I realize now that it scared the hell out of you when you found my diary. Thirty-three years old, five kids, an insane husband with a knack for cruelty. How were you supposed to cope with a disturbed 13-year-old tacked to your long list of to-dos? And that’s how you interpreted what you read when I declared myself a child of the devil and a saint of God. What were you to make of that? Your disapproval crushed me like a withered rose slammed in the middle of the King James.
In those days the Taj Mahal couldn’t hold enough words to describe the sadness I felt, but each time I relocated some of those feelings to my diary, I was releasing a drop of air from a balloon about to burst, venting the stomach acid that snaked like the oddity of a north-flowing river through my throat. When you let the air out of the only life raft I owned, I stopped writing, gave it up, took up smoking and eventually bus drivers and shoe salesmen, went on a safari of self-destruction. Sixty years later, your own body a mess, growing tumors that spread like kudzu, you woke up to the reality that a steady diet of meanness digs at a person’s foundations, can literally choke the life out of them. That’s when you started telling your own truth. That’s when you understood mine.
I wanted to be a writer, and for years I believed it was your fault I wasn’t one. But when I grew up enough to realize what your life was like, I quit blaming you. Your life was just like mine, always waiting for the hammer, wondering when it would fall, how badly it would hurt when it landed. For my whole childhood I prayed that you would get a divorce, perhaps marry someone who didn’t need to humiliate you to feel better about himself, someone who wouldn’t fillet us with his endless supply of anger. Sometimes I still indulge in “what-ifs,” wonder what our lives would have been like if we had understood sooner rather than later that being born on a rough road doesn’t mean one is committed to walking on rocks forever.
What if pigs could fly? All yesterday’s pie in the sky, a Cirque du Soleil of mental gymnastics. Today, a new story, a bright, shiny, happy story, a day to say thank you if these blessings came from you to compensate for stopping my writing dead in its tracks. Thank you for sending writing coach Rosemary Daniell, unsolicited, from one side of the waiting room of the breast clinic to the other to invite me, a complete stranger, to her monthly salon. Thank you for directing young poet and professor James E. Tolan from New York City to Daniell’s Savannah Zona Rosa workshop where he encouraged me to send some of my poems to him. Thank you for urging him to fall in love with my rendition of our family history and to pave the way for its publication. Thank you for Otherwise, We Are Safe.