This is an excerpt from my novel – The Story Of A Girl – for the 2011 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) competition . Entrants have only 30 days to write 50,000 words. Once the competition closes, we go back and edit… edit… edit… edit… and then, edit some more!
I had not intended that my first novel would be a memoir… I actually had the outline for a pretty decent noir fiction novel ready for NaNoWriMo… but when I sat down to begin writing on November 1, this is what came out. As a close friend and author put it to me… “… we don’t always get to write what we want to… sometimes we have to write what we must… go with what your heart is telling you, Veronica.”
Please bear in mind that this is only an excerpt and it is the second draft; there is still a lot of work that needs done. Please feel free to comment below. Thank you.
The dark-haired girl sat down at the desk, and reaching out, pulled the small gold chain on the desk lamp, illuminating the dark, smooth surface of the 18th century piece. She opened the notebook before her, and picking up pen… began to write.
THE STORY OF A GIRL
By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Summer 1990 – Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
The petite, dark-haired girl gazed out the picture window at the tide-swept expanse of beach fronting her family’s summer home. The sandy vista before her was as smooth and unblemished as the window she looked out of now; save for a small mound that had been the sand castle she and her papa had built the evening before. The girl turned to the man standing at her side, her upturned face filled with sadness and her dark, liquid eyes brimming with tears.
“Papai? Nosso castelo é ido, Papai?” Her tiny voice trembled with disbelief and sorrow. Her father knelt in front of her, his strong hands gently brushing the girl’s long, dark hair from her face.
“Nós faremos outro castelo, minha princesa pequena… Eu prometo.” His deep, voice sought to comfort the five-year old. She leaned into his shoulder, wrapping her small arms around his neck. A sob shuddered through her tiny frame.
Across the room, the girl’s mother watched the tableau before her. The sad look on her face mirrored that of the girl’s. As she stood silently, watching the two people she loved more than anything else in the world… her heart broke a little bit. The words of a poem came to her…
Castles in the sand.
Seasons out of time.
Let my heart take your sorrow.
Gain strength from me… as I from you,
Together… our wondrous journey through this land.
Chasing the moon… following the sun… time in time.
Where all our yesterdays hold only promise for tomorrow.
Hearts and souls entwined… our love… forever true.
March 13, 2007 – Dr. Kay’s Office-Downtown Portland
“I don’t know… I don’t fucking know! Do you get that?” My voice has risen to a shout… almost screaming… my face is hot… tears streaming down my cheeks. Through my blurred vision, I see my tormentor… seated in her chair… calm… serene… ever-present notebook in her lap. Dr. Kay Underhill, M.D., Ph.D, Psy.D, and a few other letters of the alphabet after her name… both my tormentor and my savior. Right now… the former.
I first began seeing Dr. Kay Underhill the second week I was in Portland; this was at Tina’s insistence. At first, I was very resistant to her request, having had a bellyful of therapists and incompetent, judgmental (one so-called professional actually believed that lesbians ‘asked to be raped, by the choice they made about their sexual preference’) social workers – who if anything, had set me back – back in Boston, where I had ended up after Dr Craig ‘smuggled’ me out of the hospital and away from the authorities. He had heard and believed enough of my story to understand that what I needed was the kind of professional help that I was not going to get in police custody. Dr. Craig (not his real name) risked his career to help a stranger, believing that justice delayed did not mean justice denied. He will forever have my gratitude.
Initially, I went to Dr Underhill only because I had made a promise to Tina that I would get help. We both had the sense to realize that we were not going to be able to ‘fix’ me completely… that I needed professional help… caring, professional help. Dr. Kay Underhill has a reputation exceeded by few of her peers. Looking back, I realize that Dr. Kay, as she preferred to be called, ‘soft-balled’ me the first few of sessions. But, if she hadn’t, I probably would not have continued seeing her. I gained a lot of insight into her those early sessions, allowing me to open up to her and trust her; that she wanted to help me. I owe my life as much to Dr. Kay as I do to Tina.
That doesn’t mean I always liked her. Today is one of those days.
“Why do you keep asking me this… why? You’re supposed to be helping me… this isn’t working… it isn’t working, damn it! Oh god… I can’t do this… I can’t… please… please…” The breath is gone from my lungs; there is nothing left to push the words out… my anguished voice fades to a whisper. Exhausted; I fall back on the over-stuffed leather sofa, hunched over… my face in my hands… the hysteria of a few moments ago replaced now with quiet sobs.
