This story has a trigger warning of abuse and trauma. Proceed with your own well being in mind. I’m not sure where this story came from, but it was one that wanted to be told. It’s not a real life story, although it might be to someone. This is the Stories That Shape Us.
You wouldn’t remember me. It’s not your fault, you were different from me and you didn’t understand. Friends came to you easily, people you could share your life with. It wasn’t that I didn’t want friends, it’s just that my real life was hard to deal with and reading gave me something else to think about then what I dealt with on a daily basis. You could find me walking our crowded halls with at least one extra book that had nothing to do with the class I was heading to. You could see me reading in between classes, trying to finish the paragraph before the bell rang or sitting alone at the lunch table towards the back of the cafeteria picking at my food, but consuming the story before me. I tried to fill every possible scrap of time with something other then the reality of my actual life. It’s ok that you didn’t notice me, I didn’t notice me either.
You see, you didn’t know that my dad was a drunk. Like the ones you see on TV or in movies. The ones that drank too much and would often pass out in the living room or on the bathroom floor. You didn’t know that sometimes, when he drank too much, he would blame me for mom’s death. He said that if I had just been a normal baby, she wouldn’t have had to make the decision to save my life over hers. When he got that drunk, he would tell me he wished she hadn’t been selfish. That he wanted her here instead of me. He would yell these things at me while I made dinner for us that he wouldn’t eat, or while I was cleaning up the kitchen or trying to do my homework. He didn’t know that I could hear him crying alone in his room after he screamed these things at me. He never hit me, probably because I looked too much like her, but sometimes I wish he would. Maybe then he would feel better.
There were nights, where he would look at me and tell me that I looked just like her. That I was lucky because she was so beautiful. He would stare at me for a long time before going outside to take a piss then pass out on the porch or in his lazy boy in the living room. It was these nights that he would tell me about her, and it was these nights I cherished the most. He would tell me about her favorite songs, how she never had a favorite color because she didn’t think it was fair to choose just one because each color was beautiful in its own way. How her smile could soften even the hardest of hearts. Or when she was 25, how her hair started to turn grey, but instead of being like the ladies in the magazines, she exclaimed she was becoming an old crone and that her wisdom was sure to arrive any day now. He would tell me about how she would sing, horribly off key, but with so much passion you couldn’t help but smile and sing alone. I tried singing one night while cooking dinner. That was the first night he almost hit me. I never sang again after that.
Those were the only nights he would look at me, never in my eyes, because my shade of blue was too close to her grey green. But he would look at me. I held on to those moments from my dad, because for a second, I wasn’t the thing that took her away, I was his daughter.
He didn’t like me touching her stuff. She had collected many knickknacks over the years and treasured things from their adventures together before I came along. And she had one of the greatest collections of books I had ever seen outside of a library. Most of the walls within our small trailer was covered floor to ceiling with shelves laden with various stories from all different genres, but I wasn’t allowed to read any of them. One day, while I was cleaning out my closet, looking for a text book I had misplaced, I came across a box marked with my name on it in a hand writing I now assume was hers.
Inside was filled to the brim with books and a note on top said “To my greatest treasure, the most wonderful story I will ever read, the one we will write together. While our story is being written, I hope you enjoy these that I picked out for you. I love you, my baby, my daughter. May we share in the greatest adventure a life could ever offer.” I tucked the note away in a loose board behind my bed and grabbed the first book off the pile and re-hid the box back in my closet. Over the next few weeks, I read every single book she picked out for me twice, but I wanted more. Reading the stories she once loved made me feel closer to her then I had ever felt before. I would wait up, late into the night, until I heard my dad snoring so I could sneak out and write down titles and authors from the books on the shelves in the living room that way I could check them out at the schools library and read those too.
These books were the only things I had that I knew she truly loved. I tried to see the stories the way she might have seen them. To love them the way she might have loved them. I let them in and allowed them to change me. These stories became everything to me, at least, until the day he caught me.
I had broken my only rule when it came to savoring these books. I brought one home because it was my favorite one yet and I couldn’t put it down. I thought I could just keep it safe, hidden within my bag until he went to sleep, I didn’t expect him to trip over it and knock my books to the floor. I had never seen him so angry, the way he put things together in his mind, or the way he believed that I had been stealing her things, like I hadn’t stolen enough of her already. The pain that twisted the features of his face was more painful then the strike across mine or the bruise that formed over the following days. He shredded the book before locking me in my room.
The swelling in my eye forced it to close and I missed a few days of school until it opened back up. The purple, green and yellow that now took over the left side of my face made the busted blood vessels in my eye look a lot worse than it actually was. On the day I returned to school, I carefully styled my hair to cover that side of my face, and grabbed the money I had been saving up to start my own book collection and headed off to school.
If I had had any friends at school, they might have noticed or asked me what happened. But I didn’t have anyone except the librarian, Mr. Todd. We had grown close over the past couple of years with as much time as I had spent there, digging through the system trying to find any of her books. Mr. Todd was gentle and kind and would help me find whatever it was I was looking for. Eventually he started recommending stories to me that were similar to the ones I had been checking out. Together, because of our love of stories, we started a book club, of which only he and I were members with his husband sometimes being able to join us.
That morning when I had entered the library, I thought I had gotten lucky when I didn’t see Mr. Todd right away. I took out the envelope of money I had, which totaled $5.35, with a note explaining that I had accidentally spilled something on the book and that I was very sorry. As I placed the envelope on his desk, he rounded the corner, surprising me. At first, he was jovial, but quickly turned to concern when he saw the bruise on my face. I tried to cover it up quickly, but I think he knew. I think he always knew. I left as quickly as I could, giving the excuse that I had to speak to one of my teachers about my missing work and didn’t return to the library all day.
That afternoon, after school, I went straight home instead of taking the long way to visit her. I didn’t want her to see me like this, or for her to know what he had done to me. I rushed home, coming up with a plan to be as silent and small as I could so that he and I could get past this and maybe return to normal. He hadn’t spoken to me for over three days because of what I had done. When I pushed open our front door, I knew that what I considered normal life was finally over as I took in all the contents of my room laid out before me in, including the secret box of books I had kept in my closet all these years. Mr. Todd and his husband are the only ones that visit me now. They bring me flowers and stories once a month and sometimes Mr. Todd’s husband will sing for me. You can visit me too, if you’d like. My mom and I are great listeners, and we love to hear your stories. You can find us in the big cemetery at the edge of town all the way in the back under the big oak tree over looking the lake. My dad once told me it was her favorite place to be.