I watch her. The girl. She walks into the classroom, a ray of shining light. She is beautiful and I am awe struck. I want to be in her little world. To be one of the girls she giggles with as she walks the perimeter of the playground. I desperately want her to notice me.
Me. The girl who wears long skirts and is scared of her own shadow. The one that the girls whisper about as they walk by and the one the boys dare each other to ‘check out her underwear’. The one who just wants a friend.
I am obsessed with the movie Annie. I long to be rescued. To have someone save me from the nightmare of my life. I hate the long skirts and the endless rules that keep me friendless. I want to wear cute clothes, have a cute haircut, friends I can giggle with and boys who would never dream of treating me bad. I want to feel safe, loved and accepted. I am tired of being ‘different’.
It is decided that our third grade class will act out the story of Annie on the playground. We decide the girl will be Annie. Because she has the necklace. Because she is the queen of our classroom. Because she is the one who just quietly says “I will do it.” As if there was any other choice!
Her friends will be the in-girls. The ones close to Annie. The rest of us are relegated to be the workers. To do whatever Annie or her friends tell us to do. Except for me. I’m not allowed to join because ‘You are not allowed to watch movies so you can’t play with us.” When I protest, the girl seals my fate. “Get lost.” I am crushed. I run away crying.
To deal with my life I create a new world. A world where I never have to eat spicy pickles and mayonnaise for a week because we have no food. A world where I don’t have to be babysat by a neighbor whose son uses me for his own pleasure. A world where I can choose to wear clothes I like and have curly hair. A world where my momma doesn’t cry in the night because my father hurts her. A world where I have friends that I giggle with and boys who want to open the door for me. A world without the church and it’s crazy rules and scary teachings. A world where I’m loved and accepted.
If people, situations or things hurt me I retreat to this world. I make up stories about me for hours. Vacations to places I read about in the books I devour. Conversations with girls about movies and songs and games and boys. I scan the Sears catalog and decorate our house. I have new parents, siblings and friends. I have lots of friends in this world. I change my name weekly, because in the real world, I hate my name. Most important, I am safe in this world and no one hurts me.
This behavior succeeds in keeping me safe in some ways. I use it when I am physically violated. When I’m in a threatening situation, terrified, I’m able to mentally make myself go to this place. When I am overwhelmed, I imagine being somewhere else and it brings me peace.
I begin to tell stories at school. Stories that the kids know I’m lying about. I insist they are true. I DID go to Hawaii this weekend. (Truthfully, I wasn’t really sure what Hawaii looked like, it just sounded fascinating.) My father is a business man. (Well, I guess technically he was). My mother is a mom. (She was actually a stay-at-home mom until I was about 7 or 8). Our church is really awesome and we wear these dresses because it lets people know how special we are. (I kid you not. I said that … and they let me know just how special I was). I learned that my real world and my fantasy world were not really good friends.
Sometime before the birth of my sister they let me have a radio. I am allowed to listen to oldies or the old-fashioned radio dramas or country. When it is really late, I crawl under the blanket and listen to the forbidden station. I discover something — I REALLY love the sound of an electric guitar (and still do) and I LOVE, LOVE, love songs. I never bother learning the artists names. I only care about the lyrics. They speak to me. About love that rescues and never quits loving you. I am hooked and I know that’s what I want more than anything.
Disobeying my parents gives me one advantage: when the kids talk about music at school I can relate. They begin to include me in games at recess. Although I am never acknowledged by the latest popular girl I have a small group of girls who talk to me. They learn to not invite me to birthday parties or sleepovers or even after-school play dates. They learn to quit asking about my clothes. Although one girl brings me a pair of knickers to ‘see if I like them’. I wear them for one day. I feel so guilty I never wear them again.
Fifth grade arrives and so do my hormones. Suddenly boys are fascinating. Once again I’m thrust into two worlds. The church tells me stay away from boys, the girls at school tell me to chase the boys. I have a serious crush on a boy. I begin to worry because I know that my church mentor will be very angry with me. This causes me to retreat to my fantasy world again.