Before we get things started today, some news. While I no longer offer manuscript critiques, writers of YA, middle grade, early reader, or picture books can find comfort in the arms of the ever-amazing (and co-founder of imaginary band Oh, the Humanities!) Tracy Marchini. Tracy recently left Curtis Brown after four years of working in the children's department. She is also a YA and MG writer herself, so she definitely knows her stuff. More info on Tracy's critique guidelines can be found HERE.
And now, story time. The title of this memoir excerpt, Second Chance, is just a coincidence, but you might remember our featured writer, Melissa Mendelson from her previous appearance on Glass Cases in which she shared her fiction.
Melissa started writing in 2002 as a reporter for the Suffolk County newspaper, and began freelancing two years later. Since then, she's self-published two prose poetry collections, Silent Dreams and Tears of Sand, and has been published on the websites, WildSound, Author's Den and Associated Content. I am very excited that Melissa has returned to Glass Cases with some nonfiction and I hope you enjoy it too!
By Melissa R. Mendelson
The days of my past are left in darkness. No longer will I allow myself to be chased by what I cannot change. That girl is long gone, and the ones that left their scar behind are no more. And I have become the woman I am today.
But I remember those days. My childhood remains were left shattered along the corridors of Birch Lane, where I found no acceptance, and as my family moved far upstate did I find no place to call my own. And as the long years of childhood gave in to the lost days of youth did I wander, struggling to understand myself, but there was no one to turn to. And the road of my life cut me so deep, and those that saw me as weak dug their claws in, tearing me from mind to heart. And it took forever to lay the past to rest, but I still remember. How could I ever forget?
My pain could hardly be silenced, and the ink flowed dark across the pages of poetry. And only then could my heart breathe, but my soul still cried. And comfort was sought and found in food, but I could not eat away at my depression. I had to find another way.
And the men of my life were not the white knights that I struggled to find, and they were far from saints. Their mind games left me broken, and their cruel touch twisted around a web that held me prisoner. But I broke free five years ago, and no more will my door remain open to them. But it took me forever to get here.
The days of school were often long, and my sentence was nearly over. But the rides on the school bus were hell, and sanctuary was far from home. Battles waited to be waged between my brothers and I, and responsibilities would weigh down upon my shoulders. Dinner had to be made, dishes to be done, and helping my younger siblings with their homework had to be completed before the night came to an end, and tomorrow would be another day like today. And my only sanctuary lied within a notebook filled with words that I could not say, emotions denied from release, but the writing kept me alive.
My father worked every single day, supporting my family, and my mother raised her six kids. But the burden of such a large family was too much at times, and finances were strained. And tension turned into bitter arguments and slamming doors, but in the end, we pulled together. And over time, our bonds grew strong, but back then, they were not there for me to talk to. I had to grow up on my own.
The trials of my life have become my definition, and my struggles have molded my writing. And from the roots of dark poetry did the creativity flourish, and my pen turned to the short stories. And as I continued to struggle to stand, struggle to know myself did my soul pour forth across the page, fueling a fire within that threatened to be extinguished, and God knows how hard I have fallen many times. But through faith did I find the strength to stand and push forward, but those were the longest years of my life.
I’ve lived a large portion of my life alone, and the fingers of depression threatened to tear me in half. The need for life, the hope for love was a cold wind blowing through the corridors of my soul, and my heart bled. And as time went on, I fell deeper and deeper into the black, struggling to find a hand to grab onto, but I would not stand on my own for many more years to come. But someone knew of my pain, and she saved my life.
It was 1997. My high school days came to an end on a hot June of 1996, and now my time was spent lost at Orange Community. The man at my side did not carry my best intentions at heart, and he was another tale woven into a web of lies and cruelty. And life at home was still filled with tension, but no more were battles waged between siblings. War grew between my parents and me.
“What are you doing with your life? Where are you going? Writing is a hobby not a career. Pull your head out of the clouds. Start being realistic. Why don’t you marry him? Your mother is a housewife. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you’ll be taken care of. What are you going to do with your life?”
