A Special Prayer
The book is about to be released, officially. Like, for real. The ugly negotiations with distributors, the back and forth on cover price, the endless nights writing, editing and drawing… it’s about done. Usually, at this point in the process, I’m rather excited. But, as You know, the book has been available at select outlets for a couple days now; I just haven’t announced it officially. Which is weird. Very, very weird. Usually, I can’t wait to share a new story; usually, all I do is wait with child-like giddiness for the first e-mail from the first reader to pop up in my inbox or Facebook newsfeed. Usually, I am happy right about now. And proud. And, have I mentioned happy?
Not so much right now.
Instead, I’m finding myself fighting tears every time I think of the book. I’ve tried to re-read it, and can’t. Taya’s no longer shadowing me. I haven’t felt her for days now. Her story’s been told, so she’s gone. I miss her. But not the same way I missed Ash or Michael or Jessie, Abrielle, Clayton, Alexi or any of the dozens of others. Taya’s absence makes my heart hurt; it makes me ache for a little girl who used to have my name and features. It makes me remember all that has been lost. Permanently. Forever, gone. Taya blocked feeling by cutting herself, by destroying her own body. Even today, “healed” as I am, I’m not all that different still. I block feeling by writing. Refuse to let anything other than optimism breach my walls. I might break down in tears in the bath but no one is ever going to see that. I’m sad because her story is mine and I am scared.
I could talk about The Character. I can talk about that part of it now. I can tell others what happened in that area now; I can hold conversations about it. I’m strong enough to do that now. It hurts, but it’s doable. I see it as a sign of growth. It’s a truth that needs to be shared; others are going through it right now, and it might help. Knowing I wasn’t alone and that it was not normal might have helped me. I can talk about the memory of being carried into another room, away from my sister who was sleeping beside me. I can talk about the physical pain; the memory of it tearing. You’ve gotten me through that storm into a place of peace. I don’t understand it and I still mourn for that little girl, but it’s a pain I know how to deal with.
Taya’s is my story too. I might not have attempted suicide… but I understand the thought. I was a foreigner in school too. Once, in the ninth grade, some girls wadded up a page of my book and threw it in the trash can; they also poured catsup on a sanitary pad, stuck it to the classroom television and told the teacher I did it; I know what being targeted at school feels like. I moved too. I was searched waiting to see a dad who told other inmates lies about me too. Violence was commonplace in my home too. I can tell you the difference in decor between Comfort Inn and Holiday Inn too; I pretended I was an Olympic swimmer also. I wrote Last Wills and Testaments out when I was eighteen and nineteen years old, almost nightly. See, I’ve got a handle on the physical pain. I’ve got a grip on what that is and how it changed my life. But I’ve only written one or two articles on the feelings it inspired in me as a teenager. I’ve never written about having a father in prison, not in any depth. I’ve not written about the bruises I inflicted upon myself, or why. I’ve never written about how scared I was because I didn’t feel things the way others seemed to. When others were happy, I smiled and acted happy. When others were sad, I cried without really feeling the sadness. I was numbed for years. Frankly, I still sometimes am. I still don’t know how to express sadness when I am in the presence of another human being. I cry when no one can hear the tears. Because, when it comes right down to it, I’m afraid I’m only serving a purpose if I’ve got something positive to say, or do. We invest in our friends; why would someone, anyone, invest in someone else who wasn’t happy?
I don’t know the answer to that question. So I make sure I have something to offer, something positive and worthwhile. I write about what happened to that little girl You made me once because other women (and men) were that little girl once too and they don’t have the words You’ve given me. I work hard to fill every day with optimism and resilience because it brings purpose. I can stand in front of a crowd and relive those terrible nights when I was five, seven, ten, those terrible nights when I felt the pain of being violated, but only because I believe truth connects us, draws us closer and helps support healing. I can tell anyone that there’s hope—because I’ve felt it. I can tell anyone that the memory of being torn can be overcome by a meaningful and strong enough hug–because I’ve felt it. I can tell anyone I understand the pain they’re in as a result of childhood sexual abuse–because I was that child.
But what am I supposed to say the first time someone asks me why choosing a life that hurts is better than choosing death?
I’m very proud of this book. Probably one of the most proud I’ve ever felt of a character. Taya totally encapsulates the vision of her that was with me for so long. She’s very strong—but she’s vulnerable too. I’m proud. And I’m thankful for the words that seemed to come so easily. But I’m also a little nervous. I’m excited about the chance to connect with others—You’ve given me a truly beautiful gift and, with it, the opportunity to really connect with others, to meet them where they are. I’m excited to hear others’ stories of survival and journey to hope. I’m excited to learn how others keep optimism alive in the face of such overwhelming evil. I’m humbled by the opportunity to realize, again, that I was never really alone; others have had it far worse than me. That knowledge that has always brought me hope, and comfort. Excited, humbled, proud… but also just a little scared and tired. Scared of trying to confront very personal battles I have not dealt with in front of an audience of any size and tired of seeing all the pain people face.
