There Is No Solace Anywhere, For Anyone Who Dreads To Go Home. . . .
The title of this post is a quote from an autobiographical novel. Which one, and who said it? (Bonus points if you know!)
This post is from an article for teachers and librarians that I wrote many, many years ago. I found it in a box of old papers I was cleaning out, as we are moving in a few weeks and I am throwing out anything and everything I haven't used in the last five minutes. I’d forgotten about it, and this bothers me, because we should never forget about such things.
Here it is. And please bear in mind that it was written years ago. Yes, even before we had computers. Well, they'd been invented, but "people" didn't own any yet.
I was reading the newspaper the other day when my eye was caught by a ‘filler’ – you know, one of those inch-high insert pieces that a newspaper squeezes in on the third or fourth page as a kind of :”oh, by the way” sort of thing.
This particular filler stated that a certain disreputable citizen had been arrested and charged with the rape of an eighteen-year-old girl, said rape having occurred several years ago when the girl was fourteen years old.
Now, working in a school, where such things are seen and heard of daily, some people get hardened. They hear, or see, or read about it, and it’s too bad, such a shame, tch tch, but that’s about it. They call the police, or Child Protection, and go home and have dinner.
I am not one of those people. I get crazy, because I love my students so thoroughly, that the thought of any of them being harmed in any way, breaks my heart into thousands of tiny little razor-sharp-edged pieces.
You see, when this particular girl was fourteen years old, she was my student. I remember her well. How could any teacher forget Terri?
Let me tell you how. It’s easy.
Our classrooms are full of Terris. Right this minute. You may have to stop and think, but sandwiched in among the brains, the nerds, the cheerleaders, the druggies, the jocks, the hoods, the goths, the freaks, the hillbillies,and the geeks, you will find the Terris. You have to look carefully for them, but they’re there. They look alike. Thin. Stringy hair. Quiet. Too quiet. Terris are usually very well-behaved. Rabbity. We tend to think of them – when we think of them at all – as vague, shadowy girls with sweet, stifled, needy personalities who sit alone in the back of the room waiting patiently to get pregnant before graduation day.
We don’t usually pay much attention to them. After all, we are very busy people. Our time is taken up with many different, very important duties. We are occupied with paperwork, disciplining the hoods, paperwork, shaking down the druggies, paperwork, signing release forms for the cheerleaders, paperwork, helping a band geek fit a sousaphone into a locker, paperwork, assuring the jocks that “no pass, no play” means exactly that, and oh yes, more paperwork. Hall duty. Lunch money. Milk tokens. Attendance slips. Honor roll. Hall duty. Tutoring. Demerit reports. Hall duty. Phone calls from and to parents. Announcements. Convocations. Parents who don’t bother to make an appointment. Hall duty. Constant interruptions. The quiet Terris? Oh, please, give me a break. At least they’re no discipline problem. . . .
Terris are voracious readers. They check out books by the stack and read them cover to cover. They take good care of their books, too. No dog ears for the Terris. What kind of books do these quiet little Terris read? Funny you should ask.
Back in 1986, when Terri was my student, she made a list for me of her all-time favorite books – the books she read and re-read and even memorized passages from. Before I looked over her list, I predicted to myself that I would be able to guess fairly accurately the types of novels that a stereotype like Terri would enjoy. Blume, of course, and Hinton; maybe Kerr, Neufield, Greene, etc. The usual bunch of books about troubled teens for troubled teens. Right?
Wrong. So wrong it is to laugh. But I didn’t laugh and I don’t laugh, because it is Terri we are talking about here, and believe me, Terri’s life contained and contains nothing to laugh about.
She called this roster of books her “Fantasies.” As I looked over her list I noticed that her fantasies are not technically fantasies in anyone else’s opinion. Terri’s books are nothing more than a list of titles that exemplify loving, stable, warm, supportive family life.
Her fantasy books are about normal families and their normal lives. Normal. To you, maybe. But To Terri, and all the Terris, these titles are fantasies.
Most of her “fantasies” are at the very least twenty years old; many are even older. One would be hard put even to find most of these titles still on the library shelf; they’ve been discarded to make room for the trendy misunderstood troubled teen novels that circulate faster. And to classify them as fantasies is unusual to the point of absurdity. On the surface, that is.
We must then go beyond the surface.
Fantasy. “The power, process, or result of creating mental images modified by need, wish, or desire; the free play of creative imagination.” Webster, 1967.
Let us return for a moment to the scene of the crime. This rape resulted in a pregnancy – a very difficult pregnancy. After a long and arduous labor, Terri was delivered of a stillborn son. Her obstetrician remarked that if ever he had seen a child who had a reason to be traumatized for life, it was Terri.
Yet, Terri is not traumatized. Why????? What protection does she have that shields her sanity and her sweet personality from the horror that is part of her everyday existence?
Maybe you are wondering what is so horrible about Terri’s everyday life.
The answer is, a lot. Terri’s rapist was her father.
Now, about these ‘fantasy’ novels. . . . . it is quite comprehensible to me that a child of Terri’s mental calibre, who had a home life such as hers, could easily console herself in part by fantasizing about – families. All of her titles – unlike many of today’s teen novels -- have in them loving parents, or surrogate parents, congenial siblings, love, and security. In other words, for the Terris of this world, these books are FULL of fantasy.
Terri herself, in an essay on fantasy, wrote: “People can share many fantasies, such as witches, aliens, space travel, dreams. But after school those kids go home to a nice clean house where nice people live who are nice to them and to each other. That’s a fantasy to me, but I can’t share that fantasy. Other girls have a room with pink walls and a bedspread with ruffles; they have a lock on their door, too, but they don’t really need it, and at supper there’s always enough to go around. At home, these girls are safe. I can’t even dream of all that. I can’t even imagine.”
All these memories came flooding over me as I read that filler in the newspaper. I dug out Terri’s file. I wish I had done more for her.
And I wondered, how typical were Terri’s reading habits compared to the reading habits of other stereotyped Terris? I decided to become an amateur detective.
First, I asked several teachers in our system for the names of some Terris. I collected twenty names. Then I started snooping through the library files, junior high and high school. The results of my snooping were astounding to me.
Of those twenty Terris, nineteen had read every single book on Terri’s original ‘fantasy’ list.
I’m thankful that the Terris can at least have loving homes in their ‘fantasies.’ But here is something that worries me about that.
So few teens read these older titles any more that the libraries won’t keep the books. Now, I realize that shelves have only so much room, and that logically that space must be taken up by those titles which “move.” This is only good business.
But what about the Terris? They don’t always want to read about divorce, abuse, alcoholism, unemployment, poverty, pregnancy, rape, drugs, dysfunctional families, etc. They go home and deal with those things face to face, every night. They want fantasy, to help them dream of a better life.
So please, librarians, teachers, bookstores, publishers. . . . don’t discard Terri’s fantasies. They just might be the only thing standing between a Terri and a horror beyond the comprehension of most of us.
Terri’s mother was in the hospital several months ago. Terri and her father were left to watch over all the little brothers. I saw Terri a few weeks ago. She had a black eye.
And oh, yes. She was pregnant again.
I am wondering what Terri would have thought of "Twilight" and its copycat ilk. I don't think she would have fallen for it. It's the wrong kind of fantasy. (You really don't want to get me started on the literary quality of that series. Really, you don't.)
"Don't be content with being average. Average is as close to the bottom as it is to the top."
Jane blogs as "Mamacita" at Scheiss Weekly, hitting the fan like nobody can.