Real Talk, Y’all
I’ve recently had some people ask me where I’ve been and when I would have a new book ready, and when I realized it’s been a year since I released Dallas’ Most Eligible I figured I probably owed at least somewhat of an explanation as to why I haven’t released anything this year.
I could say that life has happened, which wouldn’t be entirely untrue. Because life has happened. When you work full time and have a husband who’s on dialysis, life can be a little crazy (total aside: check out our website http://iwannapeeagain.com). But I’ve been able to manage it all before, so I don’t know that it’s necessarily fair or accurate to use that reason/excuse.
So, real talk, y’all.
I have been writing. Slowly and sporadically, but I’ve been writing. Unfortunately (maybe fortunately?) the story that’s in my head and my heart right now is a really difficult one for me to write, for a multitude of reasons.
I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m currently working on Thomas’ story. If you’ve read Baseball and Other Lessons and Dallas’ Most Eligible you know (or should know) who I’m talking about. If you’re drawing a blank, let me jog your memory: we first met Thomas in Baseball and Other Lessons when Matt was on a rehab assignment in Oklahoma City, and in one scene Thomas tells Matt a story about his college teammates trying to find him a “slump buster” one night. Well, in the way that my brain usually works, I had to know what HER story was. How did she end up drunk on Thomas’ doorstep?
And thus, Delilah’s story bloomed in my head. As did Thomas’.
And let me tell y’all, these two are a little broken. Yes, they’ve managed to glue the pieces back together and become happy, somewhat adjusted adults, but both of them have some pretty deep wounds. Lilah works for a non-profit in north Texas called SAINT—the Sexual Assault Initiative of North Texas—and Thomas gets roped in to providing some PR for the group to help drive interest in their annual gala.
Through working together to help make the gala a success, they become friends but also both have to confront those broken pieces inside of both of them.
So just a fair warning, this book’s dealing with some pretty heavy stuff, mostly the aftermath and the lasting scars from sexual assault (and the healing that can happen).
Y’all know light and fluffy isn’t exactly my thing. Funny and snarky, also-fucking-lutely. But light and fluffy? Not so much. I’m pretty sure the only thing fluffy about me is my hair and my stomach. So it’s not the fact that I’m dealing with heavy subject matter in and of itself, but more the subject matter specifically.
So yes, I realize you’re probably asking yourself, “Then why the fuck are you writing about sexual assault?”
The simple answer is: because I have to.
The complicated answer is, well, complicated.
I’m not one of those writers who can write to market or write what’s hot just to put something out there. My brain and my creativity just don’t work that way. My writing sure as hell doesn’t work that way. I have to write what’s in my heart, and there are certain stories that just come to me that I HAVE to tell. I can’t switch to something else. I can’t forget about it. I HAVE to tell that story. Every book has been that way for me, but others have honestly been harder to write. Big Girls Need Love Too and Between the Seams were especially hard for me to write and took a while (I think I probably put around 5 years total into Big Girls Need Love Too, and about two on Between the Seams), but those were both stories I HAD to tell. So I told them. That telling just took a while.
Without You is taking a while, mostly because while I HAVE to tell this story, I also keep having to step away from it because the telling of it is HARD y’all.
Writing is therapeutic for me. Always has been and always will be. Fictional characters and their stories have always been my way of working through my own shit, even if what they’re experiencing isn’t anything I’ve ever experienced before. And to tell the truth, I get kind of tired of the idea that if someone’s been sexually assaulted that they can’t go on to live a happy, normal, fulfilling life and have healthy relationships. Society in general has a habit of making rape victims and survivors these tragic characters, like we’re uber sensitive and are surrounded by eggshells and bubble wrap. Not only is that annoying, but it’s also insulting.
And yes, I did say we.
Which, really, is why this book is so hard for me to write. Because while it’s a story I NEED to tell, it’s a really fucking hard story to tell because in living my characters’ pasts, I’ve been reliving my own, too.
And that kind of sucks, y’all.
For those of you who are still with me, I’m going to give you fair warning that things are about to turn personal. Real personal. So if you want to bail, that’s totally fine with me. I understand. But I hope you stay with me, because not only do I need to get this out, I also want you to understand (at least a little bit).
Lilah’s and Thomas’ experiences are somewhat different from mine, although bits and pieces have been taken from real life events. But even when you’re dealing with fictionalized events, you still have to live those emotions and moments in order for the full impact to be felt by the reader. And in order for me to feel my characters’ emotions, I end up tapping into my own emotions and my own memories. So even though I’ve been through therapy before, I think it’s safe to say this book is acting like therapy for me. Sorry not sorry. 😉
But there’s also the fact that rape stories have been hard to get away from here lately, what with all the news about Weinstein and others in Hollywood coming out over the past few weeks. If you’ve ever been traumatized like that, you know what I mean when I say that constantly seeing it and hearing it on the news and online tends to dredge up a lot of things you would rather ignore. But then something happens and you kind of snap and you can no longer ignore it. That’s what’s happening with me; I’ve seen comments on Facebook about how some people are tired of all the rape talk and why are these women just now coming forward after all these years and didn’t they get something from it if they still have their careers?
And it makes me livid.
If you want an idea of just how livid I am, check out my admittedly very long Facebook post from yesterday. I figure that’s a pretty good place to start.
But there’s a lot of things that I didn’t say in that post (hard to believe, I know).
So here’s what I didn’t say:
Sexual assault victims don’t say anything because they think no one will believe them.
