Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cole Gibsen - The Day I Learned to Take a Hit

The former step-dad was not a nice person. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years trying to avoid him. When I was a senior in high school, I often fled my house in the middle of the night and met up with my boyfriend who kept a sleeping bag stored in his camper shell because my midnight phone calls became so regular. We’d park in the middle of a cornfield and sleep in the bed of his truck because I had nowhere else to go and his parents wouldn’t let a girl sleep over (understandably). In the morning, I’d dust myself off, comb the tangles out of my hair with my fingers, gargle with Listerine, and go to school. Just another day…

The step-dad was fond of calling me lazy. He’d laughed and told me I was dreaming when I said I wanted to go away to college. He’d bully, taunt, and belittle me with his words and size to the point that I began to believe him. I began to think I was stupid, lazy, and would never amount to anything. That was, at least, until the day I got kicked out of the house.

I was seventeen and sitting at the kitchen table eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The sun was out and the screen door was open allowing a warm breeze to sweep through the kitchen. My twelve year-old brother had just run in the house after a swim in the pool. He was wrapped in a towel and talking to me – though I can’t remember now what we were talking about.

Enter the step-dad. But this time, instead of attacking me he went for my brother.

“You’re dripping all over the floor!” he had screamed. “Are you stupid?”

My blood began to boil. This had never happened before. Normally I was the target not my kid brother.

“No, you’re not stupid,” the step-dad continued. “Stupid would imply you have a brain. But you don’t, do you? You’re brainless.”

My brother shrunk back as I had so many times before. As if he could will the floor to open and swallow him whole. My own fear was mirrored back at me in his eyes and it made me sick.


I wouldn’t let step-dad to this. Not to my brother. My vision clouded over in a haze of red and I leapt from my chair with enough force to knock it over. “Shut up!”

The step-dad looked over at me, stunned, for I’d never, in the seven years he was married to my mom, spoke to him that way.

“He’s not stupid!” I’d screamed at him. “He’s smarter than you’ll ever be.”

At this point the step-dad’s eyes had dilated and he lunged. With his hands twisted in my shirt he shoved me against a wall with enough force to knock the wind from my chest.

And then, after several gasps for breath, I screamed the words that to this day make me smile every time I think about them, “Do it again! I dare you! Do it again!”

And of course he did and I was roughed up pretty good before being tossed from the house and having my belonging set on fire. But that’s not the point. The point is, I finally found the strength to not only defend my brother but to stand up for myself as well.

If that day never happened, I wouldn’t have gone to college and received my degree. I would have kept dating losers instead of finding my husband, a man who is convinced there is nothing I can’t do, and tells me so daily. If that day never happened, I wouldn’t have survived querying agents, submitting to editors, and wouldn’t have my book deal.

You see, I queried KATANA and another novel for two years before landing my agent. Each rejection (and there were a lot of them) was like the step-dad. “You’re not good enough,” they’d whisper. “You’re never going to make it. You’re writing sucks. Just save yourself the trouble and give up now.”

I could have done just that; given up and spared myself the pain of rejection. But that’s the thing – yeah rejections suck ducks, but they’re just pieces of paper. Take it from someone who takes martial arts – I’m not gonna lie, getting punched in the face hurts like a mother. But an email? A letter? Not so much.

If you believe in yourself, if you can take a hit, nothing and nobody can knock you down.

You got a rejection?

Do it again. I dare you. Do it again.


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Matthew Rush said...

Wow Cole, props to you for sharing such a personal story. I love how you turned it to your benefit. I had a very similar experience in my own life and finally found redemption years later.

The best revenge is living well and you have definitely proven that foolish man was dead wrong. I only hope your little brother is doing as well as you are.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Thanks for sharing this story. i'm so glad you were able to get out of that situation and prove to yourself that you're good enough. Congrats on your book deal and on never giving up! Very inspiring.

Jamie Grey said...

Wow Cole - I think you're my new hero! Thank you for sharing that story and showing us all that we should never give up. I'm so glad that you've made it and found a wonderful husband and are being published. What a victory over such ignorance and hate!

shasha said...

very well said...nothing can really knock a person down if he/she believes in himself/'s not what others think of you that matters but your own self worth.

Eric said...

It amazes me and yet doesn't. I've always found Cole to be an inspiring person, and I'm glad that person came out rather than be swallowed by the evils of an ignorant and abusive step-dad. Thank you for sharing this part of you Cole.

Cole Gibsen said...

Thanks everyone for the kind words. There's always strength to be found in adversity. Also, one thing I learned by connecting with other writers - there are definitely more people in this world with good open hearts than there are bad.

Cole Gibsen said...

Thank you everyone for the kind words. If I can inspire one person to keep pulling ahead with my personal experiences - well, then I've accomplished what I set out to do. There is definitely strength to be found in adversity.

Anonymous said...


Your husband has it absolutely right: You can accomplish anything.

Congratulations on the first of what's sure to be many, many book deals.

MBW aka Olleymae said...

Cole, I love how you use that painful experience to push yourself toward accomplishment.

You're experiencing the dream of many writers, but you could have moped around and never tried.

Congrats and thanks for being brave! I do hope your brother was okay as well.

Cole Gibsen said...

Thank you everyone, again, for your wonderful comments.

For those who asked - the bro is doing great :) He's twenty-five now and has a wicked sense of humor, just graduated from college, and is going about following his dream of becoming a screen-play writer.

How could he not turn out great with me as his big sis looking out for him? LOL :D

Talli Roland said...

What a brilliant story! How generous of Cole to share it - so inspiring.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Cole: Thank you for making me tear up at work. Seriously, you're an inspiration. Completely and totally.

Elana Johnson said...

This is the best story. And I don't mean best in a good sort of way. Just the chills sort of way. I'm so glad you didn't give up.

Sharla said...

Gave me're the bomb, girl! You are truly inspirational.

Caledonia Lass said...

Thanks for sharing this, Cole! I'm inspired. I have my own personal issues I've finally managed to deal with. It's like a weight off of my shoulders and I'm ready to take on the querying world because of it.

Carolyn V. said...

I am so sorry you had such a rough young life. But...You go girl! I'm so glad you stood up for yourself! I'm so glad you are where you are. Thanks for the inspiration Michelle! =)

beth said...

Wow...this was a powerful story. Wow. Thanks for sharing it!

Jemi Fraser said...

Kids shouldn't have to live through this. It breaks my heart to hear and see stories like this. As a teacher I see far too many of them.

Standing up to bullies is such a confidence boost. It takes guts and knowing you can do it makes you realize you can do anything.

I hope your brother was okay too. Thanks for sharing such a personal story.

Emsky said...

It's always encouraging to be reminded that something like gold can be found in pure suckiness. Congratulations for coming out on top and thanks for sharing. :-)I can't wait to read Katana!!

Zoe C. Courtman said...

What a powerful story. Thanks, Cole, for sharing and thanks Michelle for hosting a kick-ass Cole Gibsen experience :D

Brian Keaney said...

Terrific post! Brave and honest.

Slushpile Slut said...

So inspired by your Never give in & Fear nothing attitude! Thanks for this!

Also can't wait to read Katana!