I walk outside to let the dogs out before bed. It’s late, and I think… maybe I need to go to bed earlier.
But the moist air hits my skin at just the right temperature, and so I walk the dogs a little longer, and the longer I walk, the more my spirits lift. Not long after that, we end up at the dog park where my pup runs laps around the enclosure.
I can’t stop looking up at the sky.
Do you know that feeling — and maybe this is just me — but that feeling when your soul comes back to life, and you can see, hear, and feel the beauty of the world? Life, for a moment, stops being so dark and dreary.
Do you know what I mean?
The feeling is familiar to the clouds parting after a terrible storm. It’s the sensation of a warm shower after a run in the cold. Your senses come to life and at that moment, the first moment in a long time, you know you are open enough to change your life.
Not the little shallow changes either.
I think of these states as almost a spiritual state. They’re rare. Exceedingly rare, but they’re always, always followed by periods of rapid expansion and growth.
And so it’s now four am, and I’ve started writing. So I guess I’m not going to bed early, am I?
Since we’re here… would you like to hear a story that’s been on my mind? Fair warning, it’s not a happy one, but I promise the character turns out okay.
After all, I said the other day we would talk about trauma. Isn’t it fun processing childhood trauma as an adult?
Alright, well… this is a dramatic shift, so I’m going to put those fancy dots below and call it section two.
I sit, legs swinging and dangling, at the edge of a cattle ramp. I scrawl out line after line of poetry as I watch the sunset in amazement.
The sky slowly turns from fantastical reds and yellows and oranges to a robust milky way sky. A stunning strip of stars glowing from the southwest to the northeast. If you’ve ever spent time away from the city, far beyond the light pollution, you might be able to picture the sight in your head.
In the distance, I heard the glass door swing open, snapping me back to reality in an instant. Jan’s voice echoed over the warm summer air. “Nicole!” She screamed at the top of her lungs, banging a fist on a plastic bucket that she often used as a bell before letting the door slam closed again.
I took a moment to take in the scene one last time before I wandered my way back through the corrals and into the house. I knew dad would be sitting in his chair, right at the front door, watching the tv with both eyes closed. My brother probably already laid down for the night in bed, and Jan would be doing her evening prayers. Odd to think of a devil like her worshiping God, but hey, life is stranger than fiction. Right?
The door opened quietly. I slip past dad and the fuzzy late-night tv show playing through the aluminum extended antenna and step softly over the creaky kitchen boards.
So far, I’ve made it inside unnoticed. I slip my notebooks under the tacky church clothes they force me to wear every Sunday. The jean skirts make especially good hiding places for my journals. They’re all I have left now.
Here, at the ranch, all of my possessions are at risk. I live a life much like a prisoner, and my time on the cattle ramp is eerily similar to yard time.
The day I arrived, Jan ripped apart my favorite pair of trip pants and prized Nirvana shirt claiming the devil had infested my “lifestyle”. I’m still not sure what she meant. Did the devil himself possess my clothing?
That’s about as silly as it sounds. In reality, Jan destroyed my possessions, one day at a time, until all the things I cared about most had disappeared.
Last week she confiscated my prized copies of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket. I had all thirteen books after years of collecting. My grandmother even got the signed edition of the thirteenth copy I hadn’t gotten around to reading yet. I still haven’t read it.
Anyway, I came into the room to find a letter waiting for me on my bed, letting me know that the smoke outside was from my books. She even found the Lord of the Rings books that I tried hard to keep secret.
It crossed my mind to call my mother to come and get me. To rescue me from the hell that I’d accidentally signed myself up for, but she’d taken my phone away, too. Actually, not only did she take the phone, but she messaged my friends to let them know I hated them, and would never contact them again.
I was isolated on a ranch, miles away from anyone who could help me, and even if they could, I’m not sure they would believe me.
So I tucked my razor blade into the spine of my favorite notebook and slid it in between the gaudy jean skirts that I would have to wear for church tomorrow, and got ready for bed.
It was hard to sleep there with the coyotes screaming in the distance and the branch that scraped across the glass with each gust of wind, but eventually, I slid into sleep. Exhausted, hungry, lonely, and wishing I had never agreed to move to this godforsaken ranch.
I gasped as the door slammed into the wall. I woke to the sight of my stepmother storming into my room, laser-focused on the drawer with the notebooks, with a vicious smile on her face. My father looked strange and demented as he stood in front of my bed.
She threw my clothing out of each drawer. Dumping even the approved garments onto the floor. My heart pounded, not knowing what to expect next.
“You’re a sick child. You know that? Sick!” Jan screamed as she found my stash of notebooks.
“Those are mine!” I stood up to grab it from her hands, but dad pushed me back into the bed. “Stop it!” I begged.
She read from the severely depressed journal entries, poems, and short stories. Laughing at me as dad cornered me against the wall. I yelled for them to stop over and over again, but Jan merely laughed as she ripped out each individual page until the shredded pages of my life covered the bed and floor.
Those pages were all of me, everything I held dear, and they were the last thing that I could truly call mine.
I don’t remember what happened next. Not really. It’s like the horror cuts off because that’s all my fifteen-year-old brain could handle at three am that night.
After Jan felt satisfied that my work had been sufficiently destroyed, and my psyche adequately damaged, they left me to sleep for what little time they left of the night. I didn’t, at least not quickly.
I sat there in the small space between the wall and the bed, curled into my knees, staring into the carpet. I must have fallen asleep at some point because I woke up, or at least woke out of my trance.
Jan came in to retrieve me for church as if the events of the night before never happened. I got dressed in my jean skirt and black funeral blouse without a word.
Tears streamed down my face as I tried to gather all the shreds of paper into orderly piles, but it was useless. Everything was demolished, and the contents within them were gone forever. Echoing in my mind only as the ghostly screams of my stepmother tormenting me.
As I scooped the papers into my hands, a stinging pain hit my palm. The tiny eraser razor blade. The only thing left.
I was in shock, but that was the day that I decided I had to escape. I knew either I would escape the ranch, or I would die there either by my hand or hers.
And that is where I’ll leave it for the night. There are many more stories that I imagine are going to come up at random intervals, and we’ll leave those to deal with another day.
P.S. Jan is a made-up name. It’s really probably best if I keep all identities secret except my own.