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Archive for the ‘Deborah Hall’ Category

I think I shall one day be

an old woman,

beautiful in my ancient age

tissue-paper-thin, softly sagging

skin, wrinkles and creases,

my snowy hair wild, like it was

when I was younger

with tiny bits of shells, aged twine,

and slips of hardened sea weed in it.

Possibly even the long longed-for dreads.

I’d finally have the nerve

and wouldn’t care what people think.

Chimes of patinated copper and driftwood,

broken chunks of china and bleached bird bones,

gently moving in the breeze

as I sit gazing

from my old white-washed porch

with a screen door

palm tree branches swaying,

sand and sea salt dried on my bare feet

from the morning walk

I shall take my basket of gathered treasures –

gifts from the sea

frosted bits of sea glass, tiny long-abandoned

homes of sea snails, wire, wood,

and shells,

perfect in their imperfection

broken, tumbled, and worn

and I shall string, hammer, wrap and concoct

them into beautiful baubles,

whimsical wearable  

art to adorn

others who adore the sea’s treasures.

and I shall muse

and reflect

on my terribly painful, infinitely joyful journey

thus far

and smile.

 

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I felt suspended in that terrible time – the in-between time of being ready to go, but not having yet said the real good byes. I continued packing, and saw a photo of me, smiling proudly all those years ago, standing by the “sold” sign, a home of my very own, and I looked around at it now, so bare.

Oh, how I’d loved that old place with its polished terrazzo floors, tiny perfect kitchen, dropped ceiling fans, and retro egg lights which reminded me of Salvador Dali. It was built the year I was born, and was full of character and, I was sure, the ghost of the sweet old man who’d lived there. The wife had to go into a nursing home, and I visited her, held her hand, and told her that I’d love the house as they had and would take good care of it. Light came in everywhere, and I could see explosions of fuchsia from the windows in the bright yellow sun room when the bougainvillea were blooming. In winter, from the open windows of my bedroom, the scent from the tiny white grapefruit blossoms floated in and in the summertime, I loved listening to the deluges of rain cascading on the thick banana leaves. Yes, I’d loved that house and it had loved me back.

I’d said goodbye to my clients, most of whom had been loyal to me for fourteen years. I’d had garage sales and was ruthless about culling the unnecessary items. A friend with a green thumb had asked for my potted plants. I must have had fifty. Another wanted clothes. I wouldn’t need business attire in my new life.

I thought of Karen Blixen and the immense amount of things she took with her to her new home at the foot of the Ngong Hills in Kenya. I recall thinking how ridiculous she seemed, traveling so far with all of those crates. Now I’m about to take the long journey to a new life in Africa, my things following in a huge container ship, packed away neatly in grey plastic boxes.

I had to laugh at my own comparison. Karen Blixen I am not, but the things I packed are as precious to me as hers were to her. They aren’t fine silver and beautiful, delicate china, but they will serve to remind me of home and of myself, in case I forget.

A wall mirror made with bent wire and mosaic that Joanne bought me as we walked through an outdoor art show, under the branches of huge old oak trees. My worn wooden spatula, the one that feels so natural in my hands when I cook. My paints, brushes and wooden easel, in case the need overwhelms me, as it does from time to time, to mash colors together and create on canvas that which I see in my mind. My eclectic collection of music. And, my books – my books are something that will make any place my home, wherever in the world I am, be it near the Indian River in the dense humidity of Florida, my birthplace, or on the shores where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean, half a world away.

In the eighteen years John lived in the States, he never bought anything, not even furniture. He always knew that one day he’d move back to his home in South Africa. He had sold his business, made his plans and was packed to leave when we began dating years after we’d met and became friends. How like me to be attracted to someone who would soon be gone. But it wasn’t to be with John. If I wouldn’t go, he wasn’t going.

I was in the process of looking at my role in a life-long history of choosing the wrong people, sabotaging relationships, having serious trust issues and a deep lack of self-esteem. John was different from anyone I’d ever dated. He was kind, gentle and decent. He saw through to the real “me” behind all the masks. He knew about my demons and how to react when the old ghosts came to haunt me. I made up my mind not to “fuck this one up”, as my friend Ginny said. It took him two years to convince me to move to South Africa with him.

We’ve been here 5 months now and I still can’t think about the day of our departure. I told the people closest to me that it’s not goodbye. It’s see you later. But relationships change. It’s impossible to keep that day to day connection when you’re so far away.

One of the most difficult separations was from my girlfriends. Ginny, a psychologist, and I started a support group for women. Our women’s group was small and met once a week for years. We were different ages and came from varied backgrounds. We shared our lives and were intimate in a way that only women can be with each other. While going through an especially difficult time after moving, Kathleen once said to me, “being there, without your backup group (singing softly in the background) you start to question your own sanity”. I would say my women friends saved my life.

I remember the day Ginny gave me a sideways glance, one eyebrow lifted, when I said “…with all that I’ve been through, I never had psychological help and I’m fine.” Ha. She knew better and stuck it out with me, gently holding up the mirror whenever she thought I needed it. Years later, we laughed whenever any of us said that we were fine. To us, “fine” became an acronym for fucked up, insecure, neurotic and emotional.

We’d already said goodbye, but as John and I packed the last few things in the car for the drive to New York, Ginny pulled up and hugged me tight, handing us a basket of beautiful organic food for our trip.

It’s a perfect October day on the beach. The sky is a crisp blue and you can feel the warmth of spring on its way. I’m not sure that I will ever get used to spring in October, my July birthday in the middle of winter, and Christmas in the warmth of summer.

The smell of someone’s lunch is in the air, cooking on an outdoor grill nearby making my mouth salivate. The ocean is like a two toned jewel, emerald green and sapphire blue. The light, which is different here, makes the seawater look like pale green stained glass through the waves.

There are surfers out, and just beyond them, a group of seals is floating in one spot, nothing showing but their flippers sticking out of the water like the masts of sailboats painted a shiny black. Some fishermen are standing on an outcrop of sharp rocks, hoping to eat seafood tonight. It’s the season for the Southern Right Whales to migrate, and off in the distance I see a couple of them, slowly bobbing out of the water, like huge, black boulders, as they make their way around this jagged coastline.

Behind me, the majestic Kogelberg Mountains jut up, in which leopards, baboons and other equally exotic animals live. In the distance, the mountains are soft lavender, and plunge right into the sea. The gift and blessings of the contrasting colors makes me teary.

We rented a house in a small village on the sea called Betty’s Bay. It’s a beautiful older home at the end of a deep red-rust colored dirt road perched on the rocks above the crashing Ocean. The wild, sometimes fifteen-foot waves are often strong enough to make the windows rattle.

Betty’s Bay, South Africa is one of the only places in the world where fynbos grows. From the spiky bunches of brown and black Cape Reed to the huge flower of the King Protea, the beauty of this hearty plant-life is stunning.

The only heat the house has is a fireplace, which does nothing but fill the house with smoke, and a small portable gas heater, which we roll from room to room. I have been jarred awake when inside doors slam shut from the wind coming through the poorly insulated, thatch roof house during the gale-force South African Northwester and at times I wear a hat and scarf, even inside when I’m cold.

