My stepfather, Charlie, explained it all to me a long time ago. He was at the kitchen table cracking pecans, and I was making a piece of cheese toast in the microwave. Mom was not home.
"Do you know why I'm mean to you, Ashley?" he gently asked.
I shook my head and watched my toast revolve in the microwave. Crack went the teeth of the nutcracker against the pecan shell.
"I'm mean to you so you won't trust me. You can't trust me. I don't want you to trust me." Crack. Crack.
I stared at the toast. Am I cooking this too long? Is it going to be rubbery?
He continued. "You know what? You are a sexy girl. You are a foxy little thing. Crack. You can do anything you want, Ashley. You can sleep with any guy you want, and you could tell me, and I wouldn't tell your mother.” Crack. Crack.
Dammit, I'm sure I ruined this toast. It's going to be all tough now. I was afraid that would happen.
"But if you ever tell her what I've done; why you Crack can't trust me, I'll leave her. I will. I will be … Crack ... GONE … just like that. And you'll have to tell her why I left.
"Just don't come home pregnant. If you ever come home Crack Crack pregnant, I'll leave... I'll leave if you come home pregnant. I couldn't TAKE IT if you got pregnant!" He lifted the newspaper he’d been shelling pecans over and dumped the fragments in a paper grocery sack next to his chair, then stretched out his fingers, popped his knuckles, and started the next round of pecan shelling.
The cheese was beyond bubbly—actually starting to grow brown spots on the surface—and the microwave was filling with steam, but the sight took on a dreamy quality as I stared at it so long that it blurred before my eyes.
I knew Charlie had had a vasectomy four years before. I don't know why I thought about that in connection with his pregnancy comment, but I did. At the time of his surgery, he was quite obvious about his discomfort, and my mother's sympathy for his pain was all she talked about. The nine-year-old I was didn't want to know about his shaved testicles. I don't think I would want to know about them at the age of ninety-nine, for that matter. I didn't want to know about his stitches and how they itched and if his incision was puffy. Leave me out of it, for the love of God.
"Your mother … doesn't like sex. She hates sex. I … have needs, Ashley. Needs that your mother doesn't want to meet." Crack.
DING! Thank God. My cheese toast shriveled to what resembled a piece of varnished wood, I took it out of the microwave, threw it in the wastebasket next to the microwave cart, and went to my room to do my history homework. You know the sound a seashell makes when you put your ear up to it? That's the sound I hear in my head when I mentally go somewhere else, when where I am gets to be too much. “Whoosh.”
My name is Ashley Asher. That’s right, go ahead, and laugh. I guess my parents thought it would be “cute” to make my first and last names nearly identical. My family and friends call me Ash. My mother calls me by my first and middle names, Ashley Nicole. Her husband, Charlie, thought he was real clever and called me “Ash-Hole”.
I’m fifteen years old and I live in Patience, Texas, an East Texas town of about 3,000 people. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would end up going to a school where the unofficial year-round footwear is flip-flops, and the only things to do on Friday nights are cruising the aisles of the Wal-Mart in Six Shooter City (yes, that's the name of a real place), or seeing one of the two movies showing in Cedar Points. There’s even less to do in Patience, although one common occurrence is pasture parties. That’s where a bunch of underage, redneck kids bring illegally obtained beer to somebody’s pasture and see how shit-faced and stupid they can get before they run out of beer.
I've been alone for so much of my life, I wouldn't know what to do if I suddenly had a social life. I’m a quiet person who loves to read and write more than anything in the world. There’s just something special about falling into worlds created by other people. I spent a lot of time pretending that I was somewhere else when I was still living at home—I mean with my mom—and I think that helps me write stories, too.
I live with my dad now. My dad. Sounds so funny coming from my mouth, because I never knew him until last summer. I call him David, and he doesn’t seem to mind. He and my mom split up when I was three months old and except for child support checks and sporadic birthday cards, I never heard from him.
The way my mom tells it, my dad was always a loser, which leads to a natural question: why would she sleep with him if she knew that? He was one year ahead of her in school, but they may as well have lived on different planets. She was a cheerleader, honor student, daughter of a doctor and accountant, and ran with the popular kids.
He didn’t know his bio father, but he had a succession of stepfathers. My mother, the Queen of Bad Decisions, says my dad's mom had terrible taste in men. I guess she would know about such things.
There is only one picture of my father and mother together, and it is from his senior prom. Her dress is snow-white satin, off the shoulder, and she tells me she tanned for weeks so she would look really brown in contrast to the stark white of her gown. Looking like a bride must have done something to her judgment because they treated prom night as if it was their honeymoon, and, surprise! I was conceived. Mom’s parents, Nanny and Papaw, were horrified—not only because she got knocked up, but at the type of guy who did the knocking up. My dad doesn’t strike me as the country club type. Papaw, an OB-GYN, set up my mom with a friend of his to give her an abortion.
When Mom told David what Papaw had arranged, he hit the ceiling and said that nobody was gonna kill his kid. He talked my mom into running off with him and a preacher married them in Patience, Texas, where Uncle Frank lived on land that’s been in their family for generations. Sometimes I wonder if my mom wishes she had kept that appointment with Papaw’s friend.
They lived in a camping trailer behind Frank’s house while Mom attended her senior year at Patience High School and David went to work as a mechanic in Frank’s shop. Mom says they fought all the time because my dad had a terrible temper. He would fly into rages where he would only feel better after he had destroyed something, like when he threw their tiny black-and-white TV out the camper door into the mud then went after it with a sledgehammer. After he had his tantrum, he would go sit in the shop with Frank and drink until he thought my mom was asleep.
I was born in January of my mom’s senior year. School was out for Spring Break when Mom packed me and all her stuff up in the car that David gave her for Christmas—a dented up brown four-door Hyundai. We headed back west on Highway 175 to La Salle, Texas, back to the two-story red-brick house in a fancy part of town that Mom grew up in. Back to a bedroom that, unlike her bunk in the trailer, was lacking in field mice nesting in her shoes and the snake that shed its skin around her hot rollers. Nanny and Papaw welcomed Mom with open arms, praised her for her return to sanity and civilization, and donated her Hyundai to Goodwill before she'd been home for twenty-four hours.
David never came after her; never questioned her leaving. Papaw’s golf buddy, a divorce attorney, took care of all the paperwork to annul the marriage, which means that legally the marriage never took place, so I don’t know what that makes me. They sent the papers to David and he signed off on everything, including paying support to the child born to their non-existent marriage.
Mom finished her high school studies through a correspondence program and attended community college to earn her medical assistant certification. Then she went to work in Papaw’s office, and we did okay for ourselves. She even bought a small house in an old neighborhood in the center of La Salle, and my days there were carefree. When we got home in the afternoons, I’d go play outside, and my mom hired teenagers to watch me during the summer, so I had the Kool-Aid commercial-type summer, where kids play outside all day then come in at night when the streetlights come on.
My life changed forever on the night my mom met Charlie Baker. Nobody in Mom’s Third Thursday Bunco group thought he’d ever go for someone like her—no longer high school cute, a little overweight with a big caboose, and saddled with a kid. Mom’s friend Neshia was dating a guy who worked construction, and his friend Charlie had just been transferred in from West Texas. Charlie was six feet tall, with a very short haircut and a shy, closed-mouth smile. He has six-pack abs in one of the pictures I’ve seen of him from that time. In it, he is wearing a red-and-white-striped Speedo, and he's posing like a model.
The guy in the peppermint stripes looked nothing like the Charlie I came to know: the pot-bellied alcoholic madman with wild auburn hair, almost clear gray eyes, and a shiny gold front tooth. Charlie’s appearance is off-putting to people who don’t know him. His long bushy hair seems to have a mind of its own, like Medusa’s hair of snakes. When Charlie is pissed, he radiates hatred, and it’s scary. When Charlie chases you down with the intent to tackle you, it’s downright terrifying.
The Bunco group held a singles night, and Charlie was there. I was there, too, playing waitress to the adults as they played the game and progressed from table to table. I was enjoying my job—I'd done it before—and I didn’t mind being the only child in attendance. Charlie paid a lot more attention to me than any of the other guests did, even my mom’s friends that I knew. I kept telling him that my name was Ashley, but he insisted on calling me “Kiddo.” It’s a name I would come to hate.
The next night, Charlie took Mom and me to a carnival that was passing through town. I was riding the bumper cars, and when I got rammed from behind, I bit my tongue—hard. It stunned me, and I sat with my bloody tongue hanging out of my mouth while other bumper cars zoomed around me. Mom called my name, but I could not focus enough to move. I was frozen. Out of the crowd, Charlie bounded across the floor, dodging bumper cars and looking for all he was worth like a super hero. He scooped me up out of the seat and dashed back to my mother with me.