Time passes… the tears stop… an occasional hitch in my chest as the anger and the fear slowly seep out of me. Slow, steady breaths… let everything go, Veronica… just breathe… don’t think of anything else… Dr. Kay’s words come back to me… again.
More time passes… the only sounds in the room are Dr. Kay’s pen scratching on the lined pages of her notebook, my measured breathing, and the soft tick of the grandfather clock standing between the two floor-to-ceiling windows of Dr. Kay’s fifth floor downtown office.
“It’s been six months. I still can’t…” I stop… my voice choking… “I still… we tried again last night. Everything was going so well. A wonderful, romantic dinner… candlelight… Miles Davis on the stereo… wine in front of the fireplace… it felt like we were the only two people in the world. The rain seemed to carry the sounds of the city away…human and machine noises floating along the curbs and down in to the storm drains… taking away all the sounds of humanity… save for the two of us.
God, every time I look into Tina’s eyes… every time she touches me… the scent and sound of her washes over me… I am almost over-whelmed at the love that I have for her… I love this woman so much! And, I feel her love in everything she does… every word… every touch… her hand on my cheek… her kiss… her smile. From the very first moment, there has never been a doubt. So, why can’t I…”
The tears threaten to start again. I look up at Dr. Kay. She looks back at me… I see warmth and compassion in her eyes, not the clinical detachment of the therapist who had been ‘treating’ me back in Boston.
“Veronica… there are very few people who could even begin to comprehend the ordeal that you have been through; the physical and emotional suffering. You still have the physical scars, and you will carry those for a long time. But, they will go away… eventually. What makes you think that your emotional scars are going to heal any quicker? Do you think Christina does not understand this? Do you think she does not know how much you love her?
What are you really afraid of, Veronica? Why are we here today?” Dr. Kay sits back in the big, overstuffed rocker-recliner, setting her pen and notebook down on the table beside the chair. She crosses her legs, smoothing the knee-length grey wool skirt over her lap. She waits… patiently.
The grandfather clock ticks its metronomic beat. I look over at the tall windows… shades raised. There is a reddish-orange hue in the western sky; the sun setting a little later each day as we approach the vernal equinox… Spring.
Spring… a time for new life… new beginnings… new hopes… new promises. Next Tuesday is the first day of Spring. The following day marks Tina’s and my six-month anniversary. We have yet to fully consummate our relationship. And that is why I am sitting here in Dr. Kay’s office, instead of at home, having dinner with the love of my life. I turn back to Dr. Kay.
“I don’t know… I’m… I’m afraid…” I stop again… and then, the words come in a rush, as if some great force were propelling them from my mouth.
“I’m afraid this is as far as I can go…the intimacy… my mind won’t let her in any further… and I’m afraid that Tina will see this as a lack of trust… despite everything I say… everything I do… how much I love her and trust her and everything… she will see this and think that I really do not… porque se eu realmente a amava e confiava nela a maneira que eu digo eu faço, eu poderia … eu … dou-me completamente a ela!”
In the rush to get the words out of my mouth before my brain can register what I am saying… what dark, secret fear I am giving up… and stop me; I have lapsed into Portuguese. Dr. Kay says this is a defense mechanism. She holds up her hand… fingers splayed.
“Veronica… slow down… shhh… shhh… slow down… in English… please.” Her voice is calm. In the six months that I have been seeing Dr. Kay, I don’t think I have ever heard her raise her voice. My words trail off and almost without thinking about it, I begin taking slow, deep breaths… it has become a conditioned response in me.
We sit in silence for a few moments… my steady respirations bringing a calm back to me… her steady gaze holding me… the barest sliver of a smile at the corner of her mouth.
“We tried again last night.” I have been seeing Dr. Kay for six months, and I still can’t get past the euphemisms. “To, you know…” I falter, looking for the words. I can’t say ‘make love’ or ‘have sex’, because we do those things… after a fashion. But, there is an incompleteness… on my part, at least.
To put it bluntly, I couldn’t stand to have my quim touched, let alone penetrated. Rape and repeated brutalization, along with everything else, tears away trust and intimacy. And it can take a long time for the scars to heal enough to regain that intimacy… to be able to trust another. Some women never do.
For a long time, my body was like a war zone, and Tina did her best to navigate around the minefields… to find some neutral territory upon which she could begin the long process of rebuilding the intimacy that two souls need to survive.
