My memoir excerpt “Detention” on Ch’kara Silverwolf’s blog!
Thanks so much, Caroline! I appreciate the kind words :)
This week’s Writer Wednesday is all about Lori Schafer’s memoir, “On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness.”
I couldn’t put it down. I’m usually early to bed around here, and up before dawn, but this one had me seeing midnight. I like to think of that as a real “grown up” hour. I’m not sure there are enough adjectives for me to truly describe this memoir: poignant, touching, heartbreaking, and triumphant.
The author takes us through her journey as the daughter of a mentally ill mother. Although no definitive psychiatric diagnosis was ever given – to either the reader, or the author – the rollercoaster ride of fear and struggle and attempting to be a normal teenager was depicted so clearly, I felt as though I was with the author in the story. The narrative had me invested in the…
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Last week I decided to find a new home for my fake Christmas tree. Formerly it resided in an awkward and difficult-to-navigate corner of the basement, and I’ve finally relocated it to the upstairs closet with the rest of the Christmas stuff. Logically I know I ought to just get rid of the stupid thing. It’s a pain to put up, the branches are all bent way out of shape, a chunk of the topper is missing, and it’s still wearing tinsel from 2006. Yet somehow I’m never able to do it. It always surprises me how attached I am to that tree, even though I know full well the reason why – it’s because it’s exactly like the one my family had when I was growing up. I’m ordinarily not the nostalgic type, but to me that big ol’ fake tree with its pretty, colorful blinking lights is what makes Christmas Christmas. That and my one other indispensable holiday tradition – 1970s Christmas specials!
Yes, it’s true – Christmas was never more meaningful than it was during that wondrous era in which we celebrated the most important holiday of a child’s year not by going to church, not by singing carols, not by hitting the mall at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving, but by plopping our butts down in front of a nineteen-inch black-and-white at eight pm on Saturday nights in December and losing ourselves in these classic tales of childish wonder. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the story of an outcast who saves Christmas. Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the story of an outcast who invents Christmas as we know it today. How the Grinch Almost Stole Christmas, the story of an outcast who… Wait, I’m starting to sense a pattern here.
Now, I am not going to confess that I still watch these specials every year, and sometimes more than once, even with no children in sight. I will decline to admit that I have all of my favorites on both video and DVD, or that the one day of the year in which even I will almost certainly tear up is when I witness The Grinch having his big change of heart. I will, however, be happy to share my thoughts on that most thought-provoking of Claymation creations – the story of Rudolph.
Yes, because there’s more to the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer than the patently obvious lesson about the worth and value of misfits. This 1964 Rankin and Bass drama is chock full of enough subtext to satisfy the most diehard of film enthusiasts, and it is still, nearly fifty years later, remarkably evocative of the socially progressive era in which it was born. Let’s look at how.
1. The authority figures are jerks. There’s the nasty coach, who, after Rudolph’s secret is revealed, informs the other children snidely: “From now on, we won’t let Rudolph play in any more reindeer games, right? Right.” Look at Rudolph’s dad, Donner, who forces him to wear a fake nose, which is not only uncomfortable, but wholly undermines Rudolph’s budding self-esteem. “You’ll like it and wear it!” he commands. “There are more important things than comfort. Self-respect!” Consider Clarice’s father, who reaffirms Rudolph’s worthlessness by rejecting Rudolph on sight: “No doe of mine is going to be seen with a… with a red-nosed reindeer!” And how about the mean elf-boss, who yells at Hermey and then (illegally) refuses to give him his break until he finishes his work?
And then there’s the big man himself, Santa Claus. Not content with merely trashing the new elf song his pint-sized slaves have spent weeks writing and rehearsing, he quickly turns his temper to the subject of Rudolph. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” he tells Donner. For what, we wonder? For siring a red-nosed son? “What a pity – he had a nice take-off, too.” In other words, Santa is so closed-minded that he can’t even consider the possibility of putting someone who’s a little different on his team, no matter how good he is or how much potential he has. It’s the attitude of guys like him that gave rise to the idea of Equal Opportunity Employment.
The message is as clear as a bright red bulb on a foggy winter night. Don’t trust anyone over thirty!