“Gotta keep that tongue in your mouth when you drive bumper cars, Kiddo,” he said, winking, as he gently set me down. I felt like Lois Lane when Superman rescues her from being squished by a meteor. I'll bet there were actual stars in my eyes.
My mother and I were sold on him that night, but Charlie sealed the deal by bringing me toys and games every time he came over to our house. Four months later, in a ceremony held in Nanny and Papaw’s living room, my mother and Charlie were married. After years of being without a daddy, I finally had one.
Within a few months of the marriage, Charlie announced that he wanted to start his own construction business. He decided we needed to move to Baileyville so that he could land construction contracts easier than he was able to in LaSalle, which was overrun with the same sorts of start-up businesses. Nanny and Papaw were not happy about it, and neither was I. I loved my house, my neighborhood, and the only school I had ever known. I heard Nanny and Mom arguing about it on the phone. “Mother, I am married now, and my loyalty is to my husband. I am selling the house. We are moving, and that is final.”
We moved in the middle of the school year to a very small town and a ramshackle house out in the country. There were no other houses around ours, so I had no other kids to play with. When I got home from school each day, my only companions were the turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, rabbits, and two stray dogs that wandered up and adopted us. My mom went to work for a podiatrist’s office in town as an assistant, and, irony of ironies, the only construction contracts Charlie could land were in Northside, right next door to LaSalle, so he went to work early and arrived home late most days. I got the feeling that things weren’t going too good. Mom asked Charlie about money all the time, and he didn’t like her questions one bit.
About the same time, my body decided it was time to start puberty, and my mother insisted on getting me a training bra. A true tomboy back in my old neighborhood, I hated the idea so much that I insisted on spelling the word, b-r-a, instead of coming out and saying it. It was hell, getting used to having straps around me and over my shoulders. On the inside, I kicked, screamed, and cursed Mother Nature for making me a girl.
There was no money to buy me new clothes. When my mom talked to Charlie about asking Nanny and Papaw to help us out so I could have some clothes, Charlie screamed at Mom, told her how stupid and fat she was, and said that if I wasn’t so fat, I would still be able to wear my clothes.
Who was this incredibly mean person? Where was the guy who risked life and limb to be my white knight on the bumper car ride?
My fourth grade school year, instead of dressing like an eight-year-old girl, I had to wear my mom's clothes to school—and cowboy boots. The only shoes in our house that would fit my feet were some thrift store cowboy boots. Charlie said my feet were as big as beaver tails, like I could do anything about their size. He said that if my feet weren't so abnormally large, he'd buy me Adidas or Sketchers to wear, like the other kids had.
So here’s the deal: my boobs have, against my will, burst upon the scene. I wear my mom's old lady clothes to school, and, in spite of its rural location, nobody, but nobody, wears cowboy boots to school. The fourth-grade boys ran up to the girls who had breasts and acted as if they were going to grab them. They got a kick out of the girls' shock, stopped just short of touching, and said, as they made squeezing motions, “Cush! Cush!” I always wondered why the teachers didn't do anything about it. Were they blind? How could they possibly look the other way?
Between the boys at school and Charlie, I was under constant scrutiny from creatures of the male persuasion. I became very self-conscious about having breasts, and at night, before falling asleep, I tried to claw them off my chest. I still have deep grooves in my skin where I scratched myself senseless. I hated them because I thought that if it weren't for those damned things, my life would still be pretty easy. Before going to sleep, I would pray to God to please take these things back; I didn't want them and never had.
Charlie started paying more and more attention to my breasts. He’d stare at them and not even seem to care when I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at him. I always had a creepy feeling when he got that look in his eyes and started breathing funny like he did when he was alone with me.
Less than a year after they married, he gestured to me to sit on his lap. I did so, enjoying the idea of having a daddy like my friends did. I got so relaxed and content there, I dozed off. He started rubbing my brand-new breasts. I wasn’t actually all the way asleep, but it freaked me out so much that I pretended I was.
The next morning, a Saturday, my mother told me to go outside because Charlie wanted to talk to me. I approached him like I would come up on a King cobra, full of dread and feeling like a tightly wound spring. His back was to me as he bent under the hood of our car, changing the oil.
"Mom told me to come out here. Said you want to talk to me," I spoke to the sky as I watched a black vulture circle over something dead.
He mumbled something and I said, “Huh?”
He backed out from under the hood and took a deep breath. “Kiddo, slap my hands.” He paused as if waiting for my response.
"What? Why?" I played dumb, hoping that none of what happened in that chair had really happened. I was nine years old, and I already knew what he was doing was wrong.
"Last night … in the green chair …" Now it was his turn to stare somewhere else.
I tilted my head and my voice was so high it didn’t even sound like me. "What chair? When?"
He smiled that closed-mouth smile from his "model" picture. “Never mind, Kiddo. You can go back inside now.”
My heart pounded in my ears as I walked away from him. The morning sun was blinding and felt hot on my hair.
Next time he patted his lap and smiled at me, I pretended not to see him. But when he grabbed my arm roughly and pulled me onto his lap, it was hard to fake being blind.
Not long after that, I walked out to the barn on a cool fall day to hang out with my friends, all of whom were covered in either feathers or fur. As I approached the rabbit cages in the barn, I saw Charlie facing the back corner of one of the stalls. He had killed a possum in that exact spot just a few days before. It had stood on its back legs, facing him full on and hissing as it bared its mouthful of pointy teeth. He whacked it with a shovel and it either fell over dead or just looked like it was dead, "playing possum." Sort of like my faking being asleep.
"Is there another poss—" I began, and he turned to face me.
His penis hung out of his pants.
"What do you think of it?” His hands were on his hips, legs wide, reminding me of the way Superman stands—like the super hero I used to believe he was.
Never having seen a man's privates before, I told him what it looked like to me: a fire hose.
Charlie smiled widely and looked pleased. I turned around and walked back to the house, the mental picture of Charlie's pose playing repeatedly in my mind.
A month or so later, I caught pneumonia and was very sick. When my mother could not miss any more work to care for me, I began to stay home alone. Then Charlie started coming home in the middle of the day. It's not like his job was right down the street, either. We lived a good hour and a half away from Northside.
I heard the back door open when I was in the bathroom on the toilet. I pushed the door closed and locked it.
"Ashley?" he called. I remained silent. I could hear his voice getting closer.
"Ashley? Oh, I see. You're playing hide-and-seek with me, aren't you?" He kind of giggled.
"No, I'm going to the bathroom."
He jiggled the doorknob. "Why's the door locked?" I heard him walk away, come back, and then the doorknob was being taken apart. He stuck his fingers in the doorknob hole, opened the door, and stood watching me.
I didn't know what to do. Stay on the pot with my short nightgown pulled as far down over my legs as I could get it—only to realize that doing so exposed my breasts—or stand and pull my panties up and hope he wouldn't see my privates when I did so? He took a few steps back into the hallway, kind of like a cat playing with a mouse.
I tried to get away from him—I know that much—but the next thing I remember is crawling on the floor with my panties around my ankles, feeling a sense of wonder at how weak and shaky my arms and legs were—and how white they looked against the ugly black and red patterns on the carpet. I don't remember anything else. My memory is sometimes like a videotape that's been taped over too many times. There's the movie, there's the movie, there's the movie, then, oops! Pure static, a mess of lines, no picture. What happened there? It's anyone's guess.
Within a few days of that, Charlie announced to my mother that because I never paid any attention to our rabbits, he was going to kill them all. And he expected her to cook them. I freaked out. Even though I did pay attention to the rabbits—I fed them every day, held them, and talked to them all the time—I felt so guilty that those rabbits were going to die because of me! And there was Cinnamon, who I actually did have a relationship with. Well, as much relationship as a person can have with a rodent of sorts.
"Mom, do something!"
Mom glanced at the directions on the back of a box of macaroni and cheese then poured milk into a measuring cup. "I'm going to cook them, Ashley, but you don't have to eat any." I stared at her, incredulous at the big picture she was missing.
I ran to the barn, determined to say the right thing to save my rabbits, and tripped over a bucket when I heard the screech of a cage door being opened. I rounded the corner just in time to see Charlie smack the black rabbit, Scooter, in the back of the head. I squeezed my eyes shut and pleaded, "Please, Charlie, please don't kill the rabbits. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Whatever I did, I'm sorry. Please."
