Lost and Found

Fallen limbs and pathless woods
no obstacle for a wild child
left to her own devices,
searching for a self.

Only with age, and sprouting
curves, did I learn to be afraid
of shadows, that the woods
equated with wolves and lurking

And that abandoned places
house evil – held captive there
just this side of adolescence –
lost all that innocence gifts

Still I go to the woods –
stick to the well worn paths –
like to reminisce about old times,
invite that wild child along.

(Inspired by Reena’s Exploration challenge: “This is where I lost myself … this is where I found myself.” Images from personal collection.)

Tell Us A Story, Grandma!

“Tell us a story, Grandma! Tell us about when you were a girl?”

The question throws me. First, because childhood is so far away, but secondly, because my stories are tainted with pain and hurt. Looking into this pair of eager eyes though, I know they want a story filled with good will and hope.

“Well,” I begin, and they snuggle in closer to listen. Outside the winds have picked up and the sleet of earlier has given way to soft thuds – snow. Stories at bedtime are a ritual with these two, if not a book, then a story about their parents’ youth, usually.

“When I was a little girl, about your age, every winter my father built a skating rink in the back yard.”

“I know how to skate!”

“Me too, and I’m fast.”

“I bet you are. Imagine every day that you come home from school being able to strap on your skates and go into the backyard to your very own rink.”

“Wow. That must have been awesome! Did you fall very often?”

“Sometimes, but there were usually snowbanks around the side and that softened the blow. I remember how we used to shovel paths in the snow and pretend they were streets and act as if we were driving our cars.”

“Who skated with you?”

“My sisters. My dad put a flood light on the rink, so we could skate past dark, and he hooked up a speaker to play music and my sisters and I would give performances, pretending we were figure skaters.”

“Were you figure skaters?”

“No. The lessons were too far away. I went for awhile, but the walk too long and I gave up.”

“Your Mom didn’t drive you?”

“Not in those days. She was too busy.”

“Was that the best part of winter, Grandma. Your own rink?”

“I certainly enjoyed it. The best part I remember though, is coming in at the end of the night, with my cheeks and fingers frozen from the cold, and having a mug of hot chocolate. My mom would always have a pot of hot milk on the stove waiting for us.”

“With marshmallows?”

“Marshmallows are the best!”

“Yes, they are.”

“Can we have hot chocolate tomorrow, Grandma?”

“I don’t see why not. Now, I want you both to go off to sleep. It’s snowing outside and if this keeps up, we may be able to make a snowman in the morning.”

They’ll whisper and giggle after I turn out the light, and I leave the door open a crack, bringing with me the warmth of their little hearts snuggled up to mine, and the glow of remembering something good from my childhood.

(My challenge this week is story. There are so many stories that weave together to make up our lives – some of them real, some of them imagined. Telling our stories, one at a time, opens us to the possibility of healing. The above story is true in the sense that it describes an aspect of my childhood that was good. The framework around it – a sleepover with the granddaughters – is only imagined, although they do like me to tell them stories. At this stage in my life, ready to let go of the anguish and pain, I am ready to retell my life story. This is a good place to start.)

Bedside Conversations

“Mom, I want you to know that I don’t harbour any ill will toward our past. If I seek to know what happened, it is only to understand myself so that I might heal.”

Mom nods, considers my words. “There is so much I could have done differently.”

“No. You did what you could with what you had. They were difficult times.”

It is funny how, faced with imminent death, perspectives shift. Throughout my life, I have had a love/hate relationship with my mother: cowed by her criticisms, angry at her life choices, disappointed that she didn’t protect us. It all seems so petty now.

“The greatest regret I have concerning you,” she says, reaching a frail hand toward me; “is that I never comforted you after the rape. What kind of a mother was I to turn my back on you?”

Her words catch me off guard. I tear up. “You didn’t know.”

“No, but I’ve come across it in your writing.”

I thought I had filtered that part out, usually careful about what I let her read.

We talk about it. Clear the air. She cries with me and shares her own story of rape at fourteen. I’m the first person she’s ever told, she adds.

