Dani leaned over the side of the bed and slowly slid the drawer open. She reached in to feel the journal's cover, the edges worn and rounded smooth.
It was a simple notebook, nothing fancy or elaborate. The cover was cardboard with a picture of a sweeping green meadow, full of tall grasses and wildflowers. The imagery of the cover is what drew her to the notebook that afternoon. The therapist had offered her three.
One was plain and had a black cover. It seemed hopeless and empty and Dani had immediately rejected it. The other had a rainbow on the cover and seemed juvenile and naive. Something like that had no place in the hands of someone like Dani and she knew it.
But this one was different. It just seemed right.
Her fingers ran over the words on the first page. It seemed so long ago that she had written them, angry and forced. Those words screamed their way out of her head, full of rage and bitterness. It seemed long ago, but it had only been ten days. The indentations of the letters went down several pages, leaving traces of those painful words for far longer than they should have resided.
The first page, torn and taped back together the night she began. The therapist had recommended this to her, not fully realizing the emotional drain writing could be, would be on Dani. Or maybe sensing it.
This activity of writing, meant to be helpful, intended to be positive, had conjured so many memories from the past. So many awful secrets were written on these pages. So many pieces of her life, stories of the things that had happened. Of what people had done to her. What she had done to them.
Half the time, Dani was skeptical. Doubtful. Unsure that there would ever be a chance for anything positive to come from revisiting it all. She'd worked hard for many years to force so much of it from her memory, and now it was there. It was all there now, laid out for the world to see. All written in her handwriting.
At this moment, she didn't find herself feverishly scribbling out words as they flowed from her memory banks down through her fingers, transforming themselves into words. She took a deep breath, then stood and walked to the window. The journal held close to her chest, the pen tucked behind her ear.
And she remembered.
She went back to the days when she was a little girl held captive in a house full of rage. When she lived in fear of her mother, never knowing if today was going to be a manageable day or if it would end with a beating squeezed in just before her father got home. Over the years, mother had become quite skilled at the beatings, if one could call it that. She knew just where to squeeze and pinch so it wouldn't leave a mark. She resorted to slaps most often because the redness would fade, and there would be no evidence left.
Her teachers never asked if there was something wrong when Dani would flinch away. They always chalked it up to her shyness, her tendency to be a loner. They were oblivious to the fact that it was a defense mechanism, a conditioned response from a child terrified of the woman who'd given birth to her.
Her father, oh how she wanted to tell him. She wanted to drop to her knees and tell him everything. She wanted to let it spill out, beg him to take her and her sister and run far, far away where mother could never hurt her again. The fear, though, bought her silence. Kept her quiet. Forced her to comply with whatever mother wanted.
Dani figured out at a young age that mother was home with her, alone, far more often than he was ever around. She lived in constant fear of the day that mother would snap completely, terrified of what she was capable of.
What she clung to, what she always had, though, was writing. The notebooks she would steal from school and sneak into her room. The ones that she shoved so far back between her mattress and the box spring that she often struggled to get them out herself. She couldn't take a chance of mother finding them, though, and did what she had to do.
The pages were her solace, her peace. She could write about the fantasy world that she dreamt of there, she could write about fabulous vacations she never took in real life, adventures she never had. She was strong and beautiful and surrounded with people who loved and supported her. The letters would grow in size and become more and more whimsical the deeper into the imagined world she went.
Other times, she detailed the beatings and the fights. The struggles at school and the days she was locked in her room for hours. The letters would shrink in size those days, sometimes her writing would even grow so small and firm that she could hardly read it herself. It didn't matter that she couldn't re-read parts of it anyway, she had it all memorized in her head and heart. She lived those same stories over and over again.
Those words engraved on her soul, deeper and more penetrating than anything of the fantasy world ever could be. The fantasy world existed only here on the pages. She could go there only when she would let herself dream of another life.
As she grew older, the number of notebooks tucked away grew. The trips to the fantasy world grew fewer and farther between. They were gradually replaced with dark, brooding poems. Mysteries and fantasies all their own, of wishful thinking that her mother would drink herself to death one day or that she'd drive her car into a telephone pole or that she'd get suddenly ill and it would all be over.
The day she caught her mother with that man, when the smell of betrayal permeated every square inch of the house, when the venom that woman spewed at her dug the deepest into her heart, when she was threatened with her life if she told anyone what she'd seem, Dani stopped writing. She shoved the notebooks into a trash bag, unscrewed the cover on the wall and hid them in the ventilation ducts.
She had to stop. She was scared. It was too risky.
From that day forward, Dani never wrote by choice. The only reason she did was to squeeze out the absolute bare minimum for school assignments. The words were stifled, she had to force them out. It pained her to do it at all, and she began to hate any class that required writing. She resented the teachers, she resented the assignments, she resented her mother for taking this thing that she loved so much away from her.
She'd spent most of her life actively avoiding writing anything, actively avoiding everything that had anything to do with all those memories.
She knew now that she'd been kidding herself. That she hadn't been avoiding anything at all, just shoving it down below the surface where it rotted and festered, where it grew in power and strength, where it became this beast that almost ruined her life. It was why she was here, in rehab. It wasn't the drinking. It wasn't the alcohol itself. It was her. It was her past. It was her patent unwillingness to deal with it, to confront it, to stare it's ugliness down and to move past it.
This. This journal, the one that she held tight to her chest now, rocking back and forth on her knees, this was how she would help herself.
Maybe that therapist knew all along that this is what she needed. Dani wasn't a talker, she wouldn't tell her darkest secrets in group, teasing it out of her in sessions wouldn't work. Dani had to write it down. It was the only option.
And she had. She had written it all. Not in as much detail as she probably could. Some of it came out discombobulated and disorganized depending on her emotional response to it at the time. Some of it was tight and coherent. But it was all there. Every major event that had led her to this place where she was right now.
Tears began streaming down her face as she realized that this thing she loved so much, this thing she had denied herself for so long, was the very thing that could end up saving her life.
Dani sat with that epiphany for a long while, clutching the notebook tighter and tighter to her chest.
On the window, tiny drops of rain began to fall. Then more and more and more until the window was covered with tiny vertical rivers, the drops racing one another to the ground.
She gathered herself, took the pen from behind her ear, then opened the journal to the first blank page. She smoothed the sheet down gently, drew in a deep breath and put the pen to paper.
Today is the day that it all starts over...
This post is part of a fiction challenge that I am participating in. This is the ninth installment of the story, and you can read the prior eight pieces here.
The theme this week is: Recovery. The "ice" has thawed a bit, revealing your character's recovery of a memory; or s/he has recovered (this is not sought, it just appears, like a plant poking through the hard, cold earth) something that was once lost; or experiences an old habit in a new way? Better? Good? You decide. Also incorporate how your character is recovering her femininity in honor of International Women's Day.
Please check out the pieces from the other participants here: