**this story is extremely personal. It may trigger some people who have suffered from abuse. I've condensed it down a lot and trimmed down a lot of details.
Everyone has a story within them, a story that defines who they are. That is the story we hold closest to our heart because if we give that piece away, it leaves us vulnerable, laid bare for the world to see. I debated sharing this story for a long time, but this page has given me the inspiration and courage I need to take that step, to lay my soul out there to help seal up a couple of those cracks that still stay.
Reading has undoubtedly saved my life. It has served as my escape, my comfort, my freedom from reality. I had always been someone who enjoyed reading being a child of a mother who was in the military. It was hard to make friends, then lose them after two years, only to make new ones and lose them again. After a while, I resorted to reading to replace birthday parties and sleepovers with other kids my age. It wasn't until my mom left the Navy and we moved to North Carolina when it came to play a role in saving my life.
We had moved down to North Carolina from Virginia to live with my mom's boyfriend that she had rekindled her old flame with from when I was a baby. At first, it was great, we had ice cream and pizza for dinner, we would stay up late playing Jurassic Park on the Sega with her boyfriends son who was me and my brothers age, and have family game nights on Friday nights playing Uno and Phase 10. It was a great time, we were finally in a spot where we wouldn't be moving again for a long time, I finally made friends with the kids in my class since I was only in fourth grade, so the annoying cliques that plague our teenage years hadn't been formed yet, and I had a father like figure in my life. Shortly after this, my mom even decided to go back to school to work on getting her Bachelors that she had put off after me and my siblings were born.
She started working late nights at a nursing home so that she could go to class during the day, which left her boyfriend to take care of us since he worked the typical 8-4 schedule at a scrapyard up the road. I'm not exactly sure when things started, but I know they slowly creeped up on me, not realizing until it was too late how bad it had truly gotten.
As I got to sixth grade, I wasn't allowed to hang out with friends after school or talk to them on the phone. I wasn't allowed to read, and once, I was found doing extra credit instead of my usual homework and had it taken away. I would be confined to my room for hours, staring at the spackle on the ceiling trying to count how many bumps there were. I would be asked to come out in the living room later on in the evenings and sit on his lap while he watched TV, some nights, even when my mom was home when she would walk out of the room for a brief period of time. I would stare at the clock, counting down the time until it was 9pm when I knew it was my scheduled bedtime so that I could go back to my bed. I was young, I knew something wasn't quite right when my stomach would start to feel nauseous and uncomfortable, but didn't know exactly what. I trusted this person, I was just being silly, right?
As I continued forward in middle school, I found Harry Potter. I related to this boy who was confined to a cupboard under the stairs, who was excited when summer was over and could go back to school to his friends. I would shake with excitement on that first day of school finally getting to see my friends I hadn't seen all summer. Unlike Harry though, I had to go back home each night. The complete control over everything I did continued to grow worse. I would sneak rolls of quarters from his sock drawer to buy books at the scholastic book fair that I would hide in the bottom of my backpack so I could read on my bus rides. It was my little form of vengeance I guess you could say. I would hide under my comforter with a little booklight I had purchased with the stolen quarters and read long into the night, wishing that I could be one of these characters who found magic and adventure that took them away from their problems. I was inspired to attempt to write my own stories that I could share to the world.
One day, he found me writing in my flower notebook, pretending to do homework. Once he realized it wasn't science, he took the notebook from me and ripped it up. I was thrown down the hall to my room, where I sat counting those bumps on that ceiling until he came in to apologize, as he did every other time. That apology has become a sickening mantra in my head that never leaves.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that. You can't tell anyone or else your mom will have to quit school and you will have to move away. They'll take me away, you don't want that."
I would nod my head, confirming that I wouldn't tell anyone about anything of the things he did. I would wait for him to leave the room, wipe away my tears, and sneak a book out from under my mattress that I had got from the library or the book fair and lose myself in the story before falling to sleep.
Finally, by the time I was in ninth grade, I broke down to my friends after a particularly bad fight the night before. I confessed everything to them. They told me if I didn't tell someone, they would. I won't go into the details of how everything went down that night when DSS showed up to the house, or the weeks after of having to find a place to live, dealing with lawyers and cops, or how my mother and siblings reacted, but throughout that time, I started to lose myself.
In the aftermath, I felt like a shell of a person. I felt insignificant and wretched, as if everything was my fault. I had made us move to a new county where we had to get a new place to live and go to new schools. I broke up my moms 8 year relationship. I was hollow with no passion left for life, but too scared to actually do anything about it. I felt my life had this line of demarcation of Before and After the incident.
I continued to read, the words empty at first, but as the time passed, they slowly started to help me pick up my pieces. I would read about these heroines, who despite all odds, would still come back after being brought down. I realized that I had a choice to make. I could continue living in this shadow that had plagued me, or I could accept it and use it to make me a stronger human. I could let the Before take me with it, use it as an excuse, a crutch...or, I could use it to build myself back up.
It's taken years, and I've come to terms with what happened. I've healed, but there will always be that scar that won't completely go away. I've decided that I don't want to hide that scar anymore though. I will wear it with pride. Everyone has their own story and their own scars, this is mine. Reading undoubtedly not only saved my life, but helped me to gain the strength to rise above my past. It was my friend in times of need, my knight in shining armor that helped me learn how to slay my own dragons.