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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