2. The one authority figure who isn’t a jerk is King Moonracer, that good-looking lion. Although he speaks smoothly and with conviction, he is unfortunately an idiot. Every evening he circles the entire earth, collecting toys that no little girl or boy loves, and bringing them to his Island of Misfit Toys. Yet practically the first thing he says to Rudolph on meeting him is, “When one day you return to Christmastown, would you tell Santa about our misfit toys? I’m sure he could find children who would be happy with them.”
Okay, Your Highness, you may seem majestic with your wings and your crown and your cool castle and all, but you need better advisers. You’re telling me that you circle the entire earth every night seeking abandoned toys, but you never once thought to stop off at the North Pole and talk to Santa yourself? Heck, I mean, it’s not even that far – no farther than one can travel by ice floe, at any rate. The misfits may be all right, but the ruler of the misfits… Well, he obviously isn’t roaring with a full mane.
I’m not quite certain about the intended lesson here, though. Is it merely a dig at autocratic rule, or are we being taught that monarchy consists largely of pointless exercises in futility? In either case, it’s none too flattering to the man in charge – and in the end, it’s the brash young upstart who actually solves the problem of the misfit toys.
3. There’s a hint of underlying feminism. When Rudolph goes missing, Donner naturally decides to go out looking for him. “Mrs. Donner wanted to go along, too,” narrator Burl Ives assures us. “No! This is man’s work!” Donner blusters in response. But the days of mindless obedience to one’s husband are passing. “No sooner did the man of the house leave than Mrs. Donner and Clarice decided to go out on their own…” It’s also interesting that all of them – male and females alike – wind up in the cave of the Abominable Snow Monster. The buck, it seems, really was no better equipped to take care of himself than the ladies.
Notice, too, that the women aren’t jerks like the men are, perhaps because they have no actual authority. Why, that Clarice is downright sweet. She doesn’t laugh along with the others; rather, she compels Rudolph to keep his promise to walk her home. She sings to the unfortunate misfit to ease his dejection and pain. She even defends his “deformity,” declaring, “I think it’s a handsome nose! Much better than that silly false one you were wearing.” She’s kind of a forward gal, too. The way she whispers “I think you’re cute!” into Rudolph’s ear just before takeoff practice, the way she nuzzles noses with him on their first date – this is not a doe who is suffering from sexual repression.
Strong, independent, free-thinking females – you can practically see women’s lib being born right in front of your eyes.
4. It’s about coming-of-age. Because there’s no need for Rudolph to actually get rid of his red nose. He just needs to learn to control it. Am I right? The young Rudolph’s “blinkin’ beak” goes off at random, shocking nearby observers with both the shining light and the horrible high-pitched whine that accompanies it. Indeed, his secret is discovered during one such unexpected episode – and worse, he and his friends are almost caught by The Abominable during another. But by the end, Rudolph is flicking that thing on and off on command, and that’s the point at which it becomes useful – even desirable – to Santa and the others.
“Control! Control! You must learn control!” Yoda scolds Luke Skywalker, another youngster with unique and special powers. And what about Harry Potter? There’s a story that’s all about learning self-control. Misfit or no, Rudolph, too, must gain mastery over his body and his emotions before he can become a productive member of society.
And that, of course, is the quintessence of growing up.
5. It’s about the growing acceptance of babies born out of wedlock. Surprising, but quite possibly true. Have you ever noticed that Hermey has rounded ears? Strange, isn’t it? Not only is he the only elf who doesn’t like to make toys, he’s also the only one with round ears. Indeed, except for his stature and classy powder-blue attire, he might not be an elf at all. He might even be – gasp – a human!
Of course, among elves, the outcast would naturally be human; the anti-Vulcan, if you will. But why did Rankin and Bass decide not to give Hermey pointy ears? Why did they decide to make him a misfit not just by personality, but also by physical characteristic?