He held Scooter so that I got the full effect of how dead he was. "You never pay any attention to these goddamn things, so why do you care? They're all diseased."
Then why would you want to eat them? I wonder now, but at the time, I couldn't even think straight. "Please, Charlie, at least don't kill Cinnamon. Please. She's mine. You gave her to me. You said she was for me to raise."
He tossed aside Scooter, his skull crushed and bloodied by the tire iron Charlie held in his right hand. "Go on, Ash-Hole. Get out of here."
"Please!" I shrieked, hysterical, but he stepped toward me with the blood-covered end of the tire iron angled as if I was next.
"Get out of here!" he roared.
I ran toward the pond, stopping only when I reached the bank, where I threw myself down on my stomach and screamed into the dirt. I looked up and saw Charlie raise the tire iron in the air and bring it crashing down upon the back of Cinnamon’s head. Her body convulsed once, then hung limp. He had killed the other rabbits inside the barn, but brought Cinnamon outside, within view of the pond.
The next night, my mother served Charlie fried rabbit.
While living in Baileyville, I learned how to make Charlie’s favorite drink: a tall 7-11 Big Gulp cup of Wild Turkey bourbon with just a splash of Diet Pepsi. He also started requiring me to greet him at the door and thank him for working each day. I learned that I was undeserving of having anyone go out and work to earn a living to support my worthless ass. After I humbly thanked him, he assumed the throne in front of the television while I went to make his drink.
If I did not get his drink quickly enough, he’d clear his throat until I came to see what he wanted. There it was: the pantomime of a cup in his hand, indicating that I was falling down on the job, which was to mix his Wild Turkey–Diet Pepsi cocktail, deliver it to him, see that his bowl of roasted peanuts was full, the TV was on the channel he wanted, and retreat until I was called forth again by his shaking the cup of ice at me to indicate that it needed refilling. If I didn't move fast enough, he would say, “Chop-chop.”
When I was angry about being treated like a servant, and I was angry mostly all the time anyway, my mother’s explanation for his behavior was, “His back hurts.” Showing Charlie any emotion but gratitude and deference was one way to win a place on the sticky leather seat of doom—the sofa—for an evening of being told how worthless I was.
My mother always acted like it was her pleasure to stop what she was doing and come from wherever in the house she was to change the TV channel for him. We had a remote control that he could easily have used himself, but that wasn’t good enough. I considered it a victory to keep my face expressionless and not make any sounds in response to being summoned.
We didn’t live in Baileyville long—just about eighteen months. Charlie’s business had taken off in Northside, and I felt relieved when we left country life behind and returned to the suburbs of Dallas. I think I was hoping that the Charlie I lived with in Baileyville would go away, never to return, and the-good-guy-rescuer-of-bloody-tongued-girls-on-bumper-cars would return to take his place. I had developed a sense of awkwardness about myself; I knew that what was going on in my house was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it.
Charlie chose our new house—another fixer-upper. It had three bedrooms. My bedroom was right across the hall from my parents' room, and it connected via a bathroom to the guest bedroom.
The doors were hollow and made of flimsy pressed wood. Somehow, the guest room’s bathroom door kept getting a hole smashed all the way through it, so there was always a large, irregularly shaped peephole in it, about the size of a CD. There was a towel rack in the bathroom behind the door, and I kept catching hell about slamming the door into the towel rack.
The thing is, I hardly ever even opened that door. My great-grandfather was living with Nanny and Papaw by then. On days that Nanny needed a break from him, he would be delivered to our house to do handyman work. Great-Grandpa would go from room to room with a little toolbox, looking for stuff to fix. I don't know how many jars of wood putty he went through on that door. The repair job looked awful, but it didn't matter anyway because wood putty over a hole in a hollow door is futile, unless the door is never opened or closed. Within a day or so of being repaired, SMASH! the hole was back again, and I was blamed.
I had successfully "operated" a shower curtain for years, able to pull it closed and keep it closed when I was taking a shower, but when my mom replaced my clear shower curtain with a solid maroon one, I apparently forgot how to use a shower curtain correctly. Within days of the new curtain being put up, Charlie was bitching, saying I was so stupid that I didn't even know how to keep the floor dry when I took a shower. To prove his point, he brought us back to the bathroom after I had showered and showed us the standing water on the floor. It hadn't been there when I got out of the shower, I knew, because not only was the floor dry, but I was obsessed with keeping the curtain sealed up against the sides of the shower and along the inside of the tub. Showers were like this: scrub scrub STOP check the curtain for gaps; scrub scrub STOP check the curtain for gaps.
He acted like it was a huge imposition, having to spend the money and all, but the next day, Charlie took a day off from work to install crystal clear glass sliding doors.
I think I knew he was watching me shower, but I didn’t want to believe it. I could sense someone watching me, but I told myself that it was my imagination. But one day I was feeling really put out with being spied on, and I slid open the glass door, stepped out of the bathtub, and stared directly at the hole. I saw his eye, gray and unblinking, watching me. I don't remember anything except that eye. My mind kind of shuts down when I'm freaking out.
Ever the one with a plan, I stuck a thumbtack through the thin wood of the door right above the hole and hung a towel over it, ending his personal peep show. Or so I thought. But Charlie became more determined and started opening the door a crack. So I pulled out the drawers next to the door and stuffed towels between the drawers and the door, since the locks had been “mysteriously” broken. Not being able to view me bathing anymore only made him bolder in his pursuits at other times.
He came into my room at night, with my mother asleep across the hall, and ran his hands over my body. I fought back by always sleeping on my stomach and making myself into a human burrito with my blankets, regardless of the warmth of the season. You know those dreams where you just know something terrible is about to happen, like a tornado is coming toward your house, but your feet are melded to the ground and you can’t move, can’t scream, you … freeze? That's what every night was like.
I was in sixth grade by then, the tallest girl in my class, at five feet, three inches. I haven't grown an inch taller since sixth grade, but my body continued to take on curves, sprout hair everywhere, and look like that of a woman, even though I was still a little girl inside. A more and more angry little girl. I fell into a bad mood and stayed there.
Mom grew tired of my grouchiness. “Ashley, if you don’t drop this shitty attitude of yours, I’m sending you to live with your father. This ugliness has lasted long enough.”
“I don’t even know what he looks like, Mom,” I snapped.
“Doesn’t matter to me. You’re still half his, and I don’t care that he hasn’t seen you since you were three months old. I’m ditching your ass with him if you don’t stop being bitchy.”
I made up my mind to call my mother to my room the next time Charlie touched me so that she could catch him. Getting my frozen body to cooperate, though, was a different story. I could only cry out into my pillow, and the sounds that came out of my mouth were muffled cries, like "Murgh." I squeezed my eyes shut, my eyelids sealed tight. Every muscle and bone in my body tried to form a wall against his attempts to turn me over by sliding his hands under my breasts or hips. My body was locked, rigid, and it took an incredible amount of strength to will my eyes to open, but I forced them to, because I needed to see him in my room so that I could believe it was really happening.
There he was, his white underwear looking blue in the moonlight, as he stood next to my bed.
The next morning, I approached my mom in the kitchen. “Um, Mom, someone was in my room last night, trying to mess with me.”
She didn’t even pause in mixing the pancake batter. “You were dreaming. You need to stop reading books about space aliens. I’ll bet you dreamed they were trying to abduct you.” She laughed uneasily and called to Charlie, “Hey, did you hear that? Ashley thinks Martians are coming in her room.”
The phone rang. She picked up the cordless phone, glanced at the caller I.D., then hit Talk and told her best friend, “Hey, Shelley, did you hear about the alien invasion that happened on our side of town last night?...Yep, Ashley’s gone right over the edge. Can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.”
She told Nanny about it too; I’ll bet she even told people in line at the grocery store: "There must be something wrong with Ashley."
Pretty soon, I began to believe that I was crazy. My grades started slipping; subjects I had once been strong and confident in, like math, became impossible to master. Mom insisted that I ask Charlie for help with it. He threw my book at me and told me I was not only crazy, I was stupid, too.
I was in seventh grade when a local church began to evangelize by passing out flyers announcing "pizza parties" on Friday evenings. I had already become suspicious of other people's motives for being nice to me, so I wondered why strangers would want to feed me pizza. What I found out was that the "parties" were really revivals, and the idea of a man yelling hellfire and brimstone stuff at me was more than I could take.
