Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Writing takes -- and gives -- courage (by Patty Blount)

Are you brave?

I'm not.

I'm afraid of so many things, I think I'll go crazy if I try to list them all.

This month, we're all posting the reasons why we write.

For me, writing is courage. It's how I face my fears. It's how I fight when I know I'm not strong enough to battle in other ways.


It began when I was little. I'm old enough to remember being an only child. When my sister was born, life changed so dramatically and so fast for me, I think I'm still reeling from it.

My sister was a problem child. From infancy on, she screamed over things nobody understood until life became a series of patterns we came to identify as the Things That Don't Upset Her. When she was a baby, my family all looked forward to her growing out of those things and for the most part, she did.

But the patterns that were established? They remained. My sister learned that anytime she didn't get her way, all she had to do was scream. And she did. And kept on screaming no matter how she was punished.

For me, as The Oldest, this had a profound impact. I was expected to know better. I was expected to give in and be mature. I was told repeatedly to "just let her have her way" because it was so much more peaceful for all of us.

In me, this created a... a void, I think. I don't have the right word to describe it. I wasn't me anymore. I was The Oldest. I had to stop. I had to be quiet. I had to swallow back words I wanted to say. I had to do all these things to prevent that day's tantrum.

So I turned inward.

I dove into books -- any book I could find. They were transporter beams outside of this prison, away from my life as The Oldest. I developed the most profound talent of being able to ignore, to tune her out. But that didn't work for long. Demanding attention, she would follow me everywhere. If I went to the kitchen, she wanted whatever I was eating. If I went to watch TV, she'd change the channel. To cope, I started hiding.

I'd take my book and go find a spot somewhere in the neighborhood where she wasn't allowed to follow. I used to read at bus stops, in parks, even in trees.

This developed in me a truly impressive imagination. I used to imagine this road system that was suspended above my neighborhood - a sort of luge track for a car only I could see. The car drove itself. All I had to do was enter a destination. This was when I started writing things down. Instead of reading while I hid, I'd often journal ideas, bits of daydreams, wishes, glimpses into other lives I'd rather have than my own, people I wished I could be.

I couldn't stand having to be around her for long, because it felt like I was going to explode.
(If you follow me on Facebook, you'll probably have noticed it's still this way between us.)  There was one day when my mother wasn't home. I can't remember what she did that pressed my buttons, but I got so mad, I wanted to strangle her. Could see myself truly hurting her. It's a frightening feeling...to learn you're really no more evolved than a wild animal. To know that you're quite capable of inflicting deadly harm on someone else.

I had to get away from her.

So I took out loose leaf paper and wrote Mom a letter detailing all the reasons I needed to leave and live my grandparents. By the time I was done, I'd filled five sheets -- front and back. The next morning, Mom talked to me about the letter. I didn't get to live with my grandparents.

But I did get Mom to tell my sister no.

This was an important moment for all of us.

She hadn't been told no for so many years, hearing it was sure to launch a tantrum. But Mom understood me. She heard all the things I'd never had the guts to say out loud, but could somehow, find the courage to write down instead.

I think I've been writing ever since... certainly not always seriously, but yes, always writing. Writing is a way for me to figure out my tangled emotions, get down to the core, the absolute bedrock of why I feel the way I feel. Writing is a way for me to explore all the things that frighten me in a safe environment where I can literally 'close the book' on those fears when I'm done. Writing is catharsis, it's revelation, it's liberation. Writing, as my friend Kimberly Sabatini wrote in her own post on this blog, gave me back my voice.

Recently, after listening to my sister for well over an hour complain about her friends, her boyfriend, her ex-husband, and half her neighbors on topics all related to the presidential election, I finally remembered I have a voice. I reminded her where I stand on those same topics and asked her if she really wanted to have that conversation with me.

She hung up on me.

I consider that a victory of biblical proportions.



6 comments:

  1. This story makes me so sad. My heart aches for the little girl you were, Patty, and for your family and for your sister.

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  2. Wow! All of us who grew up with sibling issues, no matter where they are on the spectrum, can relate to this, I'm sure. So happy you channel it into writing.

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  3. Aww, Patty. I can totally relate. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. This breaks my heart for you, Patty. I'm only 21 months older than my brother, so I don't remember being an only child, but I look around at my friends who have more than one child (3 seems to be the tipping point for insanity), and it seems like many of them expect too much of their older children, like they expect them to suddenly stop needing mom and being kids because they have a younger sibling. It's made me very wary of having more than one child. While my experience does not compare to yours, I do remember my brother getting away with things for much longer than I ever did because he was "the youngest."

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  5. Thanks, everyone... Now that we're both adults, I think it would be easier if we had things in common, but we don't. We're as opposite as two people can be on pretty much every topic. I'm doing my best to stop slipping back into those childhood habits.

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  6. Wow. Nothing can be harder, I think, than a relationship with a sibling.

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