How life can chew us up and tear us apart. Good thing love’s bonds are so strong.

I ask her about earlier days – parts of my childhood that are foggy. We laugh at some of it, and shake our heads at other bits.

Then exhausted, we both withdraw into ourselves, and in the silence, nod off.

When it’s time to go, she tells me that I have always been her strength, her rock.

“It’s good to have you home.”

I wish I could do so much more.


“Apprenticed to Venus”: a Review

Subtitled My Secret Life with Anaïs Nin, Apprenticed to Venus is the part memoir, part novel of Tristine Rainier, who mentored under the famous diarist.

Although  I have been inspired by Nin’s words, I have known very little about her, so I was eager to read this book.  Rainier, on an errand from her artist aunt, encounters Anaïs at her home in New York, and from there becomes part of the bizarre and tantalizing underworld of Nin’s complicated life.

The story begins with a very naive and impressionable Tristine, who is anxious to stay in her idol’s good books.  In modern day terms, Nin is a classic narcissist, who uses others for her own gain, and even though Tristine experiences the warmth and distancing characteristic of such a personality, she remains loyal to Anaïs, questioning her own motivations right to the end, and defending the lessons that Nin’s influence has taught her.

Rainier’s commitment to Nin is contagious, and I found myself also drawn in by the eccentric’s charm, wanting to know more.

Interspersed with Nin’s story is Rainier’s own story, from shy teenager to accomplished literary figure in her own right.

Apprenticed to Venus is primarily the story of two women and the bonds that define their relationship.  It is also about celebrity, and love, and the search for women’s equality.  There is nothing conventional about Anaïs Nin, as witnessed by Rainier’s account, and I think that is perhaps why I shall continue to be inspired by her.

Baseline

Baseline is the name of the road on which my final high school stands.  My ‘last chance’ authorities called it, as I’d been ‘asked to leave’ the previous one.  Turned out the attendance officer was a parent of a former classmate and recognized me.  I felt trapped.  Skipping school was how I coped in those days.

The school on Baseline Road is where the drama teacher took me under his wing and encouraged me to try out for the school play, and when I landed the starring role, it is also where I learned how success makes others hate – the former leading lady and her friends threatened to take me out if I didn’t refuse the part.  Of course, I wasn’t intimidated.  I could bully with the best of them. (Not something I’m proud to admit, by the way.)

Baseline is where I broke my rule of never dating a classmate.  In fact, I broke it twice and ended up marrying the second.  I wasn’t even out of my teens.

Twenty-odd years later, Baseline would be my first address, as a single home owner with three children.  From there, I would start my own business, take up theatre again, and make more mistakes with men.

Baseline is a mile marker in my life’s road map.  It’s about making hard choices, learning to shine despite opposition, and recognizing that there is always room to grow.

What are the baselines in your life?

(Baseline is the focus of V.J.’s (my) weekly challenge.  Love if you’d join us.)

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Trauma’s Shadow is Rage

“…he had always been popular and happy and things had always worked out.”

                                      (Holly LeCraw, The Swimming Pool)

I close the book, feeling the rage shifting just below my sternum.  It’s the second time this week that words have elicited this response.  The first was an online post and the author had written something about how gently we come into this world – a man, of course, whose lack of birthing experience allowed him to think glibly about such beginnings – and, I know otherwise.

Flesh tears from flesh.

Pain builds and peaks and in a bloodied push of exasperation life emerges.

I’m not discrediting the miraculous.  Birth is miraculous.  And in time, joy overshadows the trauma, and we conceive again.  This, too, is a miracle.

Maybe it is all this talk of he said/ she said dominating the news – women daring to call out their abusers. The ensuing backlash.

I named my assailant.   Included his address, and full details of the abduction.  Then buried the memory, and self, in a well so deep it wouldn’t emerge for fourteen years – knife-edged fragments butchering my complacency.  Memory works that way.

