This story is by KS PIERCE and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Slouching on the couch eating leftover Halloween candy, Pam appeared to be watching T.V., however, she was not. Her mind was churning with frustration, anger, and the vital ache for space to create. Pam became acutely aware of a creative force inside her and that overruled all other thoughts.
One day Pam nonchalantly asked her Mother, “Mom? If just one of the rooms in our house burned down, would we have to move?”
“Why yes!” her mother replied, Pam let this information seep into her young brain while her mom chuckled to herself at the ridiculousness of the question.
Not fully understanding the insistence of this creative desire, Pam lay on her bed, in a room shared by her two sisters, and silently screamed and screamed and screamed inside herself.
Fifth grade was liberating for Pam. The teachers treated the older kids like they were the leaders of the school. This made Pam very happy; she felt a little like the jar of her soul had suddenly popped open. A creative muse that Pam felt all the time kept pushing her to create.
Every Thursday the dry-cleaning man dropped by her home to pick up the clothes piled on a double-high chair which was also used as a step stool. One Wednesday, after school, while the clothes were still piled high, Pam decided this was the day she would begin the process of getting her own room.
At this point, Pam was beginning to feel outside of herself, as if her next move could only be executed if she shut down everything inside her. Mechanically, she reached for a matchstick, lit it from the gas stove burner, and moved to the clothes on the chair beside the refrigerator.
<“No, no, that is my favorite red velvet shirt ! And not my favorite vest!” >were her only thoughts. Standing at the chair Pam held the flame to the back of her favorite vest. Perhaps somewhere deep inside, there was some consolation in starting with her own clothes, like quickly ripping off a Band-aid.
She stood, entranced by the flame holding her 11-year-old mind and body hostage. The fire grew faster than she’d imagined possible; a stab of fear suddenly brought her to her senses. Pam fled the house to get her little sister from the neighbors. She walked Dina back home, fighting off the urge to run.
Nearing the back door, Pam slowed with uncertainty. When she opened it, smoke came billowing out.
Dina began to cry whimpering, “I’m scared, Pam.”
Pam had never heard this kind of fear from nine-year-old Dina before. Not even when she got a bare-bottomed spanking from Dad was she rattled. Dina had simply pulled up her pants and informed Dad, “That didn’t hurt”.
Grabbing Dina’s hand, they ran straight through the peach tree orchard to the neighbors on the other side of the house. As soon as the neighbor’s house came into view, the girls began to yell and scream for help, nearly falling through the door as it opened.
“Do you want me to call your mom or the fire department first?” Mrs. Whiteman asked in a ruffle. In unison, the girls yelled “MOM! Call our mom!”
After what seemed like a long time, could have been minutes or hours; Pam didn’t know. Someone said it was time to go home. the girls walked home to find their Mother at the kitchen table babbling and bawling, shuffling through charred papers, her face streaked with black tears from her mascara.
Pam felt bad for Mom and began to feel guilty. She crumbled on the inside, but she managed to maintain composure on the outside.
Pam doesn’t remember much of the rest of this day, the day she set the house on fire.
The swing-set stood proudly in the backyard, still solid, despite the rusting and peeling green paint. Pam sat in the swing, her limp posture the human equivalent of a sigh. Her head was down, her shoulders hunched with feet pigeon-toed in the dirt. Her legs, very long for her eleven years, dwarfed the swing. She appeared to be waiting for the earth to open up and swallow her whole.
She didn’t look up even as I approached to stand in front of her.
“Do you want to talk about it, Pam?”
She acknowledged my presence with a shrug. “Don’t know.”, she muttered, her head downcast.
“It always helps to talk about it, I promise.”
Perhaps considering my words, she lifted her head a little, but kept her gaze trained straight ahead, unwilling to look at me. “You know what I did.” It was a statement not a question.
“Yes Pam,” I agreed, ” I know.”
Trying valiantly to hold her emotions inside, Pam’s chin began to quiver, “Will I go to jail?” she whispered.
“No.” I whispered back. “They don’t put little girls in jail.”
She began a slight rocking motion in the swing, nervously shuffling her long legs. “If people find out what I did, they’ll think I’m bad.” she cried. Tears of grief, of heartfelt remorse trickled down her cheeks.
“Nobody else knows, Pam. You made a bad choice. Don’t let that choice rule you. You are beautiful on the inside and out. Especially inside where your compassion and sensitivity live.”
Pam continued to stare straight ahead.
“Let’s pretend you have a balloon for all to see.” I continued. “Inside that balloon is what you did – your secret – and only you know what it is. Imagine tying that balloon around your wrist permanently; at school you’d want to keep it from hitting others in the head, so you’d have to keep it pretty close to you. . Imagine having a bath, or sleeping while trying to control that balloon around your wrist. Can you envision that, Pam?”
Pam continued to cry silently, but her expression became thoughtful as she imagined the burden of dragging the balloon around, with her secret inside, day in and day out. After some reflection, she shook her head, “I never thought about it that way.” she finally confessed.
You can’t carry this secret your whole life. Isn’t it just easier to let it go?”
“Letting go won’t change what I did.” Pam insisted flatly.
I held my arms out to her and she slipped into them, still avoiding my gaze. “Let it go, Pam,” I whispered.
Pam began to sob uncontrollably then, her tears running down my shoulder. Stroking her hair gently, I whispered, “Let it all go, Pam”. Imagine you’re cutting the string, setting the balloon free with your secret inside. Imagine watching it fly higher and higher into the sky until it disappears.”
Her sobs began to subside and I knew she was trying.
“Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Put all this behind you. Can you do that now?”
Pam looked up into my eyes for the first time. “I want to do that.” she pleaded. “I want to forget about it forever!”
Our eyes finally locked and an invisible, knowing, exchange passed between us. Pam was letting it go, I realized. Trading grief, guilt and remorse for forgiveness and love.
Suddenly, as if she’d just awakened, Pam leaned forward for a deeper look into my eyes; hers were narrow and inquisitive. “Who are you?” she asked.
“I am you, Pam. And you are me. We are finally free.”