We were members of the Methodist church. It was, in fact, one of the few places I felt safe and loved. People did not really know us; they had no idea what we were like at home, but they accepted our masks. Charlie was head of the landscaping committee and my mom was a lay leader, a member who helped lead the congregation. I'm sure the people who told me how lucky I was to have such wonderful parents would be shocked to know the dirty little secret of Charlie's nighttime activities.
I think the reason I felt so loved at church was that the minister told me that God IS Love. God didn't create ugliness in the world. God was not a punishing god. God was there to hold you up when you thought you couldn't take anymore. The God I knew didn't list conditions for His loving me.
I didn't have any close friends, but when my classmates came back to school on the Monday after the "Give Your Heart to Jesus and Have a Slice of Pepperoni" thing, they carried Bibles, pamphlets, and holier-than-thou attitudes toward anyone who wasn't there.
"Have you been saved, Ashley?" Korey Hendrix asked as he slid into his seat to my right in first period math class.
"I … think so. I mean, we don't use that word in my church, but I've been baptized." I finished writing my heading on my paper but kept my eyes down.
"Well, how were you baptized? Did'ja go under water?" Korey never even acknowledged that I took up space next to him unless he wanted to borrow a piece of paper or have me pass a note to his girlfriend... Why was he so interested in me now?
I had a bad feeling about this. "No, the minister put some water on my head."
"Did you pray this prayer?" Mary Hood chimed in from two seats behind me. She recited what amounted to: "Jesus, I know I'm a horrible person and I don't deserve Your love, but the wretched piece of crap that I am humbly asks for You to lower Your standards enough to allow me to be called one of Your children. In Your name, I pray. Amen."
Of course I replied that I hadn't said a prayer like that, even though I had never known any belief but Christianity. I was a "cradle Christian." But apparently not the right kind.
"You're supposed to pray this prayer and cry a lot. It's how you know the Devil has been washed out of your soul.” Korey flipped through his pamphlet.
"If you didn't cry, how can you really know you've been saved, Ashley?" I jumped when she spoke; I didn't realize that Cynthia Morris was standing to my left, looking down at me.
There were so many more happy and peaceful born-again zombies surrounding me at school, I began to wonder if they were right. Maybe God was punishing me for being the wrong kind of Christian, by allowing me to be spied on, groped, pulled at …
I thought, "If I can get some of what they've got, I'll have some of their peace too." And maybe God would smite Charlie, or at least make him leave me alone.
I never went to one of the pizza parties, but I did start riding my bike down to the Christian bookstore in my neighborhood. It was one of those that put books about Catholicism and Buddhism in the "cult" section. I spent hours poring over the literature, to the strange looks of the clerks. I mean, how many twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls spent time in the self-help section of their store? I couldn't afford the hardcover books they had on "how to bring happiness to your home," but I did buy little soft-cover gems like The Jesus Person's Pocket Book of Promises. In it, I found over one hundred numbered promises Jesus had made to me, most of them regurgitations of the prayer my newly blessed friends had cited as The Way, written from Jesus' point of view, which only people who attended pizza party revivals, certain churches, and were baptized the "right" way were privy to.
I was in so much pain and so angry all the time, I figured I would try anything once, or twice … or countless times. Maybe I was so fundamentally flawed, I wasn't even doing Christianity right. The thing was, I couldn't cry. I prayed that damn prayer so many times on my knees beside my bed, like it said to do. Then I'd wait for the uplifted, "saved" feeling that would happen when the Holy Spirit filled my body and soul, but it never came. Maybe I was such a worthless person that even God had turned His back on me. I became angrier then, and curious about the nature of evil. How did bad people come into the power they had?
I biked to the library and checked out a book on Adolph Hitler, the baddest of the bad that I could think of. Why did people listen to him? How did a person who was so evil become so powerful? I wanted to know.
When my mother saw the book on my desk in my bedroom, she snatched it up and insisted that I take it back immediately. "I will not have that man in my house! He was a tyrant and an evil person!"
"Yeah, I know, Mom, that's why I want to figure out why people listened to him."
"No! Get that book out of my house!" She flung open the front door and let me know that if I didn't take it back to the library immediately, she would throw it into the street.
Looking back now, it’s freakin’ surreal: my mother's high sensitivity to the presence of evil in a bunch of pages bound together with glue and a cover, coexisting with her complete refusal to acknowledge the real Satan sleeping next to her each night (when he wasn't trying to pull me out of my covers, that is). I could laugh at how clueless she is if it weren't so painful.
As Charlie's pursuits and mental games became more intense, the survivalist within me really started to emerge. Or the terrified coward. It's pretty much a toss-up. Like Hitler and my stepfather living at some point on the same planet, there’s a tough, take-no-prisoners survivor—and a pathetic wimp—living together inside of me.
Dr. Matt—my therapist, who I've known since last summer—explained it to me. See, there's this thing called fight or flight. People have had these instincts since way back when. It's like a decision the body and brain make to help the human race keep on keepin' on. During fight or flight, all systems go on autopilot. The adrenaline in the body shoots off the scales, and decisions are made by that shot of natural speed. I don't know about other people, but when I experience fight or flight, I pretty much don't remember what happens. It's like waking up from a dream when I was never asleep to begin with; I was just an animal doing what I had to do to be safe.
Defiance and a bad attitude toward the world were wearing on me, besides not working in terms of keeping Charlie away. I don't know if it was a rational decision or one born of panic, but I started sleeping in my closet on some nights.
I had a walk-in closet with two clothing racks, one above the other. I also had a lot of toys and junk in my closet, which assisted in helping me hide. I’d fold myself into the space behind my lower rack of clothes then adjust the long stuff like my coat, robe, and dresses so that there were no "holes" in the space between the upper and lower racks, and I could (hopefully) not be seen. I crouched on the floor like I did during a tornado drill at school—put my head between my knees and kissed my ass goodbye. Then I'd tuck my feet in with the clothes on the bottom rack. All in the dark, of course, because I closed the door and left the light off. It was incredibly hot in there—stifling hot. Charlie didn't believe in wasting money on air-conditioning and during the summers, it would get so hot behind those clothes, I'd feel like I was going to pass out.
Sometimes I'd stay in there a little while, just until I felt safe again. Most of the time, though, I woke up on my side in the morning with carpet imprints on the side of my face, as well as the occasional straight pin stuck in my leg. I didn’t sleep very well in my closet, but at least Charlie wasn’t trying to unroll me from my blanket cocoon. And it wasn't like he could say to my mom, "Cheryl, when I went into Ashley's room to molest her just now, she wasn't in bed. Do you happen to know where she is, so I may get whatever it is that I get out of doing that to her?"
I hid in my closet during the day if I was alone with Charlie and picked up on the vibe that I was about to be jumped. One way I got a hint was if he watched me, staring openly at my chest. Another way was if he acted really, really nice to me, like asking me how my day was going. I’m automatically suspicious of any man who is nice to me. My first thought: What does he want? Gotta want something; he's being nice. It took me forever to know for sure that I could trust David and Dr. Matt. Before them, I thought that all men had a thing for little girls. If they hadn't tried anything with me yet, it was just because they hadn't decided to, yet. It was only a matter of time, I thought.
Since Charlie had broken the locks on my bedroom and bathroom doors, I had no way to keep him out of my room. I tried putting my kid-sized desk chair under the doorknob, and he broke the chair in half coming through the door. My mother was steamed when she saw the chair, and I told her that I leaned back in it until it broke. With the exception of never finding me in my closet, the one place in my life where I had control, Charlie was all-powerful. He even claimed to know my own mind better than I knew it.
A couple of years ago when I was thirteen, I was watching a cop show on TV, and I made a comment about how cute I thought this one actor was. Things had been going well at home—at least in terms of what our home was like—and I felt pretty relaxed with my mom as we sat and watched TV. Charlie was returning from the bathroom, walking through the room behind the sofa when I said it, and he went off on me.
“You want to screw him! You said you want to screw him!”
"No, I didn't."
"Cheryl? Did you hear what that little slut said? She just told you she wants to fuck that guy. That guy's old enough to be your father, Ashley." He came around to the front of the sofa and charged both of us. Mom tried to stand up and he pushed her back down.
"Charlie, I really don't think—" She held up her hands as if she was surrendering.
"Shut up, you stupid bitch! I'm sick of not being respected in this house! Nobody in this house respects me!" He left the den and when he returned from their bedroom, he carried a rifle.
"Charlie, what are you doing?" Mom laughed a little as she said it. I pulled my knees up to my chest.
