Resurrection in Turquoise

It’s been several weeks since I’ve had time to participate in Friday Fictioneers, but Rochelle knows the best way to get me back again–by using one of my photos as the prompt. If you’re new to this weekly challenge, the rules are simple: Writers from all over the globe are invited to compose a 100-word story based on the week’s photo prompt. Click here to read and play along.

My story this week is almost entirely autobiographical, but that’s all I’ll say on the topic for now.

Copyright Marie Gail Stratford

Copyright Marie Gail Stratford

Resurrection in Turquoise

Thirty years later, she remembers the pale green of hospital walls and her own small legs encased in plaster. Her dreams are haunted. Too often, she wakes with a start.

Thirty-five years later she takes a deep breath, submerges her face in the pale green water of an indoor pool. Three measured strokes, another breath. Three more strokes. A breath. The panic fades.

Forty years later, she sits in her office, glances at the blue-green logo on her business card. In her favorite color, she recognizes a bluer version of hospital green. She’s lived to see the resurrection of the turquoise butterfly.

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Author’s Note on Once Again Upon a Time

For this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt, I wrote a spin off the classic fairytale “Little Red Riding Hood.” Within hours, the compliments from my wonderful readers (some of whom are happy to let me know when I miss the mark) began pouring in, both on my blog directly and in other places where I have shared links to the story.

I love fairytales and mythology, so readers will find several of these “twice told” tales on my blog. This particular story, however, is being received better than any other, which caused me to ask myself, “Why? What is different about Little Red?” The question seemed especially urgent since, while I was composing it, it seemed to be a far-too-familiar, almost cliché response to this week’s photo prompt. Then the answer presented itself in the story’s familiarity. I am Little Red. I am Ruby from my story. This story was easy for me to write because it is my own, and it rings true to my readers who may not be familiar with the layers of history behind the “Little Red Riding Hood” myth because they are not Ruby.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

“Little Red Riding Hood” has frightened me and intrigued me from my earliest memories. When I was still preschool aged, my Grandma Stratford gave me a “Little Red Riding Hood” doll made of soft cloth and accessorized with a scarlet hood and a basket of baked goods to carry to Grandmother’s house. When Grandma held the doll upside down, it became the grandmother, complete with a calico nightgown and nightcap. But horror of horrors, when that nightcap was flipped up, the grandmother was transformed into the big bad wolf. Ingenious and terrifying—especially to little Marie.

A Much Worse Place to Start

As it happened, my doll and Grandma’s colorful telling of “Little Red Riding Hood” are not the reasons I was plagued with nightmares of wolves and other snarling beasts into my 30s. Before Grandma gave me that doll and before I ever heard the original fairytale, I was treated for club feet by an abusive orthopedic surgeon who just happened to be a man with a beard. (At this point, I feel compelled to tell my readers that not all men with beards and not all orthopedic surgeons are abusive, just as not all wolves are big and bad.)

When I was born, the toes on each of my feet were turned in to touch my calves. At six weeks old, my doctors began the treatment, which involves repeated breaking and resetting of the bones in the legs and ankles. Rather than give me proper sedatives or even providing safe pain medications commonly used at the time for babies and young children, the orthopedic surgeon conducted these procedures over the course of several months without the use of any medication or calming implements. Instead, he insisted that my father, a young man in his mid-20s, hold his screaming little baby girl down while my mother, a frightened first-time mother, was asked to force-feed me a bottle as the doctor carried out the procedure.

As if this were not bad enough, while removing the casts each week, the doctor or his staff, regularly managed to cut my legs with the plaster saw. When I learned that by flexing my leg muscles during the procedure I could easily kick the casts off my legs, the doctor decided to glue the plaster directly to my sensitive skin.

When I was two years old, months after the experiences related here, another event shed clear light on the malicious nature of that particular orthopedic surgeon, and my regular pediatrician was able to help my parents find good, nurturing medical treatment for me. My body healed, and my legs became more useful than anyone ever expected. In my 20s, I even began performing as an interpretive dancer, and I later became a dance instructor. The emotional scars, however, remained.

When Memories Begin

Naturally, I don’t remember everything as I have related it here. For me, the images of scary predatory animals and nightmares that almost always ended in my waking with cramps in my legs and fear in my heart were the only traces of these early traumas that remained in my conscious mind. The psychological scarring went deeper. By age 10, the emotional scars from that trauma began causing what we now understand to have been pseudo seizures. Although this type of issue is common in trauma survivors, it would be more than 20 years before a medical professional would finally recognize these “spells” for what they were.

