant phonecalls. The jig was up. My mom sat me down for a talk.

I needed to be kinder to him, I needed to be more understanding, and I didn’t know how fortunate I was. My worst fears were confirmed. My mom didn’t understand me, she was saying the same shit as Joy, and again that little turd was being allowed to bully me and I was supposed to accept it without complaint. I was supposed to understand that I needed to let him be first, laugh it off, and get along. I remained silent and sank into the first bout of many episodes of depression. Silence meant acceptance, acceptance was interpreted as being compliant, compliance was being a good girl. I knew I wasn’t good but I didn’t want to disappoint my mother. My new strategy was silence.

Tyler would push me off the swing. I would pick myself up, find a quiet spot away from him, and remain silent. I would be playing in the magical playhouse at the back of the yard, he would come in and throw my doll out the window and jab me with a splinter until he drew blood, I would leave and wait for him to tire with destroying my creations.

Joy was relieved we were playing so nicely and cooed compliments at us over mealtimes and when she came to check on us hourly. Tyler would beam with pride and baby talk to elicit further affection and attention from her. It sickened me. I felt defeated even further and accepted that this was life.

One day, Joy’s daughter invited me into her bedroom to look at her 1980’s wedding trouseau that included such items as Aqua Net and gummy bracelets alongside her betrothed’s stained letterman jacket and Bruce Springsteen and Quiet Riot cassettes. I felt like I was in a dream. Her room was a picture from a Sears catalog. (Tres chic in my mind.) Everything matched or coordinated, it was clean, and it was hers. It was her room without question. She promised I could attend her upcoming wedding and that I could get married someday myself if I was a “good girl”. I let her condescend to me without reply so I could soak in the fantasy of her room a little longer.

That was the fantasy that people tried to feed me be good and you’ll get what you want but at six years old I knew differently. You had to fight for what you wanted and even create imaginary friends when you needed them.

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