“My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes. My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away. Those who seek my life set their traps, those who would harm me talk of my ruin; all day long they plot deception.”
“I’d give anything to be normal. I’m tired. Tired of being chased.”
My Thoughts, Tess’s Journal
“Sixth grade, ” my father said last night before my first day at a new school, “is a whole new world. A world in which you alone have the power to achieve or fail.”
I just started at him. When he lectures me like that, I just stare. After a while my eyes start playing tricks on me, and his head starts changing shapes. It gets really big and then shrinks small, his voice goes low and then rises. Either I’m trying not to laugh, or I’m fighting off sleep.
He’d had good intentions, but I really only wanted to come out alive. My first day is starting off rough. New school, new kids, new teacher. Martin Luther King Elementary in Colorado Springs is my fourth new school since Kindergarten so I would be getting good at being the new girl in school. But, I’m not.
I stick out here. Most of the kids seem to know each other, dress alike, act the same, and have stuff to gossip and giggle about. I still have my long southern bell style hair, and my big bucked teeth. I’m too skinny, too tall, and I’m weird.
“Hey new girl!”
I look around for the voice, and I see that a chunky boy is calling me from behind. I don’t know if I should answer him or not.
“I said, hey new girl!” He hollers again as the other kids egg him on with laughter.
I turn around and stare him down, “My name is not new girl.”
Two boys on either side of him sit back and laugh while he says, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Hey … rabbit girl!”
This is not going to be good. I ignore him. What can I say? Should I call him names back? No, not worth it. And I do look like e a rabbit anyway so he’s not totally wrong.
“All right class, that’s enough. Our new students’ name is Tess, let’s call her that please, “Mr. Herr says as he starts handing out spiral notebooks.
I get a green, even though I want one of the purple ones. Mr. Herr tells us to open up the flap and write our names and addresses on the inside cover.
“In case we get lost?” The bratty kid jokes.
Mr. Herr grins and says, “Why Josh? Does that happen often to you?”
I thank Mr. Herr with my silent smile. Josh doesn’t say anything for the next hour.
“These are your journals. Guard them with your life. I expect you to write daily entries about whatever you want, at least one page full. No double spacing, no large writing. Just talk to yourself on paper. I won’t look at these until semester, and then I won’t read them. I’ll just make sure you did the work.”
Journals? I open the front cover and write my name in small cursive. My own journal. I look down at the first blank page and wonder how to address myself. Dear self? To me? In the end, I decide on My Thoughts.
I started my journal and wrote furiously through the half an hour allotted to us during class, and then when I got home at 3:30 after school I went straight to my room and kept on going. I couldn’t stop. I had so much to puke up that until it all came out I’d remain sick. So, I wrote. I wrote for hours, and then days. The words healed parts of my soul that had been seared and scared for years. They sang a song that ministered to my spirit, let me loose of the blackness that silence had forced upon me. Writing felt as if I’d been given wheels to a bicycle that I’d been trying to ride, but getting nowhere. I was going. I was flying. I was free.
My thoughts …
I remember the Red Cross Vans in the roads and in people’s yards. The vans that handed out food and band-aids. I remember sitting in my window sill watching women and children carry chunks of tress and pieces of cars and houses. They’d pick them up and put them down, from one pile to the next. It seems useless. I remember the hurricane.. Almost. The noise of wind is still in my head, swirling around with the tears are flying off my cheeks. I remember my father falling on me, the tree, and the car. That sour apple car. How did I ever come up with that. It’s funny. Memory. How you think you remember something so perfectly and then when you see it again after a while, it changes. I think I remember the storm, but only parts of it. The parts I do remember – I don’t want to.
I see a frightened little girl. A little girl on a Pastor’s lap, in a dark room, or in a bed. All I feel are hands and movements that freeze me from the core of who I am, or would have been had they never been there. Al the times, the days, the ways he hurt me. From the first night of the hurricane that seemed to open a door to hell itself, to his getting so comfortable with it he could do it with my parents in the same room. They never saw it.
At least I kept Christie from him. Every time we had to go to the Coker’s house for them to babysit, I made sure she listened to me to tell her, go to sleep. I’d stay up. I’d told her she didn’t need a bath. I’d make her go outside and play, and tell her she had to listen to me. She was the good sister.
I remembered when I started hurting down below. When I couldn’t hold going to the bathroom for long. When I had an accident in kindergarten in class. I remember the bathroom stall, how I waited for an hour for my mother who showed up with a blue uniform for me to change into even though the whole school was on red uniform day. How she told me to get over it.
But I also remember God. He seemed to be everywhere. Especially at church when Pastor preached things and I got confused. Then, after we moved from Alabama back to Colorado when I was only six years old, and we were in my Grandpa’s church. I went to a Christian school, I prayed every morning, and then I would watch, in Colorado, as my Grandma cast out demons from the top of her stairs. I couldn’t escape God. I wanted to. The fear that ate me slowly came from wondering when He’d strike me dead for what I’d done. The dirtiness inside of me. My shame.
I remember trying to leave it all behind. The yellow U-Haul packed full of our stuff, leading us to a new home held some kind of sunshine. That color thing again. Yellow for the sun. The sun means warmth. So we followed the sun, us Lagerty’s, all the way across the country to Colorado. And just when we settled into a nice big house with a nice big backyard, we moved again. Now, here across the city, I’ve learned that you can follow just about anything and end up where you started. I know now that you hold the outside on the inside; and the inside doesn’t abide by travel plans.
I’ve left the moments, but their memories wont’ go away. The lamp, sitting in a bedroom thousands of miles away, still changes colors in the darkness of my mind. It happened in a room when I was a little girl, and now it happens in my heart every day. I’m not sure which is worse.
And if God was so good and so loving then why would He let those things happen to me? Maybe God is good and loving, but I’m just bad. Maybe I was an accident. God’s big mistake. Or maybe I was created to soak up al the bad thinks in my family so that Christie, Quinton – my new brother, and now Kelsey, the new baby, would escape them.
There is one good thing I can touch. My Nonnie and Papa. The way I feel when I sit in the front row at church and watch my papa preach, and the way I feel when my Nonnie cries because she loves me so much. My mother is nothing like her parents.
I don’t feel so bad when we go to Nonnie and Papa’s house. I just feel different. Walking up the wooden steps to their grand front doors, the house ea brick mansion on a hill, and all things held inside worth more than all the days of my life; I feel safe. I feel normal.
We can’t sit on the bedspreads, and we can’t run. We can’t yell or eat without napkin. We must be polite, and kind, and sweet, We have to be good kids. The kind of kids that learn lessons about respect and honor. In a way there are two of me. One live and Nonnie and Papa’s and the other lives everywhere else. I like the one at Nonnie and Papa’s house.
And the prayer, it sounds sweet and soft. In church when people pray I feel dirty, but with Nonnie prays at her house I feel innocent, like nothing bad ever really did happen. Except when she yells at demon’s from the top of her stairs. That scares me. I think I’m the reason they are there. I bring them with me. She yells at them to, “Get out in Jesus name!” And then she loosens Angels, and I want to hide. The demons go where I go, even when I got to Nonnie and Papa’s. They just can’t hurt me there, because my Nonnie knows about them.
I want to be the little girl they think I am. I want to not remember as much as I do, or maybe, put those memories here in these pages and let them loose of me.