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Celebrating the forthcoming release of the new book, The Storyteller, today is Day One of the Giveaway! Each day for ten days, I will post a question and response from the book’s Discussion Guide . Anyone who posts a response with h/her thoughts either on WordPress or Facebook will be automatically entered to win a copy of the book when it is released! I will give away 3 copies.

Day One’s question:

If Tully hadn’t been with her, do you think Daphne would have survived? Do you think she’d have been the same person, if she had survived?  Why or why not?

From the Discussion Guide

Other words: can we survive as islands? To answer this, I have to give a bit of background. Tully is the black-and-white mutt that grows up with Daphne. But the dog does more than that for her. Dusty’s schizophrenic paranoia and his hallucinations convince him Daphne is a danger to him, so he must keep her contained. He chains her to a tree first, but then decides she can’t stay outside because too many spirits are outside and there’s a greater chance of evil getting in her. So he builds a box. When Daphne is locked into a box the size of a coffin, panic. The below excerpt shows the first time she’s placed into the box.

It was a box.

A tanned box, long, taller than she.

“Get in.”

Daphne didn’t move, but every limb started shaking.  Daddy shoved her forward. “Get into the damn box, halfwit!”

Teeth chattering, she tried to run.  Daddy’s grip on her arm stopped her and yanked her back around. He pulled until her feet shuffled toward the box. She dropped her knees and went to the ground, trying to pull backward; she flailed her arms, using her hand to helplessly pry at his fingers, trying to get them off her skin, trying to get him to free her.

If she could speak, maybe he’d let her go. She tried. She opened her mouth, willing herself to speak. No sound came out. Daddy became angrier the longer fought. “I’ll strap you in there, you hear me? You either get in yourself, or I’ll strap you in.”

The tears rolled uncontrolled down her face until she gagged and coughed, unable to breathe for the saltiness. Every limb, her arms, hands, feet, and legs, shook. Her heart trembled. Mama went into the box.  Mama went into the ground.

She lowered herself to the ground, squeezing her eyes shut, trying to block out the sight of Daddy standing above her, watching. 

“I’ll get you food in a while. I ain’t going to let no halfwit retard kill me.”

Then a brown lid lowered over her, blocking out the light. When the lid closed, she heard metal against metal as Daddy locked it. She used her tiny fists to punch the top of the lid; she kicked her legs, trying to roll over, trying to curl up, trying to sit. She couldn’t. Her face was inches from the top of the box. Was there enough air in here to breathe? The sound of paws patting the box made her stop breathing. Tully. He whined; she heard him lay beside the box. Daphne’s tears faltered; she pretended he could hear the thoughts in her head. She listened to Tully panting for hours.

Understandably, Tully’s presence absolutely provided comfort. The question, then, for the day asks, “Would Daphne have survived without a friend?” Would she have survived completely alone with no other living soul aware of her existence or her plight? For me, the short answer is yes.

Recognizing that abuse is daily life many children reminds me of how vast the dynamics of abuse, and survivors, are. According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, 28% of youth ages 12-17 in the United States have been sexually assaulted. There are many children who undergo sexual abuse without anyone ever knowing, and there are many who go through abuse with no support. Abuse is a paradox. On the one hand, 1/3 little girls and 1/5 little boys go through sexual abuse, so we are not alone. There are others who understand what it is like to be violated, to be held down and raped while thoughts of dying, rational or irrational, flood your brain. On the other hand, no two stories are exactly the same. The nuances of the relationship between the survivor and the abuser are complicated and vary from person to person. The circumstances of life differ, too, and each survivor has h/his own set of strengths, and weaknesses, that influence how they adapt, and survive the abuse. There are a million ways abuse impacts a person, and a million ways a person can respond to that abuse. Consequently, even though it’s a shared pain, it’s also an isolating pain. To suggest that a survivor had to have any one thing in order to survive fails to acknowledge that surviving abuse requires not just one part of a person but the whole of the person.

As for me, my saving grace was writing. I literally forgot the world while writing. My characters made the pain seem far away. Before I started writing, characters from the books I read– The Secret Garden, Bridge to Terabitha, The Baby Sitters Club Series — these characters’ stories erased my reality, and kept me believing that good triumphs evil, and that tomorrow will come. I remember the heaviness that held me down, his physical weight. I remember feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath; I remember walking with my legs closed so I wouldn’t bleed. Alongside these heartbreaking memories, though, existed magical relationships and characters whose stories I needed to finish writing or reading. This was a tangible source of inspiration and strength to me, and I cannot imagine what I would have done without storytelling. The thought of a world without books and writing makes me panic.

But I could have survived without stories.

Generally, the real question is not, can you survive alone; the real question is can we thrive? This question is harder to answer. People, by nature, are relational creatures. Even Henry David Thoreau, who valued isolation and quiet, said that occasional human contact was important. People help us see different perspectives, which can be vitally important to the emotional well-being of abuse survivors. People can also motivate and encourage us; seeing others can remind us that tomorrow can be a brighter day than today. Believing you are loved — really believing that — can give you strength and inspiration to do really hard things. For me, love for another person (my daughters) convinced me to break my silence. So, while everyone is different, and everyone needs different amounts of social interaction, I truly believe that having others can help us reach a greater level of peace and happiness than we can achieve alone.

Essentially, Tully gave Daphne a reason to walk out of the gulley. Later in the book, she leaves the gulley a second time not because of Tully but because of hunger. Tully’s presence inspires action…but so does her instinct to survive for no one but herself. Survivors are survivors because they choose life, every day, even when the odds are against them, even when they are faced with mind-numbing pain. Daphne survived not because Tully stayed beside her, but because she is a survivor.

What do you think – do we have to have people to survive?