The answer seems obvious. Hermey is – as such children used to be called – illegitimate. Because if Santa and the Missus are the only humans in Christmastown, then where did Hermey get those rounded ears? Hmm, maybe Santa’s a jerk in more ways than we thought; taking advantage of an employee – oh, no, wait. There’s also Yukon Cornelius. Maybe he popped into town one day and decided to pop in on some cute girl-elf’s cottage. Oh, wow. What if Hermey was, in fact, Yukon Cornelius’ son? Think about it – they reunite, escape death, hang out, solve problems together… I may have to compose my very first piece of fan fiction.
There’s no question that the ranks of single mothers grew in the sixties – all that free love was bound to have consequences, after all – and perhaps, in a time in which the term “bastard” still prevailed, Rudolph gently reminded us not to judge the child by the actions of its parents. It’s a lesson that we’ve evidently learned, because look at us today – even our most respected celebrities are having babies without ever getting married, and without having to apologize for it, either. And their children, too, are no longer scorned or held down by society because of their birth; they are quite as likely to succeed in life, perhaps to become celebrities in their own right, or even, if they’re very lucky and study hard, dentists.
Programs like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are arguably the reason why children of my generation grew up the way we did. Consider the lessons it teaches. Question authority, especially when authority is wrong. Make your own decisions. Judge people by their actions, not by their appearance or their circumstances. Respect those who are different from you. It’s liberal thinking in its broadest, least political sense, and it was born in an era of idealism, in which people really thought it was possible to change the world; in which they truly believed that one person could make a difference.
Rudolph lights the way.
It was hot; Texas-hot, hot like she’d never known. It relieved her to gush forth from the car, to leave the non-air-conditioned enclosure for the open heat, heat that seemed more natural, less oppressive and confining somehow. She looked ruefully down at her body: tank top soaked with great splashes of sweat, denim cutoffs sticking rudely to her skinny thighs. Embarrassing.
Her windshield stood splattered, smashed with insects, unfamiliar enough in their unwrecked form and unrecognizable at all now, their gooey guts of green and yellow speckled and crushed all over everything, everywhere. Resisting the full force of her forearm and the gas-station window-washer, they clung tight to the tempered glass, insistent stowaways for the remainder of her journey.
“Where you headed?” a voice called out.
She glanced up and saw him, an affable-looking man in his late thirties, perhaps early forties, bearing a bit of an accent but no cowboy hat; maybe a local, and maybe not one. There were only two of them there; he had to be speaking to her. She supposed there was no harm in answering.
“California,” she said, bending her elbow again to the window.
“That’s a long way off,” he replied, whistling softly.
“Yes, it is,” she agreed.
He approached her, thumbs tucked into the pockets of his own full-length dungarees, evidently immune to the heat.
“Say, that’s an expensive trip,” he observed. “You, uh — you got enough money to get there?”
Instantly she was on her guard. She circled casually around to the other side of the car, in the direction of the shop and its sleepy attendant. Was he going to rob her? Find out if she had any cash and then knock her down and take it? Instinctively she felt for it with the muscles of her behind, the wallet tucked tightly into her back pocket, crammed into a space too small for its contents, and plastered there now with sweat and fear.
“I think I’ve got enough,” she equivocated, ears burning with the lie.
“You sure?” he prodded encouragingly, penetrating her with moist periwinkle-blue eyes. “Because I, uh, know where you could make some — you know — some extra money. If you needed it.”
So he wasn’t going to rob her; he was offering her a job. The windshield was nearly clean now but she continued scrubbing, pondering the proposal. She wondered what kind of work it would be. Day labor, no doubt. But didn’t people usually want young men for that kind of thing?
He stood smiling kindly, warmly down at her, almost fatherly in aspect. She really could use the money. It had already been two days since she’d eaten. Was saving the rest of it for fuel.
“Thanks,” she said finally, deciding. “But I’m in a hurry; better get going.”
“You’re sure you won’t change your mind?” he replied, a hint of pleading in his voice.
“No,” she asserted. “But thank you for the offer.”
What a nice fellow, she thought as she headed back towards the highway. People sure were friendly down here in Texas. They sure were friendly.
