A Joy Restored

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Photo Credit: “Jump” by Jana_Koll

I’ve said my dream was to be a writer. I developed this dream in childhood—I don’t know exactly when, but it was early. I read profusely from age eight on, and I’m guessing my writing dreams developed as my reading list grew.

At that age it was enough to have a foggy notion, a sort of affinity, a general inclination or tendency to writing. Writing was fun! I did it without overly thinking about it. I jotted silly stories and poems, and when I started playing the piano at age eight, also penning song lyrics. Back then I never thought about the practicalities of getting published, the imminent necessity of earning a living, the eventuality of needing a schedule to keep oneself on track to produce enough, often enough, to survive. No, back then my dream was a hobby, a thing I did at whimsy with no outside provocation. I did it because I enjoyed it. It brought me joy. It was fun.

How wonderful to be a child, to be innocent of worldly and societal expectations, or implications of adulthood. How I wish, as I write this, that I could go back.

Is that impossible?

It seemed impossible when life threw me its first really traumatic curveball at fourteen, when tragedy struck so quickly it seemed childhood was snatched away overnight. Then it was, I have to think, that Satan really went in for the kill on my identity. And with it, my dreams.

Suddenly I was no longer a capable, positive, promising child. I was an incapacitated, negative, doomed child. My world as far as I could see had collapsed around me. I couldn’t see beyond the walls of my home, now torn apart by dissension and hatred and despair.

Though a family breakup may not be our fault, it has everything to do with us. It has everything to do with how we see and understand our place in the world, everything to do with how we define ourselves. I’m not saying this is how it should be, or even that it’s logical, just that this is how it is.

This family event affected everything about me. It redefined me in negative, defeated ways. I became, in my eyes, a pitiable child, one who couldn’t speak up or have needs, either at home or at school.

Instead of being an empowered writer, I became a closet writer. That dream of writing got shoved in a closet, shoved under cover—literally, under the covers of journals—as I took to writing about my family plight and my own plight for no one’s eyes but my own. I guarded my writing, and with it, my pain, like I guarded the family secret. This was not healthy. And yet, by God’s grace, he even used that period of writing to myself for good. Even though the subject matter was bad, it kept me growing at least as far as a writer.  The writing kept my joints oiled, kept me in practice. The practice was being perverted, but it was leading to something only God could see.

happy life
Photo Credit: “Happy Life” by Lusi

Today I feel I have regained the joy of writing–maybe I’m even embarking on my second childhood! Gone are the dark days and the need to hide who I am, because God has restored to me my value and my worth. I rejoice because my identity is not defined by what was done TO me, but by what God has done FOR me. He saved me. He restored me. And He has returned me to the joy of my youth. Thanks for sharing my journey!

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The Playground Kiss (A Rare, Funny Memory)

LITTLE-GIRL-KISSES-BOY
Source: drpinna.com. Apparently, these days a little girl can get the police called for pulling a stunt like this!

What do you find when rooting around in your memory? And do you do this often, or only when together with family or friends?

As a memoir writer, it is my job to sift through memories, but sadly, that’s not always a fun task. On the other hand, when my husband’s family gets together to excavate their collective consciousness, there’s no end to the laughs.

I can only hope my family will get to that point someday, too, but for now, I take hope from a recent realization: Namely, my memory seems to have these gaps—huge gaps—from my childhood.

Anyway, we were at my nephew’s Kindergarten graduation recently, and that jogged my memory back to my own early elementary life. Sitting there pregnant, I started to have memories of me around that age, and I wondered if I really wanted my kid to go to school.

Because suddenly, I was remembering how I’d been scarred by school—specifically, my rejection by many of the girls in my class.

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Source: stopbullying.myupsite.com

“Honey, I don’t want our kid to go through that,” I worried to my hubby later that night, explaining how recess used to strike terror in me like class time never did.

“Oh, you’re just assuming it will be the same for our child as it was for you. But you’ve never been comfortable in social situations.”

“Oh really?” I prickled.

