Ellie and Eric

By Tunnel Writer

1st in the Background series

Three-year-old Eric tiptoed to the bed where his five-year-old sister was sleeping.

"Elwe?? I'm hungwy, Elwe."

Ellie rubbed her eyes and sat up. "Me, too. Let's see if mom has food left over."

Ellie slipped out of bed and grabbed her brother's hand. Together they tiptoed to their mother's room.

They never knew what they would find when they opened the door. Would she be drugged out again? Would she even be home?

Ellie took a deep breath and opened the door slowly so it wouldn't creak and give her away. She sighed with relief when she saw the bed empty.

They walked into the living room and that's where they found their mother. She was passed out on the couch, beer bottles scattered around the room, a white substance and razor blades on the coffee table. Ellie knew enough to never touch the powdery stuff or allow her brother to touch it.

Thankfully, their mother was alone this time. She was always bringing different men home with her. Every night Ellie and her brother would run into Eric's bedroom closet the second they heard the door unlock. Sometimes, if they were really quiet, their mother and the strange man would focus their attentions on each other. It was always best at those times, when their mother forgot they were even in the apartment. But sometimes their mother would let the strange man hurt Ellie.

Ellie would feel sick whenever she peeked from her hiding place and saw men give her mother money or drugs, because that meant they were paying her to look the other way while they did bad things to Ellie.

How many times did she cry out to her mother – when men forced her clothes off, when they did unspeakable things to her, when she suffered and wept at their hands? How many times were her screams of “Mommy, help me!” ignored?

Every time.

On occasion, after the men were done, they'd hug her and tell her what a pretty girl she was. Like she had wanted them to touch her, like she cared what they thought about her. It made her sick to hear those things. She preferred it when the man would just stand up and leave.

After the man had finally gone, her brother would creep out of hiding, not understanding everything he’d seen but knowing she was hurting from what had been done to her, and he would hold her until she quit crying.

"Elwe, let's play like a dream."

The children would close their eyes and imagine a different life. A life full of laughing, playing, and hugs. A life where they were protected. It was what they always played after Ellie was abused.

Her mother never comforted her.

One morning, after a more brutal evening than usual, Ellie's kindergarten teacher noticed how Ellie was clutching herself.

"Ellie, sweetheart, could you please step out into the hallway with me?"

Ellie stood up painfully and walked stiffly out into the hallway.

Mrs. Williams knelt down to her level. "Ellie, is there a reason you're holding yourself like that?”

Ellie tried to hide her face. "I can’t...I'm not allowed to tell," she whispered, her lower lip trembling as she tried to fight back tears.

Mrs. Williams’ voice was soft and gentle. "Sweetheart, if someone is hurting you, I can stop it."

Ellie's head snapped up. The compassionate and gentle look on her teacher's face was her undoing. Tears flowed faster than she could wipe them.

Mrs. Williams had a hard time understanding her, but she did catch the phrases "men paying mommy” and “”clothes off” and “touches me” and “I hurt," between sobs. When Ellie’s voice finally faded away, Mrs. Williams asked tenderly, "Ellie, would it be okay if I gave you a hug?"

Without hesitation, Ellie fell into her teacher's arms sobbing. Mrs. Williams sat on the floor and let the young girl curl up in her lap. At that moment, the needs of her other 24 students went out the window as she gently cradled, rocked, and soothed Ellie. Tears sprang to her eyes and fell on the soft curls of the crying child. This was the scene Mr. Gordon, the principal, walked up to.

"What's going on here?" he asked gently. This was the first time Ellie had ever heard him speak so kindly. He was usually stern and barking orders about not running in halls.

Mrs. Williams looked up. "We need to make an abuse report."

Mr. Gordon got on the ball. The first call he made was for a substitute teacher to take over classes for the rest of the day. His number one concern was Ellie's comfort. He knew Mrs. Williams would be most suited for the job.

The next few hours were a blur of tall police officers, friendly case workers, and a very scary doctor. The only way Ellie would let him look at her was if Mrs. Williams could go with her and hold her hand.

During the physical, a caseworker and the police went to talk to Ellie's mother. They knocked several times without an answer. Just when they turned to leave, they heard a voice.

"I can't unwock the door. I can’t weach," Eric yelled.

One of the policemen, a big burly fellow, said, "Stand back, we're coming in."

When they broke down the door, a crying Eric was standing in front of them. "I twied to wake mommy, but she won't wake up."

The policeman who had been first in the door entered further into the apartment and found a woman lying on the floor with a needle in her arm.

“Heroin,” the police announced sadly before making the radio call for a paramedic and coroner.

The other policeman picked Eric up. "It's okay, buddy. I'm going to take you to your sister."

The caseworker spoke up. "I made several calls and there aren't any available foster homes. We will have to take both kids to Ridley."

The policeman looked at the little boy he was still holding. "Hear that, buddy? You and your sister will be together in a fun place with a lot of playmates. I'm sure you'll both find a happy home with all the love and healing you both deserve."

"And live happy eva afta like in my dweam?" Eric piped up.