So it’s time to share some of my memoir. I can’t believe how hard this is after ten years of working on this project and having written the rough draft over a year ago. But it is. But I also believe that stories can heal. I know that writing helped me heal. And it is my hope that my story will encourage other girls and women to voice their stories and heal from their past too.
I have begun the process of submitting it to publishing houses and agents. One thing that I am learning is in the changing landscape of publishing I need to build a strong platform. So I’m pouring the concrete here and inviting you all to carve your initials in before it dries. You can support this project by recommending it your friends, following me on Twitter and liking my Facebook page. Thank you so much!
*In my memoir I have made my best attempt at telling my story as I remember. Much of it includes my emotional landscape and subjective experiences as I processed traumatic events. In some instances I have changed names to protect people’s privacy and merged time to honor the structure of a story arch. I researched the land in many places in order to describe some scenery more accurately. The music I have added to the text was popular around the time the events occurred and it reminds me most of those moments now.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent
about things that matter.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr
In the beginning darkness covers everything.
Not light, but sound first breaks the void—Shhh. Leave it alone.
There is a voice crying in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”
If all are silent rocks will cry,
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”
Rocks that sit at the edge of the cliff,
Rocks that kiss the great abyss,
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”
Rocks that live in the pit of my stomach?
Be Quiet. Leave it alone.
Silent night, holy night,
The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.
Shut up and leave it alone!
In the beginning darkness covers everything.
Until I speak,
There is light.
THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL
“The great tragedy in our lives is often the ground from which a good life can be built.”
-Dr. Rachael Naomi Rennen
Yellow corn stalks line the horizon ready for harvest.
In the Northeastern corner of Arkansas just beyond the Ozarks, flowers turn outside my bedroom window. The dandelion weeds, the Queen Anne’s lace. In the month of August of 1989, around the time of year when the Mother of God annually falls asleep, I receive a call.
“Jessica! It’s for you,” my mother hands me the phone. “It’s Christian.”
“I’ll take it in my bedroom,” I run down the hall and lock the door. I have just turned fourteen. I am still all arms and legs and the tallest girl in my class. My hair is streaked with blonde and my olive skin glows from summer sun. I hate myself. I cannot clearly see who I am.
You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart and soul of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
“Hey! What’s up?” his voice sounds deep and sexy. He’s sixteen or seventeen—I can’t remember. He’s one of the first guys in my life to pay me any attention. He makes me believe I am more than just a giant nerd.
“Nothing,” I giggle. “Just helping mom unpack another box—my life is soooo exciting.” I’m the new girl in the small town of Blytheville, Arkansas. With the southern accent it is actually pronounced Blah-ville.
“Tell me how a beautiful girl like you just shows up in my world one day?”
My heart pounds. He thinks I’m beautiful? What the heck? No one has ever called me that before. Nerd, prude, dork—that’s what people call me—not beautiful.
“You know, when you talk about me, it doesn’t really sound like me,” I say.
“So tell me all about the real you,” I can hear him smiling. I wrap the curly mauve telephone wire around my index finger and think it over. Obviously he has figured out how to be popular. Everyone loves Christian. Even my parents. My mother entrusted us into his care the first day we showed up at the Youth Center on base. He works there. I guess he’s like a Youth Leader or something. He has the keys to a world I want to be inside of. The one thing I want in life is to belong—not on the fringes, not in the shadows, but in the center, near the sun and the bright smiles of my peers. I want to be protected from the people who make fun of me. I want to become a whole new person, one that is likable, even lovable. My fantasy is that Christian will take me under his wings and shelter me from any further assaults, train me in the ways of cool. Me, his little Padawon.
“Okay, Christian, but you have to promise not to tell anyone. I meant it, NO ONE.”
“Jessie, I will never tell a soul your secret. What you tell me tonight will be our secret. I promise.”
He is so good at making me feel comfortable. How can I resist? “Okay,” I swallow down the lump in my throat. My hands begin to sweat. Will he still like me when I tell him who I really am?