In the first nights, I felt along the walls in the total pitch darkness to find my way to the bathroom. I learned quickly not to do that. The huge, hand-size wolf spiders, which can rear up and hiss like a snake, come down the walls from the thatch roof at night and linger, catching prey.

There is an informal settlement down the road with houses built out of old corrugated iron squares and loose pieces of wood nailed together. Big rocks, piles of cinder blocks, old rusted wheelbarrows, and tires are on the roofs to help secure them. I watch women carry huge bundles of firewood balanced on top of their heads and wonder how cold their houses must be.

One day I heard a rattling, then a banging on the back door. I looked out a nearby window to see the yard strewn with a troupe of baboons. They were trying to get in the house. I was terrified, thinking of the size of the big male I had seen in the yard. My mind raced. Had I locked all the doors? Some of the locals told me never to corner them, or block their way out if they ever do get inside the house. I ran toward the back bedroom where the cats were and locked the door behind me. They could have all the food in the house, I didn’t care. My heart beat hard against my chest as I heard them all over the house, and soon the banging stopped. Luckily, they hadn’t found a way inside. I peeked out one of the windows. They were gone. The only trace was a paw full of reeds I saw one take as it slid down off the thatch roof.

One of the most difficult things for me to get used to is the poverty and the begging. I have learned to try to give food rather than money. There are so many stories, like the man outside the grocery store who began to cry when we said we didn’t have anything to give him. Or the woman with a baby wrapped tightly against her body who asked if I could please buy her some baby food.

I cannot say no. Here, although I’m far from rich, I have so much more than so many, I feel I must give, and it pains me to know that giving food or money is but a temporary solution.

I have learned much living in this breathtaking land. I am learning which direction north is, which wind brings the rain, how to drive on the other side of the road, and that there is poverty and real hunger in the world. I am learning not to be wasteful, that the old torn shoes that I once would have thrown out will keep someone’s feet warm this winter, and that being poor is a matter of perspective.

I see and do new things on a daily basis. It is sometimes frustrating, a little bit frightening, and very bittersweet being so far from home and living in a new country, but I feel alive here. Now in my middle age, I have shaken my life up, left my routine and I’m learning who I am all over again.

If there is ever a day that I move away from Africa, I will be leaving home again. This is what I now know. A pulse beats and rushes through me here. Africa was the birthplace of all of us. By leaving home and everything I knew, I have come home.

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LETTER FROM M. L. (dated June 6, 2010)

I was not with you when you were 15 years old…. I wish I were. I remember alot of things. Things that were wrong. Things that should not have happened to younger under age little girls. And they were not protected. They were left alone to fend for themselves. They were left alone to make decisions for themselves. They were left alone to say oh yeah I’ll smoke that [or] yeah, I’ll take that.  We were not protected from the world as it was.

 

So why do you feel guilty? Why do you condemn yourself for what he did? For what all of them did to their children?

 

It’s not our fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault.

Stand tall. be yourself, be strong!

 

 

 

When I was around ten-years-old, in 1972, my parents divorced.  It was a time of Vietnam, the Moody Blues, drive-in movies and Watergate.   I really don’t remember much about Watergate, or my parent’s divorce, for that matter.  My desperately shy existence consisted of books and David Cassidy.  I had a mad crush on him, and the music to “I Think I Love You” reverberated in my head every time I looked at his face from the poster hanging on my bedroom wall. 

I have very few memories of my days in California between the ages of two and twelve years old.  I remember eating frozen bananas on sticks, dipped in chocolate and rolled in chopped nuts, as we walked on a wooden boardwalk that jutted out over the Pacific.  I haven’t had one since, but I can still remember how they taste.  And mom taking us grunion hunting in the middle of the night, under a big yellow moon, still in our pajamas, rolled up high so they wouldn’t get wet as we caught the splashing silver fish along the shore with our bare hands.  Charles Bukowski must not have seen us when he penned the poem “The Hunt”.

“…and the grunion ran again
through the oily sea
to plant eggs on shore and be caught
by unemployed drunks
with flopping canvas hats
and no woman at all”

 

I remember my mom, so exotic and beautiful with a smudge of kohl accentuating her sapphire blue eyes, and her long black hair done up in the fashionable bouffant style of the 60’s coming in to kiss us goodnight before she went out, her perfume lingering in the room long after she left.  I remember the smell of alcohol on her boyfriend’s breath when he snuck into my room, leaned in close and slipped his hands under my blanket. 

I have vague memories of staying a summer in a trailer park, a type of 60’s California commune.  I was supposed to have been with my father that summer, but he left me there, instead, to live with my two older half sisters.  I would stay awake at night listening to guitars strumming, and the hippies in the park, with their long hair, the scent of patchouli and cannabis afloat, singing Don McLean’s “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie”, which remains one of my favorite songs to this day. 

It was there that my oldest sister’s boyfriend, recently back from Vietnam, came to my bed at night, just as my mother’s boyfriend had done.  Another time, he arranged to take me alone to the deserted cove of a beach.  I don’t remember how I came about not having my bathing suit on, maybe I took it off willingly, sparklingly innocent in my nine-year-old nakedness, the only witnesses being the soaring seagulls and the crashing sea.  I remember part of what happened there, but not all.  My psychologist told me once that our minds allow us to remember things when we’re able to deal with them.  I’ve considered hypnotherapy, but I think I’ll let it go.  Maybe my mind knows better.  

I was 12-years-old when we moved back to Florida.  We stayed with my grandmother until mom found us a place to live.  I loved my grandmother, but living with her wasn’t easy.  I don’t think she wanted us there.  She was usually angry and not very nice.  Now I realize that she was clinically depressed.  In those days, people went undiagnosed and somehow lived with it, unlike in my mother’s time.  Mom made sure she had plenty of medication for her depression.

One summer day, my little sister Lisa and I were riding our bikes.  A man stopped his car to ask us directions to the next town.  He left after we told him, but turned around and came back.  He asked us lots of questions, how old were we?  Did we have any brothers?  Where did we live?  Lisa became nervous.  “Debbie, we have to go.  Mom’s calling.  Come on.”  But I wasn’t falling for it.  I knew mom wasn’t calling us.  I shot her a withering look.  He’d just asked if we wanted to earn $5.00.  I couldn’t believe Lisa was being a big baby and was going to ruin our chances of earning some money of our own. 

He asked if we knew what a hand job was.  It sounded like something to do with fixing the car.  I was sure we could learn easily enough.  Anyway, if Lisa wasn’t willing to learn, I was.  “Just take a look in here, I’ll show you how.”  I took a step closer to the car and leaned forward to look in the window, trying to ignore Lisa’s pleads to go home.  What I saw was his erect penis clutched in his fist.  My mind saw a gigantic purple monster.  I sped away, peddling as fast as I couldBy the time I got home, I was sobbing hysterically.    Lisa, I learned later, followed close behind me, zigzagging the whole way.  She thought I’d seen a gun.

