Dear Sarah

I couldn’t find one with anything like Sarah’s silver flowers, so I chose this for its symbolic value and its ridiculous lock. ♥ This is shared for Mindslam’s Write Wednesdays #13. Click the pic for the original challenge.

I always wanted to be a writer, not of back-page gossip columns, or of product descriptions for catalogs, but of fiction, bona fide. The only time I ever said so, Daddy told me I was ridiculous and that I needed to devote my time to finding a worthwhile profession. He said I didn’t want to grow up being one of those worthless whores who sponged their way through life, living off some man the way my Mama did. He didn’t mean to call Mama a whore. If you got to know Daddy, you understood he just had a knack for choosing the most awful words available at the most inopportune of times.

Daddy said writing was for people with their heads in the clouds and I needed to keep my feet on the ground if I wanted to keep them out of the air. If ever I needed a dream killed, I knew I could always count on him to kill it. But writing was a dream I didn’t want to die, so I never mentioned it to him again.

I could never imagine something more exciting than to be able to create a whole world that didn’t exist until you breathed life into it with your words. To be able to take someone else into that world with you, well I was sure that was the most powerful talent I could conceive of. What worthwhile profession I was ever going to choose that could supplant such an incredible dream was beyond me.

My life growing up wasn’t much like most other girls’. I suppose many of them might make the same claim. The truth is, at the time, I didn’t know enough about other girls to see my life as being so different.

I was an only child. Neither of my parents really cared to spend any time with me. I was only allowed to play with friends when Daddy approved of their parents first and Daddy rarely approved of anyone but himself. As a consequence, I had very few of them and I grew up mostly keeping my own company.

Ironically, I was discouraged from fantasies of any kind, whether it was talking to myself, or playing games of pretending, or what have you. Fantasy was playing with the devil, a direct violation of God’s first commandment that would lead me straight to Hell. So the fantasies that were my only real entertainment stayed locked up in my head.

I loved reading books, especially science fiction and fantasy, but any book that wasn’t assigned to me by a teacher, had to be read in secret. Even many of the assigned ones drew distasteful remarks from Daddy.

It wasn’t until I got my first sign that I was allowed to own a diary. Mama bought me my first one, along with a box of tampons she never did explain how to use. I think she probably gave me a diary hoping it would keep me from talking to her about things, like tampons, she wasn’t comfortable with talking about.

I named her Sarah, but I didn’t dare ever say so. Sarah was light pink, embossed in silver flowers with one of those big buckle locks. She came with a pretty little key with rhinestones on it that I wore for a necklace. Many more diaries to come would all share her name.

Why I was allowed the privacy of my diaries is something I still don’t understand, but with only one cruel exception, they were for my eyes only. They became the world where I was free. I was punished if I was caught talking to myself, but I could write to myself, and so I wrote.

My life was a prison in many ways, but my pen tore down its cold iron bars and its grey concrete walls and led me into a world where I had games to play and friends to play them with. I drew pictures of the dolls I could never have. I gave myself pets. I rescued princes from dragons, and I colonized distant planets. I wasn’t allowed to wear whore paint, but I could sketch my face with makeup and earrings and make myself pretty.

Dating was mostly an adventure in futility for as long as I lived under Daddy’s roof, and I was never allowed to play with boys when I was little, but I could write about boys in my diaries, so their pages were often full of imagined love affairs. Everything I couldn’t do, I could write about doing, and I found myself truly feeling like I had a life of my own penned in Sarah’s pages.

Writing stories doesn’t make you an author, any more than shooting your mouth off makes you an orator, or telling lies makes you a politician. You have to write about things people are interested in reading, and write about them in such a way that makes their attention your prisoner. I discovered both of those facts on the same horrible day in Middle School.

English classes had always provided a way for me to write, but of course every paper I was ever assigned had to be non-fiction. When my eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Larson, assigned a project to write an essay about a fictitious event in my life, Daddy had a fit. He went to the school and he and Mr. Larson had words. But Mr. Larson wasn’t about to change his agenda for one hothead, and I was granted the immeasurably joyous latitude, to write for the first time prose fiction on a piece of paper that would not end up hidden under lock and key.