“I mean, you’ve gotten somewhat better…” he amended. “But that’s just your personality. Most kids like recess.”

Hmmm. I can’t sort this all out now, meaning I don’t know where our kid will go to school. But I went to bed disappointed that my most prominent memory from early elementary was that painful sting of rejection. I also realized I hadn’t spent much time writing or thinking about my early years, and I hoped doing so would turn up some forgotten gems—and some laughs, like my in-laws enjoy.

So, as I lay in bed, I kept rooting around in my memory. There must be something funny in there, somewhere. Then, I found it.

A Rare, Funny Memory

On that same playground where I remember so often standing on the outside of the circle, I also remembered becoming bold, empowered. I remembered first grade, or the only time I have ever openly pursued a man (well, in this case, a boy).

I don’t remember when it started, or why I thought it a good idea, but for a week or two that school year, before the teacher told me to stop, I became a man-hunter. I spotted a boy I wanted—let’s call him Aaron—and every day at recess I commenced chasing him…past the monkey bars, around the sandbox, under the swings…all in hot pursuit of a kiss.

Poor guy. He was terrified of me, and one day the race, or the stress, gave him a nosebleed. Kindly, that day I desisted.

But one day I finally caught him, cornered him, and bent over his cowering figure. I remember thinking, as I went in for the kill, that it didn’t feel as satisfying as I thought it would, kissing my victim. I suppose it’s that I would have liked the object of my affection to reciprocate, just a little.

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Anyway, later that day later in class, my teacher, an overweight Trunchbull type, called me out in front of everyone else—in her stern voice and with her lightning eyebrows, she told me to stop chasing Aaron. And I, now terrified, could only stutter, “Y-y-y-y-yes, Ma’am.” It was enough for me, the embarrassment of being publicly chastised.

Aaron didn’t talk to me for the rest of first grade. And then I switched schools for second grade, and when I came back to third grade, he’d also transferred schools. And I’ve never spoken to him since. I wonder how he remembers those moments? If he comes to my ten-year class reunion this summer, I just might ask him. (After I apologize for my appalling behavior, that is.)

In case you didn’t catch it, this story is funny because of my personality now. Docile and quiet, everyone says. What got into that little girl to become a playground terror for a time? Or should I really be asking: What went out of me after that day?

Ever after that, I was never bold enough to send so much as a signed note to a crush—not before he first showed interest in me. So a lot of my crushes—actually most of them—sprouted, withered, and died, all within the confines of my heart, with no one else to witness the damage. I learned to keep it in. Maybe I learned that openness about love was embarrassing?

Coda

girl at pool

There is a coda to my playground story that makes it even funnier, at least in an ironic sort of way.

The summer after first grade, I was swimming with my brother at the community pool, with lots of other elementary kids there. And unbeknownst to me, I was about to get my just deserts for attacking Aaron.

There was another boy in my class—let’s call him James—who had a crush on me, but I thought he was about the grossest boy on the planet. Before that day, I’d never paid him any attention, and may not have known his true feelings for me. He, too, was a quiet child. But after that day at the pool, I would know without a doubt. He, too, got the devil in him, at least for a day.

Suddenly, he started chasing me. Around the perimeter of the pool, in the shallow end, in the deep end, and back again. I couldn’t turn my back for a moment because there he’d be—that big nasty boy—and he wanted more than a kiss!

Though it seems like this went on for hours, it could’ve lasted only minutes. All I knew was I felt trapped, and desperate. I couldn’t get away from this boy, and no one would help me! All they did was laugh!

In the middle of the afternoon, he caught me in the shallow end, cornered me, and caved in on me. His arms and legs wrapped around me like tentacles, and slowly I felt my breath escaping, as if the life were being sucked out of me.

I was thrashing my arms and legs, trying desperately to escape my attacker—and then, suddenly, he released me, and swam away. And that was the end of that. We hardly ever spoke again.

What is the lesson to be learned here? I’ll leave that for you to decide—and comment on. My job was just to turn up a funny memory. Do you think I succeeded?