When I was thirteen, we moved into the sagging wooden shack on the edge of the road that mom bought.  She bought it for the property and said that it would be her retirement one day.  After all of her financial struggles, when she turned 60, she sold it for a million dollars, echoing what she’d always told us – you can never go wrong owning land. 

Some of the wood on the house had begun to rot, a great deal of the paint had peeled off, and the house itself drooped down like a dying daisy toward the ground.  What was left of the original white paint had turned a mottled grey, the color of a rain cloud before a summer storm.  It was a small, single storey house, which faced the rural road and had a thick pine and palmetto scrub forest as a back yard.  In the deepest part of the woods was a lake, which we kids swam in, until we spotted an alligator, its dragon-like ridged back, eyes and snout barely above the surface of the water as it glided silently through the reeds.

To the left from the main living area was a hallway.  Mom and Lisa’s bedrooms were at the end of it.  There was nothing unusual about those rooms except that my mom’s room was where the three older neighborhood boys took me that time when they broke into the house, after they beat Lisa’s friend up and broke a couple of his ribs. 

They were bullies, and wanted to use me to give the youngest of the three experience, while the other two looked on.

I didn’t protest and I didn’t fight.  I went willingly.  I didn’t think there was anything I could do.  Afterwards, it was never discussed, which was fine with me. I didn’t want to talk about it.  I felt guilty, like it was my fault.  I knew if I pushed it far enough out of my mind it would disappear and be gone, as if it never happened.  I was good at that.  Afterwards, when I saw those boys, they were mean and said that they wouldn’t touch me with a ten foot pole.  However, I know what they did.

 And they know what they did.

At the beginning of the hallway was my bedroom.  In my room at night, I could hear the palmetto bugs and roaches scurrying, and I remember the sound they make when they fly – a whir, then a click when they landed on something – the wall, the floor, please God, not my blanket.   I was sure I would die if one were to land on me or crawl on me, so even though the nights were Florida hot I would make sure not an inch of space was open between the light blanket and me.

It was under those blankets in the sweltering sticky heat that I dreamed of another place, a place far away, a whole other life.  I wasn’t sure where, but I thought if only I could get away, I’d be safe and happy.  Safe from the roaches, safe from the older neighborhood boys, safe from the thoughts in my head, and my sharp self-criticism.  By this time I’d picked up where my father left off.  I no longer needed him to tell me I was good for nothing.  My own thoughts answered his words, like an echo in my head. 

Almost directly across the hallway from my room was the bathroom.  It was your typical bathroom, except for the fact that there was a hole in the floor near the toilet where you could see the ground.  Other than that, it was fine and functional, with an old tub, toilet and sink. 

One winter my mom couldn’t afford to buy another water heater when the one we had broke, and we had to boil water for our baths.  That was okay, we had a bath time routine at night and got used to it.

Then there was Uncle Billy and the Cracker Jack Rodeo.

Usually Uncle Billy would pick up the kids in his van and take us.  He wasn’t really our uncle, but all of us called him Uncle Billy.  His van was made especially for him, with complicated hand gears and something in the back with which to lift his wheelchair out.  He liked it when we came along, especially the girls, and would let us smoke cigarettes and weed around him.

I don’t remember the first time I smoked pot, but by that time, when I was 13, we’d discovered how to get nickel bags from the dicey areas of Wabasso, a few miles up the road.  We’d have an older friend drive us and go to the places where young men hung out in groups, their skin glistening in the stifling heat, outside informal, old wooden stores or bars.  All we’d have to do is produce the $5.00 and we’d come away with a baggie.   

We used to go to the roller skating rink in those days.  It was the best.  Especially the time we went after that party, the one at the hotel room in Fort Pierce, where they were all smoking pot and snorting coke.  I took a hit of acid that someone handed me, then we all decided to go down the road to skate.  The lights blared and pulsed and the music reverberated.  I skated round and round to Frankie Valli’s “My Eyes Adored You” and Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom”, and felt alone with the music. 

The next town south of us, Fort Pierce, was a frequent destination.  Many times, we’d end up partying in a run down hotel room with people we didn’t really know.  Once, at a party, I talked most of the night to someone and found out the next day that he was stabbed to death after I left.

Some summer days I’d go over to Bonnie’s place, which was just down the road from us in a small house near Curtis’s farm.  I’d walk in my bare feet, jumping from the sizzling asphalt to the sandy edge and back again, always careful of sand stickers. Bonnie was an older woman with a raspy voice and a hacking cough.  She would share her cigarettes, both of us blowing smoke rings, and talk to me as if I was an adult, sitting there at her stained Formica kitchen table, even though I was only fourteen.  Sometimes she’d impart her wisdom about sex.  “Once a girl loses her virginity she always wants ‘it’”, she casually said one day.  I never asked her about her life, why her children never visited, for instance, or why she lived alone.

 

It was the summer that Elvis Presley died; the summer that New York City brunettes like myself could finally relax after being terrorized by the serial killer David Burkowitz, also known as the Son of Sam.  I had recently turned fifteen and this was the summer that would change my life forever…

I rolled over on my towel and pulled at the edges of my bathing suit bottom, making sure all was covered that was supposed to be covered, and rested my head on my arm.  The day was perfectly hot.  The sun baked my oil-slick body.  I wriggled my arms a bit to make an indentation in the sand, until the hollow was just right.  I closed my eyes and listened.  My breath became rhythmical like the gentle waves that broke, then sucked away.  The sounds of the sea birds echoed in my mind, the distant sound of people talking became soft static.  

With my head turned to the side, still resting on my arm, I barely opened my eyes and squinted through the blazing sunlight.  There was an older couple, sitting on beach chairs reading novels.  From their deeply wrinkled bronze bodies, it was obvious that they spent too many hours in the sun.  I heard the protest of a child and saw a mom, sitting on a toy-strewn blanket, put on the bathing suit of her small son for the third time – he kept taking it off and running to the water’s edge. 

And sitting on the top landing of the wooden boardwalk, a young man stared out into the ocean.  I quietly watched him.  He had wavy dark long hair.  His jeans were worn and soft.  I found it odd that he wore jeans on the beach in this heat.  One thing I knew, he wasn’t from here.  No local would think of wearing jeans on the beach.  Well, at least his feet were bare.  As he gazed out, I found myself wondering what he was thinking.  Maybe about his girlfriend far away in a cold climate.

As it turned out, he was as charming, at least in the beginning, as he was good looking. 

Two months later, I left the wooden house by the road for the last time with the young man I’d met on the beach.  I left a note for mom, telling her I’d gone to Bonnie’s for the afternoon, and very simply, at fifteen-years-old, walked away and left home.

I didn’t carry many things with me.  A few clothes, and, as a second thought, just before leaving, I grabbed a picture of Lisa, mom, and me.  The feelings I remember were of excitement – excitement at the prospect of travel and the feeling of stepping out into the unknown future, which I thought must be better than the existence in which I currently lived.  I hated my life and I hated myself.   

