I was at lunch with a couple of managers two weeks ago; they were interested in discussing potential futures for They Live Among Us.
The chat was amiable, the kind of small talk people make when they are feeling one another out: the weather, carbs or no, yoga versus jogging.
Suddenly, one of the men leaned into me and said, “Tell me. What prompted you to write this?”
“I’m a writer,” I replied. “This is what I do.”
He waved his hand. “Yes, yes. I know. But why this? What happened in your life to make you write this?”
This wasn’t the first time that I had been asked this. I’ve a list of replies: I like words, I’m passionate about Shakespeare, I love mythology, I’m interested in the dichotomy of life in Los Angeles…
…and indeed, all of the above are true… and yet, all of the above are lies.
I grew up in what seemed to be the most idyllic of settings. My father had acquired a large, rambling estate. Built by convict labor in the early 1900s, it was the summer home of a state supreme court justice by the name of Ben Arnold. Arnold and four other judges were eventually indicted for some sort of fraud; Arnold died before he served his time, and the estate passed in and out of hands. For a time, it was a casino/speakeasy. Eventually, it was given to the Catholic church and turned into a boy’s home. It was abandoned and left crumbling in a sorrowful state, and was put up for auction, which is when my father purchased it. For the next couple of years we moved in stages, first occupying the gatehouse, and finally moving into the main residence after it was deemed livable. It is in a beautiful part of my home state, surrounded by hills and trees; the woods are populated with deer, coyotes and wild turkeys. It was heaven for a young girl to play in… for a while.
My parents had friends with four children; one of them, the eldest boy was quite a troublemaker. Apparently he caused enough trouble at home that they felt that they needed to place him elsewhere while his problems were being worked out. And so, he moved into our house.
I was a latchkey child; my father traveled for work, and my mother was working to acquire her Master’s degree, so often I found myself alone. This was not a problem for me; I was an imaginative girl, full in the throes of the magical child, and quite good at self-entertaining. There were books to read and games to play and the splendor of Mother Nature to keep me occupied.
It was on one of these typical days that I let myself into the house, only to hear screams coming from upstairs. I dashed up the staircase to discover our new houseguest writhing on the floor, his friend a few feet away with a strange smirk on his face. I asked the troublemaker what was wrong and he told me that a snake had bitten him and that if I did not suck out the poison he would die.
That was the first time he forced his penis into my mouth.
I was nine.
The abuse continued, in several different forms, for a long time. I’m not certain how many incidents there were, as my memory is like a puzzle with many pieces missing, a coping mechanism, I have been told. I can say that it was certainly more than once, and probably less than a hundred.
Abuse – especially sexual abuse – is an insidious thing, for the damage does not cease when the act does. It continues on, deep inside your soul. It lives; it gives birth to inner demons named Guilt, Shame, Worthlessness.
We’re told to write what we know, and so I have. I am Serafina. I am Lillith. I’ve known more than one Rocco; I’ve been with men who have raped me, have struck me, have hurled profanities at me and pummeled me with words like fists. As an actress, I became well-acquainted with the world of the flesh-eaters. I’ve stood in Beth’s shoes, and I’ve trembled in fear.
And as a young girl, I prayed for Caim. I waited, helpless, my innocence ravaged, for someone to protect me. A guardian angel. Someone who would make everything alright…
…but he never appeared. And so, I began to make the lonely transformation from victim into survivor, for I’ve come to realize that there is no one out there that will protect and defend me. For that, I must turn to myself.