Everybody has certain gifts that they're born with. There are the obvious ones, which most of humanity can easily identify: musical, artistic, mathematical, analytical. Then there are the subtle talents which even the person possessing them doesn't recognize as unusual abilities: green thumbs, debating, empathy, conversation, organization. You have to learn to pay attention to what you're good at, be it an artistic flair or understanding the sorrow of a drooping plant. All people have gifts both open and shy, and usually a cornucopia of them. Insecurity addicts have a hard time seeing the plethora of gifts within themselves. I always recognized the fact that I could draw well. I was just good at it from a very early age. But it wasn't until my teenage years that I began to suspect the less obvious gifts within me, and another two decades before I considered them abilities at all.
I'm good at helping people. There's something inside of me that they're able to open up to, and that has become, to me, the greatest gift of all. When I was married, my husband used to get irritated by total strangers telling me intimate secrets or problems. "We can't get in a hotel elevator without somebody telling you their life story by the time we hit the lobby," he used to say. And it was often true. What's more, I welcomed it. I felt honored by people being able to do this, that there was something in me which made them comfortable enough to share their pain, joy or irritation. I would do the same thing back at them, open my big mouth and tell my big stories, hoping that my openness could help lance whatever emotional boil was consuming them.
This last week has been full of stories. People who've read Freak have begun contacting me. I'm a bit overwhelmed by their kindness and enthusiasm but thrilled as well. They tell me their terrible stories and when I ask, "Do you think the book will help people?" every one so far has said, "Yes." That's what I so desperately want it to do. That's what these shattered folk tell me it is doing. For them.
One man told me about scar tissue removal he had to have done from ten years of his father raping him and tearing him open. He said what bothered him more than the rape was having to admit to the doctor where the scars had come from. Another woman shared the story of her drug addict son beating her so severely, he bruised her larynx from choking her unconscious, then broke out all her front teeth by beating her face into the floor. That struck home for several reasons. I had a drug addict son too, and my grandmother lost all of her teeth from her drunken husband doing exactly the same thing. After he'd beaten her enough to make her fall down, he sat on her back, grabbed her hair, and slammed her head repeatedly into the floor, breaking not only her teeth but every bone in her face. Another young woman told me about an incident in prison, where some bitch carried her screaming baby in for visitation of the inmate father. When an employee at the facility offered to hold the shrieking kid while the mother emptied her pockets, he noticed blood pouring from the side of the child's diaper. This bitch had rolled drugs up in tin foil and shoved them up the baby's anus, tearing him open. They arrested her right there and took the baby away. Another woman told about waking up the next morning from the date rape drug. Somebody had slipped it into her soda at a club. "I knew I wasn't drunk, like he said," she whispered, eyes liquid with the dirty shame of it. The rapist's shame, not hers, but she still hadn't been able to acknowledge that yet. Another woman told about her mother getting so enraged when she tattled about her uncle molesting her, she called a family meeting and made the daughter read a testimonial about being a sinful liar who didn't honor her parents, as the bible taught.
Terrible stories, true tales, ghastly personal histories. But there was beauty in them as well, which not one of the brave souls who shared them had grasped. The man with the scar tissue volunteers as a Big Brother for an inner city kid. He's helped steer the boy clear of the drugs and gangs which are rampant in the neighborhood. His empathy and understanding, even though he never shared the story of his own abuse, has helped this young brother of circumstance. The woman whose son knocked out her teeth is one of the most generous philanthropists and volunteers for charity work I've ever met. She has raised awareness of drug addiction and the horrors the family endures by bravely sharing her story. The young woman who witnessed the skank with the bleeding baby is an abuse victim herself, and lectures at a girls' shelter now. She has risen above the past and built her own future stone by shaky stone. The molestation victim volunteers at a incest hotline.
I told them I was amazed and humbled by their beautiful stories, and the strength they'd been able to gather to do such acts of selfless kindness. When you're raised with so little to cling to, such hard soil to try and grow roots in, it's almost blinding to witness that kind of beauty, grown from such ugliness. These incredible individuals have spun shit-covered straw into gold. So thank you, to all the brave folk out there who have used their terrible histories to help change the fate of those fellow broken souls, and all the cracked and bleeding futures to come. There is great horror in the world, and we often drown in it. But there's great beauty as well. That's the one that you have to dig for. That's the hidden gold, and it's in each and every one of us, even us insecurity addicts and abuse victims. We're like crackle glaze vases, covered in hair thin cracks that create an aesthetic beauty from their seemingly impossible cohesion. Recognize the beauty and strength inside yourself, my friends. We all have terrible stories. What we do with them is up to us. Take care, make sure to be kind, and keep the self-hatred to a minimum. You can do it.