If I had known, and was able to see the future, I would have hugged Lisa tight, and told her I loved her.  Mom, too.  But, I don’t have the gift of foresight, and in my youthful ignorance, I never could have guessed what was to happen, and how my life would be altered forever.

Once on the highway, I jutted out my thumb to the passing traffic, and finally left, just as I always knew I would.

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Indigenous people used cocoa beans as currency according to recorded history from Spanish explorers.  A night with a prostitute?  Ten cocoa beans were all it took.  100 and you could own a slave.

 

My mouth salivates as I anticipate the dark-sweet taste.  We snap off squares of organic chocolate and share a hand made bar.  The taste is rich and has a slight grainy feel as it melts in my mouth, and I remembered that morning. 

 

I was salty and damp from sweat and water spray, as salty as the mangrove leaves, through whose tangled roots the red snapper swam in the brackish river.  We sliced a v through the water and ahead, on the banks were a few wooden shacks, surrounded and backed by a thick forest of banana trees.  The fronts of a couple of them were brightly painted, as if to give a good appearance to the Kuna Indians as they glide by in their traditional dug-out canoes, or ulus, which are always carved from a single tree trunk.  As our small boat neared, I saw rows of wooden trays on the docks in front of the shacks.  Gilberto, our new friend, explained that in each were cocoa beans, which the farmer spreads out by hand.  Thick pulp had already fermented, liquefied and dripped away, leaving the brown beans to dry in the searing Panamanian sun.

 

Central America was a place that attracted both of us.  Never having been there before, and speaking very little Spanish, we flew into Panama’s lively capital, Panama City, and rented a car.  Breakfast was fresh fruit, juicy slices of mango, tangy-sweet rings of pineapple, and of course, the ever present Chiquita bananas, an assortment of organic yogurt and fresh baked breads.

 

Sated, and with a delicious sense of freedom and adventure, we left Panama City on the Pan-Americana Highway.  Although we had a guidebook, intuition was our beacon, and we followed her toward the mountain range that splits the country, with a glance at the Panama Canal as we drove over the bridge. 

Our destination was not the mountains, although breathtakingly beautiful with thick tropical vegetation and streaked with flowing waterfalls, but was the Bocas del Toro archipelago on the north-west corner of Panama, scattered in the Caribbean Sea near the Costa Rican border.

We thought we’d make it over the mountains by nightfall, but we hadn’t yet crested the top when dusk painted long blue shadows, and shades of rosy-pink tinged the sky.  A thick blanket of fog enveloped us, and visibility was limited to a few feet.  First concern, then fear clutched me as voices screamed out to us from a passing car in a language we didn’t understand.  We heard rushing water, and soon realized that the voices were screaming a warning.  Suddenly, most of the road in front of us was gone, washed away by a mudslide.  Turning around wasn’t possible on the narrow road, and we couldn’t reverse down in the thick fog, so we crept forward through the muck.  We hugged the wall of mud on our left.  To the right, jagged asphalt jutted over the steep mountain cliff, only a couple of feet from our tires.

We made it safely through and over the top of the mountain.  On the way down, we found a little place to pull over, put the seats back, and fell into a soft sleep.  At dawn, the magical sight of a dewy mist hung on everything, like a dripping wet blanket, and sparkled in the early morning sun.  Just down the road, we were the only diners at a tiny open air restaurant where the coffee was strong and the eggs were fresh.  Chickens wandered around us and scratched at the dirt near our feet, and we watched horses playing on the nearby hills.

At Almirante, the gateway to Bocas del Toro, we leave the car and wait for a water taxi.  From there on, transport is by boat, bicycle or foot.  We glide over the narrow river, passing tiny villages, where pigs root along the banks and naked children call out to us and wave.

The main island of Bocas is bustling with bars serving tropical drinks made with pineapple and lime.  We buy molas, the beautifully embroidered stories on cotton cloth from the Kuna Indian women.  At the docks, we’re too late to catch a ride to one of the less inhabited islands, and a small dark man with shiny black hair and a shocking smile offers us a ride for a few cents in his ulu.  Under the moon’s shimmering light, the small dug-out canoe slices through the calmly rolling sea to Isla Bastimentos.

 

We met a young local whose uncle was selling a piece of his farm that overlooked Dolphin Bay; did we want to see it?  Of course we did.  Therefore, we were in a small boat with young Gilberto, cutting a v through the water, passing trays of cocoa beans drying in the searing Panamanian sun.  Uncle Antonio was a huge laughing Panamanian with plenty of horses and pigs in his yard. 

We had lunch of fresh caught pan-fried fish, in their shack on stilts over Dolphin Bay and watched the pitifully skinny dogs dive in the water after the bones that were casually thrown in.  When asked, I told his wife that I had no children, and she said that I must move into their house, so she could cook for me.  That way, she assured me, I’d have lots of them.

Antonio met us one day on the main island to finalize the deal.  He came from work, and still wore his blood-splattered shirt from the two cows that he’d slaughtered and delivered in his 30-foot ulu to the mainland.

We drank shots of Jose Cuervo Gold tequila with slices of lime to the occasion and discovered, to our absolute delight, that the more we drank, the better we understood each other.  Antonio’s only English phrase was “Take it easy”, which can make me laugh to this day, years later.

While in this marvelous cluster of islands, we held tiny poison dart frogs in our hands, shiny and red as a poppy in the sun, watched leave cutter ants cut a path in front of our path to a swath of white-sand, palm tree-stuffed shoreline.  We were alone there, except for the young man who asked us if we wanted some ganja.  We stayed at Frances’ place, who met us in his bare feet, asked our first names, and gave us a key.  There, we shared a communal open-air kitchen, took cold-water showers, and napped in the brightly colorful hammocks overlooking the sea.  We got drunk with the locals and bought a piece of paradise and groceries from the Chinese woman who wouldn’t stop staring at my feet.  We snorkeled and swam, and turned dark as the cocoa beans.  Oh, the cocoa beans…

The process is organic, from bean to bar, and tastes unlike any chocolate that I’ve ever eaten.  I’ve had the great fortune in my life to savor chunks of chocolate in Switzerland, and thought it the best in the world, until I bit into a bar made locally in Bocas del Toro, Panama.  I had to wonder, after all we’d done, seen and experienced…was chocolate the reason we both had a strong intuition to come to Panama and follow our hearts to this very spot?  Maybe so.  At that moment, it certainly seemed reason enough as I closed my eyes, smiled and relished the last square.

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Anchored off one of the many uninhabited islands, we finally tackled the job of scraping and cleaning the hull of Sun Angel, John’s 32-foot cozy, wooden yacht that he called home.  We had to prepare her for the 60-mile crossing of the Gulf Stream and the trip back. 

John looked ashen.  I swam to him, pushing the dive mask up off my face, making sure not to drop the scraper I was holding. “What’s wrong?”  I’d never seen him look like that before and it frightened me.  “Get on the boat, we have to go.”  His shaky but determined voice sent an icy chill through me.

