I wrote my first novel because I needed a hero. But didn’t find one.
Many of you know my story, particularly of the childhood rape that happened so many years ago. It’s been difficult, but not impossible, to forgive those boys for what they did to me, but the hardest aspect of forgiveness has been for the adults in my life who didn’t protect me. Who didn’t bother to be a hero.
I think of Eva the chainsmoking babysitter, how she loomed above me then. Me, five. She, ancient. When I told her of the rapes, whispered that awful word into her ear, I let go of the breath I’d been holding for months. Now that an adult knows, I felt, I’ll be protected.
“I’ll tell your mom,” she lied, though I took her words as gospel truth the moment she said them.
Well, if my mom knows, then I’ll truly be safe, I thought.
The next day the boys knocked on Eva’s back door. She welcomed them in. Scooted me back out the door to spend time with them.
Unfortunately, I learned then that I had to be my own hero. I had to muster up the heroics I longed for. Which I did by sleeping away every single afternoon, away from those boys.
But I’ve often thought what my life would’ve been like had there been a hero.
What if Eva kept her wits about her the moment those boys “invited” me out. What if she thought it strange that teenage boys wanted to play with a five-year-old girl? What if my family took note of my behavior change and investigated a little further? What if those boys’ mother, who baked cookies in the other room while the boys stole parts of me, thought it strange that they spent so much time with a young girl? What if she interceded? What if my teacher, instead of reporting my change in behavior, chose to listen to me, ask questions, or send me to the school counselor? Instead, she shamed me.
I needed a hero.
Writing Watching the Tree Limbs was my way of introducing heroes to an abused girl’s life, to put flesh on them. Truth is, I didn’t have them, but as an adult I needed to create them. Zady, the Jesus-loving housekeeper who loves Mara, the girl abused. Denim who seems to discern what’s going on. Camilla, Mara’s friend, who shoulders burdens. And Mr. Winningham who is so broken his heroics are masked. This community of heroes rescues Mara. And in some ways, they rescued me.
Maybe you need a hero too.
Originally posted on November 25, 2011.