* * *
“Rest Stop” is the true story of something that happened to me when I was seventeen. I had run away from my home in Massachusetts shortly after graduation, and now found myself baking in the scorching heat of July in rural Texas. I was supposed to start school at U.C. Berkeley that fall, but since I was still underage and therefore subject to recall if caught, I was understandably anxious about conserving the little money I had, as I wasn’t sure how easy it would be for a kid with no parents, no home, and no local references to find a job. Being mathematically minded, I quite naturally spent the long miles driving in calculating a fairly precise budget, which, once I’d paid for necessities like gas and oil, had little room in it for luxuries like food. And then I stopped at this gas station and here was this wonderful man asking me earnestly if I had enough money to get where I was going or whether I wanted to earn a little extra to tide me over until I arrived safely at my intended destination.
I’m embarrassed to admit now that I was just as naive as the girl in the story. I spent a lot of time traveling alone in the years that followed, and was propositioned numerous times by other equally friendly fellows seeking the company of a young woman for an afternoon or an hour. But this was the first such occasion, and I was so utterly confounded by this man’s incomprehensible behavior that I spent many miles pondering it in my head. Why had this stranger been so inexplicably nice? Who offers money to a girl he doesn’t even know, in exchange for services he isn’t sure she’s qualified to perform? I’d probably driven a good half hour before comprehension finally came roaring into my addled teenaged brain and I understood that I’d come unbelievably close to becoming an unwitting body for hire. At length amusement over the incident replaced my horror, and at least the next time it happened, I was prepared with a polite, “No, thank you, sir.”
* * *
“Rest Stop” is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past. You can learn more about it by visiting the book’s webpage or by clicking the image below to be taken to the Amazon details page:
My author interview with Ognian Georgiev!
Lori Schafer’s memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened is a very deep and brutal book. When I read the answers in the interview it was like something scary passed through my body. The author earned my respect for the bravery to tell such a personal things. Are you ready for some real deal life story?
– Lori, What is your book On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened about?
– On Hearing of My Mother’s Death: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness commemorates my adolescent experience of my mother’s psychosis. I was sixteen when it happened, and I watched helplessly as she became violent and dangerous, to the point where I literally feared for my life. Her fears and delusions grew so powerful that for a time she took me out of our house, and even out of school. After…
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“It touches you, and it moves you. It makes you angry, and hopeful. You do not feel sorry for the main character, you just feel sad.”
I love what Angela had to say about my book – it definitely goes beyond what you normally see in a book review. Thoughtful and eloquent.
One can only wonder what would lead someone to not know of their mother’s passing until such a long time after the fact. And then you read this story.
It touches you, and it moves you. It makes you angry, and hopeful. You do not feel sorry for the main character, you just feel sad. Sad that someone would have to go through such a difficult situation. Sad that someone was robbed of a loving mother due to an illness that affects so many, and is yet so hard for most to talk about.
The author is not looking for sympathy, or anyone to feel sorry for her. She does not have a “woe-is-me” attitude. She made the best out of a very tough situation, and persevered; succeeded; beat the odds when so many others would have given up.
Have you felt true fear? The type of fear that comes…
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And no, it isn’t me. I’m afraid I’d need a truly massive amount of help to make that happen!
But Lilo Abernathy certainly has a shot. Her urban fantasy/paranormal romance/mystery The Light Who Shines (Bluebell Kildare Series Book 1) currently stands at about #6,800 in the Kindle Store – which as those of you who have released books on Amazon know, is pretty dang high. Well, Lilo’s book has performed so well in the ten months since its release that Amazon has selected it as a Kindle Daily Deal and will be offering at the reduced price of $1.99 this Thursday, November 20th, for one day only.
Now Lilo has it on good authority that it is possible for a Kindle Daily Deal to result in up to 3,000 downloads in a day – and that it may take as few as 3,500 copies sold in a day to reach that precious #1 spot. So she’s enlisting the aid of all of her author friends in a cooperative attempt to make that happen.
“Great!” I hear you thinking. “What can I do to help?”
Thanks for asking! The simple answer – share, share, share! Like me, Lilo is very active on Twitter (@Lilo_Abernathy) and also on Facebook (she’s created an events page here), so on Thursday, if you could share her tweets or her posts in the venue of your choice, that would be tremendously helpful. She will also be updating her Blogger blog with a post to share if you prefer to do that instead. And if you’re really feeling ambitious, you can start a couple of days ahead of time and recruit others to help out, too – hence this post! As Lilo is not on WordPress, feel free to re-blog my post if you like – whatever it takes to get the word out.
