I was an only child for nine years, until my brother Mike came along. I was probably a very spoiled only child (I’ve heard stories . . .) but I adored that baby from the moment he came into our lives. He was a “blue baby”, meaning he had heart problems right from the start, so it wasn’t like I could resent him for even one minute. Then, later, he was so darned cute I just had to laugh.
By the time my brother Chris came along, I was 13 and feeling a little queasy about the rumors I’d been hearing about the bedroom shenanigans that brought about the little guy’s birth, so he wasn’t so welcome at first. But he looked like a little golden cherub so who could resist?
But back to me. My parents, both of them, showered me with love. I realized only later, when I went merrily off to school, that they did me a HUGE disservice. I was not as special as they made me out to be. That hurt! Still, I adjusted to second- and even third-place status because, you see, in my happy home, I was loved.
At least I think I was. I have a memory of packing my little red satchel when I was very small and threatening to run away. (Those two must have done something to really annoy me, is all I can think.) I remember them standing near the door, not to stop me but to hold it open for me! They actually said Goodbye! Then my mom couldn’t play that game any more and she started to cry. And I started to cry. And I dropped my bag and went for hugs. Or at least it seems to me that’s how it happened.
I was never spanked. I know that for sure. But might there have been some subliminal hatefulness or even disinterest that I, wrapped as I was in my constant companion, the bunny blanket, totally missed? I know for a fact that nobody really believes happy childhoods actually exist, so there must have been something. . .
I don’t mean to imply that nothing bad ever happened in all the years I was a kid. I have some vague scars, both visible and psychic, to show I didn’t live in a bubble all that time. But when I remember my childhood in broad terms, I have to admit I loved being that particular kid in that particular time.
When I first decided I would be a writer (I was 16 and had just moments earlier finished reading “The Diary of Anne Frank”) I hated the fact that nothing really bad had happened to me yet. How was I to write if there was no angst, no conflict, no fear? (Not that I could even begin to relate to the horror that was Anne Frank’s life–I was 16 and living a sheltered life. I couldn’t relate to real horror at all.)
The first thing every writer learns is that her story had better be leading somewhere and there had better be some semblance of danger or fear or at least the kind of worry that causes periodic wringing-of-the-hands.
I couldn’t come up with any of those things on my own, so I decided it would be best to write about people who wallowed in that sort of stuff. My first choice was Charlotte Corday, killer of Jean Paul Marat during the French Revolution. (Side note: She killed him on the day before Bastille Day, which is July 14, which is, coincidentally, the date of my wedding anniversary!) I wrote many, many pages before I dead-ended there, too. I could write the facts but not the emotions. I was 16 and typing on a rented behemoth of a manual typewriter (Thank you, Dad!) in my tidy bedroom (Thank you, Mom!). Charlotte’s desperate revolutionary thoughts just didn’t compute. I had grown to love her courage and saw nothing wrong with her stabbing Marat while he soaked in his bathtub, (It could be I was wrong there. I’m still not sure which side I’m supposed to be on.) I was upset for days after reading of her subsequent and swift execution, but it had happened so long ago. . .
But life moved out of the ’50s and I grew up and kept on writing and what I learned to do over time was to make stuff up. I got pretty good at it. So good that everything I’ve told you about my childhood today might just be the product of years of honed fertile imagination.
But now we’ll never know, will we?