Out of the Dark: Glimpses from My Life, Part 1

I promised everyone that I would let you take a peek inside my head, to help you better understand what and how I write.  I always keep my promises, one way or another, so here goes:

The faceless “they” of publishing wisdom always advise a writer to write what he or she knows.  I often wonder if “they” know what they’re asking for.

I write gritty, dark Romance that often skirts the very edge of denying the traditional “Happily Ever After” ending.  I write characters with real flaws – nobility tarnished by deeds not so very far in the past, nightmares that still follow, and destinies riddled with the very things they most fear or despise.

Why?  Because life is NOT a fairytale – at least, not the watered-down, roses-and-songbook variety of today.  Life is an old-fashioned, Grimm fairytale, drenched in blood, tears, and darkness, through which a sliver of light shines, if you know where to look for it.

That’s not to say that I don’t dream of happiness, or that I don’t believe in true love.  I happen to believe in both, and I’ve been called a Pollyanna, before, for insisting on looking at the bad parts of life as a learning experience.  But I’m also realistic enough to know that turning life into a Valentine’s Day greeting card fantasy isn’t likely to inspire much hope – it only highlights how destitute one’s life looks, in comparison.

I know my writing, and my viewpoint, isn’t for everyone.  I tend to deal with material and circumstances that turn conventional Romance, and even fiction, on its ear.  I’m sure some people have found my work shocking, disturbing, and even offensive (and I have the reviews to prove it).  I make no apology for what I write.  I’m doing exactly as the publishing axiom says – I’m writing what I know.

Bits and pieces of my life and experiences show up in my books.  In the characters, the locations, the plots.

One of my most common themes is trauma.  This isn’t a capricious or accidental move on my part.  I’ve seen enough personal trauma to fill a dozen lifetimes, and I tend to mete a portion of that trauma out to my character, especially.

I’ve learned the hard way that life and love aren’t the stereotypical hearts-and-flowers romance.  I’ve learned that sex isn’t always precipitated by love or desire — sometimes, it’s a power play.  Sometimes, it’s an armored tank that leaves you flattened and bleeding in the middle of life’s road.

Which makes the perfect segue into giving you a peek into my past.  I will warn you, what follows is as shocking and terrible as it is true… And it’s a trauma I live with every day of my life, and will continue to struggle with until the day I die.  Contrary to popular opinion and urban myth, there is no 100% recovery — because there’s always that wary little part of your soul that keeps waiting for disaster to strike.  Most of the contents of the following, I have only recently finally revealed to my own parents – I hid it all so well that even those closest to me wouldn’t suspect.  Nor did anyone suspect just how badly the false face I wore ate at me.  But my path in life does not allow me to hide from myself or others, and part of facing my past, for myself, is in relating my story to others in bare terms, no longer covered by the thin veneer allowed for so long by my writing career.

I’m sure most people live an idyllic childhood.  I’ve heard enough stories to be jealous of those people who remember childhood fondly.  I have a very few of those memories.  Most of the “happiness” in my childhood is false.  It was a veil I dropped over the terror and shame I felt.

That’s not to say it didn’t start out relatively normal.  There were a few bumps, but those remain highly private, as I don’t seek to harm the person who inflicted them – in any event, those would have been bearable, compared to what came later.

The horror descended into my life at the tender age of six.

To say I was entirely ignorant of the mechanics of sex, even at that age, would be a lie.  Thanks to an accidental exposure to a particularly racy adult film, I had an academic knowledge of sex starting at the age of 4.  However, my childish mind equated all sexual acts with love and romance.  I truly believed in it.

That all came crashing down after I turned six.

My elementary school, at the time, had mandatory swimming lessons at the base pool.  Two days a week, we were bussed over to the pool, where we learned to float, swim, etc.  Sounds like a great time, right?

Not for me.

Now, I’ve never been overly fond of the water.  It’s part of my nature, a kind of back-of-my-mind fear.  At least, it always was before.

I remember it being a sunny, warm day in September.  School had just started for the year, and I was excited about first grade.  When I learned we’d have a short set of trips to the pool for swimming lessons, that Fall, and then a longer stretch of them in the late Spring, I was naturally a little anxious.  But not so much as to keep me from attempting my best to learn a new skill, and maybe conquer my minor trepidation.

To this day, I wonder if some of those early misgivings were a warning I failed to heed.

Our final day of swim lessons for the Fall, I wasn’t feeling well.  Given that I was never a strong swimmer, the swim teacher decided it would be better if I lay down somewhere quiet, rather than get back in the pool.  She had some high school kids there, helping (I’m guess, now that I’m older, that they were on work study), so she instructed one of them to take me back to the pool’s office area, where it was quiet and dim, so I could lay down.

Did I mention that I was a trusting child?

I did as I was told, followed the guy back to the offices.  I still remember the smell of chlorine and dust, mixed together – it hung in the air, there.  To this day, the smell of chlorine makes me ill.  Because that day is forever etched in my nightmares, and began a long, terrible battle with PTSD.

I remember how quiet it was.  You couldn’t hear a sound from the pool area.  The office was dark, smelled of stale air and pool water.  The couch was hard, the material abrasive.  I didn’t want to lay down on it.  He didn’t give me a choice.  He pushed me down, held me there, and did things to me that still make me nauseous to think about, all these years later.  That day was my first introduction to real evil — I can still see the cold, soulless look in his eyes, smell the scent of chlorine on his skin and the feel of his hand over my mouth when I started to scream.  When he finished, he threatened me with terrible things, told me what a terrible little girl I was, and that if I told anyone, he would find me and hurt me more.

I was six years old, and my innocent belief in fairytales came crashing down.  I learned the ugly truth that sex isn’t always about love.  Sometimes, it’s about power.  Sometimes, it’s about pain, and fear.

I’ve spent a lifetime with that secret locked in my head.  Tried not to gag, or scream, or give away any emotion whatsoever, when confronted with water – particularly swimming pools.  I just scrunched up my courage, and forced myself into the water, when I couldn’t avoid it.

That afternoon in Hell was only one among many I would eventually face, but it scarred me for life, and for years afterward, I thought I was bad, I was shameful.  I hated myself, and believed no one could ever love me.  I was tainted.

I’ll leave off there, for now… I’m emotionally drained just from that, and I don’t think I can bear to share any more, at the moment.

Do I believe I am the only one who’s ever suffered this way?  Far from it.  There are people who suffer far worse every day of their lives.  These are the people I write for – to show them there is hope.  That you don’t have to live an idyllic, or even a “good” life to find love or peace (and yes, in spite of everything, I do believe in both – but that’s a story for another day).  It can find you in even the most destitute and imperfect of situations.

You don’t need a white knight to rescue you — you only need faith in yourself.  With a little faith, and a sliver of hope, you can find love even after the most terrible of tragedies or abuses.

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