Stories of Dead Girls & Other People You Don’t Want to Be

dad and his wife now
dad and his wife now

I called it The Tour of Death. “Six people died in this intersection,” she said. “A semi ran the stop sign and killed a car filled with kids.”

“You remember when we drove by here and there was all that yellow police tape?” she asked a while later. “Man shot his son in the driveway.”

“Used to find bodies in the woods back there, you know,” she said a few miles further down.

“I read in the paper ’bout a man just last weekend got himself drunk and jumped in that lake,” she said and pointed. “Skinny-dipping at three o’clock in the morning. Gator got him.”

Somewhere along the way she mentioned a place we didn’t have the luck to drive by. “Did you hear about the baby taken from her house? I think the parents did it.”

My dad’s third wife knows every story of abuse, rape, and death within a days’ drive and then some. Before I’d get in the car to drive, alone, the near 1,000 miles back up to college in Indiana, she’d tell me a story of a girl taken from a parking lot and cut into pieces. I’d nod, tell her I’d be careful, and then go and snap at the first man to talk to me at a gas station. I don’t talk to strangers.

My dad’s second wife kept a folder of such tales. The first time I learned about the folder, she was angry with my step-sister and I for being late home. It was easy to be late because she tended to change our curfew without telling us. You stupid girls. I meant a half hour before sunset!

She shouted about all the terrible things that could happen to 11-year-old girls out of sight of the house. She brought out a blue folder, the kind we took to school for our homework, sat her daughter down on the bed and showed her the clippings she had of molested or dead children and young women. She waved the folder in N.’s face. She didn’t, however, show it directly to me and I wondered if she wouldn’t mind too much if I went missing.

My dad’s first wife was my mother. My mom believed a girl needed the truth about the facts of life if she were to keep herself safe–or as safe as could be expected. When I was 14 my mom took me to the airport in Houston. I had to fly back to Orlando on my own. “If you get lost,” she said, “don’t accept help from any strangers.” She went on to explain what could happen to a girl who accepted any help, like a meal, from a stranger or even the stranger’s girlfriend. He would make you pay him back.

The stories we’re told when we’re young must influence the stories we think to tell. Maybe I’m imagining things, but I’m fairly sure that echoes of these stories appear in my fiction. What stories were you told that appear in what you write? Do you think these stories help or hinder your creative process today?

4 thoughts on “Stories of Dead Girls & Other People You Don’t Want to Be

  1. Actually, I don’t have that many stories which were told to me when young — not this sort of story, anyhow. (But I do have lots of stories from when I was young — stories the family has repeated over and over, so it takes just a catchword or -phrase to launch one another into full-blown storytelling mode.)

    Mostly, I think my stories now reflect a general growing-up-in-a-small-town sense, without being influenced by specific tales actually heard. There’s a fantasy writer named Robert McCammon; the only book of his I’ve read is Boy’s Life — and that, years ago. But in the same way I remember that book capturing both the reality and the mysterious unreality of small-town Alabama, my own stuff probably couldn’t come from anybody without at least a smidgen of small-town South Jersey in them.

    The small town my mother grew up in (also in South Jersey) plays a huge part, albeit heavily disguised, in the WIP. I moved it to Pennsylvania, renamed it and most of the streets. But a lot of the buildings are there. And the cemetery, in much larger — almost unnaturally larger — form.

    Dang. I never know where these questions of yours are gonna take me…

  2. Those are great stories… I mean not in reality, but for the purpose of writing. Those wives… what’s with your dad and his choice of morbid ladies? All his wives are each such individual characters– at least the way you tell it.

    Influencing my stories? I think there might be something about the government out to get you and “Them,” and how the revolutionary is the real hero.

    Those are from my dad, the political, conspiracy theory hippie lunatic. My mom liked fiction and stories and fairy tales and fantasy and romance.

    Smoosh the two together and there’s my stories..

  3. JES, I suppose I’m glad you don’t know where you’re going to go.

    rowena, his wife were individual. Why my always cheerful dad has a thing for morbid women, I’ve no idea. Don’t know if I want to know. You, however, sound like you’ve got a good combination for story-telling.

    Shelly, glad to hear it.

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