"She said she wants to fuck that guy. You don't believe me. You don't believe what I said, so you're calling me a liar." He staggered a little, bumped into the side table next to his oversized chair, and knocked his drink and bowl of peanuts to the floor.
"No, I'm not, Charlie. I’d never do that." Her tone was even and calm.
"Get out of my house! If you don't respect me, you can get out of my house!" He pointed toward the front door with the barrel of the rifle.
Mom laughed at him, and I thought she’d lost her mind. In the voice she uses with me when she thinks I'm being unreasonable, she said, "Fine, we'll leave."
"If you come back, I'll kill you! I'll kill you both!"
It was about ten o’clock at night when we started driving the streets of Northside. I begged, “Let’s leave him, Mom, please, let’s leave for good. We can get an apartment. I'll get a job or something.”
"You're too young."
"No, I'll–I'll clean houses or something! I'll baby-sit every weekend! Please, Mom!"
"You're right, Ashley. We should get a place of our own. But I need to set some money aside first." We crossed the bridge over the highway and entered La Salle, where she grew up.
"Are we going to Nanny's?"
She did not answer me at first, then, in a broken voice, she said, “I just don’t want to be alone. I can't. I can't do it. I … he loves me, Ashley. I know he does. He's just drunk. He doesn't mean any of it. It's the alcohol talking, not him. He's such a good person. You know that."
At midnight, she pulled into a McDonald’s drive-through and ordered a chocolate shake and small order of fries. It's one of her favorite combinations. She asked me if I wanted anything. I said, "No." What I wanted, she was not willing to do.
Neon store signs blurred together as I stared silently out the window through my tears. I wanted to tell her then—to tell her everything he had been doing to me, but I couldn’t get the words to come out. She was already so upset. I hated it when my mother cried. It was always my fault, like this, our having to leave the house, really was. I was kicking myself for opening my mouth about that actor.
I thought back to the time that Charlie went on a two-day bender and only called home once in a while. Mom was hysterical; all she did was cry and wait by the phone. When he called she begged him to come back, asked him what she did wrong and promised she would change, do whatever it took for him to come back home.
At one A.M., my mom was listening to a Beach Boys CD. We had driven down my grandparents' street but not stopped, and I was brainstorming a way out that would not require the cooperation of my mother, that would not make my mother cry, and that would make Charlie stop touching me. All in my head, of course.
Even now, I have a hard time ever getting my mind to stop planning an escape route or a place to hide if things get dicey. My radar is always up and checking the screen for changes in other people's behavior toward me and how they are feeling, because if I've learned anything, it's this: people act out from their feelings. It's something I'm still working to get over, because Dr. Matt says it's not healthy to be so tied up in what other people think, feel, and do. It's like I assume that betrayal or rejection are inevitable, and I want to be prepared for it so I can stay safe, or at least not hurt as badly as I will if I'm not on my guard.
Every once in a while we would stop. Mom didn't grab her cell phone from the charger before we left, so she’d go to a pay phone to call and see if Charlie still wanted to kill us. I watched her insert quarter after quarter. I guessed that he was answering the phone—that's why it cost her a new quarter each time—then slamming it down when he heard her voice.
She came to the car and dug around in the ashtray for a coin. "Do you have a quarter?"
I shook my head.
She lifted the floor-mat. "Oh, here's one!" she said in her light, happy voice. Her shoulders slumped as she trudged back to the phone booth. A car load of bandanna-wearing guys in a low-rider came thumping by our car slowly, the eyes of its occupants scanning my mother's backside and trying to get me to look at them. I looked down when I saw what they were doing. Every cell in my body wanted to lean over and lock her door, like I had already locked mine. I fought the urge to roll up her window and leave her to their mercy, while I had at least managed to delay their attack by being inside the car. I couldn't just throw her to the wolves like that, could I?
I wanted to honk at Mom—to make her turn around and see that we had a more immediate threat than Charlie just then--but she never turned to acknowledge the thump-thump of the gang's stereo system. Her shoulders remained slumped, her head bowed, as she listened to ring after ring after ring, which Charlie ignored.
God apparently still listened to me even though I had flunked out as a Christian because the low-rider moved on, its deliberately slow retreat reminding me of a shark swimming off into the ocean depths, choosing to let its prey live another day.
Around two A.M., after another ten minutes of her standing in the dark and listening to the phone ring, we drove back home.
"Mom, he said he'd kill us. He's going to shoot us. We should call the police and make them go in first." I knew as I said it that my mother would never involve anyone else in our family's business. What would people think?
"He's probably passed out. He won't even remember this in the morning, Ashley Nicole. It's the alcohol talking, remember? We're going home and getting into bed."
There were no lights on in the house when we drove up, not even the familiar light we always left on above the kitchen sink.
"I want to stay in the car. I'm afraid to go in," I told Mom as I leaned my seat back.
"Don't be silly," she said sharply. "It's not safe for you to sleep out here. Get yourself out of that car and come in with me. Now."
I slowly got out of the car, the urge to crawl on my hands and knees overwhelming me. "Come on!" she hissed from the front porch.
She knocked on the door. No response. She put her key in the lock and turned it slowly. I expected the door to blow off its hinges.
She eased the door open gingerly and the objects Charlie had piled up against it went clattering to the floor. Mom laughed nervously. I held my breath.
She pushed the door open all the way, flipped on the light switch in the foyer, and I gasped at the destruction. Charlie had torn the curtains from the den windows and stacked piece upon piece of furniture and heavy objects in front of the doors and windows. The sliding glass door was secured not only with the lock, but with broken pieces of a kitchen chair. The shutters in the front room were closed up so tightly, it looked like we lived on the coast and a hurricane was coming.
A pile of shiny objects glinted against the dark oak parquet floor, and upon closer inspection, it was clear that my mother's collection of elephant figurines had been destroyed. My homework papers were shredded and lay like Easter grass around the fragments of tiny elephants.
His rage seemed pretty much contained to the room in which I had uttered those words, as I watched an actor toss his blonde hair and slide his sunglasses onto the neck of his shirt: "He's cute. I wish I could meet him."
I knew how afraid my mom was of being alone. And more than that, I was afraid of being taken away from her. I figured if I told what was happening to me, I would be taken away, like the foster kids we had were taken away from their parents. A few years ago, Charlie saw an ad in the local paper pleading for foster families. He was a foster kid himself, and he decided that we needed to open our home to others the way that somebody else took him in.
The story goes that Charlie ran away from home when he was fourteen, and was walking on the highway in an ice storm, wearing just an old white t-shirt and holey jeans, when a nice man pulled his car over and offered him a home. Charlie worshipped the family that took him in, and he declared that we, too, needed to share what we had with others by being a foster family. The screening process did not involve me at all. I was kind of hoping it would, because if they asked me if everything was okay at our house and I told them it wasn't, maybe they could make Charlie leave. No such luck.
We were a foster family to girls between the ages of eight and twelve, the only gender and age bracket my parents said they would be willing to take in. I guess Charlie's generosity did not extend to boys. For about a year, one little girl at a time occupied our guest bedroom. Suddenly, we stopped being a foster family, though it was never discussed with me. Now I wonder if any of those girls were abused, too.
Those poor girls came through our house, and I saw how messed up they were. I wondered why they didn't stay with any of their other family members. I didn’t know my father, but I never thought of him as another place I could go. As far as I was concerned, he didn’t want me.
Besides not wanting to hurt my mother, I also was afraid that if I told, I could be put into a house like ours. From talking to some of the older girls I shared a bathroom with for anywhere from one day to three months, I learned the reason they had been taken from their original families was the same reason I wanted out of mine. In those girls' eyes, there was desperation, grief, and complete confusion as to why they had been sent away from the one person who was supposed to be willing to die for them, if the situation arose. I wonder what they saw when they looked at me.
BOOKLIST: Nine-year-old Ashley Asher was pleased when her mother started a relationship with Charlie Baker. Charlie, Ashley thought, would be the father she never had. She was 9 then; now 15, she recounts the story of how her dream life soon turned to nightmare, commencing with the first time Charlie touched her inappropriately.
For years she tolerated it--not only the sexual abuse but also the emotional manipulation her stepfather inflicted on her, until one day she confronted both Charlie and her mother.
Ashley's horror, her mother sided with Charlie, leaving the teenager to
find her own way, prompting her to reestablish a connection with her
biological father. Though the subject matter is undeniably dark,
Fehlbaum manages to keep the tone surprisingly light and hopeful. This
hard-hitting but readable story about an infinitely troubling subject
will resonate with all readers but especially with other survivors of
abuse or with those who work with those survivors.