It was actually my second story that I turned in for the assignment. The first one was a story borrowed from Sarah’s pages, in which I learned that I was a princess kidnapped from her royal family. Daddy crumpled that one up and threw it away. I hated him when he did it.

Daddy had started me on piano lessons when I was six years old. He said if I wanted a decent husband I needed to be cultured, but I think it was really more because it kept me out of his hair. I wonder now if he would have still considered it cultured if I’d told him I wanted to become a musician. I didn’t care for playing, though. I always felt like it was forced upon me. So it was about the piano that I chose to write, certain it was something Daddy wouldn’t object to.

My second attempt at a work of fiction, told of how I was accidentally discovered by a talent scout, and invited to the White House to play for the President when I was just nine years old. I put my heart into those three pages. I told of what it was like to meet the President and the First Lady, about the piece I had chosen to play for them and how hard I had to practice it. I even found pictures in the library of a room in the White House where a grand piano sits and used it to write my descriptions.

Mr. Larson gave me an A- on my paper, and I was so thrilled. But then came that slap in the face called reality. Suddenly grateful that Daddy had thrown my princess story in the trash, I was called upon to read my essay in front of the class.

People often teased me about looking like a boy and I guess I can’t really blame them. I was the only girl in our whole school who wasn’t allowed to pierce her ears. I dressed in pants and shirts because Daddy said dresses were too revealing for a girl of my age. I had started playing tennis during summers and practicing twice a week after school and on Saturdays. My legs were more muscular than most of the boys’.

Puberty had not been generous to my chest. The only reason I wore a bra was because what did develop was ridiculously protrusive and Daddy found me an embarrassment. Two meaner boys I won’t dignify by naming, even purposefully bumped me in the halls with an, “Excuse me, Sir.” It didn’t help matters any that I never showed any interest in boys, no matter how hard my crushes were.

I really only had one friend. We weren’t particularly close at that time and she wasn’t in my English class anyway, so it was no great surprise, as I walked to the front of the classroom to read, that I overheard a whispered comment.

“It’s going to be about the day she became a real girl.”

I couldn’t tell who said it, but everyone heard it and the classroom was full of giggles and snickers. I had never been any more embarrassed, but I read anyway, ashamed every second of my body, my face, my clothes, and more with each word, my piano story.

When you’re nervous, you aren’t supposed to look at the faces of your audience, but I didn’t know that then. I watched my classmates as I read to them. They whispered things to each other, doodled on papers, read books, and did generally everything you could imagine except actually listen to what I had written. A couple of kids who had paid attention, rolled their eyes at the part where the President and First Lady applauded for my performance. Several of them laughed out loud when I read the part where the President shook Daddy’s hand and told him he had a fine young pianist. I about died. I hadn’t thought about how that was going to sound when I wrote it.

Mr. Larson watched all this too from his perch on the corner of his desk. When I was done, he thanked me and asked that I return to my seat. He stood in front of the class and demanded everyone’s attention. He explained that he had had me read my essay for two reasons. The first reason he said, was that my paper had received the only A, and he wanted the other students to get an idea of what kind of work he expected from them if they wanted an A in his class. The second reason, he continued, was the reason my paper was only an A-. He wanted to illustrate how important it is when writing fiction, to write about something that isn’t boring. The class erupted with laughter.

I thought my body might have actually caught fire inside. The laughter drowned away beneath a hollow rushing sound and I felt as if I were moving, almost falling through a corridor. The burning sensation grew hotter and hotter and then there were flames around me everywhere. A mask with a respirator covered my face and my clothes were heavy and cumbersome.

The thoughts in my head weren’t my own anymore. The fire was starving and we had to create a breather to prevent a backdraft. A big explosion could close off the exit before the team completed the evacuation with hundreds of people still trapped upstairs. I signaled to my partner to where I saw the best potential for an oxygen source in a non-supporting wall. He was closer to the spot than I was. He nodded and knocked some burning embers out of his way, stepped over toward the wall I had pointed out and struck it with his axe.

