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?