By Cory Ragsdale

I sat on my mother’s bed playing “Assassin’s Creed: Origins” on my stepdad’s XBox One. I had just killed the guards of the palace when the yelling began. This time it was directed towards my sister, an eight-year-old with blonde hair, blue eyes, and freckles that sprinkled themselves across her cheeks and nose.

She had forgotten to pick up her toys, again…and because of that, the hell hounds were unleashed upon her; ravenous beasts who tore her apart. Silently I killed another guard with my newly equipped scythe. My blade sunk into his chest as my mother’s hand sunk into my sister’s freckled cheek.

To an eight-year-old, these two pains are one in the same.

This happens almost every other day. It’s so common that it’s normal. These events are blinked away as easily as killing another guard in a video game. While it was the eight-year-old today, tomorrow will be my seventeen-year-old brother, then my four-year-old sister, and finally
the eldest.

I’ll fight back though and make it worse for everyone. She’ll tell my siblings that it’s my fault she’s angry. That I made her violent by telling her to stop. I’ll defend my siblings as best as a nineteen-year-old can, because I want her to feel our pain, feel my pain, then understand me, maybe just for once.

During this moment I remember my littlest sister asking me what movie we should watch. She carried a tiny backpack filled with cartoon movies about loving families: fathers that would travel the ocean to save their child, mothers who would do anything to protect their children. The little one spread the movies out, placing them gently across the bed while my mom continued her rampage.

“If half you kids wouldn’t grab my shit!” she screeched with a voice that would pierce anyone’s ears. How did we get on the subject of her belongings? I thought to myself, before the four-year-old distracted me.

She jumped in front of me with excitement, “Now we can watch it then! Are you done playing it?” she asked, turning her head cutely while she held a Disney movie in her arms. I nodded, turning off my game, “Mhm.”

“Now we can watch these stuff!”

I watched my mother stomp away from my other sister, beelining for her bedroom, our location.

“Yeah… we should uhm… probably,” I stumbled over my words as my mother leaned
over behind us to grab her pack of cigarettes, which turned out empty.

“You smoked my last cigarette you son of a bitch!” she screamed to the air.

Maybe she thought my stepdad would hear her from work, maybe she thought the wind would carry her anger to him and let him know.

“You smoked my last cigarette you selfish asshole.”

I look back on how normal this whole sequence was, how normal it was for all of us. The screaming became background noise to those of us who weren’t at the end of it. The same way a
song becomes lost in empty space.

In college I processed these events. The entire thing was fucked, and I felt torn between
normalcy and safety. I kept listening to a song over and over called “Howlin’ 404” by DEAN.

Howlin’ felt like yellin’ and as it brought me into the moment, I sat in my English 205 class thinking to myself, everything I wanted to say to my mother to make her understand what she
was doing, but the song did it for me:

“I can’t help but say it’s over.”

I’m tired of your yelling, if you won’t love me then keep going, because I’m used to it.

“If you won’t hold me, hurt me more, more. Lost in desire, desire. If you won’t hold me, kill me more, more.”

I’ve lost hope in you mother, as you howl at me, even when you apologize and promise
me it won’t happen again.

“See broken promises, and I know this is what you put me through. Unwelcome guest brings me back to guilts again with no words. So screwed up.”

I listened to DEAN’s lyrics, thinking to myself how guilty my mother made me feel for
her actions and her yelling. She tells us that we make her yell, because we don’t listen. It’s so
screwed up and now I realize how wrong it is.

The yelling is our unwelcomed guest who must move out, but will she be the one to do it? Or will I fight against her again and push myself away as time moves forward? I’m growing and as I am, I’m learning how my life of howlin’ and yellin’ were not okay.

Today I never yell. It burns my throat when I do, and no one around me ever does either, so when I go home I feel how weird it is as I observe my sibling’s calm reactions to her rampages.

Sometimes, when she yells at me, it hurts more knowing how wrong it is, but I don’t
think she will change. I, however, will never yell.

As DEAN finishes his song, the music slows down, calming my thoughts on this
moment, and he whispers to me, the same way I would whisper to my mother, “You’re killing
me softly.”