A smattering of freckles on my ski-slope nose, and corduroy skorts—a shorts and skirt combination--sewn by my Mum because we had no money, my dad in seminary to become a minister and working part-time at the skim milk factory.
I didn't speak until I was four, because we moved to Africa when I was two, and I was too busy eating mangos and watching the beautiful Congolese people to learn their language, but when we came back to Canada I began to find my tongue.
And at seven I began to write poems, the kind that told the paper how sad I was because I had no friends. We were homeschooled and I'd moved ten times by then, and a seedling shrivels up if it has nowhere to plant roots.
My blue ink scrawled across the page and maybe if it were pretty enough, maybe if the poems rhymed, maybe then Dad would see me, and Mum wouldn't be so tired and we wouldn't be so poor, maybe if I put them into words, good things would happen.
They didn't, and no matter how beautiful my prose I still cried myself to sleep because no one wants to be friends with the fat preacher's daughter.
And then I lost a woman I'd grown very close to, a woman I called Grandma Ermenie—we played cards together and she taught me how to knit—and one day, she died.
No one had told me I could love so hard, only to lose.
So the next day I stopped eating.
But I kept writing, even as I became skinny those long four years between nine and thirteen, even as our house smelled like Mum's homemade bread and granola. But my script shriveled up with my knees, so tiny the letters knocked together.
I was in school by then because doctors prescribed it, but all school did was introduce me to a lot of people who were skinnier and prettier than me, and I aced my classes but the teachers couldn't read my tiny prize-winning prose.
The words weren't free to fly, they had to be perfect and neat, just like my outfit—planned weeks in advance, scheduled on the wall on a sheet of loose-leaf, just like my bed—tucked in with nurses' corners and Cuddles my bear in the center of the pillow, and I cried myself to sleep every night, my fingers around my wrists.
But still, the words spoke what my parents couldn't hear—up and down the rose-print pages of my journal--I screamed so loud the ink jumped off the page. I was taught to be seen and not heard and so I wrote loudly, and the writing saved me. It gave me a voice when I had none.
I started to eat again at thirteen because nurses said I was a miracle, that I should be dead, and the more I wrote poems and short stories and speeches, the more I grew to like the girl behind the voice. The words, like seeds all germinating and bursting into bloom because finally they could breathe. All loopy and large in blue script.
I was the girl with chubby cheeks and a mushroom cut, and now I'm a woman who takes care of that little girl, blankets her, nurtures her—because I'm proud of her.
For daring to speak.
Today I'm pleased to be giving away a copy of my debut novel, A PROMISE IN PIECES.
(Note from Dena: to enter, leave a comment below with a hobby, book, person or passion that helped you out of a dark time. We will choose a winner in a drawing and Em's publisher will send you a book.)
From the back cover:
It's been more than 50 years since Clara cared for injured WWII soldiers in the Women's Army Corp. Fifty years since she promised to deliver a dying soldier's last wish. And 50 years since that soldier's young widow gave her the baby quilt—a grief-ridden gift that would provide hope to countless newborns in the years to come. On her way to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Clara decides it's time to share her story. But when the trip doesn't go as planned, Clara wonders if anyone will learn the great significance of the quilt—and the promise stitched inside it.
Download the first three chapters for free HERE.
Visit my website HERE.
Find out more about a fun giveaway package (which includes $200 in shopping money and my book) HERE.