Not much of a social sharer? No problem! Click the image below to check out her book – for only $1.99, you might just want to buy it! ;)
Today I am pleased to introduce L. F. Falconer, author of the historical coming-of-age fiction novels Hope Rises from the Ashes and Hope Flies on Broken Wings. Her latest book, a fantasy prequel entitled The Vagabond’s Son: Prelude to a Legacy was just released in September. You can find out more about Leanna on her website or on her author page on Amazon, where you can read an impressive array of book reviews for her work, most of which average 4.7 stars or higher!
Leanna’s guest post “When Characters Mutiny” is below, as is an excerpt from The Vagabond’s Son, but first I’d like to present this brief author interview. It took me a fair amount of thought to come up with these two questions, but I think Leanna’s answers provide a lot of insight into her and her work.
If you were throwing a party for the characters in your books, who among them would you refuse to invite and why?
If everyone showed up this would be a fairly good-sized party, but I doubt it’d be much fun. Other than a handful of characters who could actually let their hair down and have a good time, what I really picture here is a room full of people keeping to themselves, or at the most, only associating with those of the same social standing. One character I would definitely leave off the guest list is Harlo, Dugan’s father from Hope Flies on Broken Wings. Because of his profane nature and mob-style clout, his presence would put a damper upon any frivolity the party might be able to muster. For similar reasons, I would try to exclude Laramato, from The Vagabond’s Son, as well. I doubt anyone would want to deal with either one of those sadistic creeps at a party and they would not be missed.
Suppose that you were suddenly transported into the world of one of your books. Which character would you be and why?
There are a good many characters in my books who are well-adjusted, upstanding, personable folk that one might think would be fine to embody. However, as their creator, I’m privy to all their ugly little secrets. I’m well aware of any less than enviable life experiences as well as the ultimate fates that await them. This insider knowledge can make selecting a character I might like to become a genuine challenge! Yet one does stand out above all others—that being Gabriel Hunter from Exit Strategy. I’ve chosen Gabe because, unlike me, he is definitely a piece of eye-candy and can play a mean ocarina. He’s also well-traveled, can adapt to any situation, and even though his strong inner self-discipline makes him appear cold and unfeeling, underneath that façade beats the heart of an angel.
When Characters Mutiny
In literature, not all characters are created equal, and some just naturally emerge stronger than others. Such was the case with Adalanto.
A handsome young piskie with beautiful blue eyes, Adalanto began his life as a secondary character in a supporting role. Yet the more scenes he appeared in, the stronger he became until he finally usurped the entire plot and foisted himself into a position of high importance
I could have put an end to this uprising with a sweep of the pen, but instead, I decided to let him go, just to see where he might take things. After all, he and his friend Tulemar, had already come to my rescue when I was suffering a severe case of writer’s block. Much to my surprise, he brought about a wonderful turn of events which led to a more satisfactory conclusion than I had originally planned.
But, perhaps I should start at the beginning:
Twenty-six years ago I wrote a poem—a medieval ballad of a young warrior who sought a treasure upon a mountaintop. Along his trek, he defeated several mythical beings who sought to end his quest, losing all his weapons in the process. And when he finally reached the peak, he came to learn the treasure was simply lore. It did not exist. Left disheartened and unarmed, he still had to face the menace of a dragon that stood in his way of retreat.
The poem sparked the interested of a couple of magazine editors but, at over four pages, its length prohibited publication. Several years later I began to convert that poem into a story. That one story grew into two, then into four, and continued to grow exponentially until it finally reached the epic proportions it is today. Over half a million words in length, The Legacy of Skur is finally nearing the publication stage. And out of this work, Adalanto of The Vagabond’s Son was born.
As I previously stated, Adalanto began his life as a secondary character, but he was having none of that! He demanded the lead. In the full development of his character, it dawned upon me that instead of just a paragraph or two of background now and then, his entire story needed to be told, for it is definitely one of “courage under fire.”