On his second swing, there was a small explosion but we had expected that. I checked to make sure he was okay and he held his thumb up, job done. He started back and there was an unholy sound like we were surrounded by the fires of Hell and all the tortured souls had just moaned at once. I looked up and a huge beam came crashing down from the ceiling between us. It was raging in flames and my partner was completely cut off. I panicked, but somehow as if by magic, I felt a strange cool breeze and I could see my partner was standing in front of me again, only he looked a lot like Mr. Larson.

Episodes like that one were becoming more and more a part of my life. It’s hard to tell how long they had already been happening, a year maybe longer. They’re so much like dreams. The firefighter was just the first one that clearly stands out in my memory. In a way, they were to become my whole life, but for this moment, the man risking his life to save others offered me only a short escape from the moment. He saved me from embarrassment that I’m sure would otherwise have had me crying in front of Mr. Larson’s class. I don’t like crying where people can see. I don’t like people feeling sorry for me.

I’ve since gone back and read my piano story. I don’t think it was really as boring as all that. It was more a problem of my audience being a bunch of mindless twelve and thirteen year old kids, the majority of whom didn’t want to be there in the first place. Ultimately, they were exactly the people I didn’t want to write for anyway. If my paper was the best in the class, I imagine their contributions would have been abominable to suffer through if any of them had been asked to read aloud.

Mr. Larson wasn’t trying to be mean to me. At least I don’t think he was. I never asked him why he made me read my paper instead of reading it himself. Maybe it was because he thought if he was the one reading it, the kids would pay attention no matter how boring it was and it wouldn’t have served to illustrate his point. Or maybe he just wanted to study the reactions of the other students. Whatever his reason, the pain of that moment left me wounded, confused, and convinced that I would never fulfill my dream of being a writer.

© 2012 Anne Schilde

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About Anne Schilde

Image "Webster's Kiss" © 2011 Anne Schilde Thanks always for reading! ♥
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55 Responses to Dear Sarah

  1. Scriptor Obscura says:

    Wow. Excellent story, Anne. Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us here, I really appreciate it. I can certainly sympathize with you and your feelings here. This is a great story.

  2. Nanda says:

    This is so deep and well written, Annie… it felt so damn real!
    I sympathize even with the Dad – although he looks mean and a dream killer, it looks like he’s not mean on purpose.
    i think this is my favorite, so far! 😀

  3. Mindslam says:

    I’m so glad you hung in there & stuck to what you wanted to do because you are brilliant at it. Love reading your work. Jason.

  4. “If ever I needed a dream killed, I knew I could always count on him to kill it.” That is so my dad.

  5. Sunshine says:

    You are a captivating writer…and how brilliantly you spun your heart wrenching tale, leaving the reader wanting more and more. I wish you all the best in 2012 Anne!

  6. dinkerson says:

    You’ve trusted us with a lot of tender information here, Anne. Do you still allow your parents’ confused religion to influence you?
    No matter how much it pains me, and no matter the steps we take for the better, there will always be pain and suffering in the world, and little girls who slip through the cracks. What you’ve said of your Father portrays a man who possessed little understanding of our Lord who told stories to his disciples that fascinated them and captured their attention, and who created vast oceans much less a seemingly endless universe of fantastic mysteries about which we may only daydream. At times it seems that certain elements of His creation were only carefully orchestrated in order to stimulate our imaginations and impel us to create our own stories of them. Our God is clearly in possession of an imagination beyond comprehension, and He created us in His image. He gives us talents and the ability to use them to influence those around us and bring joy to the lives of others. He gave us a book to learn about Him, and we attempt to add to it, thus creating senseless rules that cannot be found in our doctrine.

    http://dinkerson.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/barmy-super-christians-and-codswallop/

    I’m sorry that your clearly brilliant imagination was stifled during the early years of your life.
    As Lauren Hill so eloquently put it,

    “What becomes of little [girls]
    Whose dreams are larger than life has ever shown them they should be
    What becomes of little [girls]
    Whose goals are bigger than anything in they’re reality
    What happens to young [women]
    Disappointed once again when they find out they’re not supposed to grow
    Do their lives become a lie
    Should they wither up and die
    When they find out they deserve more than they know”

    I’ll tell you what becomes of them, they dig in their heals, climb back out of the cracks, and find a group of supporters who love them for who they are, while encouraging them to be all they can be.
    You are an unusually wonderful writer… if only you knew how much I mean that.

