There will be days when you wonder if it was real. On these days, you will remember that time you stayed up all night baking cookies together, getting flour all over your face, throwing it in his dark hair. You will lie awake and berate yourself until the sun comes up, thinking about how wrong you were to give up on him.
This is the worst time. This is the unacknowledged consequence: You will actually love him. You will miss him. Despite his cruelty, despite the nightmares. You will remember the little spray of freckles by the corner of his eye, right where it crinkles when he smiles. You will write poetry about the web of skin between his thumb and forefinger. Then, later, you will burn those pages. You will wonder why. You will wonder, and wonder, and wonder. You will never quite understand.
Your sisters will ask why you didn’t tell them sooner. They won’t scream, they will claim they won’t judge you, but after they find out, they will be suspicious for years. They will side-eye every boy you bring home. They will be relieved when it’s a girl, never suspecting she’s just like him. They won’t recognize you when you are finally, finally in love with someone beautiful on the inside.
Your baby brother is the one who will cry, when you tell him. He will cover his face with his hands and ask if he can hug you, if you are okay. He’ll ask what you want him to do. When you shake your head and tell him nothing, he will feel helpless. Don’t worry; this will pass. Someday he will understand this was true, and why. He will learn to believe in your strength again.
One day, years down the line, you will go home to visit your mother, and you’ll bump into him in the grocery store. You will feel a slight flutter in your belly - this is something that will never go away - and maybe even a twinge of nausea. It will only last a moment. You will walk right by him as though you’ve never met, as though he is nothing. The sickness will fade by the time you’re in the check-out aisle.
You will find this hard to imagine, in those first few weeks after leaving him. It may stay this way for years, with you fluctuating between hating him and missing him wildly, desperately. But I promise, I promise, I’m telling you the truth. You’re going to be okay. Someday, someday. You’re going to be okay.