Now that you know why each of the books in The Kingsley Series qualifies as a "favorite" book for me (Part I), and you know why Selkie (Part II) is also a "favorite" for me, I'd like to spend some time telling you why Fighting For Freedom is my "favorite" of my books.
For those of you who have followed my writing for any period of time (or read the author letter at the end of Fighting For Freedom), you'll already have an idea of why this particular book means so very much to me ... but for those that might be new to my writing, let me tell you about a girl.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl, the daughter of a single mother. The mother was a high school drop-out divorcee struggling to get by with two kids and often, two jobs. She was probably scared and overwhelmed and terribly, incredibly lonely. She'd dated around a little without much success, and had broken off a relationship with a man she loved very much because he was young and she didn't want to saddle him with two kids he shouldn't have been responsible for. I was one of those kids, and I can tell you with all honesty that my brother and I still think of Greg from time to time. We missed him when he and mom broke up.
She missed him, too. A lot. You might even say she was ripe for the picking.
So when she met HIM, she probably thought he was charming, with his bad boy look and his abundant charisma. She probably thought his tattoos were sexy and his drinking/drugging lifestyle was a fascinating contrast to life as a responsible single mom trying to shoulder all the full-time responsibilities. In the beginning, he was charming. He was funny and different, and I think he had a gold tooth, too. He was intriguing and he rode motorcycles, and his best friend's name was Pork Chop and his mother had a horse. He took me for a ride on it once, when I was little. I rode in front of him, and he kept one hand on my waist to hold onto me.
My hands are shaking, writing this. They shook a lot when I wrote Fighting For Freedom, too.
The wedding was beautiful but by then, things weren't quite so sunshiny. I remember feeling pretty in my dress, which was a cream lace dress with a cream silky-satin tank slip underneath. I feel like I remember having the slips in a couple of colors, but maybe I'm just remembering being at the store and seeing the slips, all hanging together in so many bright colors. They held the wedding at his mother's big house, but I didn't want the wedding. I didn't want them to get married. Maybe I was already afraid of him by then. Now, looking back, I wonder if my mother was afraid of him yet. I have to think she wasn't, that she didn't realize what she was doing to us as a family, or I'll hate her for what I went through and the things I remember seeing.
Once they were married, she was as good as trapped. She lost everything because of him. Her car was repo'd, she ended up losing her job at least once. She almost lost her life. So did my brother.
Damn, this is hard to write. Maybe that's why I've put it off.
Do you like bologna? Back then, we were poor white trailer trash of the worst kind, and we ate cheap Oscar Meyer bologna sandwiches on white bread with Miracle Whip and Kraft American Cheese for lunch more often than we didn't. And HE liked things done right, you know? He liked the trailer kept a certain way. He liked his wife to behave in certain ways. He appreciated a certain measure of fear in the children. And he ruled with an iron hand.
I still remember being filled with horror, standing in the driveway outside the trailer one afternoon, watching him wrap that iron hand around my mother's throat. I remember looking down and realizing that her feet weren't touching the porch anymore. What I can't remember is whether it was because she put too much Miracle Whip on his sandwich, or not enough.
I remember a blue glass bowl. My mom used to be the kind of mom that would make dinner and actually serve it all at the table, in serving bowls. She had made something with french fries that night, and they were in this big blue glass bowl, lined with paper towels. I don't know what set him off, but if I close my eyes, I can still see that bowl flying toward me, over my head. I can still hear it shattering in the hallway behind me.
I've heard this story a thousand times, the one where HE was playing with my older brother in the trailer we lived in. They were playing cops and robbers, shooting at each other with BB guns. My brother ducked into a bedroom, poked his head back out to see where HE was, and HE fired a BB toward my brother. My brother ducked back, the BB passed him, ricocheted off the microwave door in the kitchen, and when my brother stepped out of the bedroom, the BB hit him in the eye. I have never actually believed that story.
He tried to murder his daughter once, but I wasn't there so I don't know the whole story. I know that my mother tried to save the girl, told her to go hide in the car. I know he got into his truck and threatened to run it right over my mom's car, with his daughter inside. I know my mom stood in the way. I know he did it anyway, and she ended up pinned between his truck and her car, for the sake of his daughter's life.
I remember being beaten with a ping pong paddle and watching the broken paddle fly across the room because he hit me so hard that it snapped right off the handle.
I remember being humiliated, standing naked in the office at school while police and investigators took pictures of the bruises all over my body. On more than one occasion.
There are countless other stories too, ones so gruesome that I've blocked them away and I can't remember.
By the time I was in fourth grade, it was over -- at least for me. I was removed from the home for my own safety, and my mother and brother were left to fend for themselves for a year. Until it finally got so bad that he ended up in prison and my mother ended up dead.
That's how I know it's totally possible for what happened to Christine in Fighting For Freedom to have happened. It's possible to be in such a horrible situation that it kills you, and yet somehow you hold on. It's possible to just hold on for long enough to be saved, like my mother was.
She was about my age when she had her first heart attack. She had a blood clot move through her heart and into her left shoulder on its way to her brain. Had it not gotten lodged in the veins in her shoulder joint, she'd have had a massive stroke that day when the clot hit her brain. She'd have died in a way that there's no coming back from.
But that blood clot was the start of everything changing. I wish I knew how it all happened. I wish I knew how it happened that HE ended up fighting to save her arm, that she ended up dead on an operating table, that she ended up so sick she had to move in with my grandmother to be taken care of for months at a time.
I wish, too, that I could remove her memories of him. I wish I could have back the mother she was before HE killed her. Now she's messed up forever because of everything he put her through, and I can only imagine what she remembers that I don't.
Still, her memories are a part of her, as mine are a part of me. I know she has PTSD, and I know that I have it too. I know what it feels like to triple check the locks on your house, and how good it feels to know your dog would eat someone to protect you. I know what it feels like to walk around in the dark, listening to every sound, attending to every breath of the wind.
I know what it means to see shock on a boyfriend's face when a moment of play crossed a memory line for me and I reacted without meaning to, protecting myself from a flashback danger that wasn't even there. I know what the guilt feels like, to think I've become what I once feared and despised with all my heart. And I know the shame that came with having to explain that reaction. (Thankfully, he was very understanding.)
But I know too, what it means to walk around armed and ready to protect myself at any cost. I know how hard it is to move on and rebuild, to become strong and unafraid in spite of my own fragility. I know the pride I felt in that first moment when I realized I wasn't afraid anymore.
And I wrote Fighting For Freedom because I want other women to know those things too. That's why it's my favorite of all of my books. (It could be your favorite, too ... check out the blurb and buy links here if you're interested.)
And now that I've written so much for this post, I guess I'll have to tell you why More Than Friends is my favorite of my books next time. I promise, it won't be as hard to read as this.