Welcome to my first blog post. I titled my blog To The Journey because I believe we all walk our life’s path and learn from every experience—good and bad. And I am also a huge Star Trek Voyager fan and in the finale episode these words are used in a toast. I’ll be posting about writing, life, books, experiences…really anything. I plan on posting a couple of times each month. Please feel free to comment or ask questions because, as I state below, my life is an open book. So, on with the blog!
Today, I like to say my life is an open book: nothing to hide, but I wasn’t always like this. I spent years trying to hide from the world. But no matter how hard you try to shroud yourself in secrecy, bits and pieces spill through.
The first time I understood this I was in fourth grade, although to be perfectly honest I don’t think the full reality of what I learned hit me until I was somewhat older.
What does a fourth grader have to hide? For me it was everything. I felt ugly and awkward and that year the school was discussing whether to have me skip a grade, which was basically like placing a huge target sign on my back announcing to all that I was a geek. Not that my Annie glasses didn’t already do a great job of that already. I was constantly scared and just wanted to blend into the scenery and let others pass by without so much as a glance my way. Well, most people. I loved my teacher, Mrs. Robertson.
School was a bit of a dichotomy for me. I worked hard on my assignments and genuinely loved learning, but I was a child full of anxiety and sadness. I had a couple of friends, so I wasn’t completely alone, but I felt alone. A child’s perception can be distorted and as I look back now, I know that many of the things I feared at school were more in my mind than anything. Yet somehow, I knew from a young age that I had to hide certain things from people around me.
The fear amped up when I rode the bus home. What should I say? How should I act? What if he’s in a bad mood? Evenings were unpredictable at home, but reading offered me a chance to escape and live out amazing adventures in relative safety. So when Mrs. Robertson told the class we were going to publish a book, I was over the moon. I’d been writing stories for my dolls for as long as I remember. Now, this was the early 1980s and her version of “publishing” included staples and creating a cover out of fabric, but it was still thrilling.
The assignment was to write a short story about an object that meant something to you—a baseball, a picture, anything that you “treasured”. My mind immediately went to my doll, Pollyanna. My grandmother had given her to me the previous Christmas and she’d saved it from the 1950s to give to a granddaughter someday. I slept with her every night, or at least I had until recently, when I’d hidden her in my closet.
This assignment put me in a predicament. Removing her could mean I lost her. What if I forgot to put her back? What if she caught fire and I couldn’t rescue her?
You’re shaking your head, not understanding. I totally get that. Let me give you a little background.
My father was a brilliant man. Brilliant. He was an aerospace engineer and created amazing things across the globe-there was no doubt about it. He was brilliant, charming, and very religious. So religious, he found it necessary to quote the Bible as he beat the crap out of my mother in the middle of the night—usually after he’d arrived home from the bar.
Once he’d finished with my mother, he’d always make himself fried eggs and bacon. Our house always smelled like fried eggs and bacon. But in his drunken state, my brilliant father never remembered to shut off the stove. Never. If my mother was so beaten that she couldn’t turn it off, I would try to sneak out and do it, but I was petrified of being caught. My dad was violent and terrifying.
Okay, let me answer your obvious question. Why weren’t the police called? They were. In fact, they visited often. But in the late 70s and early 80s, each visit to our home brought about only one of three outcomes. Either they made sure he was passed out before they left, asked him to stay somewhere else for the night, or helped us pack to go to my grandparents for the night. The domestic abuse laws were woefully inadequate back then.
But I am getting off point, which is that I lived in fear of fire at that time. The knowledge of all that bacon grease sitting atop a stove that was still on filled me with a paralyzing fear. When a small grease fire started a month or so before this assignment, I had pulled out my favorite pink gingham pillowcase from the linen closet and filled it with all my favorite worldly possessions: Pollyanna, my stuffed dog Le Mutt (look him up, very popular in my day), my parrot t-shirt, my swimsuit, books that were important to me, and a birthday necklace. I hid it in my closet, which was just next to my window, sure that if a fire happened I could escape with my pillowcase.
I’d stopped taking Pollyanna and Le Mutt to bed once I packed them away in the closet, but that night I pulled out Pollyanna so I could write about her. I honestly don’t remember what I wrote that night, but I do remember not being able to sleep because I was too worried she would burn up, because once I took her out of the pillowcase, I didn’t want to let her go.
Over the next week we worked on our stories and then Mrs. Robertson had us illustrate several pages using colored pencils. The final touch was gluing the fabric to cardboard and attaching it to the book, creating a hardcover.
So, what did the little girl that spent most of her life hiding her reality from others call her book? Packed in a Pink Pillowcase. And what was the story about? How important it was to keep my doll safe from fire.
Yeah. Without even understanding it at the time, I had told my school about my dad. Meetings were held. Mom cried. I ended up in therapy. Twelve years of therapy to be exact. But my mom did find the courage to leave him not long after that.
I learned three things from this experience that I am pretty sure were not supposed to be part of the assignment.
First of all, no matter how hard you try, without even knowing it you give those close to you a snapshot into your heart and mind. You can’t hide the truth from those that love you.
Secondly, admitting the truth gave me courage. It eventually set me free from the daily fear and anxiety, although anxiety still rears its ugly head.
And third, I realized that writers can’t help but put part of themselves into a story. It’s just what we do, whether we intend to or not.
My mom tells me it was one of the things that really nudged her in the direction to start leaving him and, while she says she is proud of me, it’s really me that’s so very proud of her. She came out of the shadows of seclusion and our family stepped into the truth. It was blinding and scary and full of unanswered questions, but in the end it was what I needed. What we all needed.
I don’t write this to vilify my father or to seek sympathy. Rather, I choose to not hide or be ashamed of the experiences that made me who I am today. I learned not only is it almost impossible to keep secrets, there are times you shouldn’t keep secrets. I live my life as an open book now because I never want to hide again or feel ashamed of who I am or the journey I have traveled in my life.
Now, that being said, there is nothing wrong with keeping a few things to yourself. For instance, the possibility that I made chocolate mint brownies the other day and ended up eating half (code for all) is not something I would necessarily share. Purely hypothetical, of course.
Sarah Hadley Brook reserves her evenings for her hobby-turned-passion of writing, letting the characters she conjures up in her mind take the lead and show her where the story will go. She dreams of traveling to Scotland some day and visiting the places her ancestors lived. Sarah believes in “Happily Ever After” and strives to ensure her characters find their own happiness in love and life.
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