A child reared in insolation by his abusive, drunken father, Adalanto escapes at age twelve and is taken in by a kindly, deeply religious family. Being suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar society, Adalanto struggles, often unsuccessfully, to fit in.
The Vagabond’s Son follows this journey into adulthood as Adalanto learns to build relationships with others while trying to overcome the ever-present burden of his childhood scars. For as strong as his character is, he does have many weaknesses and flaws, and will forever do battle within himself. Each chapter in the book begins a new chapter in his life, until his story finally merges with his entrance into [as yet, unpublished] The Legacy of Skur.
Much of the writing of The Vagabond’s Son was painful to do. Often, during my research into the psychological problems usually endured by children raised in (a) isolation, and (b) abusive homes, I was left enraged and in tears. I had to walk a fine line in presenting the types of abuse young Adalanto goes through. I had to deal out enough to cause him a number of issues to overcome, but not so much as to leave him broken. And while at times it may have seemed none existed, I had to consistently provide him a thread of hope as well as the strength of spirit to succeed.
The Vagabond’s Son is a psychological, character based story set in a realm of fantasy, and deals with some hard social issues, including scenes of abuse, sexual situations, and violence. While not necessary to read in order to delve into the upcoming The Legacy of Skur series, its purpose is to give the reader a deeper understanding of his character. As with most of my works, it is recommended for a mature audience.
For more information please visit http://www.lffalconer.com
Now, please allow me to present a short excerpt from The Vagabond’s Son, Prelude to a Legacy. [From Chapter Three, where Adalanto, at age fifteen and employed in the palace kitchen, is unexpectedly summoned before the Piskitian king.]
The following morning Adalanto was carving the fresh venison Thegn Peppolin’s company had just delivered, when a young boy in a green tunic and cap entered the kitchen.
“King Jaspidian wishes an immediate audience with Adalanto,” the page announced.
Gondofor and Ashirina shared a look of surprise while Adalanto’s own face was stricken pale. What had he done that would cause the king to demand him? Did it have something to do with Donamara, who used to be a royal’s favorite?
“Right now?” he squeaked.
“I am to escort you,” the page informed him.
“But I’m a bloody mess.”
“It’s not wise to keep the king waiting,” Gondofor said grimly. “Go at once.”
Adalanto quickly cleansed the blood from his hands and face in the wash bucket, cursing himself for having chosen this morning to wash his other set of clothes. He’d been in the palace over two years now and had yet to lay eyes upon the king. His stomach began to constrict in tight knots. His father’s drunken voice rumbled through his memory, “Did I ever tell you ‘bout the time I met the king?” With a trepid heart, he followed the page out the door.
They stopped before the double doors of the throne room and a guard with a brown leather cap announced him before ushering Adalanto inside.
He tried to control his queasiness and followed the guard over the woven reed mat across the expansive room, approaching the throne. Upon reaching the dais, he and the guard both dropped to one knee and bowed in genuflection.
“Rise,” the king commanded.
Taking a deep breath, Adalanto rose to await whatever punishment he had unwittingly been deemed to merit and dared to look upon the face of his king. He was younger than Adalanto expected, older than he, but not as old as Markaset, probably closer in age to Leandervon, with eyes so dark they were nearly the same shade as the black of his hair. A shiny, spiked, silver crown gleamed brightly above similarly spiked ears. He was dressed in tall black boots, black pants, and a flouncy white linen shirt beneath a black beaver fur vest. Two silver chains adorned with gold and silver medallions encircled his neck.
“You are the boy who has been aiding my cook?” the king asked, idly fingering one of the medallions.
“Yes, Your Majesty.” His voice sounded as tiny as he felt.
King Jaspidian rose from his mahogany throne and stepped off the dais. He stood beside him and Adalanto noted he was not as tall as he appeared on the throne. Chin cupped in his hand, Jaspidian circled around him studiously.
How Adalanto wished he’d had some clean clothes available. Such a disgrace to be clad so unkempt before the king. His sweat gathered. His heart beat hard against his breast, and he wished nothing more than to just crawl away and hide.