As a former teacher of Jr. High School age students, I was impressed with the scope and depth of this book. It is wonderful to see serious and real problems too often faced by young people dealt with in such a hopeful and helpful way. I think anyone who counsels young people, teaches them, or any young person going through a tough family problem would benefit greatly from reading this book.
In some ways the book reminded me of S.E. Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS,in terms of the lead character speaking directly to the reader from first to second person. Young people love this style of writing and relate to it in very personal ways. That is the sort of style a topic like abuse must have if it is to be relevant to the reader. While THE OUTSIDERS dealt more with social class issues and the death of theCurtis boys' parents, there are, indeed, some things worse than death! Beth Fehlbaum is really current in her analogies and literary devices,so that modern kids will easily relate to the situations and circumstances in the story. Never does she talk down to the reader; rather, she elevates the reader to the position of problem solver. How will today's youth learn to solve problems of a serious nature if they have never "practiced" facing problems via great literature and wonderful writing like this?
While victims of abuse will undoubtedly find this book compelling,I believe all young people could benefit tremendously from reading this book. Who among us does not have a friend or relative going through terrible times in their families? Coping skills are never lost onanyone and this book is splendid in presenting myriad ways of coping with intense problems.
In addition to this being a "must read" for young people, I believe every teacher working with teenagers should read this book. The character of Bev, the teacher, is one of the most positive, strongest teacher characters I've ever encountered. Since I was a teacher for many years, I know that her character rings true and authentically portrays how teachers think and feel in real situations. Most citizens who are not teachers would never even dream of the way teachers deal with complex issues as they are developed in this book. Actually, it would not surprise me if some young people as a result of reading this book decide to become teachers--the character is that impressive!
For anyone reading this book, I would promise you will be more than satisfied at having seen a true model for problem solving, tolerance,and incentive to reach beyond the superficial to the deeper and long-lasting values that enable yourself and others to exist together in greater harmony. I am thankful for this new writer with fresh ideas! She can speak so clearly to us and our children.
"WHY THIS BOOK IS A MUST-READ FOR ABUSE SURVIVORS"
Please check out this expanded review of COURAGE IN PATIENCE by Adam Appleson, creator of zentactics.com:
"On the cover of Courage in Patience, the caption reads "A story of hope for those who have endured abuse." I recall thinking to myself as I read this in 2008 that I should read it. I was fortunate enough to obtain a copy, but that week I was busy and feeling a little blue. So I put off reading it for about a week. That was the wrong thing to do. When I finally got around to reading it, I realized the book gave me insight on issues that I was dealing with at that time.
It's a story about the courage and patience it takes to overcome abuse.
At first you might be expecting a syrupy you-can-do-anything kind of tale. But it's not. The writer had much more sense than that and created a work of dramatic, realistic fiction. The story centers around the life of Ashley Asher, a fifteen year old teenage girl.
Ashley lives with her mother Cheryl and stepfather Charlie in the tiny town of Patience, Texas (hence, the title). Right away you realize Ashley isn't living in the best of circumstances. She lets us know that her mother Cheryl thinks her biological dad David was a loser, and that Ashley herself thinks Cheryl is the "Queen of Bad Decisions."
Within the first 30 pages of Courage in Patience, we get a sense of the scope of Ashley's problems. While Beth's writing is not over-the-top graphic, she does describe enough detail so you can see the way Ashley is assaulted and abused by Charlie, her stepfather. For instance, on p. 15, Ashley says "...he [Charlie] gestured to me to sit on his lap. I did so, enjoying the idea of having a daddy like my friends did. I got so content and relaxed there, I dozed off. He started rubbing my brand-new breasts. I wasn't actually asleep, but it freaked me out so much that I pretended I was..."
Yes, Ashley's stepfather Charlie is a bad guy and there's no debate about that.
But what makes Courage in Patience such a great read is that the other characters are portrayed with realistic depth. For example, you get the sense that Ashley's mother, Cheryl, cares about her daughterand wants to do right by her. But Cheryl is clearly a dysfunctional individual who isn't ready to raise a daughter and protect her from the world. This is perfectly captured when Ashley tells Cheryl about Charlie molesting her since she was nine years old. But Cheryl has her own problems and doesn't know how to function as an independent adult. She's so desperate that she'll even put up with someone like Charlie and the vile things he's doing to her daughter. When Ashley gets to school the next day, she finds a note in her lunch from Cheryl that reads "Please apologize to Charlie. He would never do those things to you. Please. For me..." (p. 55). Cheryl doesn't throw Charlie out for molesting Ashley. Rather, she decides to believe Charlie when he says that "he was sick then, but he's not anymore." (p. 51).
This illustrated the perfect way in which the author incorporates the dynamics of child abuse into the story without ever having to explicitly tell us about them. Fortunately, though the story takes a more hopeful turn, as Ashley's friend Lisa helps her disclose what's happening to a trusted teacher. Eventually, Ashley is moved to a safe environment by reuniting with her biological father David, who feels a ton of remorse over what's happened to Ashley since he left.
From there, Ashley begins crawling back toward a healthy mental state.
She doesn't do it without suffering a few bruises along the way, as both Cheryl and Charlie try to come back and get Ashley to live with them again. But fortunately, they fail in their attempts, thanks to the efforts of Ashley (who's still clearly traumatized) and the new family she's found with David and his wife Bev, an English teacher.
At the end of Courage in Patience, we see Ashley is not completely whole, but fully engaged in the process of healing. This isn't a Hollywood ending, but it is a hopeful and realistic one. I think Beth is able to write this so well because she is an abuse survivor herself.
But it would be a disservice to say that this is just a book about abuse.
Author Beth Fehlbaum also masterfully captures the art of growing up and learning to be your own person through some of the sub-plots running throughout the story as well. For instance, we see a high school classmate of Ashley's, Dub, learning to grow away from his stepfather Billy Ray's racist beliefs.
Then there's the sub-plot of a school board's attempt to try and keep Bev from using a certain book in her English class to teach her students. The book mentions curse words, homosexuality, and sexual abuse that certain religious members of the community find objectionable. Taken out of context, this may even seem fine. But Beth Fehlbaum shows that living in an authentic way doesn't mean shying away from certain truths about the world, and to censor that is to perpetuate ignorance and is actually a disservice to young people in the long run. The way she writes this part of the story is so real and entertaining, hopefully you'll get a chance to read it for yourself.
At first, the one thing I wanted to change was the ending of the book.
But then I realized the ending was actually perfect because it was realistic. I won't spoil it completely for you, but the ending definitely isn't a Hollywood one. Ashley doesn't go riding off into the sunset with her new boyfriend. It's all about what it means to start healing as an abuse survivor.
The bottom line is that it's refreshing to read a book that realistically portrays what an abuse survivor has to go through, and does so in an entertaining way. If you know someone who is a sexual abuse survivor, this story will help you understand what abuse does and the mechanisms survivors use to cope.
Above all, Courage in Patience is a true original and a refreshing addition to anyone's bookshelf."
From Fresh Fiction, http://freshfiction.com/book.php?id=24958
"Compassionate and compelling -- the journey through COURAGE IN PATIENCE gives amazing insight and optimistic bravery for those who have experienced abuse of any kind."
From Ashley Thompson, a teen reader with the site, Books Are My Love:
Friday, May 22, 2009
Courage in Patience
Title: Courage in Patience
Author: Beth Fehlbaum
Rating: R--- extreme sexual violence at parts. Lots of swearing
Summary: Ashley Asher’s life can easily be described in one saying, “Effed up”. Her step dad gets off on treating poor Ashley like a piece of meat. It takes things getting super bad for Ashley to realize she can't fight anymore, that she shouldn’t have to. She must discover who she really is and that not every man is out there to get her. This lesson can only be learned through the pure love of her true father.
My thoughts: This was honestly the best book I have read in forever. The story portrayed honest emotions that at times made me feel that I was reading a non-fiction story. The characters were all unique, everyone could find themselves somewhere within the story. Never before have I found a novel that addresses broken families, sexual abuse, and racism so clearly. Beth dear, you have officially passed Judy Blume on my best authors list. That’s saying a lot!
Recommendation: Before you decide to read this make sure you are emotionally ready. The abuse in this novel is shown very strongly. I would wait until you are at least 14.