The beginning of our adventure found us slowly sailing down the Intracoastal Waterway, meandering past mangrove islands thick with bird life, massive, rolling manatees near the banks, sleek pods of dolphin, swimming in our wake and other creatures that make their home here.  After two days, we anchored, waiting in Palm Beach at the inlet where the Indian River meets the Atlantic Ocean.  I was born along the shores of the Indian River, named after the Ais Indians.  My homeland is rich in Native American history, and when I hear the names of tribes and chiefs, Cherokee, Osceola, Seminole, Okeechobee, Ocala, and the Blackfoot tribe, of which I descend, I hear an echo of who I am.

It was here at the mouth of the inlet, floating under a cream-colored full moon, that we popped the cork off a bottle of champagne in celebration of our first year anniversary and the beginning of a nice long holiday cruising through the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas.   

Crossing the churning Gulf Stream is risky in bad weather.  Every summer day a storm threatened and we couldn’t take the chance, so we waited.  Unlike some of the powerboats who were able to make it in a few hours, we relied on sails and a 20-horse power engine.  We had to have calm weather.  John taught me what he could in the time we had before leaving, but I was a novice sailor and not very confident. 

Usually, when crossing the Gulf Stream, sailboats leave in the middle of the night, and often together.  They want to be sure to make the entrance to the Bahamas in daylight and have some company along the way in case of emergency.  Grand Bahama Island has a reef that surrounds it called the Bahama Banks.  Although slightly tricky to navigate in daylight, we were told never to attempt the narrow passage at night.

After a few days waiting in Palm Beach for the weather to clear, we head out at 3:00 a.m.  At the mouth of the inlet, we smelled something burning.  Quickly setting the anchor, John went down below to check the engine.  After poking and prodding around, he discovered a slipped belt. Three hours later, we’re on our way.  Other yachts left this day as well, but none as late as we did. 

We are on our own as we leave the shelter of the river and head out to open sea.

The wind is barely a whisper, so we motor-sail.  Soon after heading out, beautiful streaks of hot pink, yellow, orange and purple softly beckon the sunrise.  We call John’s father and let him know about our late start.  He said the weather is supposed to be perfect, no storms in sight.   

The Gulf Stream is a colossal current of ocean water, 100 kilometers wide on average, which cuts through the sea like a monstrous river.  Off the coast of Florida, although warm, it’s the clear blue color of an iceberg.  It churns out an amazing 30 million cubic meters of water a second through the Florida Straights.  You know when you reach it; its strength and power are awesome.  We motor-sail along, then suddenly feel the incredible underwater current of the mighty Gulf Stream.  All my life I’d heard maritime stories about the Gulf Stream, that churning, raging river of ocean, with terribly high seas, but today it’s calm.

I try not to have negative thoughts, for instance, if we lose the engine we’re in serious danger, or, oh, God, we’re within a tip of the Bermuda Triangle, or Devil’s Triangle as some people call it, the nautical area that forms a 500,000 square mile invisible triangle off the coast.

I watched a program on TV about it before we left.  Scientists may now know the reason for dozens of airplanes and possibly hundreds of yachts suddenly disappearing within this triangular area.  Some people say there must be a paranormal reason for it.  Others say it’s a magnetic pull that causes electronics to haywire.  One fact is, statistically, it’s impossible that it’s human error in all these cases.

The program I watched proved that the earth releases huge pockets of gas on the sea floor, which billows up in an underwater ballet of frothy bubbles.  Methane hydrates has the power to cut the engine of an airplane flying overhead.  Spewing streams of methane bubbles create areas in which a boat suddenly cannot stay buoyant, and without warning, sinks.  When friends of mine disappeared while cruising their motorboat through the Bermuda Triangle to the Bahamas, and another couple we knew vanished while flying their Piper twin engine, everyone had the same thought; the Devil’s Triangle. 

Donning my harness strapped to a cable that ran the length of Sun Angel, I walked to the bow again.  “What are you doing up there?  What are you looking for?”  John asked.   “Just looking.”  Secretly, I was on the lookout for bubbles.

Our cell phones lost reception somewhere in the middle of the Gulf Stream.  Every hour or so I took the binoculars and did a 360.  We were completely alone and without means of contacting anyone; all was blue, blue sea and blue sky, only a few whispy white clouds watched over us.  Once, a huge powerboat passed us and I was happy for the temporary company. 

There is something tranquil and beautiful knowing that you’re alone, floating on a clear sea.  Sparkling light glitters on the surface.  Our skin soaks it up and turns a smooth bronze.  I bath with seawater on the deck. 

For most of the way, we chugged along at no more than 2 knots.  Darkness came, and still no land.  When we finally spotted it on the horizon, we picked up speed.  It was as if Sun Angel saw a resting place and got a bolt of energy.

We reached the Bahama Banks about 9:30 that night.  We relied on the light of the moon as we tacked back and forth, perilously close to the reef.  We radioed in to West End Marina for guidance coming into the harbor.  Entering through the shallow reef is dangerous without help.  Anchoring out to wait until morning wasn’t an option.  It was too deep.  Just beyond the shallow reef that surrounds the islands is the Tongue of the Ocean, a branch of the Bahama Canyon.  We were floating over an underwater abyss where the sea floor plunged to an astonishing three miles, double that of the Grand Canyon.

No one responded.  Finally, there was a voice.  It was from a fellow sailor already safely docked inside who’d heard my pleading on the radio.  He talked us through as I stood on the bow, slowly swinging the huge spotlight from the rocks on one side of the inlet to the rocks on the other.

After a couple of good night’s sleep, and some exploring of Grand Bahama Island, we left and spent the next month sailing from one dreamy spot to another in the Abaco Islands.  We anchored near palm-stuffed shores, usually alone, and awoke every morning to sip hot coffee on the small deck, and dive in the transparent blue-green water for a morning swim.  Afterwards, we’d load Cherub, our dinghy, and explore the quiet beaches.

Nights were more difficult, and found us awake most of the time.  Every movement of the boat woke us… had the anchor come loose, was it dragging us too close to a reef, had the wind changed, swinging us in the wrong direction?  We constantly checked the anchor and were on alert.  One night a tropical storm swept through about 2:00 am.  The lightning terrified me, and we were dragging anchor.  John had to re-set it.  We had promised each other that any time we were at sea and outside of the cabin, we’d wear our harnesses, clipped to Sun Angel.  John grabbed a flashlight, rushed outside and made his way to the bow without taking time to attach his harness.  I squinted and tried to watch him through the pouring rain and the black, black night.  Occasionally I would see the light from his torch, or I had a flash of him when lightning struck, working on the anchor.  Then, I couldn’t see his flashlight.  A bolt of lightning revealed nothing.  Icy fear grabbed me.  If he goes overboard here, I’ll never find him.  The storm clouds concealed any moonlight.  The night was black.  Suddenly, he was in the cabin, wet but safe.  The next day we spoke to a sailor whose yacht had been punctured by a catamaran, dragging anchor.   

One day, we packed Cherub with our empty fuel tanks and headed toward one of the island’s marina’s.  While filling up we saw a huge fishing boat and spoke with her owner.  The name of the yacht was Deborah and she was from my home town of Vero Beach, Florida.  He asked us if we had caught any fish, and when we said no, gave us a tremendous amount of fresh mai mai.  We grilled it with a splash of lemon on our tiny Weber, which was lashed to the deck’s railing.  It was delicious and flaky. 