    • Anne Schilde says:

      Oh dear! I need to get a fiction alert on my banner. This is actually the same character who was kissing the rat in Annie’s Kiss, only she’s older here and told first person. Her name is Flower Anne, but she goes by Annie. I use her a lot. I’m flattered beyond belief that it sounded real… if you only knew how much I meant that!

      My real-life Daddy indeed possesses very twisted understandings of things. I don’t talk to him, so no… except maybe as fodder… I don’t suffer him at all.

      Your words are nectar, Nathan! I would be ecstatic just to hear that I was an unusual writer. Your genuine concern for me is beyond touching. Thank you so much! ♥

  7. Wow… Thanks so much for sharing this Annie, it was so beautifully written! I know how it feels to be different from others too… but well you’re thus unique in your own way! 🙂

    • Anne Schilde says:

      I’m hoping this character reaches that little girl in all of us who feels like she’s a little different, so that’s a really nice comment. Thanks so much for reading, MD!

  8. Anna says:

    I love this Anne! It felt very real. I was so caught up in the moment. Great analogy using the fire escape to show that moment when we just wish the ground would swallow us up!

  9. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    AH! TOUCHE – you knew at a young age you were a writer
    and at that young age
    your dad dismissed who you WERE.
    Touche, with blood on the sword.

    With your father needing to approve your friends’ parents – I never had that. Growing up with my dad (10-17), he just didn’t care. He did not give a fuck. But I am so sorry you had such isolation because of your father.

    Love that line “or telling lies makes you a politician” 🙂

    How awful, awful, that your father forced you to wear only shorts. And the whisper in the class before you began to read – but I so admire you going up and still reading it.

    I don’t think your teacher really meant to humiliate you either – he gave you an A, but I do think he was dumb to the fact of how humiliating it can be, to read in front of a bunch of 13 year olds, when your level of expression is so much higher.

    Anne, a writer is someone who writes – not someone who “wishes to be a writer” not someone who is published, not someone who believes they can write but haven’t yet – a writer is someone who writes.

    You are a writer. And, mind you, you write well.

  10. Hi, Anne
    I have “seen you around” in various comments on other blogs. This is a really good story. I too thought that this was an autobiographical story for awhile. I especially like the paragraph about telling lies not making you a politician. Yes it would be nice to hit on a formula which millions of people would love to read, but you certainly do make our attention your prisoner. I think you just have to write what you want to write and do it well, and see what happens, don’t you?

    • Anne Schilde says:

      Thanks for stopping by and a great comment… wait… am I about to thank trailer trash? 🙂 I do agree and I’m sure trying to do just that. I’m glad you liked this and kind of tickled that I made an impression somewhere! Thanks always for reading!

  11. Aurora, HSP says:

    Oh, we now I get it. We were separated at birth, lol. I know the feeling. Guess what? You already are fulfilling your dream, woman writer. Great pages, great stories, great talent and I appreciate you sharing your writing journey with us, very inspiring is your work! 🙂

  12. rumpydog says:

    Or maybe Mr. Larson was a sadistic bastard that liked watching kids suffer. I was also one of those kids, and some of my teachers were as bad as the kids. It’s amazing that we survived.

    • Anne Schilde says:

      I definitely had a couple of those teachers. Mr. Larson was patterned after a very young teacher who just didn’t have a clue yet how much impact his words had. I left open the possibility that he said something redeeming during the psychosis. Thank you so much for your comment, Jen! ♥ I’m really feeling like I wrote something with substance here!

