The Girl Goes Lightly – Rework of First Excerpt

This is a rework of the original excerpt.  I’ve added a little more from the opening vignette and inserted a different one from the younger version of the protagonist.

This excerpt is PG-13 for mild language.

For the pdf version click here: The Box and Liquid Fire


Age 34

The Box

Old Vintage Book Cover

The day my father brought the box over I laughed about it.  That dingy plastic container, dusty with age.

I referenced it lightly, gesturing to it and telling my husband, Zen, “Here sits all of my teen angst.”  We both laughed at that.

I first sifted through a morass of really terrible teenaged poetry. It’s utterly awful.  A few stilted lines here and there are bearable, but generally it’s quite bad.

Buried towards the bottom I find an old notebook, black cover, gold lettering, college ruled.  More awful poetry, but towards the back there’s a shift of loose papers.  They tumble into my hands and my breath slows.

It’s my old journal, started from when I was seventeen.  I thought I had thrown it away.  I know my intention at one point was to burn it.  I must never have gotten around to it.

I begin to read and am at first amused by the pretentious, self-aggrandizing insecurity, but as I continue the memories of emotions flood back.  How miserable I was then, how unstable.

It’s sixteen years after I last wrote in it and as I’m reading my ten-year-old daughter, Hope, comes in from the outside full of the curiosity and the bright expectations of the young.

I sit next to my youngest daughter, an infant, who smiles serenely and kicks her striped-sock feet while reclining in a bouncer that makes her look like she has bunny ears.

The toddler, Flower, is in the other room asking, “Wha’ happen to sheep?  Sheep go ka-boom!”

Later, I cook dinner while my ex-husband, Tanno, Hope’s father, holds Smallwise, the baby.  Then we sit around the table, eating, Zen still at work.

Flower yells out her Toddler Battle Cry, her face covered in spaghetti sauce,  “Bum-bee-ya!  Bumbeeya.  Bum-bee-YAAAAAA!” and we laugh.

That night I tell Zen of my journal, how strange it makes me feel, seeing all those intense old emotions; the smear of my own black inked writings . . .

It astonishes me that I never mentioned it before considering the impact it had on my life. That I’ve kept that part of my life so secret and so very much mine.  That’s when I realize that it wasn’t just my journal I had shut in that dust-covered box.  I had ripped out who I was back then and locked it up as well.  Everything about who I was, who I no longer wanted to be.

It explains the feeling of divergence that I’ve felt my entire adult life, one that seems to have only grown stronger.  I’ve questioned myself, mystified.  How did I go from a mentally unstable, drug addicted seventeen year old to a 34-year-old mother of three with a graduate degree who drives a minivan?

When I look in the mirror my eyes are as spectral as they were then, and just as questing.  I am haunted by a former version of myself.

I look back on all the intervening years between then and now and I feel like life has made me thin, a sharp edge of unreality questioning its own form.  I’ve spent too many years trying to be the face of something not natural to my own biology.  This place is comforting in its familiarity, despite the darkness that comes with it.  It is the place where my words are born.  How could I have left it for so long?

I stretch my sight to see all the distant years that could have been, that have now crumbled to dust in my mouth.  Their taste is sweet, but false.  It has been many long lean years since I felt like myself, truly myself.

I won’t stop until I am as I always should have been.

The night after I started reading my old journal I had a dream of Mr. Man and I sitting in a glass enclosed garden.  It is deep night outside and our reflections are shimmering on the walls and the grass is all black.  There are tufts of lavender in the garden and I pick some, crush the delicate miniature blooms between my fingers and hold out my hand to him so we can both inhale its sweet scent.  But it doesn’t smell like anything.  Over and over I crush the blossoms for us but there is always an absence, no matter how many times I try.  I wake with the feel of the flowers still being crushed by my fingers and the vacancy of their perfume still in my nostrils . . .


Age 17

3. Liquid Fire

Fall Forest Leavesthe world is a hushed green and blu sprinkled in faery red-gold.  the haziness moves like the currents of the ocean.  i feel the breeze lift the heaviness of my hair off my sweaty neck while the sky cries for some tragedy.  i walk behind him, like women used to walk behind men so long ago.  GOD!  i’m so damn passive, like some little masochistic bitch.  no wonder he hates me.

this rage burns, it consumes my soul the way he did my flesh. i feel as if all my blood is liquid fire running through my veins and burning my heart.  i can’t believe he made me cry.

i wish i could tell him.  i wish i could make him understand this verse circling around my head like vultures around meat that is about to die and rot.  i wish i could go up to him and say: i kept on trying for you, but all i got were three nails and some wood, and then you asked me what it’s like to be Christ.  and then i’d kick his ass . . .


