Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down!
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down!” Robert Frost wrote these words that I have read again and again in one of my favorite poems, Mending Wall. So after careful consideration, I chose mymendingwall for the title of my blog. As a studious child, I read everything I could get my hands on. This was my escape from my life. From Edgar Arlington Robinson, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Kennedy Toole, Walker Percy, Tennessee Williams, Charles Dickens, the list goes on for days. But Robert Frost? Well, he is probably my favorite poet of all time. Prolific is not grandiose enough to describe how much I read the words of these gifted writers and how their words affected my life. My life became words on paper that translated to movies in my mind. I imagined myself there, with Robert Frost, repairing the wall that needed mending in Springtime after the gaps were made. I took great strides in ensuring that my wall was always strong, always walling out anyone who tried to penetrate it. I embraced the notion that “Good fences make good neighbors.” I always knew who I was walling in or out. I spent an enormous amount of energy mending my wall, keeping a facade, pretending to be something I wasn’t.
The peculiar thing is that I didn’t really want to be the kind of character that I worked at so diligently perfecting. As long as the outside looked the way society deemed necessary without disapproval from my mother, I worked frantically at creating a persona that I did not, myself, find amiable. This was not who I wanted, nor intended, to be: a cheerful, bubbly girl whom everyone liked, but no one, including me, knew. I became a girl who liked what her friends liked, whose feelings and thoughts were dictated by her peers. I became the girl who people could take advantage of, and did, quite frequently. I didn’t altogether mind, at first. For this was the price to pay for having friends, for having acceptance, for having love. As long as I did what people expected, I was accepted. Or so I thought. When I was with my friends, being that cheerful, bubbly version of peppiness and positivity, I felt happy. At least that’s what I told myself. I was acclimated to conditional affection; I endured that each day at home. Being this girl was even better with my friends because they never yelled or screamed. They never called me a stupid, f*%#ing b*#ch nor told me that they wished I had never been f*%#ing born like my mother and step-father did almost daily.
Each incident of abuse was another stone for the wall, and my Great Wall was my fortress, the stronghold that kept people at bay. Inside my citadel, I created the world I wanted, where I was the beloved. The stories that I invented, and lived vicariously in through my imagination, could be written into volumes and volumes of text. For living in my mind in these created fantasies was my main coping skill when I found myself in the midst of abuse or witnessing it. I became entranced in the concocted stories in my mind. I read a study about Maladaptive Daydreaming by Dr. Eli Somers that describes the obsessive daydreaming in more detail. It was an Ah-ha moment for me, for I then knew I was not alone after all these years of thinking I was some kind of freak.
In the beginning, as early as five years old, I created imaginary friends and played with those. I had elaborate fantasies that I played out with my baby dolls, paper dolls, and Barbie dolls. I’d rather play with these toys alone instead of with other children. But as I grew older, the scenarios were more detailed and involved. I was always the main character in the daydreams, as were imaginary and real people. I cared for the characters and vise versa.
In high school, my best friend and I wrote letters to each other (pre-internet and pre-cell phones) with elaborate musings of our lives with our favorite rock band members. Our letters portrayed us as well-loved and revered by all the other characters. We wrote pages and pages of manuscript. I relished her letters to me and read them again and again. I never told her that the fantasy scenarios were extended by me as I lay in bed at night trying to go to sleep, as I sit in class, in church, or even at home just listening to music. I jumped into the screen at the movies. I leap onto each page of a book I read. The escape knew no bounds. I often wondered if the same thing happened in her life. We never talked about it. I didn’t have “real” conversations with people outside my wall; my head was spinning with excitement, adventure, or drama that no one else was privy to. I could say and do things in my fantasy stories that no one could judge in a negative light. In my real life, I only said the things that were necessary. The daydreams were always playing in the background during my waking hours.
Once when I was a small child, my mother and step-father were arguing, both had been drinking. He decided he was going to leave her, so she grabbed the keys to his car. The name calling started, and he raised his hand to strike her. That’s when we knew to scramble to our rooms. We could hear the yelling, knocking, breaking noises as he beat her. We listened intently for the footsteps that sometimes came to our rooms for my step-father to relinquish this anger upon us. When that happened, when we first heard the footsteps louder and louder moving in our direction, I can remember my heart pounding, my face feeling flush, as a panic attack ensued.
This time, I remember my thoughts drifting as I closed my eyes, blocking out all the noise, all the chaos. I saw myself in the story of Sleeping Beauty, waiting for a magic spell to wake me and reveal a beautiful life. Entranced in the daydream, I didn’t hear the footsteps this time, but they came barreling in like a hurricane. I was yanked out of my trance and back into the moment where a belt was lashing me, for what reason, I never knew. As I crouched there, huddling in the corner of my bedroom, taking a beating from a maniacal psychopath, I closed my eyes again, took a deep breath and ignored the pain, the stinging, the burning that came with each wallop. My thoughts were obsessed with revisiting my reverie. This is my earliest memory with being obsessed with daydreams.
It’s funny how life turns out. All that reading made an impact on my career choice. I am a Reading Specialist, and in that role, I work with teachers to improve their literacy instruction, but I also work with struggling readers. I still read, both juvenile literature and adult literature, for academic purposes and pleasure. Sometimes when I read a new book where comparisons to my childhood are eerily similar, I contemplate writing some of my stories, real and imaginary. When I see a child that I suspect has been abused, I wonder if they have a place in their head to go to when things get really, really bad. Instilling a love of literature may get them there, for that is one coping mechanism that served its purpose fully.
As an adult, once I felt fulfillment in my real life, my daydreams were not as severe and addictive. Once the stress or anxiety returns, so with it the daydream. For over forty years I have kept the secret of the life in my head, the life behind the wall, with fear that I suffered from delusions or some other mental illness. All these years, I’ve kept my wall mended so that no one else could see. As Robert Frost proposes to his neighbor, I propose to myself, “There were it is we do not need a wall.” That proposition breaks years and years of isolation and opens a path for my journey of recovery.