(I giggle whenever I say that...I'm writing a story...it sounds so goofy, like I'm a writer or something...hee!)
The problem with this story writing thing is it gets away from me. I worry about everything - did I put too much detail? Not enough detail? Did I phrase this right? Did I phrase that wrong? What if it's stupid? What if nobody likes it? Is it too self-indulgent? What if it sucks? Oh, my gawd, it does suck.
I get so caught up in the detail of it that I get overwhelmed and...stop.
The problem, though, is that even though I'm not a writer, I have a story, and when I'm not writing it it's still there and I don't want it there all the time. Like that Anna Nalick song -
If I get it all down on paper, it's no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to...
And so I write it. Except when I stop. Which is where I am now. Stopped.
I've shared this piece of it before, in a more private place, but now I think I should share it here, where maybe somebody new (and the treasured not-so-new) can see it. So, here is the prologue of the story I'm writing.
When I was a young child, I had the faith of a young child. I never doubted my mother or my father and I accepted the way things were. I thought we were normal, that every family was exactly like mine.
When I was five and in Kindergarten, my teacher, a short, round woman with dark hair and glasses, questioned my black eye and the deep scratches on my forehead.
“My mom was mad at me,” I remember replying matter-of-factly.
“Why was she mad at you, honey?”
“She didn’t want me to eat dinner.”
“Did she hit you?”
“No, her friend hit me. He used the needle she puts in her arm sometimes, too. I thought he’d poke my eye, but he didn’t.”
I remember the way Mrs. Carson’s eyes widened as she gasped. For the life of me I couldn’t understand her reaction to what I’d said or why I had to sit in the principal’s office while the rest of my class colored with square crayons. The last place I wanted to be was sitting in front of that large desk, where pictures of smiling children and proud parents sat in shiny frames.
I didn’t go home after school that day. A woman carrying a bag decorated with brightly colored flowers and butterflies took me in her red car to a house sitting high on a hill and left me there with people I didn’t know.
It was the first inkling I had that something wasn’t quite right about my family.
After a few weeks passed I returned home and to Mrs. Carson’s Kindergarten class. Even though I never answered another question about my mother, the lady with the flower and butterfly bag came back for me again. And again…and still again, until the very sight of her car in front of the school caused panic attacks, even if she wasn’t there for me.
When I was six and in the first grade, my teacher was a tall bald man who never questioned my bruises until one day right before Christmas. On that day, I walked into school and tried not to notice his jaw as it dropped or his eyes as they enlarged. I’d expected his reaction…it was the same reaction I’d seen from everybody on the train on my way to school. He pulled me into the cloak hall and knelt on the floor in front of me.
“Lemony, sweetheart, what happened to your face?”
“I fell,” I replied.
“Are you lying?”
I knew he knew I was. “Yes.”
“What happened to your face?”
“I fell,” I said again, not able to tell him the truth, fearing a ride in a red car to a house high on a hill. “I fell, I fell, I fell!”
My teacher held my hand as he walked with me to the principal’s office and promised me everything would be okay. It was a promise I knew he couldn’t keep, but that did nothing to soothe my anger the next time I had to go to the principal’s office.
When the police raided our apartment at an inopportune moment for my mother, her screams of fury scared me so badly I hid in my closet. Nobody knew I was in the apartment, let alone hiding in a closet, and soon the apartment was quiet again. I was alone.
I remember thinking I should cry, or yell, or try to find somebody to help me but I did none of those things. My desire to stay hidden was stronger than my desire seek help. I found a string of glass beads and rolled them between my thumb and forefinger, methodical in my attention to each bead. Five strokes, skip a bead, five strokes, skip a bead.
When light started to glow at the crack under the door, I crept out of the closet and walked straight into the chest of a police officer.
“Your mom finally told us you were here,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Do I have to go back to the house on the hill?”
“You can’t stay here, honey.”
“Will I be able to stay with my mom?”
“Your mom won’t be able to come home for a while.”
In that moment I knew my family wasn’t like other families. We were not normal, and I suddenly understood something clearly…there was nobody but me. My mother was crazy; my father was absent. There was only me.
My mother spent two years in prison on drug possession, drug dealing, and prostitution charges. I spent the rest of my childhood searching in vain for a place to call home. I moved from foster home to obscure relative’s home back to foster home.
Nobody was quite sure what to do with me.
“…she unnerves me…” A woman overwhelmed by my refusal to cry.
“…she smirks all the time…” The woman’s husband, annoyed by my refusal to smile.
“…you’re a bastard and you’ll breed bastards just like your mother…” My grandmother.
I wore hand-me-down clothes and secondhand sneakers. I lived in homes so permissive I feared getting lost and in homes so disciplined I simply lived in fear. In the permissive homes I never knew what was expected of me. In the disciplined homes I never knew what was expected at all. The only thing that was the same no matter where I happened to be was my sense of being alone.
By the time I graduated high school I’d weathered a life that can only be described as a thunderstorm…loud, scary, and hard to predict with any kind of accuracy. Over the years I’d developed a set of simple rules to live by, the most important one being the one I’d learned when I was still only six years old – trust nobody.
When I took an internship during my one and only semester of college, the only things I expected to walk away with were job experience and the hope of future employment.
What I ended up walking away with instead was the rest of my life.