Many moons ago I found myself in a place where happiness didn’t exist. As a child, I had swollen hands from a belt. These were not the only marks. They were also placed up and down my legs and my backside. I always remember the hands. The hands put up in fear. The hands trying to block abuse. A writer unable to write because I couldn’t hold a pen. Yes, in the days before computers I was a writer. I put a pen to the blank notebook paper and created my own worlds. I escaped through words.
Throughout my childhood and into my teenage years, my happiness was reliant on the greats. Nights, days, and summers were spent hiding. My bedroom became an escape in the words written by John Steinbeck, Fannie Flagg, Shakespeare, and Emily Dickinson. High school introduced John Updike and Salinger. In college came Twain, Hemingway, and Plath. My pregnancy brought me Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a painstaking hard read that killed the long hours during the hospital stays. Even after escaping the belt, weather stripping, an oak paddle, and the cruelest words, I never stopped sinking into the literary worlds others had crafted. They were my solitude. These words were my comfort.
During the period after my son was born known as Colic Hell, l I tried repeatedly to read to him. To share my happiness in the written word. Desperately, I tried to find an escape from the habitual ear piercing cries I knew were coming between the hours of 9 p.m. and lasting till 7 a.m. I didn’t want all those early memories of my son to be unhappy. To have wasted an entire maternity leave where I felt like a miserable failure.
Every day I renewed my persistence. We tried it all. I read “The Giving Tree,” any book written by Dr. Seuss, and my childhood favorite “Where the Wild Things Are.” He did what newborns do, he cried two pages into every children’s book. As I was never able to finish a book, my heart would repeatedly break. What if he doesn’t share my love for words, for books? Finally, I gave up. I went to reading what I loved and what I knew. Every year since the 8th grade I have read one book repeatedly. On my 18th time reading this book, it became the first book I was able to read to my son.
He would listen to John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” He was not only quiet, but he would fall into the treasured sleep state. On the beautiful afternoons, I would spend hours outside reading to him as he reclined in the u-shaped comfort of his blue boppy pillow. I would read chapter after chapter describing the Salinas Valley, the drought, the relationship between two sets of brothers, and finally the lady who I would tell him was beautifully written as pure evil. As I read out loud Steinbeck’s words, I held a secret desire my son would retain none of them. I never wanted him to remember the whore master or the deeds done by Cathy. But my son cut his teeth on Steinbeck.
We now read more age appropriate books and he enjoys the pages with the exception of “Where the Wild Things Are.” I read it once to him and he had a nightmare, so I will save my favorite for a few more years. The gnashing of terrible teeth can be quite frightening.
I can’t recall the true feeling of happiness very often in my childhood. I can’t recall a real feeling where I felt genuinely safe. The other night after I kissed my son goodnight and sat him in his crib, I walked down my hardwood steps and I felt happy. I guess when you don’t feel happiness all too often, you are able to pinpoint the exact moments when you do.
Happiness has been a long time coming for me, and I am grateful for where I came from; even the belts and cruelty. Abuse made me seek a passion. It gave me the best coping mechanism. I read to escape and I began writing at an early age. These loves have stayed with me all my life.
I am grateful for the places I am able to find through reading and writing. My life is filled with hope. Writing, reading, and parenthood are my happiness. It has all been shaped through a life which wasn’t easy, but ultimately my life became happy. No belts will ever touch me again. No harm is allowed to physically make me unable to write. Nothing is keeping me from my own happiness. I sought it out. I fought for it. I found it. I am mine.