My husband and I are both loners with origins in our childhood. He is an only child raised on a farm in north central Texas. His mother was 30 when he was born and his father was 55 and already growing deaf. It was a lonely life for Tom with no siblings and a father who was distant but not by choice. So Tom learned to be his own best friend. He played in the barn, fighting battles and other war games that boys play. Or he played in a wardrobe in the former Brooder House where he carved words of warning on the door for others to stay out; shades of Narnia and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. It now resides in Tom’s Woodworking Shop. I periodically nag him to let me have it but I think I’m on the losing side of that. Not knowing what I’d ever do with it, I don’t nag with much vigor. His loneliness made Tom think of possessions as friends, especially cherished toys. He still has a doll named Timmie that his favorite aunt made for him when he was five. Timmie is almost ready for Social Security but he occupies a treasured spot on a tiny chair in our Ancestor Room.
I became a loner at the age of thirteen when tragedy befell our family. I changed from an outgoing, mischievous and affectionate child to a shy and introverted teenager. I developed a tremor in my right hand, one I couldn’t control. The boys at school tormented me by having me hold my arm out. Then they’d say. “Hold your arm still”. I’d try but the tremor was still noticeable. “Come on hold your arm still, they’d sneer. I’d defend myself with, “It is still”. They’d burst into taunts and laughter. My front teeth were crooked so I held my hand in front of my face when I spoke, hoping no one would notice. My weight, even as a sophomore in high school and five feet, six inches tall, was 86 pounds. To my great humiliation I was so flat chested that there was no need to ever wear a bra. This was another source of taunts that the boys loved. One time in Biology class when we were discussing different kinds of wood, one of them said, “Speaking of sticks. There’s little Margie Leick.” The laughter caused me to shrink into my seat wishing I could disappear. I wanted to be voluptuous. My father had strict rules about food. No second helpings, no snacks between meals and the last was the hardest to bear; he spooned the food onto our plates and therefore decided how much we could eat. It was never very much. My father had a problem with people that had even the slightest amount of extra weight. He said it was a sign of weak character. As a result I developed a compulsion about food. Years later I found out that the townspeople all thought we looked like concentration camp victims.
I spent a lot of time at Rae Creek about half a mile from town. It was my sanctuary. I sat on its limbs and wrote poetry, words to describe what I was going through, words I never read for fear of finding out what was inside of me that was an ugly secret. Words became my best friends. Rae Creek became my home. For many decades, whenever the pain of living became too much I tuned out my life and went into that room in my mind where Rae Creek waited for me
Even after I grew up, despite shoveling huge amounts of food into my mouth, I was still painfully thin. My wedding dress was a size one and the shop told me I could rent it for $25 or I could buy it for $15. It was too small for it to be of any benefit to the shop. I bought it.
I had friends over the years, especially Peggy, my best friend. She came from the same small town I did. I had a sister-in-law named Shirley that I spent a lot of time with. Then in my mid-twenties I met Debbie. She and Peggy and I took Astrology classes together and studied it for years. It was a great source of learning about ourselves and others. I was happy with my three friends. I knew I needed people in my life but it was so difficult for me to make the first overtures. I was still shy inside. Although at the time I couldn’t pinpoint the reason, I knew there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t sure what it was but mostly it had to do with shame. I had rooms in my mind that I didn’t dare enter. Terrible nightmares frequently assaulted me. I awoke screaming for help at the top of my lungs. Someone was crushing the life out of me. I became physically turbulent, out of control with terror as my arms lashed out and my breathing came in harsh and frightening gasps. It took a long time for me to stop screaming, to stop shaking, to stop feeling like I was being crushed.
I had four children. They became the most important people in my life. Each time I found out I was pregnant I began talking to the child inside my womb. I’d hold my hand on my swelling abdomen and sing songs to my newly forming child. I rocked while I sang. I rocked while I talked to them, telling them how much I loved them and what a wonderful person they were going to be. Today my four children are my best friends. They are also four of the finest people I know; each one is loving and giving, hardworking and intensely loyal to family. They are all I ever wanted them to be.
Once I went through recovery I developed confidence. I felt stable and focused. But I was still a loner. I know I need people. Peggy died two years ago and my loneliness increased. My sister-in-law is no longer in my life and I see Debbie rarely. I have a new friend but I’m just one of her many friends. There is still a part of me that feels on the outside of everything. I know a lot of people but they all live out of state. We keep in touch with frequent phone calls. Despite being grateful for having people in my life, there is a part of me that sits frequently on the lonely branch of an oak tree that lives near Rae Creek. I still write volumes of poems and now I know what the ugly secret is that I wrote about in my teenage poems. I still have them. They helped me through recovery as we worked together to unravel the mess my life had become. Words were my salvation. They were my friends. I currently have thousands of books. Whenever I need solace I go upstairs to the library. I look at my words and I think of Rae Creek and I am happy. They are my friends.
Today I live in Arizona in a town so small that downtown is only two blocks long. Tom and I have lived here for eight years. We are both still loners. We have no close friends in town. My brother Scott and I are close. He lives in Tucson. Together we carry the shame and the degradation that our lives were while we were growing up. Sometimes we talk about it. He’ll ask, “Sis, why do you suppose that happened?” He too lives alone. He too has words as his best friend. He lives with thousands of books stacked all over his house, bookcases crammed into every spare inch. We write long letters to each other and we speak on the phone frequently. We talk about words. We talk about our childhood. We pick at it as if we can find the answer to the abuse that lived side by side in our daily lives. We talk about the sister who is too fearful to reach out to us. She slept on the top bunk in my bedroom when my dad first entered that room. She told me she witnessed it. She will never be the same. I have another brother who is a recovering alcoholic. So many parts of him are missing. Scott and I love our siblings and talk frequently about why they have such problems. If only they had books. If only they had words. Then they would have friends
Scott and I when I was 13 at our Solemn Communion Ceremony
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