Flamingnet Book Reviews, a site with book reviews by teens, awarded Courage in Patience a "Top Choice" Award. This is the review written by the 15 YO reviewer:
Whoosh. That's the sound that Ashley Asher hears when her stepfather sexually abuses her. As a fifteen-year old she is no longer a child, but she never was an ordinary child to begin with. She endures emotional and physical pain while living with her biological mother, who doesn't care for her at all, and her abusive stepfather. The only way to save herself is to confront her mother and reveal the years of abuse she has received from her stepfather. When Ashley finally has the courage to tell her mother of the painful details of her horrific childhood, her mother turns her back on Ashley and continues to believe that nothing is wrong. The only people that care and are concerned for her safety are Ashley's friends and her teacher. When her teacher contacts Ashley's father (who Ashley has never seen) her life is turned upside down. She leaves her selfish mother and abusive stepfather to live with her caring biological father and stepmother in Patience. She learns that there are people out there that care about her and would do anything to protect her. It is where Ashley finally understands the meaning of...love.
Courage in Patience was an emotional, heart-warming book that is unforgettable and hard to put down. I haven't read a book like this in a long time. It makes you realize that life comes in many forms and how it begins or ends all depends on you as a person. Even though I have never endured the pain that Ashley did, I could feel inside of me what she felt when her mother turned her back on Ashley and how her heart shattered into little pieces. It was just so detailed, it felt like my heart was shattering into little pieces as well. When she moves to live with her biological dad, it felt as though my heart was healing along with Ashley's. I think this book will really touch the hearts of every reader and give them the sense of let-down and then the sense of somebody pulling you back on your feet and giving you the chance to live a life of hope and courage. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a heart, which includes everyone.
Reviewer City, State and Country: Gearhart, Or U.S.A.
Five out of Five Stars
A courageous story!, December 12, 2009
By Adam Appleson
When I first got this book, I was swamped with school and suffering a bit from depression so I put off reading it for a week. Big mistake.
When I finished reading it, I realized Beth Fehlbaum had written a book that not only contained great lessons in healing for abuse survivors, but also one that educated others about what victims of abuse go through. Beth's writing really made Ashley and the other characters three dimensional, and didn't resort to making any one person all good or all bad (although you really come to despise Ashley's mother Cheryl and her step dad Charlie, especially if you're an abuse survivor).
For instance, we see one of the minor characters Dub, step out of his racist stepfather's shadow and start on his way to becoming a good man. This brings up another great point about the book - it's more thana book about abuse. Like the back cover of the book says, this story is"[a] touching story focused on the themes of abuse, social injustice,racism, peer pressure, bullying, parental responsibility, fear, forgiveness, love, acceptance and hope, which will inspire the millions of abuse victims in America, young and old alike."
The ending of the story isn't a Hollywood ending, but it is a hopeful one. Beth's writing kept me engaged, so much so that I read half the book in an afternoon. If you've ever suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of abuse, you'll really feel the pits in your stomach as you read what Ashley's family puts her through. But even though Beth Fehlbaum stays real, she never gets graphic in her portrayal of what's going on. It's a tricky balancing act, but one that she pulls off marvelously. Buy this book, you won't regret it. It is definitely original, and a refreshing addition to anyone's bookshelf.
I just got through reading Courage in Patience, and I think you are an excellent writer.
The subject is so horrific and, in spite of this, I couldn't put the
book down because I wanted so much for all of these kids to succeed
and for someone to step in and take care of them the way they should
have been in the first place. I cared about your characters and, to
me, that makes a great writer.
That brings me to the subject at hand. My book club would love to
have you come and discuss your book with us if you can...
Either way, can't wait to read your second book.
Karen E. Samford
Courage in Patience. Not wanting to think about sexual abuse -- let alone another child suffering through rape -- I stalled by focusing on the title. How clever it had been for the author to set most of the action in a town called Patience. At least read the rest of this summary, I thought. It quickly became clear that although the book is a novel, Beth Fehlbaum did not write it from the perspective of a person standing outside looking in. She, too, was sexually assaulted as a child. Not only has she faced what happened, she has worked through her pain so she can help others see that they are not alone. Instead of letting stress burn her up inside, she braved smoke and flames in order to throw open a window. That is her holding out a flag that says in large, bold letters, You are not a victim, you are you. No one is more valuable. Fear and anger must not be allowed to consume you. There is a rainbow at the end of the long, storm-prone road to recovery, and that road leads to a smoother one.
Knowing all this did not keep me from stalling again. Child abuse -- particularly sexual abuse -- is not academic to me. The very idea makes scars that time has not healed throb. I became a writer in the hope that shedding light will eventually dry the sludge poisoning my psyche enough that some will blow away. What doesn't can be channeled to some far-off sea, where it will immediately sink to the bottom, never to surface again. Pouring hurt onto paper has helped Ink fades, after all. You can burn paper if you have to. But no matter what you do, a certain amount of residue is going to cling. What you need to do is season it with love and understanding, then make a healing poultice of the mixture and spread it around. I am so glad I quite stalling. Because Courage in Patience does just that.
Beth Fehlbaum has written a story that I guarantee will stay with you. Her characters are fully developed, not Joan of Arcs and Darth Vaders. She was so smart not to make a goodie-goodie of the girl who is the target of the abuse. Not only do you empathize, you end up aching for her to find a way out of the dark! The man who abuses her acts despicably, but he is human. Only a stone would not hurt when reading about the rapes, but what stabbed me the deepest was the mother's betrayal. It brought memories to the surface that I do my best to keep in the graves I worked hard and long to dig and fill. The only time I unearth them is when I am writing. When I write about them, it is in the hope of killing them. (Know I can't, but it would be dishonest to pretend I don't try.) Like Beth Fehlbaum, I harbor the hope that my ordeal will ring enough bells to ease others' pain and and make at least a few abusers seek help.
One reservation that I had in the beginning was that the novel was really two, and should be split. I was wrong. The book is not "about sexual abuse." It is not "about racial discrimination." It is about accepting who we are. It is about accepting each other. It is about faith. It is about gut-level courage and dogged patience and the value -- no, the absolute necessity -- of a free, well-rounded, genuinely enlightened education. It is about the worst in us and the best in us. I love to read books that somehow manage to entertain while teaching important lessons. That teach without teaching down! Courage in Patience is all this and more. Were there medals for fortitude and compassion, she would surely qualify.
I am convinced that one of the mega-publishers will pick up the novel. I am hoping that the editions they print will be in standard, single-spaced format. Double-spacing makes the book look longer than it is. This is a very minor drawback. I only mention it because I would like to see Courage in Patience reach millions. If you haven't read it, you are missing out.
Author/Editor Phyllis Jean D. Green
There was something inside my mom, like there is, at this point anyway, in me, that says we don't deserve respect of our boundaries. Not that we have any in the first place. It's a sense of worthlessness and emptiness, like being a cup with a crack in it. No matter how many times the cup is filled, with, for example, the love that David and Bev show me, it leaks out, because I don't love myself yet. I'm not willing to fight for me, and it comes out in torrents of rage.
Courage in Patience - Beth Fehlbaum
I was drawn to this book like a moth to the flame. At the library, from a distance, I saw the front cover featured on the shelf directly in front of my line of vision. I walked towards it as if I had been searching for the book all along. I had never seen it before in my life but something about it attracted me. Maybe it was the bright contrasted complimentaries of red and green. Maybe it was the way the character's back is focused instead of her face. Whatever it was, I walked straight to it and picked it up to examine the back cover.
I have a process when picking up books, and yes, I do judge a book by its cover (as a graphic designer, how can I not?). I'll skim the back cover, and if my interest is still peaked, I'll open up the front pages and skim the table of contents, if applicable. Courage in Patience is about a teenager who has suffered from sexual abuse since the age of 8. At first, I thought it was a memoir, but when I delved into the first chapter, I realized it was a fiction geared towards young adults and classroom study. This book is amazing and the first chapter hooked me in. … Maybe I was meant to read this book. Maybe there was a reason it caught my eye and I was drawn to it so. Courage in Patience is a book about survival, and I am a survivor. I am not a quitter. I won't give up on myself. I refuse to. I may have my moments, but I will always pick myself up again. It is a book not just about abuse, but also tolerance to anyone who dares to be different, or to anyone who has no choice but be different; tackling racism, fundamentalism, abuse and other issues. It endeavors to resolve the tough subject of self-acceptance with hope. Something we can all resonate with.
Thank you for writing the title: Courage in Patience. It is incredible. Really! My hat is way off to you for putting it together. It seems very realistic. Especially the descriptions of East Texas...LOL I grew up in a town called Whitehouse, Texas. We moved there when I was 12. Three thousand and not growing, Whitehouse was it's own little island behind the curtain of pine trees.
