I think most people have some moment in their life, especially during childhood, where they felt everything was just right. Maybe they didn’t realize it at the time. Maybe the realization came later in life. When things got rough, they looked back and said, “Man, I miss those days.”
Enter me between the ages of 5 and 8. These years were my golden years, where I lived with my family in the Dallas suburbs and spent countless hours outside in the back yard clubhouse, or at a neighbor’s house, or riding my bike all around the neighborhood without my parents hovering. Which seems odd, considering I remember this man calling from his door, “Hey, little girl, would you like some candy?”
FREAKY. Also, not the point.
These years were magical, full of dress up and pig-tails and smiles and fluffy kitties and big Christmases and family meals and laughter. When we moved out of that big house to a smaller rental still in the suburbs, happiness followed. I got to WALK to school. I was a latchkey kid. My neighbors had a trampoline, and we bounced on that bad boy every day for HOURS. My brother and I would dance in the rain, chase each other around the house, eat big bowls of ice cream with our parents.
Life was good—at least from my point of view.
There were things going on in the background: my parents wanting a farm life somewhere outside the city, money being tight, crime increasing, the landlord probably being a jerk.
But I didn’t notice these things while I was top of my class at school, hanging upside down from the monkey bars at recess, or sledding down the middle of the street on a cardboard box while it snowed.
Nope. Didn’t notice.
When we moved again, away from all my friends and fun and favorite school, my spirit didn’t totally deflate. We were going to build a fancy log cabin, only live in the ugly trailer for a few months. Mom planned to homeschool us, and she taught me how to draw by sight! The coyotes would stop staring inside our windows sooner or later, and the chickens sure were cute.
Then Dad lost his job, and the neighbors called the police on Mom for not sending her children to school. We’d have to live in the trailer awhile longer, garden a bit more for food until he found somewhere else to work. Rather than fighting the idiots who thought my mom sucked, she sent us to public school so she could go out and find work as well.
Life spiraled more and more out of control almost every day. My brother and I were outsiders at school, dumped into a small, country district where everyone was related or had lived in the area for several generations. We were foreign to them, foreign and unwelcome.
No matter how many years passed, Dad still couldn’t find adequate employment to put food on the table. We saw Mom less and less since her job paid most of the bills. Eventually my big brother grew up and left me to go out on his own.
I was alone. So very, very alone.
This lasted until I was a junior in high school, after I’d experienced the unthinkable while alone, after I’d drifted off with the wrong kind of crowd and dreamt of nothing more than escaping, of screaming and crying and shaking my parents out of their depression.
This lasted until I ran away from home.
So you see, writing a tortured character such as Haley (not tortured in the same way, mind you), putting all that pain on paper, that was me reliving my childhood, my pains, my experiences. And it was hard.
But in the end, I think it made for an excellent story.