As with many survivors of childhood trauma, my PTSD symptoms seldom emerged before I turned 30. Occasionally, I would experience a panic attack or an extended crying jag. The nightmares happened fairly often, but all of this was manageable. Until upheaval in my adult life accompanied by the death of my paternal grandfather dealt a blow that sent me spinning into darkness.

Ray, a Drop of Golden Hope

Someday I hope to share more about my healing process—how I emerged from a quivering pile of pain and tears into the hopeful, happy and somewhat successful writer and business owner I am today. This particular sunny February Wednesday is not that day. Just writing this portion of my story has left me feeling vulnerable and a bit weepy. But there is hope.

To all those Little Red Riding Hoods and Snow Whites and Cinderellas, to all the Beauties tormented by Beasts—I promise you there is hope beyond your nightmares (and far beyond Stockholm Syndrome—don’t make Belle your role model). Someday, you too will be able to close your eyes without fearing the nightmares. It won’t happen without professional help, and it won’t happen without faith in a Power much greater than yourself. But most important, it won’t happen without faith in yourself—the true you, the you that is still inside and untainted by anything any abuser has tried to put on you, the you that the Divine Being dreamed before time began.

Your happily ever after awaits. It won’t be free of trouble or of the cares of this life, but it is waiting there for you, there on the other side of your nightmares. And you can find it. If today that happy ending seems too far away for comfort, take a deep breath and say a prayer of thanksgiving—thanksgiving for your inner strength and thanks for the strength of others who will be there to support you when your own strength gives out.

Once Again Upon a Time

This is my response to the Friday Fictioneers prompt for February 27. The challenge is to write a 100-word story inspired by the photo prompt. Play along by writing your own, reading others and/or commenting on the flashes we fictioneers create. The photo prompt this week comes from Dawn Landau, an excellent writer of fiction, non-fiction and some personal memoirs that you all should read (after you read my story, of course). My story this week weighs in at exactly 100 words.

2015 02 27 Dawn Landau

Copyright Dawn Landau

Once Again Upon a Time

Ruby followed the railroad tracks and tried to quiet her pounding heart as she walked. Maybe the wolf wouldn’t recognize her.

After her last encounter with the ruthless attacker, Ruby had stopped wearing red. Instead she wore blue—the color of the sky, the color of the water in the lake near her home, the color of calm.

Behind her, Ruby could hear padded footsteps. Feeling anything but calm, she began to run. Just before she reached the door of Grandmother’s house, the wolf attacked.

Ruby woke up screaming. Mother held her close. “Hush now. The nightmares won’t last forever.”

For more on Ruby’s story, click HERE.

Identifying the Offender

This is my response to the Friday Fictioneers prompt for November 14. The challenge is to write a 100-word story inspired by the photo prompt. Play along by writing your own, reading others and/or commenting on the flashes we fictioneers create. The photo prompt this week comes from Claire Fuller, a fine writer whose blog you should definitely check out, after reading mine, of course. My piece this week weighs in at exactly 100 words.

Copyright Claire Fuller

Copyright Claire Fuller

Identifying the Offender

 

Brandon sat by his wife’s hospital bed. He knew her objections to the Michelin tires on the SUV. But why was she murmuring about the Michelin man in her drug-induced state?

“We’ll be moving her to a psychiatric facility in the morning.” Brandon nodded dumbly at the doctor. “Is she a trauma survivor?”

Brandon shrugged. “Self-induced trauma, maybe.”

“She’s showing PTSD symptoms. I’m transferring her to a facility that specializes in trauma. Any idea who ‘the Michelin man’ or someone named ‘Mr. Bannister’ is?”

Brandon’s eyes widened. The puzzle pieces were falling into place, but he didn’t like the implications.

Author’s note: I struggled for a while to come up with a story this week, and I finally went with a story that I know well. Sadly, Brandon’s wife is much luckier than many trauma survivors. Several PTSD sufferers, including myself, are repeatedly blamed for their behavior and only treated with psychotropic meds that often make things worse rather than being given the therapy they need to remember, overcome and then let go of the horrors from the past. For me, it took 20 years of “pseudo seizures” and at least 4 suicide attempts before a single intake nurse changed my life for the better by uttering those words, “Are you a trauma survivor?”