I was about four years old the first time I was sexually molested by the boy who would become my stepbrother. My parents were still married to one another at the time, and his mom (who became my stepmom) was also married. Basically, they were friends and we kids ended up spending a lot of time together. It’s so weird how some childhood memories are fuzzy while others are completely crystal clear. That first time is one of those memories, down to what I was wearing, where I was sitting when he walked into my bedroom, and what he said to me. I mean, he said a lot of things to me, but the biggie was, “Don’t tell anyone. They won’t believe you.” I was four, so of course I believed that. Because no matter how smart of a four-year-old you are, you’re still four fucking years old. So I didn’t tell anyone after that first time, or any of the dozens upon dozens of times over the years until one afternoon we were caught under the covers of his bunk bed. He’d been trying to convince me to let him “stick it in” (I was twelve) and I knew enough about how babies were made at that point in my life to tell him no. He was just starting to try to emotionally manipulate me when the bedroom door flew open, and I’d never been so embarrassed, ashamed, and relieved in my life. Unfortunately, though, those words he’d spoken to me eight years prior ended up coming true—I wasn’t believed when I told them what had been going on and for how long. Because why wouldn’t I have said something before then? I was a really smart twelve year old, didn’t I know what the consequences were? Didn’t I know that it was wrong? Well, duh. But he’d made sure to take away my power that very first time in that closet in my bedroom, and at that point I still hadn’t regained it.
So it was just kind of swept under the rug. Except I still had to see him at least every other weekend (my mom had custody of my brother and me), and after we’d been “caught” things had taken a really hard left turn, to the point where I felt even more unsafe than I had. He would walk into the bathroom when I was taking a shower or on the toilet (ewww, right?) or into the bedroom when he knew I was changing clothes. I would wake up in the middle of the night and find him crouching next to my bed, pulling the covers down and touching me. I would lie there, still as can be, hoping he would stop.
And then the threats started. The clearest one to me—to the point where I can still remember where we were, what we were doing, and what we were wearing—was the day he looked at me and told me, “I will have you one day. And I’m in a gang, so once I’m done with you I’ll let my friends have sex with you, too.”
I was twelve. He was fourteen(? I can’t remember if he’s two or three years older than me, but I’m pretty sure it’s two). And even though logically I realized the odds of him being in a gang considering where he lived (in a very rural area) where slim to none, I wasn’t an idiot and I knew the threat was very real. So I tried to make sure I was never alone with him, the point where I would go hide out in the pasture for an entire day just so I could feel remotely safe.
Until I couldn’t hide anymore. One early fall day, we were doing chores. I’d been told to rake up leaves out around the dog kennels. There was an RV there that my dad’s brother had stayed in for a little while, and I don’t remember how or why but I ended up in that RV. I think I was hiding, but unfortunately it ended up not being a very good hiding spot. His best friend was there at the time, and they both came into the camper. I was scared out of my mind. He forced me to look at some of the porno mags that had been stashed in one of the cabinets (I clearly remember a photo of a blonde, very busy woman with semen all over her breasts and thinking that she didn’t look like she was enjoying that at all and what in the world was that white stuff all over her boobs…because I was twelve and still fairly innocent despite everything that had already happened). Things get hazy, until I’m hiding in the teeny tiny bathroom, praying the lock holds and that he doesn’t find me. He does, and he drags me out of the bathroom and throws me down onto the bench seat/couch. Pins my hands as he looms over me. Things go black there, until he’s walking out of the camper, adjusting his shorts and telling his friend, “It’s your turn now.” The friend walks in, and everything goes black again.
That Thanksgiving I freaked the fuck out at the idea of having to spend the long weekend at my dad’s, and even threatened to kill myself (I wasn’t remotely serious, but it did get my mom’s attention and made her realize that something was seriously wrong). She made up an excuse to my dad, told him my brother and I had both caught something and were sick. I think we went back out there a handful of times after that, but nothing regular because I refused to go.
And my mom…God…my mom suspected. I think deep down she knew, because she would ask me if anything had happened and I would tell her no. I was so ashamed. So embarrassed. Scared. And I hadn’t been believed before, so why would this time be any different? I didn’t tell my mom about the abuse until I was a freshman in college, and it wasn’t until later that I even hinted at the rape. For years I’d repressed that memory. There was a big black hole there for that day, but there were some things that were so crystal clear that I KNEW something had happened. It’s only been the past few years that those memories have really started coming back to me, and it’s pretty much sucked as much and you would think it would.
Despite all of this I still have a relationship with my dad and stepmom. Because despite all of that, I still love them. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a people pleaser or an empath or what, but I’ve NEVER wanted to hurt them with any of this and thus have ended up protecting them for years, to the point where one side of my family knows but the other side doesn’t. Obviously, by posting this in such a very public way, I know that will no longer be the case.
But if writing this current book—and if reading the stories of these women who have been victims of Harvey Weinstein or the Baylor football team or whomever—has taught me anything, it’s that it does me no good to protect others while leaving myself unprotected, unhappy, and depressed. It affects my writing, my work, my relationships, my entire life.
I don’t think you ever stop wanting people to believe your story; when it’s a story like this, not being believed can make it even worse because it really does make you question everything. But I know what happened. So do those two boys (yeah, they’re grown ass men now, but I don’t think I could ever call either of them men). And so does God. And that’s what really matters.
So I’m going to continue living my truth, and slowly but surely telling the story that’s in my heart, which is a story of brokenness, but also one of strength and hope. Because there’s nothing more powerful—and nothing stronger—than the ability to pick yourself up, put the pieces back together, and learn to trust and love again. I—and my characters—may never be perfectly unshattered ever again, but we’re perfectly imperfect and stronger than we would have been otherwise.
So it might take me a while to get through this book, and I actually understand if you don’t want to read it (because holy fuck, y’all, it is some pretty damned heavy subject matter…but it’s also really, really fucking beautiful, too, and filled with so much fucking hope), but it will be finished. My story’s been told. Thomas and Lilah’s stories will be told. And hopefully, maybe, other people’s stories will be told, too.