“Look!” I cried, as I walked through the woods behind my grandmother’s house on Easter Sunday, 1962, with my uncle. “A fairy, behind that tree!”
My uncle wrinkled his brow until his blond hairline shrank back against his ears. He peered under the ferns where I was pointing, seeming to take me seriously. Hope pounded in my throat—would he be the first one in my family to believe that I really did see fairies?
“No,” he said, shaking his head and pointing to a scurrying movement along the ground. “That’s not a fairy. That’s an Eastern chipmunk.”
I was only four, but I knew that what I had seen was not a chipmunk. Oh, I was glad to see the chipmunk, too. Glad enough to allow myself to be distracted long enough to call a cheery hello to the small brown creature. My uncle smiled and nodded, seeming to be satisfied that he had followed my mother’s instructions by turning away what she called my wild imagination.
It was sad, really—very sad. Because the fact that I saw fairies wasn’t the real issue. The attitude of society in the early 1960s didn’t smile on people who claimed to see things that others couldn’t see. In many ways, our country, and the world as a whole, was still putting itself back together after two world wars and a vicious fray with North Korea.
The general public longed for calm, agreement, and unity—at least as much as they understood unity. Which really meant that they really wanted to silence everyone’s squeaky wheels, or make believe that they didn’t exist just long enough for the collective consciousness to catch its breath. There was a desperate need for things to just work without having to be fiddled with, coddled, or given special attention.
That stunted the growth of awareness by quite a large measure, especially in the area of family dynamics. I wondered as I grew older if the need to be oblivious was at least partly why the development of statistics around domestic abuse was delayed until I was grown.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
To return to the woods behind my grandmother’s house and the Easter afternoon walk with my uncle, I know it sounds weird, and that there will be those who decide that I couldn’t have known that I was different at age four. But I did. In fact, I had known that my perceptions of this world were different since around age two.
The fairies helped a lot, actually. I spent my first two years surviving abuse and neglect in a tiny apartment in a brownstone building in Paterson, New Jersey. The only sense I had of the outside world was what I saw through the window,and the few times my mother walked to the store with me. Usually she just left me alone, but thankfully for whatever reason, there were times she decided to take me with her.
It was in an overgrown empty lot between two towering brick buildings where I first saw the fairies. I caught the briefest glimpse of their golden hair, delicate wings, and gauzy clothing as they flitted among the daisies and dandelions growing over the discarded tin cans, sprung mattresses, and empty beer bottles.
“Look, Mommy!” I’d cried. “Fairies!”
I don’t know where I’d gotten the idea of fairies. The word just sprang to my lips when I saw the tiny beings.
My mother’s dark eyebrows knit together at my words. She yanked my arm, pulling me against one of the brick buildings, almost treading on one of the winged fairies.
“Listen, you little brat!” she snarled in a low voice, glancing around to make sure no one had heard what I said. “There is no such thing as fairies! If anyone hears you say you saw a fairy, they’ll throw you in the crazy house! Is that what you want?”
Her energy was so stabbing, so intrusive, and so pointed, it felt like my insides were simultaneously shriveling and freezing.
“N-no,” I managed to answer.
“All right, then!” she snapped, dragging me back onto the sidewalk. “I don’t want to hear any more about it!”
But even in my toddlerhood, I knew what I saw. I looked over my shoulder as my mother towed me down the street, toward the empty lot. One of the fairies rose from a flower, her face glowing with sunlight and nodded at me.
So I couldn’t let it go. Oh, I puzzled it out for awhile, trying to remember where I’d heard of fairies. My mother’s reaction proved that she hadn’t told me about them. We didn’t have a television set, so I couldn’t have learned about them there. But I was young enough that trying to logic out ideas for too long wasn’t possible. And so I tried to just smile knowingly and say nothing when I saw fairies. Just as I tried to find a quiet place to be and say nothing when my parents yelled and threw things and hurt each other. I had an inner sense of knowing what a more mature person would do. I just wasn’t old enough to be as quiet and as knowing as I needed to be.