My haven was my closet. When Manuelo's drug-filled veins and bloodshot eyes met my gaze, I disappeared into an unknown realm – a place where I knew I was concealed. Although it was dimly lit from the cracked window across my room and smelled like moth balls, it was heaven to me. My closet had saved me from beatings and unwanted comments about my appearance; it had comforted me in my darkest, tear-drenched moments. My blood-stained clothing pile in the back of my closet hid me from the raging monster who branded me. It was the one place that felt like home. I've never known such security until the day I came undone in the priest's arms. That was the last time I returned to that little hell.

Everything seemed to slowly die within years, days, and minutes. Everything I've once known as beautiful has quickly withered away. My mami, Maria, who was once a loving woman, picked up the bottle and declared it her true love. I've even heard her singing lullabies to her bottle of Jack, or as she liked to call it "Jacky D." I have heard her through the cracks in the wall, telling it "Shh, shh, Mami is here. No need to cry, Jacky." Moments like those reminded me of days where she used to wipe my tears away and rub my back when I was scared. From time to time, I let out silent tears that could fill swimming pools. Where did I go wrong? Why did she love Jacky D. more? It all started when Dad left. Better yet, when Manuelo left – he was never really that much of a father.

Manuelo was the type of man that would rip my hair by the ponytail when I spoke without permission. He'd punch me straight in the mouth when I gave him the wrong answer. He was the type of man who would push me down the stairs when things didn't go his way. Sure, he would beat me after he would shoot up. He would call me names like puta and basura, but I quickly learned to block those names out. Instead, I'd find reasons to stay at school late. I must have joined five different clubs. I did anything to get away from Manuelo.

Going to school was another battle. I didn't want to be noticed. I wore long sleeves and pants to cover any evidence left on my body. I made sure my hair was parted a certain way so no one would see my bald spots. I even applied pounds of makeup to create an illusion of beauty. I was ashamed of myself because every scar showed Manuelo's victory.

One time when I was washing my hands in the bathroom, another girl saw deep purple bruises wrapped tightly around my wrists. Her face turned a shade of white as her jaw dropped in horror. I pulled down my sleeves as quickly as I could with wet hands.

"I fell yesterday walking home."

Silence filled the dimly lit bathroom. It was such a terrible lie. She stared at me, and shockingly, she looked concerned. I didn't even know this girl. Why would she care about my well-being?

"Don't worry. I'm fine. I promise." I hope to God she believed me.

She walked out of the bathroom without saying a word.

For the rest of the school day, I couldn't help but picture the expression on her face. Is that how I looked when I was being hit? Even worse, was she going to tell anyone? How would I get myself out of this?

Luckily, I was never approached by any teachers or the principal. I'm glad she kept my secret. She couldn't have believed that lie, though. After that incident, I made sure to always conceal my skin. I wanted to be invisible.

Excruciating days like those made walking home feel like a death sentence. I knew exactly what would happen. I would walk through the front door, find Manuelo high off his ass, and barely make it to the stairs before he would push me to the floor and beat the living hell out of me. No mereces vivir. He made me believe those words, too.

Maybe I didn't deserve to live because I wasn't the daughter he wanted. Mami was alone for most of her pregnancy, anyway. Manuelo made up the most unbelievable excuses for his absence; the worst part was that she believed all of them. Who tells his wife he needs a "mental break" and runs off with several women to God knows where? Instead of arguing, she told him that it was fine. She knew he'd eventually come back. Maybe that's why he would beat me instead of Mami. She gave in to his shenanigans. I never learned to keep my big mouth shut.

Sixteen years passed by and there I was: fragile body, thin face, long straggly brown hair, and flat as a rail. I was a disgrace to Hispanic women everywhere. I wasn't a curvy, petite Latina lady like Mami. Instead, I was a six foot string bean who resembled a water color painting. Not the kind in an art museum, though; the kind a child smeared their dirty hands all over and dropped on the kitchen floor. I was the blotches of red and purple.

