I rarely comment on my childhood, it sucked, but so did plenty of other people’s. It made me who I am today, at least in part and since I love who I am, I really have no regrets. I grew up in a cultish environment. I don’t talk about it much because it’s not worth putting energy into.
Almost all input into my siblings and my life was carefully cultivated and read through to fit the rigorous religious beliefs my mom held. I was homeschooled. Not normal trendy homeschooled either. I was Catholic homeschooled. All our books were ordered from a catholic company who deliberately crafted the curriculum to support a religions up bringing. So instead of ‘Tom had four apples and Mary had three apples, how many apples do they have together.’ I got: ‘If Jesus had three loaves and John had four loaves how many do they have when they put them together for God?!’ All of this in full color with a bible verse and picture on every page. I wish I was kidding. This was my normal.
Most of the ‘community’ only allowed their ‘female’ children to wear dresses or skirts. Lot’s of handmade clothing. Things like makeup, nail polish, piercings, and hair dye were all forbidden for children. Most of the families had five plus children and drove conversion vans. A lot of former acquaintances from there have siblings the ages of their children. All group activities were through the church and most of my interactions were with other children in the church.
We didn’t even have cable. My mother would read the song lyrics of all the tapes or CDs we bought, so my first walkman was a treasure. I still remember it. It was orange see-through plastic and I could play tapes, or listen to the radio, giving me a glimpse into forbidden even if edited music. I learned to love NPR and radio, which I still listen to to this day. It was one of the only windows I had into the outside world. I got half of my sex education from Dr. Drew on Love line. Pretty sad.
Dinner time activities involved my father quizzing us on word definitions. If he could stump us with a word, he won and if we could stump him with one, we won. My older sister and I would read through the other meals and for hours during the day, when ever my mother wasn’t hammering at us to fill out workbooks. Books were my only escape. Both my parents worked from home and I spent twenty-four hours a day with those five people. There is a thing called a healthy break, and I truly believe they are needed to maintain any relationship. I’d probably kill my partner if he didn’t work as much as he did. I think most parents can attest to this as well, after a long summer, nearly everyone is at each other’s throats and they can’t wait for school to start back. I experienced it last week while moving. My children wanted to strangle each other after a week off school and two days in close quarters in the car. The healthy break didn’t exist in my childhood. We were on top of each other all the time.
The older I got, the more I rebelled. I couldn’t relate to anyone who believed the things we were forced fed, so I didn’t have many friends. I learned to hide things like CDs, cigarettes, and inappropriate clothing. The one thing I never had to hide were books. My father, who was raised Christian scientist and mostly non-religious, had an entire library of science fiction and fantasy. An entire room dedicated to books.
My father read constantly when he wasn’t working and we were expected to do the same. It was never a chore though. Some of my earliest memories were of my father reading to me. He used to read us The Wizard of Oz books. There are twenty-seven if you didn’t know. They go far beyond Dorthy and her adventures. Frank Baum crafted a unique world, and I loved his Gnome King.
I would find an author and then read every book they wrote. We walked to the library a couple of times a week. Books saved my life, many times over, and I’ve heard the same echoed from other authors. At first, the library at home was off limit to us, because there were lots of first edition Sci-fi by my dad’s favorite authors and he didn’t want the ‘babies’ destroying his books. So it was mostly ignored until I discovered Sci-fi through Star Wars books. I read as many as I could get my hands on, and then I found more in my dad’s library.
There were books he told me not to read until I was older, but it was never kept in check. I think my mother assumed he wouldn’t keep any books inappropriate for children in the house. By her standards nearly every book I read was inappropriate. It was glorious. Sci-fi has always pushed boundaries. There were queer characters, there were relationship between aliens and humans, there were so many things that opened my eyes to how sheltered I was. How the ultra conservative world view being thrust down my throat was wrong. Now, when I start to feel raw from over exposure with people I turn all my devices on silent and retreat to read. I blame my family for most of this. HA! Both not being used to the constant input from the outside world, because of the tiny sheltered world I grew up in, as well as my need for escapism.
When it’s all said and done I have no regrets. I think it’s important to live life this way. My childhood gave me a passion for books, and the need to write and create. Every step we’ve taken has lead us to this place. To who we are. To change one thing would be to change it all. So I cherish the memories of reading with my father, and the oversized chairs in the sunroom where I’d read, as well as all the encouragement from my father to write as much as I could. I was lucky to have it and him for the time I did and it made me the person I am today.
Carnivale is a time for decadence, for revelry, and for mischief. A time when we shed the figurative masks we wear in everyday life in favor of new ones… ones that allow us to be a little bolder, a little more adventurous, and perhaps a little truer to ourselves. Follow Me Into Darkness is a compilation of original tales of queer romance by five of the premier authors of contemporary romance.
To do list:
Work on His Vice.
Finish plotting epic genderqueer book
Wait for beta edits of Clouded Hell back
Catch up on sleep.