 Age 35

My Metric

The past couple of days have been rough, like sandpaper on my skin; carving asperous fissures through my mind.

Smallwise has gotten to the age when babies really start waking up and staking a claim in the world.  And her second tooth has yet to break through the gum making it so much more difficult to soothe her.

She can’t even begin to submit to her exhaustion unless we bouncy walk out on the porch for at least fifteen to twenty minutes, which wouldn’t be so bad except the days are seared and steamy.  The heat shimmers like a mirage of sensation.  No natural suburban environment could possibly be so hot; we’re too civilized for such things.  It must be a trick of the mind, for only the far wild places of the world ever feel such a wet fire unfurled over the sky with a ponderous snap of brightness that hurts the eyes.  It leaves my thoughts feeling bloody and raw.

Thursday in particular is bad.  Zen got to work late because we were both tired and so he worked late, leaving me with Flower and Smallwise in what turned out to be an agonizingly long day.

Summer Storm Over MeadowFirst, Flower was having pooping issues.  She weaned herself when I got pregnant with Smallwise when she was about a year old.  Not long after she began having major bouts of constipation and started holding it in, making things worse.  We give her milk of magnesia every day but that kid has an anal sphincter of steel, and still manages to hold it in.  The only way to get her to poop is to catch her while she’s trying to hold it in, separate her legs, and sit her down, all while she’s screaming shrilly and fighting as hard as she can to keep her legs closed.

Because Smallwise was fussy due to her not-quite emerged tooth I had her snugged up in her soft carrier.  So when Flower would start to grunt and strain I couldn’t ever get to her in time to make her assume the “Poop Position”.

I tried to be in a fun mood but the heat tangled itself in my temper which was spit quick and wicked.  I grumbled when Flower began eating the glitter playdough after only fifteen minutes and we had to put it away.

“We can never do anything fun because you always end up eating it.”  I immediately winced as soon as the words were out of my mouth, wishing I had bitten them down instead of letting them loose.

When Smallwise wouldn’t settle I slammed a door and snapped at her, then instantly began to cry from remorse.  I hate the days when my mind seems to grow teeth and snarls at everything within growling distance.

It was just one of those days that no matter how hard I tried I could only be my least patient form, straining against all irritation like it was a personal affront.

That night, as I lay in bed I can’t sleep, and my mind keeps turning to my last journal entry written sixteen and a half years ago . . .

I tore myself apart psychologically, split myself into pieces that are only now pulling themselves back together.  Who am I now?  What am I now?


7 thoughts on “The Girl Goes Lightly – Rework of First Excerpt

  1. OMG! This is now incredibly different. When I read your changes, I thought…..oh, so she slightly modified. But this is a huge change. One thing I noticed is that the beginning is much more SELF-reflective instead of the reader “filling in the blanks themselves.” I take it this is intentionally a new direction you want to try taking it? And then the other younger entry that I previously read? Where in the piece would that get re-inserted?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually, all I did for the first entry was include the whole thing except a couple of sentences. I realized, after your extremely helpful and insightful comments, that I was confusing readers by not including more. The Magic Kingdom was much further along in the journal of the younger version of the protagonist so I’m saving it for a later excerpt. I’m sort of forced to jump around a bit because some of the content is way beyond PG-13, especially from the teenage journal (boy, that girl really had a potty mouth!).

      Thank you for all of your help. Without your critique I wouldn’t have changed the post. Thanks!


  2. How interesting that she says she “had ripped out who I was back then and locked it up as well.” Reading that reopens a wound from when someone destroyed my books and diaries and journals that I had cherished and saved from when I was first writing until I was a young adult. He didn’t like who I was, and hoped to fix me by destroying my history. It was a turning point, when I decided whether I wanted to continue giving up that part of me, or reclaim it. I mustered up the strength and began reclaiming it. I am still reclaiming it.

    “I tore myself apart psychologically, split myself into pieces that are only now pulling themselves back together.” This brings to mind the Harry Potter horcruxes.