No charges were laid, no subsequent trial; the judgment occurred on the spot – the day that they found me, reported missing, in a state of shock.  I had asked for it – my clothes, the unfortunate choice to attend a bar underage, the willingness to get in a stranger’s car with friends.  The defilement was my fault.   How could I not bury it?

Happiness is desirable – no different for me -but I am also a realist / cynic – and life does not unfold in candy-wrapped sweetness.  It stumbles along, meets with obstacles, and demands that we look within. To say that someone has lived an unmarred existence, as suggested in the quotation above, is just laziness on the part of the author.  This is not truth, so why write it?

Life commands character.

Real life that is.

The rage subsides.  I’ve said my piece.  I turn the page.

(Article is published on One Woman’s Day: A Project of the Story Circle Network.)

 

Writing Lessons #2: Sparrows

(The prompt for this week is surroundings and we were encouraged to focus on one aspect of nature as it relates to the story.  I chose sparrows.)

Out the back gate, across the farmer’s field and into the woods I go in search of the child, knowing that she comes here frequently, alone, despite the fact that she is barely five-years-old.

“She’s either charming snakes or catching tadpoles,” an older sister, well into her teens, says in disgust.

“She’ll come home when she’s hungry; she always does,” adds another sibling, also older, but more withdrawn, this one holding a baby on her hip.

The mother lies in a darkened room upstairs, not to be disturbed, and the tension in the house is palpable.

There is a well-beaten path that runs the length of the wooded area, and no sign of trails leading into the overgrown thicket. I look for broken branches or trampled brush to indicate where the child might have gone. She is small and can fit through passages that thwart adults such as myself.

From what her family says, she is a bit of a wild child: long wavy tendrils of auburn hair she refuses to brush, brown eyes that flash with defiance, and a stubborn determination. She prefers knee-length cut offs to the dresses her mother sews for her, and would rather climb trees than play with dolls.

“I don’t know what to do with her,” her mother says. “Can’t imagine who will ever love her.”

I will, I think, pushing aside the barricades of branches, trying to imagine where she might go. What is it about this place she finds so alluring? I wonder.

Twigs scrape my skin, and fallen trunks create obstacles, their split seams exposing black holes that contain who knows what. I shudder. How does she tolerate the insects? And snakes? Is she not afraid?

A rustle nearby startles me, until I realize it is only a tiny house sparrow foraging about. Two more land nearby and so as not to disturb their scavenger hunt, I stand still and observe them. I’ve always thought of sparrows as unremarkable, and yet watching these little heads bobbing, I can’t help but notice the intricacy of their designs – the contrasting shades of the plumage, the identifying streak of brown across their eyes, and their undeniably sweet song.

The sudden appearance of a squirrel causes the birds to scatter, and reminds me of my task, so I move on, pushing aside more foliage. That’s when I hear the sound of running water. A clearing reveals a narrow creek, its bed visible beneath the shallow trickling. Rocks of all sizes line the beds and bottom, and I can imagine little feet navigating over them to get the water’s edge.

Although the water is shallow, I am aware that people have drowned in less, and am dumbfounded to think that this child should be left to her own devices in this harsh environment. I squat down beside water and dip my fingers into the cool, then wait for the ripples to calm and search for tadpoles, but it is too far in the season. Where else might she be?

The wind changes and I raise my head to listen. It’s so quiet here; so peaceful. Visions of the scene back at the house flash through my mind: a mother barely coping, children left to tend for siblings, and a father who is by all accounts a tyrant. No place for a young girl in her formative years. No access to the nurturing and stability she needs. No encouragement for a growing imagination.

This girl is not running away, I realize; she is running towards. Nature is her mother, the creatures her friends. Here in these woods there is rhythm – predictability and acceptance – that is not present at home. She finds her communion with the sparrows, the snakes, and whatever else dwells within these woods.

She is happy here, I understand, a sentiment that is not part of her family’s equation, survival being the overriding priority.

I make my way out of the woods, feeling strangely renewed.   At the point where the path meets concrete, I pause and look back, whispering to my five-year-old self:

“I’ll be back, don’t you worry.”

The sparrows lift their voices in response, and I feel our collective hearts soar.