It was in my early thirties that a very gifted counsellor called out the writer in me. She also sparked the ideas behind the time travel that features in my book A Lifetime of Impossible Days.
She asked me, ‘What does the pain look like?’ and I began to wonder. What if pain was a character? What if it had a voice? And then the more powerful question; how would I give my pain a voice?
It wasn’t long before an eight-year-old girl, (who would later be known as Super Gumboots Willa), and her chihuahua ran wild in my writings. Later still, a gumboot-loving, slightly muddled ninety-three-year-old named Silver Willa had things she wanted to say too.
The middle-aged woman, (later known as Middle Willa), was not as happy about meeting her younger and older selves as I had at first imagined. She didn’t know how to love her younger self and she wasn’t fighting for her future. And so it was that Willa Waters aged eight, thirty-three and ninety-three marched their way onto the pages of my book and grabbed my heart.
In my novel, mail can be sent forwards and backwards in time through Australia Post. And I’ve often wondered, what if? What would I write to my other selves? Here’s to Little Tab, aged five, Tab, aged fifteen, and Tabitha, aged twenty-five. On the other side of healing from our traumatic childhood, I humbly send you my letters.
Little Tab, aged 8
Dear Little Tab,
Oh, honey. My little five-year-old, story-telling, chihuahua-loving, self. My heart is forever with you.
I know you live in the land of storms where people yell and things crash and doors slam. I know you’re scared even when you say you are not. I know you cry when no one else is looking. I see you in your garden with your chihuahua named Wiggie, a warrior at your side, who follows you everywhere. I hear you telling stories to weeds and ferns and digging watering holes for fairies to visit. I see you with your little sister. How you imagine safe places and tell your sister stories about them. How much your words mean to both of you.
I see the summer you show her how to use her legs to swing higher, the songs you sing to her, the little camera you make out of cardboard toilet rolls so she could take photos of the world and the way you follow her around so you could make drawings of everything she photographs. Most of all, I see the way you and your sister huddle together. How, with your insides hammering, you whisper stories into her ears to drown out the sounds of Mummy crying. Oh, I know how much you want to be big so you can fight for her, so you can protect her.
And I want to tell you something. A few years from now you will climb the tree in your backyard to escape yet another fight inside your house and you will make a promise. You’ll tell yourself that you want to grow up and be a storyteller. You don’t know the word author yet, but you will, honey. One day you will. I want you to hang on to that promise. Hold it in your little fists and don’t let anyone take it from you.
If I was there with you right now, I’d hold you gently. I’d look into your face with all the dirt of digging, of running wild and I’d tell you that you make it. You make good on your little girl promise. And you do it by telling the best, most honest story of your whole life. I’m so proud of you. Of all the ways you struggle and the way you hold on to books and stories as if they were life. They are life and one day you will find your way by the light of your words. Right now all you need to know is that I love you. Just hold on. One day those storms will become rainbows.
Tab, aged 15
Ah, Tab. You know so much. Things no fifteen-year-old should know. And yet you know so little.
You know what it’s like to see your family ripped apart by violence, but you don’t know that you deserve gentleness. You know that a little sister can break even after you tried to hold her together, but you don’t know that she was never your responsibility. You know that pastors at churches don’t support your mother in leaving your father, but you don’t that trying to save your mother will never work. You know that being strong means you stand up for those who are huddled in the shadows, even when you are scared, but you don’t know how wrong, how abnormal the situation at home is. Right now, you think that the safest way to get through life is alone, but you don’t know that it’s okay to need people.
Tab, this will be the hardest thing you will ever learn. But you can let people in. There are good and safe people in this world. There will come a day, not too far from now that a sweet boy will ask how you are. Open your heart. He really wants to know. You will be afraid, but please let him in. He is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. Together you will grow up. Together you will find your swords and take down things that stand against you both. If I was there with you now, I know you wouldn’t let me hold you. But know this, one day you will. One day you will let me love you completely. You will know how deeply I accept all of you. I’m so sorry that it takes me a very long time to do this, but the day it happens is sweet and fresh and altogether healing. Don’t rush through your pain. Accept it along with all you are. For I am still just beginning to realise how precious it is to be you.
Tab, aged 25
Twenty-five feels like the edge of existence, doesn’t it? A place, an age, you often wondered if you’d live to see. But you did it. Teen years behind you. Scars upon your body, but you’re still here. You’ve married that boy you met when you were sixteen and he is life. Beautiful life. Together you are moving away from the family of your past. You are stitching new beginnings and holding each other tightly. I’m proud of you for this because I know how much intimacy scares you. Keep holding him. There is blessing in the gentleness of the two of you.
Tab, I know the thoughts inside you. How you think you’ve grown up. How anxious you are over the baby that grows within you and motherhood that looms before you. Know this; you make a wonderful mother. Not a perfect mother, but a messy, living, breathing, mistake-making, wholehearted mother. And your babies, (yes, there will be more than one), will one day come to you with strong voices of their own and firm legs beneath them. You gave them that. Stand tall beside them.
And yet, Tab, I see you. How much you are still hiding. In a few years you will have to deal with your past. Yes, I was there when you buried the truth of what happened to you. I know you haven’t told anyone yet. I know how much those words will hurt when you say them, but you must. Bravely, you must speak. The lonely story you’re living inside your mind is killing you. And it doesn’t have to end that way. You must turn to face the monsters. I know you can do it. Take hold of everything you’ve survived and find your strength. A counsellor will stand up for you. She will come alongside and fight for you. Please let her. Write to her when she invites you to. It is how you remember the promises you made when you were little. Remember that day you climbed the tree? How you wanted to be a storyteller? Think. Let your most honest words find you. That counsellor will see that you are a writer and she will become a midwife to your book. In the safety of her office you will peel back bandages over seeping wounds. I know how much you don’t want to look at them. How what happened to you disgusts you. But know this, the dream you have of becoming an author will be birthed from the ashes of your past. And I am cheering you on. The days ahead have a sun in the blue sky and I am there living with the result of all your hard work. So don’t give up. I’m counting on you.
All my love, Tab, at all your ages. You have all my love.