portion of the artwork for Terri Brown-Davidson's poetry
Terri Brown-Davidson’s Comments

How I Became a Dark Writer

That night—the night she relented, handed me the book with Dick and Perry’s avuncular eyes—I sat up in bed, propped on the white velvet pillows my mother’d embroidered, and read until three. My calloused thumb flicked pages Momma’s sweaty palms had streaked and smeared then bleached.

Twelve years old, I’d failed creative writing already for “unreal descriptions”: I’d called a hole-pocked scarf “mellifluous,” “iridescent.” The fiction-writing instructor, Mrs. George, deemed me “out of touch with reality”, then reported my “psychological aberration” to the Westwood Elementary counselor.

I loved In Cold Blood though it made me shiver, loved reading about Nancy Clutter and how Dick wanted to “bust her cherry,” how Nancy’s brains splattered in a vibrant red mess against the wall. About how Perry propped the young boy’s head on a pillow (in empathy, for comfort) before shooting him point-blank in the face. I was on page 220 when my eyes blurred and I rolled over in bed, the book pages rumpling against the carpet.

I walked the school hallways the next day. Kids were playing marbles, aiming cat’s eyes or shooters with thumbs that appeared, to me, impossibly juvenile, sticky with saliva, the cuticles bitten raw. I walked past the swings where no one played anymore because, in sixth grade, every child was too adult. They called me “Sun Tan”: I was so pale-skin I glowed. I let them call me what they liked, the teachers screaming at them, sometimes, to stop; it was OK because I never listened.

“Readers are leaders,” my mother always said. I believed it. Because reading, for her, was the ultimate holy act—preferable to attending church with some brainwashed, quacking gaggle—she let me read whatever I liked, and I struggled to understand.

I never spoke unless spoken to, but streams of ever more virtuosic language, ornate, oracular, anachronistic, pneumatic, explicit, reportorial, beauteous, melancholy, depraved—all words I adored—flooded my body until, constipated with a pyrotechnical semantic system that made my thoughts speed up, I’d sit in the grass at Westwood Elementary, and cry to ease all that polysyllabic nomenclature out.

I walked the volleyball court and Perry limped beside me with his greaser hair and leather jacket, wincing as he downed handfuls of aspirin. I loved Perry though he’d shot the Clutter family. I wished I had a yellow parrot to swoop down and wrap me in its brilliant wings and ascend with me to Heaven. Earth wasn’t interesting. My sixth-grade teacher shouldn’t have worn her belts so tight … she really was much too fat. I had a best friend for a while, a tall, big-bodied blonde who chewed and swallowed her gum, until, after gym, I asked if her stomach collapsed when she took off her girdle.

After that, there were no friends for weeks.

I was punched in the eye one day for calling the meanest, toughest girl in the school a “mack truck.”

I walked around then proudly, my purple bruise rimming my eye. My report cards sang tiny hymns to my omnivorous questing after knowledge. Other kids called me “Loser,” “Freak,”, but they drifted out of a consciousness increasingly gilded with glimmering thought patterns, shimmering with a sense of the unreal just ready to ripen. I sat in the grass at recess and watched my classmates play dodge ball, The True Story of Bonnie and Clyde my companion as I ate the soup my mother’d prepared; if it was especially repulsive (I couldn’t bear ham or beans, which reminded me of internal organs), I’d empty the thermos contents steaming onto grass. I watched the others play games I’d never mastered, never understood, though, at eleven and a half, I’d memorized “The Waste Land,” offered book reports to my silent, smiling class on War and Peace, Portnoy’s Complaint. I sampled my bland soup and imagined sighting my classmates along Bonnie Parker’s rifle.

I imagined pulling the trigger.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 33 | Summer 2011