There was no escape. I was failing most of my classes, and the writing had crawled to a halt. And arguments waited to commence every time I walked through that door, and the walls of my room were closing in. And I needed to leave, but where would I go? What would I do?
It was cold tonight, and the ground beneath my feet was hard. Laughter rustled through the trees, and beer cans were tossed into the grass. And sweet smoke lifted up to the air, and feet dangled over a wooden, rocky bridge. And the essence of nature drifted across the wilderness of Greenwood Lake, and for a moment, I found peace.
“Why don’t you join us?” I shook my head. “Everyone is having a good time but you.” I looked at my boyfriend. “How about a beer?”
“No thanks.” Our eyes held each other. “I know what you want,” I thought, “but you’ll be disappointed.” A sigh escaped my lips. “How long will we be out here tonight? It’s getting late.”
“We’ll head back soon.” With that said, he walked away.
I can’t live life like this. I can’t spend my days trying to figure out what to do with myself and then come home to deal with my parents. I can’t hang out in the woods every other night while his friends get high. This isn’t what I wanted for myself, and I’ll be damned to become a housewife. I know I can do better than that, but how do I get there?
She was the only one, who understood me. She knew I was drowning, and nobody would save me. My parents figured I would sink or swim, and my boyfriend hoped for me to stay within his arms. And I was struggling for air, and I needed to be saved. And she heard my prayer.
But as plans were put into motion to bring me home to her, death stepped in, and before I could say good-bye, my grandmother, Lillian Cohen was gone. My depression left me cold, and all those tears shed during sleepless nights refused to flow as I stood beside her grave. And she was gone, and nobody was there to save me. I was left to my demise.
A whistle rang through the kitchen, and steam escaped into the air. Water boiled, and tea bags were dipped gently into mugs. And a light shined over the table, where I sat, and my eyes were filled with nothing. I could feel nothing.
My aunt slowly sat before me. Her eyes studied me for a long moment. She slowly passed a mug over to me, and she watched me start to drink it. Her own fingers curled around her hot mug, but she did not drink from it. Instead, her mind boiled with thought, choosing her words carefully.
“She was making plans for you to come and live with her and your grandfather.” She saw surprise register in me. “She knew what was going on.” Her eyes held mine. “She didn’t understand how your parents never saw how depressed you were, and they weren’t saving you. So she would do it.” Her eyes fell down into the mug. “But she got sick.” She was silent for a moment. “It’s your choice. If you choose to fulfill her plans, I will help you. I will talk to your grandfather and make sure it is alright with him, if you come and stay with him. It won’t be easy, and I hope you know that.” I slowly nodded. “Good because I’m not going to let you slack off. If you come here and go to Nassau Community, I expect you to do your homework, get good grades, and make something of your life.” I nodded again. “She would not and will not want to see you waste your life. Do you understand?”
“So, what’s your decision?”
I did not expect this. I was angry at my mother for never calling her back, never visiting, but I heard the regret in her voice as she cried and spoke her farewells in the I.C.U. I was angry at my father for not letting me get to the hospital sooner to say my good-byes, and when I finally saw her, she was already gone. But I could not let my anger rule my decision.
And what was I leaving behind? My life was broken. I did not love him, and I knew that. Home life was stressing me to the point of breaking, and my parents did not understand me. I needed to leave, and this was my ticket. And if I left, what would wait for me ahead?
“Yes.” My eyes rose up toward my Aunt Sheila, and I tried to smile. “I want to do it.” She nodded and smiled. “I want to live,” I thought, “and make her proud.”
It’s now August. My grandfather agreed to have me come and live with him, and my aunt watched me like a hawk. My cousin and I would slam heads off and on, but she was dealing with loss too. And my grandmother was very close to her heart, and her home was my cousin’s home as well.
But now the time to start over has begun, and the past has been left behind. And no more would I look back or regret what I should have or should not have done, and the hands of depression fell away. And I was given a second chance, a silver lining in the heart of darkness, and I would not be who I am today, if not for my family. I would not have made it here, and I know I still have a long way to go, undo mistakes done afterward. But I am far from finished, and the writing has given wings to my dreams that no longer remain silent.