 

“Hey, let’s take Cherub and see what’s on the other side.”  I said upon arrival at the next island, jumping down below to change and gather some water and a couple of things to take.  We found a footpath that led to an open-air beach shack facing the sea.  It had a thatch roof and stood alone on the edge of a forest of tall palms.

Hanging from the rafters were items that sailors left, each had the name of the owners and their yachts, a single flipper, a broken oar, an old life preserver, even a battery.  We didn’t bring anything that we could leave, so we added our names and the date, next to many others, carved into the worn wood of a table.  We decided that by carving the date and our names there, it bound us to return one day.  We swam in the calm, warm sea, and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by about 30 rays, each a good three feet around.  The water was limpid and clear and I felt an amazing peace wash over me as the rays glided, as in a ballet, slowly around us.

 In time, we started talking about cleaning the hull.  Both of us being procrastinators, we almost didn’t do it, but decided we’d better since we would soon make our way back across the Gulf Stream, and home.

John showed me how.  I made my way around the edges of the boat, dipping my face under occasionally to watch the scraped algae and barnacles float away.  I was swimming in a constant cloud of it and I was sure a rush of fish would come soon to partake in the free meal.  Another reason to poke my face under was to be sure there was nothing too big swimming around with me.  John had the harder job, diving down to scrape under the boat.  He probably should have used the scuba tank we had on board, but he preferred to free dive. 

“We have to go.” he said, trying to rush me onto Sun Angel.  The first thing I thought of were sharks, but John isn’t afraid of sharks.  He surfs Sebastian Inlet and sees them all the time, and in South Africa where there are great whites.  I didn’t think anything here could really scare him.  “What is it, sharks?”  I ask, shaken, climbing onboard.  I put my mask and scraper in a corner and quickly took his as he came aboard.  “No, worse, it’s the boat.  There’s a crack in the hull.  There’s no way she’ll make it back to the States.  We have to hurry up and get to Green Turtle Cay. It is a well known island, if anything happens we’ll be safe there.”   “What do you mean?  How much water are we taking on?”  I asked.   I felt safe close to the islands, but I wasn’t happy about being in between where we were in the open sea in a yacht with a hole in it.  “How far away is Green Turtle Cay?”  “About 3 hours, we should be fine.”  He said.  I wasn’t sure he sounded convincing. 

We took all the precautions, putting emergency gear in Cherub just in case and pulled anchor.  I came out of the galley with a knife, which I placed snuggly near the rope tying Cherub to Sun Angel.  If Sun Angel sinks, I want to be able to cut the rope quickly, I don’t want to have to worry about untying knots.  I was scuba diving once and saw a boat sink.  It took all of about one minute.

We made it safely to Green Turtle Cay, then on to Freeport, where we watched as Sun Angel, massive straps around her belly, was hauled to the dry.  My heart skipped a beat when they told us the crack was directly under the mast, and was caused from jackhammer-like constant pressure while sailing through choppy water, and I recalled the days when the sailing was anything but smooth.  They were convinced that if Sun Angel had sailed through even the slightest chop more, the mast would have punched right through the bottom of the boat, leaving a gaping hole, and us to sink.  Since we were on our way home, it would have happened in the middle of the vast, empty Gulf Stream.

We packed what we could carry in pillowcases, and looking like hobos, walked and caught taxis to a hotel.  At dawn, we hopped onboard a massive cruise ship headed for Miami and home, and as we sipped margeritas on the deck with sunburned tourists from the north, I spotted a sailboat on the horizon.  I thought about our holiday.  We’d gone from the bliss of sailing clear, turquoise water to sleepless nights of worry, from the sweet solitude exploring palm-tree stuffed shorelines to the icy fear of the possibility of sinking.  Full of adventure, and wrought with one near disaster after another, our holiday was over.  We were ready to go home.

Two weeks later, a horrendous hurricane ripped through the Bahamas, leaving Sun Angel with an enormous jagged hole, lying on her side alongside other damaged yachts.

Initially, I was upset with Poseidon and the Gods of the four winds, to whom we asked safe passage before leaving.  Our holiday had been magical, but it wasn’t without an enormous amount of stress.  We barely slept.  There were many situations that could have become dangerous, even fatal.    Why was poor Sun Angel smashed to pieces?  However, upon reflection, I reconsidered and thought how incredibly fortuitous we’d been.  We’d crossed the mighty Gulf Stream and the Bermuda Triangle.  We made it safely through the Bahama Banks, and we did it at night.  Seeing the wreckage of those who didn’t make it when we looked the next morning made us realize how lucky we were.  By a miracle, we discovered a worsening crack in the hull, which would have sunk us.  And, we narrowly missed sailing in a hurricane. 

As they’d been throughout so many of my life’s experiences, there they were again, the Gods, Lady Luck, our guardian angels, whoever or whatever it was, I knew once more, they were watching over me.

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When asked to write about aestheticising violence, I thought hmmm…I know many stories of violence, all true, and beginning to take shape as a memoir about my experiences as a runaway.  However, where is the beauty in it? 

I have decided that there is beauty – it’s invisible, but it is and always was there.  It lies deep within me, and the human heart, which continued to beat and contain the glowing coals of love, courage, innocence and strength in those days when I was sure it would stop, even when I wanted and willed it to stop. 

The beauty lies in the spark of hope, which forever finds its home deep within all of us, even when we, ourselves, don’t see it.  It lies in our inner strength to survive that which seems impossible to survive. 

The beauty is that I am now learning to love that young woman, the one toward whom I felt so much self-hatred.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he smashes his fist into my face, I don’t feel pain.  My head snaps sideways and my body twists to follow.  It is an instant, yet it is forever.  Time doesn’t exist.  My senses are fuzzy, overlapping each other.  I feel blistery blood red and icy blue, I taste fear and panic, I smell my own nightmare rewind and begin again, rewind, begin.  How many times must I live this?  I remember whole stories in this instant, this forever.  They’re reverberations of this story.  Then, adrenaline takes over and I simply feel the need to survive.   Get away, get away, live, survive.  It’s all I know.  It’s all I feel.  I must get away from him…

The old trailer in which we live is far from the scrutinizing eyes of city people.  It’s tiny and dark, even on the brightest days, and holds inside itself the secret of my shame.  Fall sings her song of rich shades, the sprinkle of forest trees within sight, but not very close.  Nothing of the golden, shimmering shades is heard within these walls, only the growling of my stomach and the echoes of my crushed self-esteem.

I want to make something nice, something different, but we don’t have any money, and there are only the usual dried beans and some potatoes.  If I make something special, maybe he won’t be angry with me all of the time.  I just have to be better, that’s all, to try harder to make him happy. 

I know it’s me.  I really don’t blame him for always being mad.  I know I’m not pretty enough, even though he sometimes tells me that I am.  And I’m definitely not smart enough.  Then, there’s my figure.  Who would like anyone with a figure like mine, all thin and lanky?  If I looked like one of the girls in the magazines, or if I could do anything worthwhile, then maybe he would always be nice to me. 