Recently a wise prayer-group leader in his eighties mentioned that four areas of emotion could be the roots of alot of emotional ills. Fear, guilt/shame, hate, low self-esteem....When I read your book I feel these (all four) and they bring tears and real sadness.
In sum, I just really appreciate the writing as I see the possibility of my own story one day emerging. I have been writing all year without a focus...so I have completed and published devotionals, newspaper and magazine articles, but nothing in fiction yet. That is my mountain. Still gaining, but your book touches me so deeply. And motivates me to move forward with my real goal: a fictional book containing the elements of my suffering in a bad marriage.
It is ten years later and we are all still healing. I was not abused sexually as a child, but lacked self-esteem and married a great looking, charming guy. Only he controlled my every move and attempted to control my thoughts. So mean; so cruel. We still have several court battles to go, as he does not commit to support his own two children. I left and this guy and it was the best decision of my life. My two children struggle to love their own father. They secretly just desire unconditional love....something that stirs so deeply in all of us. Your main character was so real and so clear to relate to...thank you. It really touched me.
book was so inspiring and such a boost to everyone who has been
abused. It helps so much to see how another person handled their abuse
and was able to survive in the end and go on with their life. I live in
------- ,Tx now- I was abused in my early teenage years and it
affected my entire life. I finally was able to deal with what happened
after 35years. Now I know why I lived and did the things I did all of
my life. We currently have a middle age lady living with us. She
suffered horrible abuse from four or five years old and has struggled
and fought her way through life-but had always kept her secret in a
"box". She is now confronting all that happened to her and is
starting to bloom like a new flower. She is in college and hopes to
get into nursing school next spring. She and I thoroughly loved your
book. I have told ------- that she too should write a book someday and
then she will be completely free. Keep up your good work and hopefully
you will write another book .
a quick note to let you know that your book is fantastic! I'm confident
you'll find a new home for your book soon. Gina has always spoken well
of you, and I'm sure she'll work hard on your behalf.
- How to Say It Job Interviews
- 201 Knockout Answers to Tough Interview Questions
The Ultimate Guide to Handling the New Competency-Based Interview Style
--- On Tue, 7/22/08, NAME WITHHELD> wrote:
From: NAME WITHHELD
Subject: about your book
Date: Tuesday, July 22, 2008, 12:55 PM
Your article was in the Monday morning Tyler paper here in Texas. I read it and reread it and then went online and read the first part and cried that you had to go through so much.
I am a woman from Ohio who moved here to Texas 10 yrs ago and I was raped and abused when I was 13 yrs old and I am now almost 62 and have held this all in all these years.
The only ones that knew were my grandmother who was taking care of me and unfortunatley I got pregnant and I gave the baby up for adoption since I couldnt raise a child at that age ..I knew ther were good people who could give my son a good home that I couldnt and love and everythng he would ever need and back then it was spoken of. Just told people I had a disease and had to stay home. I have never had counseling of any kind and until I moved here and became a CHristian and became married again and I became more involoved int he Lord and my minister's wife and I became such good friends and I knew then that the Lord brought her into my life so I could tell her. ALll these years I have kept this bottled up inside and that was the most terrible thing I could have done but I didnt know what to do then.
We never spoke of this at home whatsoever and I had a loving grandmother. I went on to have 2 more sons but this one son is on my mind every day of my life and I feel so guilty.
The reason I am emailing you is to thank you for coming out with your book and hoping to be able to buy it when it comes out on Sept first..A friend of mine who is also 13 here is Texas was just raped and beated severely last week and I want a book for her too. Because to this day I still feel its my fault and I want to help her.
Bless you and all you do..youhave no idea how many people you will help by writing this book and bringing it out in the open. Its awful keeping this inside as many years as I did..the most pain I have even felt.
Once again thank you so very much and May God Bless You
Thank you for writing Courage in Patience. I read this book because I thought it might help a friend, but it helped me to understand some of my own behaviors. I have many signs of having suffered some sexual abuse, but I have no memories. From time to time I seem to zone out and act less assertive than anyone who knows me now expects. Reading about Ash's recovery and her talks with Bev helped me to understand what apparently happens to me. It is a huge relief, it helps me to forgive myself, it affirms my courage, and it gives me hope that I will continue to heal.
I have read your book, Courage in Patience, and I really enjoyed it. I do plan to post a review very soon on my personal book blog - Bobbi's Book Nook.
I have recommended your book to the Mercer County Public Library, but until they actually have a copy in the library, I can't do a review on their website - MCPLib.
I will send you an email with the link as soon as my review is posted. And thanks for visiting the Mercer Library's book review blog!
July 15, 2009
I just started to write a snail-mail note to thank you for the book. Then I remembered 30 something's only use digital.
How wonderful of you to send me a copy of Courage in Patience. You can be proud of that work! It will be a lifeline for girls (and boys) experiencing that trauma. The writing hit so close to my own life. My heart was pounding as I read. Bless you and keep writing -please. So many have walked that path and have no voice to describe the pain -Ashley sure does.
I thank God for you and for your talent!
Dr. Mary Ann Manos
Eureka Schools - District 140
109 W Cruger Ave
Eureka, IL 61530(309) 467-3737
July 17, 2009 letter from a reader regarding Courage in Patience
finally finished the book. It was so good! Thank you for writing it. I
was raped (If you call forcing a blow job on someone rape) as a
teenager, but did face it and confronted the kid who did it to me.
There are so many out there who do not do that or feel like they can't.
When I realized, a few years later, that it wasn't my fault and what
had happened to me, I got pissed and contacted the guy. He apologized
to me and I ended up forgiving him, but had nothing to do with him
It was freeing though to be able to tell him what he did to me and how it hurt me and affected my life for a few years after that. I will have to tell you in person someday. I would also really like to know your story.
I also loved how you put "truth" out there. I am a Christian, but do not want to be so close minded that I don't see people. That is one thing that I have always feared. Being a Christian means loving people where they are at and not looking down on anyone, but putting others above yourself. Anyway, it was really great to read it! I cried, laughed and was sitting on pins and needles as to what will happen next at certain points. I am looking forward to your next book.
Survivors In Action, Inc.
4354 Town Center Blvd., Suite 114-143
El Dorado Hills, CA 95762
(916) 941-7216 fax
July 8, 2009
RE: Review & Support for Courage In Patience
It is an honor for Survivors In Action, a national non-profit crime victims organization, to recommend Courage In Patience as one of the best all-time books regarding the subject of child abuse and overcoming victimization.
Author Beth Fehlbaum has an amazing ability to make her words come to life in a matter of seconds. Everyone who reads Courage is trapped within its pages until the story ends.
Courage in Patience is a timeless book for all ages. Survivors In Action is proud to be a part of promoting the book on our web sites, blogs, newsletters and other media formats, to help inspire everyone to learn as the protagonist, young Ashley, does, how to overcome adversity, while inspiring others to speak out about the topic of sexual abuse, which is often a difficult one to speak or write about.
Alexis A. Moore, President
Survivors In Action
“No Victim Left Behind”
Ashley Nicole Asher's life changes forever on the night her mother, Cheryl, meets Charlie Baker. Within a year of her mother's marriage to Charlie, typical nine-year-old Ashley's life becomes a nightmare of sexual abuse and emotional neglect. Bundling her body in blankets and sleeping in her closet to try to avoid Charlie's nighttime assaults, she is driven by rage at age 15 to tell her mother, in spite of the threats Charlie has used to keep Ashley silent. Believing that telling will make Charlie go away, instead it reveals to Ashley where she lies on her mother's list of priorities.
When Ashley's friend sees a note from Cheryl telling Ashley that Charlie would never "do those things to her," Lisa forces dazed Ashley to make an outcry to her teacher, Mrs. Chapman. By the end of the day, Ashley's father, David, who has not seen Ashley since she was three months old, is standing in the offices of Child and Family Services. He brings her home to the small East Texas town of Patience.
Through a summer school English class taught by David's wife, Beverly, Ashley comes to know six other teenagers who are all dealing with their own issues, including intolerance, racism, homophobia, and religious fanaticism. The choices the teens make will not be easy, but they will be life-altering.
Realizing "she's gonna need a lot more than we have," David and Bev enlist the help of Scott "Dr. Matt" Matthews, an experienced, slightly unconventional therapist who insists that Ashley can and must come out of hiding in the closet in her mind. Alone in the dark, Ashley must face her worst fears in a pivotal scene between her, Charlie, and her mother. At last, Ashley begins to realize that there is hope for recovery, if she will be brave enough to face the truth.