Born in 1982, I chew on pens and swallow ink. The blood of a writer runs deep through my veins. Black ink spills over my lips and no matter how hard my mother tries, she will never be able to scrub away the stains of a dream.
At three, my fingers run wild. Dipped in paint, they become pens filled with rainbow tales. I smear the jagged shapes of my imagination onto paper. Colors mix and change, blue turns purple with a touch of red. I’m mesmerized by my magic fingers.
Five years old, I watch my older brother and sister do their homework. Their pens rush in hurried strokes and my eyes widen. I want to be a part of this special club. I want to write. I grip a pen in my hand and try to copy the curves and straight lines of their perfect letters. My fingers cramp, but I don’t care. I smile down at my shaky alphabet.
At the age of eight, I learn how to write in cursive. My pen dances from one notebook to the next. Stories pour out about talking animals and magical realms. The worlds I create are perfect and beautiful, not like the real world that I live in. My mother throws my stories away. She tells me not to write about magic because magic is evil. With my words censored, my stories turn stale. My fingers yearn to stretch out, but I’m under her spell. The ink runs cloudy against the shadowed paper. Eventually, my pen grows silent.
The words of my eleven year old self are empty and dull. Under my mother’s watchful eyes there is no way to express myself. I yearn to release the building pressure of emotions and I hide a journal under my bed. The pen begins to whisper again. It’s quiet at first, but over time it grows louder, pouring out magic and secret realms again.
I’m thirteen now, and excited to go to school for the first time. I fill my backpack with books and pens. My mother makes me sign a contract in order to attend. It says I’m not allowed to make friends. She still pulls my strings, but strings are bendable. Strings are breakable. I pass notes in class and give cute boys love letters written in sparkly ink. I’m still not able to be like the other kids. I can’t attend parties or sleepovers. I can’t hang out after school at the mall. I’m not free to do these things, but I write about what it might be like if I were.
Fifteen, blood drips on the pages of my journals. My mother found them hidden under my bed. I watch as she tears my words to shreds. I can no longer risk writing my stories. I lay awake at night, ideas playing out in my head. Tension grows and nights are filled with rage. I listen to the endless screams and pretend that I’m invisible ink, turning dark places into shiny wishes. Lights flash outside the door and we feed blank faces in blue uniforms stories filled with lies. It’s the only story my mother has ever asked me to tell and I tell it well.
At sixteen, my pen grows up. It signs checks and balances books. I work three nights a week while struggling through school. On the nights I don’t work, I pay a hundred bucks to sleep on a friend’s couch. I start to write again. My mother’s words run through my head. Not good enough. Not smart enough. Stupid. Trash. Her words are empty. They mean nothing. I replace them with my own. Stronger. Fighter. Can’t be broken. Writer.
Nineteen years old. I’m a County of Hawaii lifeguard. I sleep in my car and hide under blankets when the homeless come knocking on my windows. Other lifeguards start to lookout for me. They sleep in their cars next to mine. We become like a family. The evenings turn into late night BBQs and drunken synchronized swimming events at midnight. We play with sharks and skateboard while hanging on firetrucks. We’re a crazy bunch of surfers, but when it comes down to saving a life you won’t find any better. I write about these adventures in my new journal. I start to fill notebooks with all the stories I stored away in my head. My spirit was never broken. Maybe injured, but never broken.
Twenty-three years old. My pen runs marathons. I’m married with a three year old son. My husband and I build a tiny house. My son’s bedroom walls are white. Plain. Empty. One day, I bring a basket filled with art supplies into his room. I tell him to decorate the walls in any way he would like. I watch him cover the blank space with scribble marks and globs of paint. We laugh when paint drips on the carpet. It’s just paint.
Coloring in the room becomes a thing. I write stories on the walls and he listens as I read them aloud. He asks me to paint a frog above his bed and I make it green and purple like his favorite stuffed animal. My husband draws the three of us in stick figure form under a brilliant sunset. I stand back and smile at our work. Things are finally right in my world. Full of scribbles, globs of paint, smears of ink, and magical realms. I have everything I could ever wish for. A pen in hand, love, happiness, and the freedom to create.