I stood in the middle of the living room showing all of my colors to Mami far too many times. She never believed me – not even once. There was plenty of evidence. Bruises hung like ornaments on my bones. I was missing patches of hair. I'd even complain about the horrid aches hidden within my body, but it was never enough for Mami to believe me. Instead, she would talk to Manuelo at nighttime while she thought I was asleep.

"Can you believe the nerve of Carina? I can't believe she would blame you for something like that."

"I know, I know. It doesn't make sense."

"Why would she do that to herself? Why would she harm herself for attention?"

"I honestly don't know, Maria. Just ignore it. She's only looking for someone to notice her. Don't give in to that negative attention."

I'd lie awake at night, sweating in the back room. I couldn't believe he convinced her that I wasn't a victim, but the offender. Who knew turning seventeen held so much heartbreak?

The most ironic part of it all was how Manuelo's name meant "God is with us." There was no sight of God in our house. God left me in the darkness with the spawn of Satan. I wanted God to give me a sign that there was some hope left within these walls, but he didn't. After Manuelo broke me, I would lie in bed and repeat the meaning of his name to myself. God is with us. God is with us. God is with us. I wasn't sure why I would do that, but it made me feel like someone was listening. Although I shared a home with the Devil, I felt like God was standing right outside of my front door.

That's when everything finally clicked.

One week later, I decided I was going to walk to the church three blocks away from my house. It was a Sunday morning, so I knew people would be there. Better yet, they held their service at 8:00 in the morning. I knew neither of them would be up until at least noon. Mami would be cuddling Jacky D. and Manuelo would be passed out sweating in the back room. I knew I could make it. I ran the whole way there.

The cold air gripped my lungs and my breathing became heavier as I tried to run in Mami's ugly-ass flats. She would have killed me if she found out I wore her favorite pair of shoes, or "formal shoes" as she liked to call them. She'd wear them to every special event she had to attend. I remembered on Mother's Day in fourth grade she came into the school cafeteria for the "Brunch with Mom" was the clanking of the huge buckles against her fuzzy shoes.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

Her shoes silenced a room full of boisterous children. I hated these shoes with a burning passion and yet I somehow managed to slip them on my feet effortlessly. I don't know what I hated more – the shoes rubbing against my ankles causing them to bleed, the stupid clicking noise they made, the fact that these shoes were a gift from Manuelo, or just how plain ugly they were. All of those factors made me want to run in my bare feet.

My old, thin skirt was dancing in the wind as I tried to keep it glued to my legs while sprinting. My feet were screaming in fiery pain. Even the old blouse I had on was scratching at my skin every time I moved my arms. I had to fight past these pains, though. If I went back home now, all hell would break loose. This was supposed to be my escape. Freedom was only three blocks away from my house.

As I breathlessly climbed the stairs to the grand entrance, I saw the priest standing right outside of the church's doors. He looked as if he was about to close them for mass.

"Excuse me! Excuse me!" I yelled while trying to catch my breath.

He glanced my way with a look of disbelief. At that moment, he knew something was terribly wrong.

"What's the matter, my child?"

He put his hands on my shoulders and clenched them tightly. It almost felt as if God himself was healing me. I couldn't help but cry. It felt as if all of the years of neglect and abuse were finally lifted off of my chest. I didn't have to hide anymore. My body became weak and I started hyperventilating like a child who lost her mami in a crowded amusement park. I collapsed into his chest.

Soon after, I lifted my skirt above my knees and revealed markings that resembled a dark night sky; a look of sorrow crept upon his wrinkly face. Collecting myself, I gently took my hair out of my ponytail and guided him from bald spot to scab. It felt as if all of my secrets and tears vanished into thin air. This time, I wasn't alone in my closet -- I had finally found someone who genuinely cared.

All of a sudden, warmth filled my body as he collected me in his arms.

"Don't worry. You're safe here," he said softly.

At last, I was home and was at peace with God. I was surrounded by God's love, yet I was less than a mile away from my own home. That was the day that my faith in God was restored.

"It's okay. God is with us," said the priest.

I repeated this familiar phrase. God is with us. God is with us. God is with us.

Alyssa Myers is currently a senior studying English with a focus in Writing. She chooses to hang out with her dogs Jazzy and Brutis over any humans and loves to play Mario Party on the Nintendo 64.