The first story I ever told myself was a story called How to Be Afraid.
I did not think of writing it down at first as I was very young, and could scarcely write my letters. Later, writing was dangerous, and once found it could be torn, eaten. And of course, there would be punishments. Instead, it was an oral tradition I started with myself, a long list I committed to memory, a guidebook to help me navigate through a world of adults.
I was about six years old when the story began to take shape. At that point, I had the awareness that grownups said different things than what they did, and that they created stories about who they were.
It was a dangerous time, an unsafe time. I never knew what would happen, and I did not yet know how to read people and trust my instincts. I did not understand why bigger people frightened me; I only knew that at night I would pray fervently that they would not come into my room. I lined up protections around me. Charms. Dolls. Rosaries. I crossed my arms over my chest and lay still, pretending not to breathe.
They came anyway.
They seemed to like the fear they inspired in me, and I did notice that. I recall looking at the ceiling and taking myself to new places and planets, a time traveler. I remember that I went to Australia and walked in the desert; to India, where I saw painted elephants; to France, where I lived on a barge that was covered with pots of geraniums. But I never let on that I was somewhere else. I was careful to keep my expression fearful, for I knew otherwise they would hurt me more. Yet I was always worried I would be found out, for I came back from those trips smelling like crushed geranium leaves and with sand between my toes....
This short memoir is based on a larger one that is buried deep in all of the stories I write. The full short story, Someday I Will be Fearless, was just published on The Honeyed Quill, last week. Read it here.