I wrote this very personal post at the end of 2015.
Once upon a time there was a little girl, an only child, who lived on a quiet, lonely road. Her room was on the second floor of an old house with a window that overlooked a pond. Her mother was more worried about the placement of the furniture in the room than preserving the view, so a large wardrobe blocked the window onto the pond. It also blocked the morning sun and kept the room darker than it would’ve been otherwise.
The girl liked to dream, to make up stories in her head. She invented an imaginary twin brother named Jamie. Jamie always came with her to the creek that ran through the property and the two of them had great adventures there. They pretended to be giants stomping around a mighty river. The little girl would pretend to be caught in the current and cry out to Jamie to come rescue her. When she came back to the house wet and muddy, her mother would frown and scold her for not acting like a lady.
The little girl was afraid of the dark. Having a vivid imagination, she pictured all sorts of monsters and demons lurking there. She had a lot of trouble sleeping and stayed awake listening to the creaks and groans of the old house. Sometimes she would try to crawl in next to her parents in the middle of the night but she was always sent back to bed with an eye rolling reassurance that there was nothing under the bed or in the closet.
When she did fall asleep, she had nightmares. She dreamt of plane crashes, floods and the house catching fire. She dreamt that bad men would break in and kidnap her and hold her for ransom. She worried that maybe her parents wouldn’t pay. She pretended Jamie was in the bed next to her and she would hug her pillow like it was him. In the mornings, she would sometimes awaken on the floor.
Evening meals were spent in clipped conversation or in tense silence. The little girl was so nervous she couldn’t eat her supper. That only made her mother more angry. She told her that she ruined every family dinner they’d ever had. Sometimes the little girl would leave the table and go throw up what little food she had managed to choke down.
Despite all of that, the little girl was bright and did well in school. When she learned to read, she read well above her grade level. She won the spelling bee when she was in the 4th grade, finally making her mother proud. Her teachers encouraged her to read and gave her lists of books for the summer vacation. Reading helped her escape. At last it was something her mother approved of. She wouldn’t be scolded for curling up with a book the way she had been for catching tadpoles and getting all dirty.
She had to wear glasses now. Her mother made her wear curlers to bed because she didn’t like her straight hair. The curlers were uncomfortable and made her problems sleeping even worse. All the other girls in school wore their long hair straight and smooth but her mother said her hair wasn’t shiny and thick enough to wear that way. Her mother said she was too skinny and pale. She’d rouge her cheeks with her own makeup to bring a little color to the girl’s features. Her mother would sigh and shake her head. The girl would feel ashamed.
Her grandmother bought her a diary, the kind with a little lock and key. Even with it locked, she kept the diary hidden so her mother wouldn’t find it. The girl started to write things down. How she wished she was a princess in a castle one day and an astronaut on the moon the next. How she wished Jamie was real. How she didn’t think she was pretty. How she worried she would never fall in love because no one would ever want her. She worried that she’d never be happy.
The girl sought solace in books and music. She poured out her frustrations in poetry. She went away to college and drowned her sorrows in booze. She made friends. Men actually found her attractive. One of them told her she was beautiful. She didn’t believe him, couldn’t believe him. She pushed him away. She broke his heart.
It took the girl a long time to realize she was more than her mother’s disappointment. Eventually, though, she understood. The girl’s mother never wanted the girl to outshine her, to be smarter or prettier or more successful. She was only ever proud of the girl when she could somehow take credit for the thing she was good at. She really didn’t want her daughter to be happy. She wanted her daughter to make her look good.
Understanding makes her angry. But the hot anger feels better than the cold pain. The anger is fuel. Fuel for her writing and she is on fire.