  13. elaviel413 says:

    This is amazing and wonderful. Your character became so real for me and reminded me a bit of myself when I was that age. You captured the feelings and essences that writers have perfectly. I used my writing as an escape in elementary, middle, and high schools, and was teased by other the other kids sometimes.
    Great work, as always.
    🙂

  14. Ermilia says:

    Breathtaking. It felt so painfully authentic. That’s part of extra intrigue with your great stories, how much is fiction and how much is biographical. It doesn’t matter. Just…breathtaking. (Although I did want to punch ‘Daddy’, I have a short temper with certain personalities. :P)

    – Ermisenda

  15. lorrelee1970 says:

    Kept me captive and captivated.

  16. Lori says:

    Flower Anne has always been my favorite character. I hope I’ll be seeing a lot more of her. I’ve always believed in your gift for writing. ❤ Annie

  17. Anna says:

    I loved this. I’d hate to repeat what others are saying, but this really did feel so real. It’s made me recall experiences from my own past. A reflective lunchbreak is always a good lunchbreak.

  18. Wonderful writing Anne, you have a talent; that is for certain…. 🙂
    I’ll continue on my way through your posts….!!!

    • Anne Schilde says:

      Oh Lord! Well, I have a whole bunch no one’s ever read. Webster needs work before I give it to the public, but this chapter is pretty much carved in stone. 🙂

      • Doesn’t need a change as far as I can see…. It is so very real…. and that is what I’m realising is the key; for people to read and ‘believe’…. Well done…! 🙂

      • Anne Schilde says:

        The post you started with, The Plain Girl shows how important it is that we believed when we were five. I try really hard to remove age from that equation. Thank you so much, and thanks always for reading! ♥

      • Anne, I would find it difficult to believe that we could write without putting deep aspects of ourselves into our lines… What I know about you from your writing is exactly that… the waters run extremely deep. For that you can be very pleased…. a deep well is needed for good writing..!

  19. I loved your story. I hate your teacher. I was involved with you and read every word you wrote. I disliked your father. I felt that I was caught in a too proper and lackluster family, coldness hurt me, I hated the distance and expectations of proper behavior – and I couldn’t have coped in that family. I liked reading how you did.

    And I suffered you your teacher’s comment about the story being boring. Shame. Shame on him for being like your father – totally out of touch with another’s feelings. Self absorbed and ignorant.

    You existed, you lived, you were there, alive , and not boring, on the page for me.
    Thank you. Randy

    • Anne Schilde says:

      Thanks, Randy! I think writing using the character’s name created a lot of confusion, but it made it really easy to believe I was her while I was writing, which lent a very personal feel to the story.

      I love your comment about coping. What I tried to do with this story is build a coping mechanism and then write the story from within its boundaries. Mr. Larson is just one 8th grade English class, but “Daddy” is a life-long problem. The more you get to know him, the more you realize she’s trying to make a very dysfunctional situation sound “normal” as a part of that coping mechanism.

      • ” she’s trying to make a very dysfunctional situation sound “normal” as a part of that coping mechanism.” Yes… became clear especially when I read:

        The class erupted with laughter.

        I thought my body might have actually caught fire inside. The laughter drowned away beneath a hollow rushing sound and I felt as if I were moving, almost falling through a corridor. The burning sensation grew hotter and hotter and then there were flames around me everywhere. A mask with a respirator covered my face and my clothes were heavy and cumbersome.

        The thoughts in my head weren’t my own anymore…

      • Anne Schilde says:

        Hehe! Well, I suppose you do have to read the book for that…

      • I’m sorry, but I’ve missed something in your comment that …” I suppose you do have to read the book for that…”

      • Anne Schilde says:

        I just meant I can’t explain the fire fighters without spoilers.

  20. joetwo says:

    Sorry about the delay in getting to this. Good story. It makes me wonder were is the fiction and where is the truth in all this. I’ll probably but it doesn’t stop me imagining. I suppose things like that is was good writing is for, to make you imagination work. Don’t you agree? You have hit the nail many times on the head when it comes to writers with this anne. Well done! I doff my cap at you.

  21. mindofshoo says:

    Wow..this was amazing. I was an only child but I was alone most of my time, on a farm which I turned into one big fantasy land. Great writing. I felt so sorry for you throughout the story. But I can relate in a different yet similiar way.

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