    I like how you tell of the dream in present tense. That is how I record my dreams. I understand that speaking of them this way helps us recall them. Sometimes, it seems to transport me back to the dream as I add elements, or maybe I really am recalling minute details.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Grace,

      Ok, this: “Reading that reopens a wound from when someone destroyed my books and diaries and journals that I had cherished and saved from when I was first writing until I was a young adult.” has me literally shaking in anger. I don’t know if that person is still in your life, so I will try to refrain from going on a full-fledged rant of epic proportions. I will say that I hope this person realized the magnitude of his transgressions and apologized to you. Profusely. On knees. And I hope he realized that such behavior is controlling and inappropriate and never, ever, ever did anything like that again.

      I’m so happy you found the strength to reclaim that part of you. It is precious and dear! I am even more impressed by the wonderful gentleness expressed in your writing, considering it sounds like you’ve had some bumps in the road. I tend to retreat to my comfort zone of anger, something I’m working on. You are definitely a calming influence and I’m so happy I found you and your blog.

      Thank you for your compliments; as always they are greatly appreciated! You are welcome to leave critiques as well if you see something that doesn’t flow or work well. I’m pretty thick skinned about my work. And you are very insightful so I give a lot of weight to what you say.

      Thank you for sharing your difficult experience regarding your early writing (I’m still trying not to give in to the anger!). I can’t even begin to imagine how painful that was. Were you able to find anything from back then or was it all lost? I hope something survived! Ok, I’m just going to try to breath it out . . .



  3. Oh, no! This person is NOT in my life, nor I have received any apology, nor do I see any indications of recognition that such behavior is inappropriate. I try to understand how such a person got so deeply into my life, and realize that I had important lessons to learn. Could have been worse.

    Breathing, meditating, running, working with clay…these don’t dissipate my anger. When I feel furious rage, writing it out quickly transforms it into ashes that are easy to sweep away.

    “You are welcome to leave critiques as well if you see something that doesn’t flow or work well.” I love to edit work that is full of gems. I would be honored to do so for you, because I so enjoy your work. Do you know about the feature you can use to request that someone specific edit your work? Thank you for trusting me. By the way, you won’t need any thick skin around me, so I’ve been told, at least most of the time. I think it’s time to apologize ahead of time for any time when I prematurely release unedited words that can be misread as cruelty.

    Sending much love your way…


    • [breathes sigh of relief] So, so glad to hear said @*&(**^&^&%$%#$ is no longer in your life! I didn’t know if it might have been a well meaning relative, something of that nature. I still have an overwhelming urge to snap a sock at said person’s face, but I think I’m managing my impulses of sock-based violence quite well.

      I swear, someday when I have a bit more time, I’m going to start a blog dedicated to these amazing moments you create in your comments. Such as:

      “When I feel furious rage, writing it out quickly transforms it into ashes that are easy to sweep away.” I’m shaking my head at how lovely and powerful that image is.

      I didn’t know about said feature on wordpress! I will try to remember to use that . . . I will try, but my brain is already in fits of hysterics that I think I can remember anything.

      Thank you for being willing to offer your insights. They are very valuable to me! No need to apologize ahead of time for anything. Unless you preface your critique with, “Jessica, I hope this makes you cry!” I won’t be offended.

      Thank you for the love and I am sending it right back to you!



  4. Jessica, I hope this makes you cry…with laughter. [I just had to say that] You must give me a virtual lesson in sock-snapping. That sounds useful.

    At the risk of hiding my modesty, you can use a tool to collect snippets that you like, including comments I like it a lot better than copy and paste. I have a second Private WordPress blog where I store such snippets, and where I play with theme formatting and widgets. I learned how to use Press This for my homeless post. In my private blog, I made categories for each of my blog categories, technical blogging tips, my novel, and writing in general. Then I add tags to help me find cross-related items, since I have collected so many. And you thought I was kidding about the spreadsheet for Stephanie’s OCD list? Yes, I was…but only in that specific case.

    By the way, I always thought I was an analytical person until I took a corporate personality inventory that revealed [drumroll] that I actually prefer to be in the spotlight. It seems that I like the spotlight so much, I learned to excel at being analytical in an extremely analytical family. So, I’m practicing to get out of the sand of analytics, and into the sunshine of the public eye here at WordPress. I like this fresh air. I often find myself back home in my analytic cave, but am getting more emancipated.

    Much love to you. I hope you are enjoying your day.


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