I began to write this book in my mother’s womb, kicking and screaming every inch of the way. The magical green frost of March christened the union that bore my soul, but that was it. Reality slapped me right on the butt in the early hours of December 17, 1955. I could almost hear the bartender say, “Drink ’em up.” As Daddy lifted his beer mug, Mommy pushed her hardest.
As Mars slaved away in the depths of Scorpio trying to satiate his glut for food and sex, Venus’s heart hardened under Capricorn’s dominion. (1) Torn between two worlds like a rope in a cosmic game of tug of war, I was schlepped from the other side of knowing to here. In those few seconds I forgot some important stuff, like where I came from and why.
So I wandered for 40 years in the wilderness before I actually sat down to write a word of it, black on white. Uprooted in birth like a child of Israel, I had lost my way to the Promised Land. But as the child who once clasped hands with little Tessa in the school courtyard long ago, I would keep searching for home, for mama, for truth, for something, I didn’t know what.
I didn’t know Lucy that first day of first grade, when I found her crying in the courtyard because she couldn’t find her mother.
“I’m sure this is where she said to wait,” Lucy said. The next thing I remember, I was marching her through the streets like a trophy. Yummy smells, like pork chops and brownies, took their turns up my nose as my stomach growled. Just as I turned the next corner, sniffing the air for Mommy’s burnt macaroni and cheese, I spotted the bar where Daddy sometimes pissed away his money.
“Hey, I got a great ideal! How about coming home with me? My mommy’s real nice, and she can file a missing person report.”
“Call the cops? Are you crazy? Mama would kill me.”
I led Lucy toward the curb to cross the street, knowing my mother would kill me if she knew I was anywhere near that bar. I shrieked when the barroom door swung open behind us. Tessa turned to look.
I handed over my charge, and ran home, barging through the back door to tell Mommy about my adventure, rendering every detail, as to how this good little Samaritan, little ol’ me, had saved the day. But Mommy and Daddy were not amused. Before I could finish my story, Daddy yanked me by my collar and hauled me up the stairs to give me the belt because he loved me, Mommy said later, because I worried them.
“Daddy wouldn’t have spanked you, you know,” Mommy said after supper, when Daddy was in watching the six o’clock news.
“But we never know when to believe you. You’re always making up stories.”
I stomped my foot, my hands on my hips.
“I’m telling the truth. I swear on a stack of Bibles.”
“There you go, Gabrielle, lying again. And blaspheming too! When are you ever going to learn? Repeat after me, I’m a liar!! Say it!”
“I’m a liar. I’m a liar. I’m a liar, a liar, a liar, a liar—” When I couldn’t stop blubbering, she clamped her hand over my mouth, pressed her knuckles up against my nostrils, and pushed my head into the chair rail.
“Now let that be a lesson to you,” she said when I stopped squirming, her finger pointing at me, her other hand on her hip. Mommy was my queen and Daddy was my king, but if even they didn’t believe me, if everything I did was just in my imagination, then what was real? Then who was I?
Eventually, I learned to shut up and repeat after them. But I learned a few lessons from Hansel and Gretel, too. Like Hansel, I had a hope, a shred of courage, a little genius, and enough common sense to leave behind a trail of shiny white pebbles. Someday I would remember once upon a time. Like Gretel, I would trick the wicked old witch into climbing into the oven. Then I’d slam shut the oven door, eat and run. I’d find my way back to that path of moonlit pebbles, and follow them all the way back home. (2)
But after stuffing myself on a sugarcoated house, I looked around and realized I had left behind breadcrumbs instead. And I was pissed, really pissed, so pissed I would sooner pop your head off than look at you. As early memories flashed back, especially from my childhood and teen years—when I was trying to tell anyone who would listen what I witnessed, what I experienced, and how it made me feel—I could hear my mother and father wisecracking: “When you grow up, you should write fiction!”
Well, here it is, Mom and Dad, to the best of my fictitious memory—in my efforts to figure out who the hell I am and why the fuck I am so pissed off all the time—I am about to tell the biggest story of my life. ♂ ♀