The first month we were together was the hardest… allowing the woman I had fallen hopelessly and completely in love with, to see my naked body… to see the scars… the ravages of the ordeal that almost claimed my life. This was the woman who, without words… with only her hazel eyes gazing into the dark pools of mine, wrapped her love and compassion around my tortured soul, and began to heal it.
But before I would let Tina see me without my protective armour…. cotton and wool fibers woven into the thick, dark fabric of the clothes I had begun to favor increasingly after I had escaped my captors (this was another line of demarcation of my life before and after the ordeal… before – light, open, colorful, life-giving articles of wear… and, after – dark, thick, impenetrable garments)… we talked. Or rather, I talked and Tina listened… for many long days and nights… as the story unfolded of my six month-long ordeal at the hands of two psychopaths… one of whom had been my boyfriend in high school.
November 1, 2011 PSU Campus, Starbucks
I put the coffee cup down on the table and look over atAlice… watching her… waiting for her reaction. She has a slightly perplexed look on her delicate features.
“Wait a minute, Roni… where are we? This isn’t the beginning. I thought you were going to start with that last summer in St. Louis, before you went off to college? Shouldn’t you start at the beginning?”
Tina’s baby sister Alice, now my sister-in-law, and I have ensconced ourselves in the two big over-stuffed armchairs in the back corner of the Montgomery Street Starbucks, on the PSU campus. Alice is attending Portland State University and has an apartment on campus, in the same tower complex as the coffee shop we are sitting in now, as a matter of fact. But… and not for the first time since the rains began this fall, the heat is out in Alice’s apartment, so we have availed ourselves of Tomas’ hospitality for the afternoon.
One of Alice’s classes is Creative Writing, and I promised to help her out with an assignment. The best way I know… is to tell a story. Alice already knows most of what I am going to tell her today; and yet, I am still a little nervous at the prospect of baring my soul further; a little fearful that Alice will think different of me after this. We have grown so close this last year and a half though; I think this is the right thing to do. And, as Dr. Kay is fond of saying… “… Fear will not take you anywhere.”
“You’re right, Alice… this isn’t the beginning… it’s somewhere in the middle. These are just the first words that came to me. I can’t start at the beginning, dear. If I do that, I will never finish the story, because I know what happens. I need… I have to… I have to get back to that place… that time… the only way I know how. You know me… a straight line between two points is never how this girl works.” I raise the still warm cappuccino to my mouth, smiling over the top of the cup at my sister-in-law.
“Okay, I can understand that… I do the same thing sometimes. So, this session with Dr. Kay that you were just telling me about… this was an important one, wasn’t it?” I nod my head a little, and Alice continues. “I thought so; otherwise, you would not have started with it.” Alice is silent for a moment. I can’t quite see the thought behind her eyes… and then, she continues. “You said you had been seeing Dr. Kay for about six months, so this must have been around the time that you and my sister…” Alice’s voice trails off with the realization… our eyes meet… and the secret is passed. We look at each other for several moments… knowledge and understanding passing between us.
“Yes… that was… umm… that was a breakthrough… yes, a very important time in our lives. I had a horrible nightmare that night… the worst in a long time… it brought my demons back… but, it also brought to me the realization that my demons had never really gone away… I had only succeeded, partially as it turned out, in hiding them. I had hidden them in the only place I knew… the only place I was intimate enough with that I thought I would be safe from… where no one else could see them. I hid them deep inside me. I thought that if I pushed them far enough back, I would be safe.
And I would have been safe, except for one thing… I fell in love with your sister. Tina gave me back my life… she showed me that I could love again… and more importantly; she showed me that I could be loved… that I was loved.”
We sit in silence for a minute, both of us thinking about what I just said, and then Alice gets out of her chair and steps over to mine. She leans down and wraps her arms around me. We hug… a little awkwardly, from my sitting position, but a hug, nonetheless. When Alice hugs, you can really feel the love… she is a wonderful, giving person.
“You looked like you needed a hug, honey.” Alice sits back down and picks up her cup. “What was it like… the first time you met Tina?”
“It’s funny you should mention that, sweetie… I was just thinking the same thing. I think about that day every time I am in an airport; every time I hear ‘our song’.” I lean forward a little in my chair…Alice does the same in hers. I close my eyes for a moment… my mind going back to that day…
September 20, 2006 – Logan International, Boston MA
(Softly whispering): “Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Roni…Happy Birthday to you!”
Yeah… happy fucking birthday to me! I turned 21 today. No job… that was gone weeks ago… getting kicked out of the women’s shelter tomorrow…
© 2011 – Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw. All Rights Reserved. No reprints without written permission from the author.