I open the refrigerator again, thinking this time I’ll see something different; same thing as the other two times, an almost finished jar of mayonnaise, and a couple of bottles of beer.  I close the refrigerator door and wonder what to do.  I hadn’t eaten today.  Not that I don’t want to eat, I do.  There is just never enough food.  Maybe I can add the potatoes to the beans and make some soup.  Lots of salt and pepper.  That would be good.  It’s early enough to cook the beans if I start now.

I look once more through the soaked beans for stones before I add them to the pot of water and put them on to boil.  While they boil, I daydream about another life, a life far away, maybe deep in a thick enchanted forest where faeries play and spill sparkling dust of dancing, happy light on everyone, where animals laugh and I magically create full course meals out of beans and potatoes.    

Or I’d live in a faraway land, in a castle at the base of a mountain, which overlooks the sea.  Where leopards cry out in the night and monkeys come by to ask for bananas.  There, I’d be happy with myself; so happy that I’d live with a man who loves me for who I am, and I’d have two orange cats curled up in my lap while I concoct mystical baubles from the bleached bones and shiny shells of the nearby shore. 

I begin cutting the potatoes, and I think once again about all the good food I’d always had at home.  Most nights my little sister would pre-heat the oven and take the frozen TV dinners out of their boxes.  She’d peel open the plastic from the tin foil like containers and expertly put them on the racks to heat.  She was a good cook, even when she was only eight.  My mouth watered at the thought of the shiny metal trays with individual sections containing each food group.   

I remember looking in the refrigerator at home and whining about there being nothing to eat!  When I complained and wanted something different mom always said, “What do you think, money grows on trees?”

I wander over to the window and gaze out at the sharp blue day, a contrast to the dark, dingy trailer with its wretched paneled walls.  I wonder what I’d be doing if I hadn’t run away.  I wonder if anyone remembers me.  I look out and I wait. 

The anticipation is one of the most difficult parts.  I don’t know when he’ll transform from his sometimes charming, benevolent self to a man who is capable of inflicting intense harm.  It’s like living with two people.  When we have fun and all is well, and his personality is charming and amiable, I question my own experiences with the other part of him.  It doesn’t seem possible that so caring a person can also house a nature so tyrannical and brutal.  The more time that goes by, the more often his cruel temperament is unleashed and exposed, and it seems to be getting worse and worse.

I must try not to do anything that will make him angry, that’s all.  The difficult thing is I sometimes make him mad for no reason, just because I’m me.  God, I disgust myself.  No wonder he gets angry with me.  I glance at myself in the full-length mirror that’s on the bathroom door.  I can’t stand my face, all angular and thin.  My nose is too big and my eyes…I hate them, too.  They remind me of my father’s hazel eyes.  I don’t know how he can look at me every day.  I try to cover more of my face with my side-parted long brown hair, but it doesn’t really help.      

I prepare to smile, to be good, to do what he wants.  To be sure his food is ready, to laugh at his jokes, or to spread my legs, if he asks.  I’m a marionette.  He’s the master puppeteer.  I have no choice.  He’ll find me and kill me if I ever try to leave.  He tells me all of the time.  Life’s better for me if I please him.  It’s my only option.

Once, to my embarrassment, he asked me to remove my jeans and looked at me closely there, almost inspected me, and said he’d know if I ever fooled around on him.  I don’t know what he’s looking for, but I’m petrified he’ll find what he suspects is evidence, even though I would never be so stupid.

When he’s nice to me, it’s wonderful.  I latch on to these times when I feel loved.  His brown eyes glint and sparkle as we joke and laugh together, and for a few moments, I forget.  I forget about the biting cruelty of his tongue.  I forget how easily his mood tips to rage.  He tells me no one will love me as he does, and I believe him.  

He’s jealous, too.  He loves me so much he doesn’t want anyone else looking at me or talking to me.  Most of the time that makes me feel special.  Other times it scares me.

It’s getting dark, which is much later than usual for him to be home.  I begin to worry that he’s out drinking. On the other hand, maybe he’s been in a wreck.  Part of me hopes so.

I turn the soup off.  I’m hungry and I think about eating, but maybe I’d better wait.  I lie down on the couch and light a joint, drawing hard.  The smoke curls up and surrounds me with the sweet smell of cannabis.  I drift back in time, to hot, humid days spent walking along the shores of the Atlantic, swimming in its warm sea, letting the sun dry the salt onto my brown body.    

I sleep with the taste of ocean salt in my mouth.

I wake up on the couch.  It’s late.  I hear it again – the creaking of the door.  My defenses come up right away because I can tell he’s been drinking, even before I see him.  I instinctively know it.  He wouldn’t be home so late, if not.  

How did he get the money to drink?  We can’t even buy food.  Momentarily, I am upset.  I almost say something.  I try quickly to push the anger away.  What’s left is anxiety, dread, and a tight, sick feeling in my stomach.  I know what happens when he drinks. 

“Hi.  Do you want something to eat?”  I subserviently ask, trying to mask the anger and fear.   

He comes over, smiles, and gives me a kiss.  I try hard to act normal, as if I hadn’t waited all day to eat.  As if he hadn’t just walked in late at night, on this, our one-year anniversary together.  As if his drunken breath doesn’t scare me. 

He can tell by my response that I’m upset even though I try not to let it show. 

God, he knows. 

I smile.  I’m desperate now to be normal and to make him happy.  To calm the bubbling anger that always simmers under the surface. 

“What the fuck’s wrong with you?”  He asks, and holds my jaw with one of his hands.  He’s not so drunk that he can’t sense my tension.  Tears squeeze out the corners of my eyes.  He holds my face hard and I taste blood from the inside of my cheek.  Survive, live, lie, do anything, just stay alive. 

“Nothing, I just wasn’t fully awake.  I fell asleep.” I lie, desperate for him to think that nothing is wrong, desperate for him to love me and not get angry simply by looking at me.  He lets go.  My body and senses are acutely alert.  My breathing is shallow and nearly as fast as my beating heart.  I’m scared, and I need him to be calm.  I try to take slower, deeper breaths.   

He stands over me, as if wondering what to do.  I feel trapped.  I’ve been here before.  I know what’s coming and I can’t get away.  I will myself to disappear, but it doesn’t work.  Instead, I reach out to him.  Maybe if I show him love he won’t be angry.  Anything to stop what I know I can’t stop.   I see and feel his rage build.  My hand touches his hand and finds that it’s a tightly clenched fist.   

When he smashes his fist into my face, I don’t feel pain.  Adrenaline takes over and I simply feel the need to survive.   I try to get away, but I can’t back away from where I am.  “You make me sick.”  He slowly hisses through his teeth and comes toward me.  I put my arms in front of my face to shield myself.  It’s instinctual.  I’m knocked sideways on the couch, I slide down, and I crawl, desperate to get away.  Live, survive, live, get away, get away, get away, the voice screams in my head.

