The room I lived in for the first fifteen years of my life had no windows.
My only glimpse into the outside world was through the books that lined the walls, the only concession to freedom that I was allowed. For this I am grateful.
My mother’s name is Miranda Jackson. She is a small woman with brown hair that she wears in a thick plait, which hangs half way down her back. It was my father, Jonathan Steadman, who kidnapped her on her way home from school in Los Angeles when she was fifteen. I was born a year later.
Apart from the books, the only comforts in that incarceration were a bed, a toilet and a washbasin. The only sounds were of crying and occasionally shouts and desperate screams. The smells, apart from cooking, were unpleasant and sour. It’s only now that I can compare such things.
My mother named me Annie, after her favourite doll, because she told me that I was like a little doll when I was born. I arrived on the kitchen floor with only my father to assist her. Apart from what I read in books, it was my mother who taught me about love. I did not understand about hope and freedom.
But I understood that my father was a wretch and I hated him. I hated the terror he brought when he visited me alone. I hated the smell of sweat and lust that he left behind, and which lingered on my body hours after his visits and which washing never seemed to remove, no matter how hard I scrubbed my skin. Somehow feeling that it was my fault, I never told my mother about what happened.
Mother was locked into my room each day when my father went to work. It was here that she taught me to read and write. She told me that, with the passing of time, her hopes of being found faded, even though the house in which she was brought up was only five blocks away. Her eyes became dull when she talked of lost hopes and dreams and it was then that I tried to distract her.
‘Let’s read a book, Mother,’ I coaxed.
‘Yes, what shall we read today?’ And she smiled; her eyes back in the present – back with me again. We would drink our iced tea and find a modicum of escape.
When the tornado hit, my life changed with the wind. One minute I was reading and the next, one half of the house was blown down. The rest is a blur. I remember Mother rushing into my room, grabbing me and then running onto the street. The light pierced my eyes like knives and my mother’s hand gripped me so hard that it hurt.
‘Help us. Someone help us!’ Mother yelled.
We were taken to hospital and then the police arrived to question us. They told us that my father had been killed in the tornado, crushed by falling debris, and I was pleased. Justice was borne on the wind that day. When we left the hospital a line of beautiful people with cameras was waiting for us. The nurses too were beautiful and so were the police.
This new world I live in is too big for me. I am gradually growing into it, but it is not easy. The psychologists have explained that I may always struggle with normal life. But I don’t know what normal is. My body is free but my mind is forever trapped within the walls of my fear. Fear of crowds, fear of noise, fear of traffic, fear of what people think of us. And still I fear the nightmares that remind me of my old prison.
Those beautiful people, the first people that I saw upon leaving the hospital, are journalists. I don’t think of them as beautiful friends anymore. They are a threatening intrusion and a menace.
I still live with my mother, escaping the press by hiding away in a remote part of Virginia. We own a small farmhouse, which overlooks fields and huge, endless skies. Even in winter, I open my bedroom window each day and taste the pure, sweet air. In summer I listen to birdsong and watch the wild flowers nod in the breeze. We keep chickens, grow vegetables and rarely leave the farm.
My only refuge is my writing. And my books, of course. They are not windows now, but comforts and friends.
About the Author
Sue Cross has published two novels, Tea at Sam’s and Making Scents. She likes to draw on her travel experiences when writing. You can visit her on her website http://www.suecross.com