Here goes. “Christian, I’ve never been popular.”
“What do you mean?” He chuckles, “You’re so beautiful. I can’t imagine that.”
“I used to wear glasses.”
“No, these huge blue glasses that covered up half my face. I just got contacts last year.”
“You think a pair of glasses could hide those big blue eyes from the world? They’re so pretty. I love your eyes.”
I can’t stop the smile from spreading across my face.
“And I wear generic shoes.”
“So what?! You are probably the hottest girl in the world with your big blue glasses and generic shoes!”
“Shut up!” I laugh. “Everyone used to make fun of me.”
Christian is silent. The phone keeps sliding through my hand. I press the number pad closer to my cheek and wait for all of eternity to hear his reply. Finally his voice breaks through the void as if he is commanding an answer from the dead, “Who made fun of you, Jessie?” The question echoes across a black universe of pain.
“Lots of people…my whole life,” I whisper, suddenly finding it difficult to talk.
“Oh, Jessie…how could anyone be mean to you?”
“I dunno,” I try to hold back the child-like sobs, but the force is too strong and the dam breaks anyway.
“I’ve just never figured out why I don’t fit in! I think it has something to do with my parents’ religion!” Snot falls out of my nose and drips off my chin.
“Jessie, shhhhhh, don’t cry. Try to calm down, okay? I don’t like hearing you so upset when I can’t be there to give you a hug. Is your bedroom door closed?”
“Good. You don’t want your parents to hear you.”
“Jessie, you know I care about you, right?”
Relieved, I croak out, “Yeah…”
I can hardly believe it. Suddenly, my soul swells with hope. It’s a new feeling.
Maybe everything will finally be all right. I will learn the ways of Christian Roberts. He will take care of me. I breathe deeply, into something I have never known, like I have come home to a place that has never been mine.
“I can help you. Do you believe me?”
“All we have to do is initiate you,” says Christian.
“Initiate?” I ask. “What’s that?”
“Jessie, do you know what sex is?”
“Yes,” I blush. “It’s something married people do.”
Christian laughs. “Is that what your parents told you?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Well, there’s your problem!” he says. “All the popular people have sex together.”
“They do?” I say, truly amazed.
“Yes! Even friends have sex with each other. You don’t have to be boyfriend and girlfriend or anything—or even in love to do it.”
“Yes! Don’t you watch TV or read magazines?”
“Yes, well, kind of…” Actually not much. I live a pretty secluded life.
“Everyone has sex, Jessie, it’s what human beings do.”
I think of Madonna steaming up the TV with her hot music videos. I think of all the sexy girls sprawled out on the covers of magazines with their half open eyes and parted glossy lips. Suddenly the veil is torn in two. Of course they do, I think. How could I not see it before? This must be the missing piece of my life. Sex is the secret to connecting with others and making friends and being popular—which is sinful—which is why my parents don’t want me to know about it! Oh! I feel so silly. All this time everyone has been sneaking off and having sex together and I’ve had no idea! How naïve I have been!
“Tomorrow,” he says. “We initiate you tomorrow.”
I remember the warmth that appears between my legs and rises into my heart exploding like a million butterflies inside of me. This is what I want. All those butterflies in my chest. Someone to hold me and love me. And maybe this is my part in the crime: I am naïve and curious about sex without knowing how dangerous a woman’s sexuality or curiosity can possibly be. My mouth turns dry. My body begins to tremble. “You’ll finally belong,” I tell myself. “It will be okay.” But something inside of me knows otherwise.
For years I turn to boys and men to save me from myself. This is the awful start to it all. Or maybe it isn’t the start. Maybe it begins when I am five, when God enchants me and pulls me into his dark world. Or maybe it goes further back, deep into the annals of history, towards theologies of original sin, dichotomies of flesh and spirit, and ancient fears of women and what they know in their bones.
Religions centered on the worship of a male God create “moods” and “motivations” that keep women in a state of psychological dependence on men and male authority, while at the same time legitimating the political and social authority of fathers and sons in the institutions of society.
