Thank you so much, Amber, for inviting me to your blog for the DBAW tour! (And readers, don’t miss the contest info below!)
In DON’T BREATHE A WORD, Joy must escape her suffocating life and secretly abusive boyfriend, finding herself on the streets of Seattle where she must learn to survive and find her own source of strength—in herself and her street friends, who teach her about life, loyalty, and even love.
I didn’t know DBAW would be about relationship bullying—not until the character Asher showed up. He was powerfully attractive…and powerfully cruel. Where did he come from? I didn’t have to look far.
I wrote about the Asher relationship from my own life in DEAR BULLY: 70 AUTHORS TELL THEIR STORIES (HarperCollins 2011), the real life backstory to DON’T BREATHE A WORD. Here is that story, Midsummer’s Nightmare:
Monkeys at my window. Shadows waiting to capture my hands and feet as I slept. Frantic searches, nuclear blasts, streaks across the sky.
I’ve wondered about dream interpretation—if my dreams will tell the future, or if they somehow interpret my past. Sometimes they are gibberish. Other times, they have taken on a prophetic urgency that I can’t help but think disguises some deep and mysterious truth.
What I do know is that two of my nightmares saved my life.
I met Xander one blazing night at a Summer Shakespeare cast party, where pretty much anything could have happened. I fell in lust.
He was confident, in control. The kind of guy who knew exactly what he wanted, and he walked right up to me and took it—first a kiss, and then he took my breath away. It wasn’t long before we were inseparable.
He liked that I was an artist and a writer, which must have given me a certain mystique in the commodity of cool girlfriends. He displayed me to his friends, who we hung out with constantly…rarely, if ever, did we hang out with mine. He gave me what I craved—direction, protection, and an intense kind of attraction that sometimes terrified me…and always racked me with guilt. Pretty soon, I was afraid to be without him.
I should call these the lost years—I lost myself in him and his world completely, until he was telling me where to go, what to wear, what to eat (or not eat), how to think. I wanted someone who would take control so I wouldn’t have to. I wanted him to reinforce my fears, to punish me for never being good enough. I wanted him to make me stop hating myself.
I would do anything to win his approval, anything to avoid his criticisms, which had become more and more frequent. There were the subtle put-downs, and the more obvious ones. He didn’t like my parents or my friends or my opinions. So I changed what I could. I didn’t know to call it bullying. It was the subtlest kind—not with fists but with words.
In a rare moment of independence, I went on a trip with my best friend. That’s when the nightmare came:
It was night. All around me were brick walls, and people I recognized. But everyone was focused on one figure—a man, sitting in a chair, with a rod in his hand. As each person approached, they instantly fell to the ground with one touch of his rod, under his control.
I looked around for some means of escape. There was a girl about my age, thin and stringy, almost hollow. There was a doorway behind her, but she made no move to leave—she was already beaten, already belonging to him. With a sudden, terrible clarity, I knew that girl was me.
I woke up screaming.
Maybe it was the nightmare, or the separation. Maybe I finally listened to my friends, who had been subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) telling me to get away from him for a year. Or maybe some part of me knew the truth—that I could become that girl forever, if I didn’t walk out that door.
Fast forward a few years—past another unhealthy and doomed relationship—to a guy I met through work. In one swift moment of attraction, I graduated from painful and damaging to downright dangerous.
Erik and I had explosive chemistry right off the bat. He took me to amazing places, complimented me (when he wasn’t criticizing), and lavished me with gifts and attention. But something about him reminded me of not one but both bad relationships I’d had in the past. Somehow I missed the red flags and kept going out with him.
Erik became increasingly paranoid and possessive. He accused me of flirting with other people, tried to catch me in lies (we’d only known each other two weeks!), and was even talking about when we would get married. In a way, it was flattering to be the object of someone’s obsession.
One night I had a dream:
The setting: high up in a tower condo. Everything was gray and steely, with bright lights throwing islands of brilliance and shadow. I was trapped in the kitchen, overhearing a conversation between Erik and another man in the living room. The man pulled a packet out of his pocket with the address of our office building. Then Erik handed me a strange mirror, one with a layer of skin wrapped around the edges.
When I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw that the skin had come from my own face.
The nightmare shook me. Still, I didn’t realize it had to do with my new boyfriend…until one day I heard the alarm.
We were out to lunch. I told him about a traumatic experience I’d had, and he said, “Well, it was probably your own fault.” With the nightmare fresh in my mind, I suddenly realized how destructive he was—peeling away one layer of me at a time.
I got up and left him right there. He followed me, shouting, and I ducked into a store so that there were people around. Instinctively, I knew he would one day become violent. That nightmare of captivity and abuse could have become my life…I’m glad I awoke in time to stop it.
Since then, I’ve come to pay attention to my dreams, to my inner voice. My dreams often tell me the answer to tangled problems, both in writing and in real life. The voice grows out of my faith, and I have learned to trust it.
I’ve also learned that we tend to seek out people who mirror our opinions of ourselves. One day I met a man who not only had confidence in himself, but he believed in me tenfold. By that time, I’d begun to believe in myself. On the day he asked me to marry him, I dreamed we would be apart forever…the devastating thought made me realize I didn’t want to spend my life without him.
Maybe you won’t have a nightmare, but if you’re in a perilous relationship, you will have a gut feeling, a glimmer that something is not right. Listen to that inner voice, the one that knows if you are in danger. The one that knows you have value, and you deserve to be treated with respect and love. Trust that inner voice. It may just save your life, too.
Joy in DON’T BREATHE A WORD discovers her words have power just as I did—and yours have power, too. So we are having a contest to create a video with the theme Words Have Power. You could win fabulous prizes that SHOUT OUT LOUD! how powerful you are.
Click here to enter! a copy of Don't Breath A Word!
Words Have Power! I can’t wait to hear yours.