The Cedarville Review 2021

accept his increasingly coarse responses to my statements. To realize that his parents had him honestly believing he should overlook their past abuse. To fully understand that he would protect them at any cost. That though they’d actually been the ones to break his trust, he thought I was the one doing so. That I was the person breaking up his family, tearing it apart, when it had been his parents. That he believed I was failing him. And the sickness cramping my stomach told me I was failing him, betraying him. Attempting to break his family, cruelly attacking them for something that had long ago ended. That had been resolved, moved on from. And the knowledge that he would lie straight to the police should they actually contact him—the realization that my doing the right thing was ultimately purposeless, made it feel more useless than I can even begin to explain. His words from earlier, on repeat in my head, competition for thoughts of Can I really make this call? and, How can I not?, telling me that even if I were to make the call, it wouldn’t matter. He’d deny it all. His sisters would deny it all. That it was pointless from the start. Why jeopardize our relationship any more than it has to be at this point? He’s right, he’s not going to do anything, not going to make any accusations against them. There’s no point. I’ll only be causing absolute division between us. I had to force myself to count out my breaths, force myself to count 1,2,3 as I exhaled. Remind myself that not only was I legally obligated to report his parents, but also it was the right thing to do. If I truly loved him, more than I loved the comfort of peace in our relationship, I’d do this. I’d fight for him when he couldn’t fight for himself. I’d show him he was worth it. But the knowledge that he didn’t want this reported, that he’d never reported it when his sisters were being abused—it wouldn’t seem like love to him. We’d be over the moment I made the call. It was something he wouldn’t be able to forgive. This was breaking trust. This was destroying us. This was more than adding kindling to the flames, this was throwing dynamite in the fireplace. He would never forgive me for this, and how could I blame him? Living his life in utter terror that someone would discover what his parents did to him, yet terrified no one would ever find out—the way those fears balanced on a cliff ledge, keeping steady so that neither actually tumbled him down into an abyss. Living with the reality that those who should have first loved him didn’t, that those who should have protected him—they didn’t see him as worthy. And the fact that people had turned blind eyes, that his teachers hadn’t noticed, that his aunts and uncles never questioned his safety after he received injury after injury—protection and justice hadn’t existed for him. And I couldn’t change any of that. Couldn’t change his past, couldn’t make him believe he was worthy of my protection, as little and as late as it now was. My phone rang again, hesitation pulling at me as I saw his number flash across the screen. “Eli, I’m sorry.” I choked out. “I don’t know what to do.” My sobs filled the silence of my living room.