-Carol P. Christ
“Are you sure you want to stay home?” My aunt Mary Kay, my mother’s youngest sister sits on our couch drinking coffee with her wet white-blonde hair smelling fresh. She’s just ten years older than me and I think she’s cool. But hanging with my family is definitely not.
I roll my eyes. “If it was just me and you,” I smile. “Besides I’ve got plans,” I say. I convince my parents that it’s more important for me to stay in town and make friends today.
The doorbell rings around 10 a.m. Christian stands in the doorway, the light behind him makes him glow, like he is Jesus, come here to save me. His broad chest fills out his white t-shirt and his cologne snakes through the air and makes my heart pound. I hope my parents don’t sniff us out. His wavy red hair feathers back, his fair freckled skin is clear, his teeth are perfectly straight. He shows them off with an easy smile. A black belt wraps around his waist, holding tight his tapered stonewashed jeans.
“Hi,” I say as my heart melts like warm butter.
“Well, hi,” he laughs and makes small talk with my parents. I look past him; afraid I might stare too long. Watch the dandelions dodder in the dry grass behind him. I pluck one from the ground on the way to his car.
“Have a good time!” My mother and father stand on the threshold of home and world and wave goodbye.
Christian puts his hand on my shoulder and directs me to his old black mustang. I pretend that I am more woman than child. I smile and throw my head back like the beautiful girls on TV. He turns up the radio and Don Henley sings, I know a place where we can go that’s still untouched by men. We’ll sit and watch the clouds roll by and the tall grass wave in the wind. You can lay your head back on the ground and let your hair fall all around me offer up your best defense, but this is the end, this is the end of the innocence.
We race down Chickasawba, the old road named after an Indian Chief who is remembered for offering honey to all who crossed his path. This road connects Blytheville to Gosnell and our pain to our balm. As the cotton and the soy beans sway, as each of us looks to the horizon dreaming of the hope we’ll find when we get there.
“Dammit!” Christian bangs his hand on the steering wheel.
“What’s wrong?” I hide my alarm and try to be nice and sweet. That’s what boys like.
“I forgot to tell you, I promised to pick up a few of my friends soon. You won’t mind if they come and watch will you?”
“Um…” I didn’t know what to say, but I start to have an awful feeling in the pit in my stomach. I press the yellow flower into my arm so it bleeds on my skin.
“Actually, in any sort of initiation there has to be witnesses,” he adds.
“But I thought it was just going to be me and you.”
“Jessie, you want to be popular, don’t you?”
“So, you won’t mind if my friends join us will you?” His tone grows harsh and forceful. I know how to fight with my parents. I have no idea how to fight with someone older and cooler than me.
I look at the yellow streaks on my arm and try to ignore my feelings. I am so close to the dream I have always wanted. I know it won’t come easily. There are sacrifices involved in life. Christianity has taught me that much.
When the drought comes, the Native Americans ask De Soto to pray to his God and give them rain. They admire his shiny armor and his advanced weaponry. They bring two blind men to De Soto and ask him to heal them. Agreeing, De Soto builds a fifty foot cross and places it on top of the peoples’ holy hill—maybe it was the Chickasawba mound, the one discovered between Gosnell and Blytheville. And like that the natives surrender their sacred religion to a stranger who possesses more material power.
“Like who?” I ask finally.
“Like Matt, you’ve met him before. The skater with the long dark hair.”
Yeah, I remember meeting Matt. He did seem like a pretty cool guy. And I do have a thing for skaters, especially the one’s that have flops—that long hair that covers up one eye—so mysterious. But I just want to be with Christian for now. Maybe initiations aren’t for being romantic. Maybe that comes after.
“I guess,” I fall back into the seat and let the familiar haze fill my head. I zone out and follow orders. He turns up the radio, My head is full of magic baby and I can share this with you…I’m alive, oh, oh, so alive.
~ ~ ~