This book is in Your hands; be with it and with me as it goes forward. Guide my words, and my steps. May those for whom You could make it a blessing read it; let those for whom it could pain ignore it. It’s not about sales in my world, it’s about people and connecting with them and making a whole lot of hurt into something better. Remember when I was eight years old and I ran into the kitchen to tell Mama that I could write a book like the Baby Sitter’s Club too? I’d written “Sweet Shelby” when I was six, but I didn’t remember doing it. Mickey was the first book I remember writing and I was so excited. I thought, “I know I can do it!” I didn’t know what “it” was. I did not know it was what was going to get me through. I didn’t know it would introduce me to the women who said, “I wish I’d seen Ash too” before breaking into tears. I didn’t know it would make a woman I barely knew stop me in front of a vending machine to talk about it. I didn’t know I would be able to channel everything I was feeling into characters. I didn’t know it would be part of what kept me sane. I was just excited about being able to do something well; one of the only things I have ever been able to do well. I didn’t know that it was the tool by which You wanted me to heal, or the avenue by which You would guide me to speaking in public and at schools. I met and talked privately with two Holocaust survivors, one of whom survived the camps. There are no words for the awe-inspiring healing those experiences brought. I didn’t know writing would lead to any of that. But You did. Today, I called Barnes and Noble, asked if they had The Character. They did. Isn’t that something amazing? After that, I checked the sales stats; they made me cry. People I don’t even know are reading the books; people come to this blog from countries I have never even heard of, like Qatar and Mauritius (no kidding). What is hope, if not that? The healing that has followed has been amazing. I’ve learned that maybe all children are innocent—not just every child but me. I’ve learned that no matter how hard any one day is, a beautiful stranger could quite possibly change my life tomorrow.
And, for me, that’s the answer, isn’t it?
That’s why choosing life is better than death.
Because hope comes when we least expect it. Hope is about counting the small, easily overlooked blessings as often as we notice the daggers. It’s about putting more weight in the warm smiles and unexpected gifts we’re given than in the arrows that sometimes piece our hearts. This book, it might remind me that, as far as I’ve come, I’ve still got a long road to go. It might remind me of memories I’d rather forget. It might make me confront questions I don’t especially want to answer. But it also gives me a reason to go back to high school, so I might give Stackhouse his new book. It might scare me a little, because there’s more truth to this novel than I really want to acknowledge, but I trust You. Remember when I was very little and I laid in the dark, holding my palm up toward the sky, asking You to hold my hand? You always did. Every, single time. I would bask in the unexpected warmth that had settled over my palm and I would carefully lay my upturned, warm palm on my pillow, terrified that if I accidentally moved my hand during sleep, Your hand might slip out of mine. Except it never did. I’d wake up feeling secure still. And, while I might be a little unconventional, despite everything, I still believe in people. Because I know without doubt some of them truly care.
The book ends with the lyrics to a song.
“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Hide it under a bushel, NO! I’m going to let it shine, Hide it under a bushel, NO! I’m going to let it shine. Hide it under a bushel, NO! I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
I can keep the pain—that which I’ve conquered and/or that which I have not— to myself or I can let You take it and use it. You see further than I do, You know who might read this book and why, I don’t. I can keep it under a bushel, guard it and let it keep me in a tomb of fear all my life or I can share it and learn that maybe, just maybe, I can overcome this too. There was a time when the mere thought of anyone knowing I laid on a bed and let really bad things happen to me filled my entire core with shame and panic. Now, I feel the sadness for a little girl lost, but can stand in front of a crowd and say words I could never have said aloud ten years ago. The light has shone; friends have been made; healing has been felt; hope has been alive. So. I’ll take a deep breath and turn this part of my past over to You too: let the light shine.
Thank You for writing. Thank You for a supportive mother, sister and children. Thank You for the teachers and friends I’ve met along the way who have sewn hope so deep into my soul I can’t forget what it looks and feels like. Thank You for letting me dream like Cinderella and daughters that let me play. Thank You for songs that resonate in my head when I am hurting, and memories of things like horses, homeless angels, creeks and the smell of old books that have wrapped me up in warmth on nights when the past made me feel cold. Thank You for a church that feels like home, a city that beats in my heart and, most of all, thank You for allowing me to still care so deeply. Caring, you see, that has been the key. Caring enough to trust despite all logic screaming not to; caring enough to get up even, and maybe especially, when I want to hide instead; caring enough to see the homeless man’s smile; caring enough to notice a stranger was holding a door open for me…. maybe I don’t have anything to offer anyone. Maybe Taya’s right and my life doesn’t really matter. Maybe my worst fear will happen, and I’ll be totally forgotten. She said, “caring doesn’t matter”, Taya did. But she was wrong. If you stop caring, that’s when the sky turns dark and you’re in real danger. But as long as I care about others, there exists a reason to hope.
And so, very, very soon I’ll announce the official release of the book. Because I believe in writing and in all the truths my writing holds. Because I believe in strangers and in others. And because I believe in You.