“It was lucky I forgot my keys,” her mother was saying, rubbing the raised scar between her daughter’s thumb and forefinger. “I came back and found you lying in a pool of blood.”
“I don’t remember that,” Gloria answered, astonished that such a noteworthy event had slipped from her mental grasp.
“Well, it was several years ago. You were only five then.”
“How did it happen?” the child inquired curiously, still struggling to picture herself prone in that gruesome pool.
“I don’t know exactly. I think you were playing with scissors. They were those rounded ones they let you use in kindergarten, but somehow you got them in there good.”
An image burst into her mind. The scissors in her right fist, attempting a difficult cut, snapping suddenly towards the web in the crook of her left hand. And then darkness.
“I found them afterwards on the floor. Your sister, of course, was nowhere to be found,” her mother continued bitterly.
Of course not. Her sister, eight years older, was often stuck babysitting her while their mom was at work, and was never very enthusiastic about the job. Gloria had numerous scars from lacerations that had probably needed stitches that her sister had merely slapped a band-aid over.
“An artery runs through there,” her mom was explaining. “That’s why it bled so much.”
She remembered now, what she had been doing. It was the homemade wrapping-paper. She’d taken some of her white lined school paper and drawn pictures on it. Pictures of what? She thought hard. What had the present been for?
Seasonal pictures, that was it. Pictures of Christmas, of fat gift-boxes and skinny stick-figure Santas and reindeer with glowing noses and Christmas trees rife with ornaments that glowed even brighter, crayon yellow and red and orange. Sloppily drawn but carefully colored, and then cut to fit, cut to fit the present itself.
“What was the present?” she asked abruptly.
“What present?” her mom replied, bewildered.
“I was making wrapping-paper. For a present. I think it was for you. I remember now.”
Her mother shook her head. “I don’t know, dear. I don’t remember seeing a package anywhere.”
What had the present been? Something childish, no doubt. A ceramic ashtray, maybe a milk carton with dirt and a single flower growing in it. Funny how she remembered the wrapping-paper but not the present. As if the paper were the more impressive part of the gift. Perhaps it had been.
What had happened to it? There must have been blood all over it. After she’d worked so hard to make it pretty, to make it nice, for it to get all bloody and then disappear without a trace. It was a darned shame.
“I really wish I knew what happened to it,” she said aloud.
“You nearly died, Gloria,” her mother said emphatically, as if her daughter was missing the point of the story.
“But I didn’t,” Gloria answered, equally certain that her mother was missing the point as well.
This story is based almost word for word on one of my own childhood memories. I discovered a strange scar between my thumb and forefinger when I was about eight and my mom told me how I had severed an artery with a pair of kindergarten scissors and nearly died. And at that point I realized that I did sort of remember that — that is, I remembered up until the moment of the cut. I was handmaking wrapping paper for a Christmas present — drawings on lined school paper — and somehow sliced my hand open. My mom had already left for work, but she’d forgotten something and came back upstairs to find me “lying in a pool of blood.” That mental image has really stuck with me all these years.
I tried in this piece to put a more positive spin on the memory. As an adult, I understand now that all a parent would see was the blood; the sight of your daughter dying in the kitchen. To the child, however, it was all about the present.
“Past and Present” originally appeared in The Avalon Literary Review in August 2013 as the 3rd place winner of their quarterly contest. It is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past, now available in eBook ($2.99) and paperback ($6.99) at retailers worldwide. For more information, please visit the book’s webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.
Lovely review of On Hearing of My Mother’s Death by author Kat Green!
It was the spring of 1989. I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school and an honors student. I had what every teenager wants: a stable family, a nice home in the suburbs, a great group of friends, big plans for my future, and no reason to believe that any of that would ever change.
Then came my mother’s psychosis.
I experienced first-hand the terror of watching someone I loved transform into a monster, the terror of discovering that I was to be her primary victim. For years I’ve lived with the sadness of knowing that she, too, was a helpless victim – a victim of a terrible disease that consumed and destroyed the strong and caring woman I had once called Mom.
My mother’s illness took everything. My family, my home, my friends, my future. A year and a half later I would…
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