 

He tries to kick me, but I move out of the way and his brown scuffed boot only grazes me. I always loved the way he looks in those boots.  Like one of those male models, the ones who lean on fence posts and light cigarettes in the ads.  They always have cowboy hats that are tipped down over their eyes, and worn jeans.  He grabs me by the arm and yanks me up. 

I try to pull away.  I need to run into the hallway.  I need to get away from him.  I need to live.  Get out, get away, live, live, live.  “You stupid little bitch, you think you’ll get away from me?” he spits.  I swing hard.  The contact feels good.  The sickening sounds of flesh colliding with flesh seem amplified.  I have to get away.  He doesn’t expect it and it stuns him.  I pull down and disentangle myself from his grip. 

I run. 

I have to get into the bedroom where I can lock the door.  I need a barrier between us.  Get away, get away, get away.  He catches me in the short hallway and shoves me hard from behind.  I fall forward to the ground.  I try to crawl away from him.  The bedroom is tiny and I’m trapped.  I have to live. 

I fight.  I will not win, but I fight anyway.

He kicks me brutally on the side and I curl up into a ball.  He is vicious and kicks me again.  I can’t fight back anymore.  He knows it and it enrages him further.  I try to stop his boot.  All I see is his brown boot.  It’s bigger than I am.  It’s stronger than I am.  It doesn’t stop.  That boot that I love is going to kill me.

Now I’m going to die. He will kill me, just as he’s always told me.  I can’t get away.   

The voice in my head has changed.  Please help me, oh, God.  Someone help me.

 Suddenly, before I die, his rage expends, and he stops. 

It’s quiet.  Only my raspy breathing fills the corners of the room.

I can’t see, but I know he’s left.

I can’t get up to lock the door.  I lie on the floor in a ball and weep.  I don’t see the blood.  My eyes are swollen nearly shut.  My weeping turns to sobs.  It hurts to cry, but I can’t stop. 

I cry out my pain and my anger.  I cry out my loneliness and fear.  I cry for the sorry little girl that I was and for the stupid, hateful person that I am now.  I cry out all of my misery and mistakes, my ugliness and shame. 

Then numbly, I simply stay on the floor, hating; hating him, hating myself, hating my life.  Life is not worth living.  

I want to die.

Tomorrow I’ll find a way. 

Tonight I can’t move.  

 

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Writing Your Way to Wholeness, Creative Exercises for Personal Growth by Terre Ouwehand. Would you like to learn how writing can connect you with the universe? Do you need writing topics for your recovery journal? Does writer’s block frequently sabotage your creative process? This book can help. Combining her creative writing expertise with her personal recovery experience, the author presents this transformational resource to a growing cross section of readers – people in recovery, creative writers, people seeking spiritual connection.

The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive…” Visionary author Oriah Mountain Dreamer brings to life the wisdom of her beloved “The Invitation” which has touched hearts everywhere with its fresh and spirited call to live life more passionately and to settle for nothing less than what is real.

The Discovery of Poetry, a field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. Long before she fell in love with Tuscany, Frances Mayes fell in love with poetry. The author of five poetry collections, she was a professor of creative writing at San Francisco State University until last year. In this accessible field guide, Mayes invites readers to share her lifelong passion. Beginning with basic terminology and techniques, The Discovery of Poetry reveals how focusing on each aspect of a poem can help you to better understand, appreciate, and enjoy the whole reading and writing experience. In addition to creative composition ideas, lyrical and lively discussions are followed by a thoughtful selection of poems. With its distinguished anthology of work from Shakespeare to Jamaica Kincaid, The Discovery of Poetry is an insightful, invaluable guide to what Mayes calls “the natural pleasures of language – a happiness we were born to have.”

Leaving the Saints, How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith by Martha Beck. As “Mormon royalty” within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Martha Beck was raised in a home frequented by the Church’s high elders in an existence framed by the strictest code of conduct. As an adult, she moved to the east coast, outside of her Mormon enclave for the first time in her life. When her son was born with Down syndrome, Martha and her husband left their graduate programs at Harvard to return to Utah, where they knew the supportive Mormon community would embrace them. But when she was hired to teach at Brigham Young University, Martha was troubled by the way the Church’s elders silenced dissidents and masked truths that contradicted its published beliefs. Most troubling of all, she was forced to face her history of sexual abuse by one of the Church’s most prominent authorities. The New York Times bestseller Leaving the Saints chronicles Martha’s decision to sever her relationship with the faith that had cradled her for so long and to confront and forgive the person who betrayed her so deeply. Leaving the Saints offers a rare glimpse inside one of the world’s most secretive religions while telling a profoundly moving story of personal courage, survival, and the transformative power of spirituality.

Yesterday I Cried by Iyanla Vanzant. Celebrating the lessons of living and loving. What is the lesson in abuse, neglect, abandonment, rejection? What is the lesson when you lose someone you really love? Just what are the lessons of life’s hard times? Bestselling author Iyanla Vanzant has had an amazing and difficult life – one of great challenges that uncovered her wonderful gifts and led to wisdom. In this simple book, she uses her own experience to show how life’s hardships can be re-languaged and re-visioned to become lessons that teach us as we grow, heal, and learn to love. The pain of the past does not have to be today’s reality. Iyanla Vanzant is an example of how yesterday’s tears become the seeds of today’s hope, renewal, and strength. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. Her name is Dinah. In the bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons in the Book of Genesis. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoil of ancient womanhood – the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers – Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah – the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that are to sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah’s story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate, immediate connection. Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich story-telling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women’s society.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel presents with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha. In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction – at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful – and completely unforgettable.

Red Sky in Mourning, A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea by Tami Oldham Ashcraft with Susea McGearhart. Young and in love, Tami Oldham and her fiance, Richard Sharp, set sail from Tahiti under brilliant blue skies. Twenty days into their journey, they sailed directly into a monumental hurricane. Just seconds after Richard tethered himself to the boat and sent Tami below, Tami heard Richard’s scream over the roar of the wind. And then all went black. Red Sky in Mourning is the story of Tami’s miraculous forty-on-day journey to safety, after discovering that Richard had been swept overboard, her motor was shot, and her masts were gone. Her story offers an inspiring reminder that even in our darkest moments we are never truly alone.

When Katie Wakes by Connie May Fowler. Connie May Fowler is known to the world as the author of bestselling novels and powerful essays – but no one knew that for years she was the victim of brutal abuse and relentless humiliation. Now in this harrowing, spellbinding memoir, Fowler finally tells her own story. The daughter and granddaughter of battered women, Fowler found herself irresistibly drawn to a man who was bent on destroying her, physically and emotionally. Despite her youth, spirit, education, and wonderful talent, she was trapped in a cycle of violence and despair with no way out. Until the day she adopted an incredible puppy she named Kateland. With stunning candor, Connie May Fowler reveals how the unconditional love and loyalty of this dog helped her turn the corner, find a safe place, and reclaim her own life. A work of extraordinary passion and courage, When Katie Wakes holds out hope and inspiration to anyone who has ever dreamed of starting over.

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