It’s true that you can never keep yourself completely out of your work, no matter how hard you try. Authors are always inserting themselves into their writing without meaning to. So the question for this post’s Q & A topic is a natural one:
Who Are You More Like, Michelle or J?
I’d say I’m actually a lot like both of them, even though they seem to be opposites in many ways.
A lot of Michelle’s bitterness at the beginning of the book was actually my bitterness. Over the years I had come to believe a lot of very damaging lies.
Like Michelle, I believed that people saw what they wanted to see and not what they didn’t. I believed that no one in authority was willing or able to protect me. I believed a lot of people in authority were either abusive or indifferent. I had a serious mistrust of authority and had long abandoned any hope that I could receive help or comfort from anyone except myself.
My feelings of bitterness – and later of abandonment – caused my mistrust of authority to shift into disrespectful and rebellious thinking. Because I felt like I was doing their job – protecting myself, looking out for myself – and because I felt that they had not only neglected but rejected me, I didn’t just mistrust authority. I felt like I didn’t need it, didn’t want it, and would be fine without it. (After all, I had to be – who else was going to look out for me?)
I think this mistrust of authority comes out a lot in The Inventor’s Slave. One of the things I really appreciate in Hunger Is the Best Sauce is the fact that Officer Howard is not a corrupt or abusive cop. When I began writing Hunger Is the Best Sauce, I still believed a lot of lies and still hadn’t healed from a lot of things, so “Chief” Delaney was a fair expression of how I viewed most people in authority. But by the end of the book, I had healed a lot, and I think the fact that Officer Howard is a good policeman is evidence of the progress I’ve been making with those issues.
But that’s not the only issue I had.
Bullies and Victims
One of the biggest lies I felt compelled to believe – as a result of the overwhelming amount of apparent evidence in the life experiences I’d had in prior months – was that there were only two kinds of people in the world: bullies and victims. And if you were tired of being a victim, the only answer was to be a bully.
I didn’t want to be either. What I wanted was to be left alone. But time and time again it seemed like that just wasn’t possible. It seemed like the fights I kept on trying to avoid were hunting me. I was sick of being walked all over, but I didn’t want to be a bully.
But then one day I finally snapped.
In that sense I’m like J. I’ve never been through anything half has horrific as J, but I did something I seriously regret.
People who really know me know that I didn’t mean for it to happen and that I tried repeatedly to remove myself from the situation beforehand because I had seen the way things kept on escalating and didn’t want things to end up the way they did.
On the one hand that’s a comfort – that people know me well enough to know “I’m not like that.”
But on the other hand, it’s not – because I did what I did, which means, inexcusably, that I am “like that.” No matter how justified it was, I still did it, and it was still wrong, and there is no excuse.
Like J, I struggle with the fact that what I did was wrong and I am never able to undo it.
Some people have congratulated me for what I did. Like Michelle asking J, “Aren’t you glad you did it? It needed to be done,” people have told me that someone should have done what I did a long time ago, that the other person had it coming and it was about time someone finally stood up to them.
But just because it needed to be done doesn’t mean I wanted to be the kind of person who would do it.
In many ways I was more devastated by the revelation that I was just as abusive – if not more so – than my abuser.
All along I had tried so hard to “do the right thing” – which I had misinterpreted at the time to mean “let other people do what they want to you because standing up for yourself is selfish” – only to kill my own character myself by doing something I never should have done.
And, because of what I did, I developed even more authority issues. While I could relate to the bitterness, mistrust, and disrespect that Michelle felt towards authority, I also began to fear authority.
Like J, I knew that I’d done something wrong, and I felt that whatever the authority figures decided to do with me as a result would be deserved and justified. So I was afraid to interact with them because I had an intense fear that I would screw up and bring judgment upon myself – judgment I knew I well deserved.
There was no point in asking anyone for mercy – after all, I had done what I’d done and didn’t deserve any mercy. But I wouldn’t have asked anyway, because I still harbored that old mistrust like Michelle that the authorities weren’t benevolent or merciful even when you hadn’t done something wrong, so how much worse would they be when you had?
Once again, all I wanted was to be left alone.
Time and Space
So now I’d been on both ends of the spectrum. I’d been a victim of bullies and I had become a bully to avoid being a victim.
But I realized the cost of being a bully was more than I wanted to pay.
I hated myself enough that I didn’t think that I was really worth so high a price.
If that was the toll for not being hurt by other people anymore, then I was in a lose lose situation.
I had no hope and decided all that I could do was kill myself.
I didn’t really want to die, but I couldn’t bear the thought of forcing myself to keep living how I was – miserable, because I was doomed either to be bullied or to be as bad as everyone I hated. And since I knew now – or I thought I did – that the bullies always won, I couldn’t believe things would get better.
That was another lie that I believed.
I believed it was impossible for things to turn around.
Jesus proved me wrong.
I had been a Christian for a long time, but, like I said, I had succumbed to so many lies that I had given up on trusting anybody to look out for me.
One night I was researching how to kill myself but make it look like it wasn’t suicide. A few years before this one of my dearest and closest friends committed suicide, and I knew what it was like to be on the grieving end. His family was my second family, and I’d seen the toll it takes on parents to know that their child chose to die intentionally.
So I didn’t want my family to know it was intentional. I didn’t want anyone else to suffer because of my choice. I just wanted my own suffering to stop.
But while I was searching for a method, two things related to my good friend’s death came to mind.
The first was a comment made by another friend of mine who knew us both. I was at her house shortly after my friend died, and she said, “God is sovereign, but He is merciful. Maybe God allowed this because, somehow, it was merciful.”
The second thought I had was that my friend was also a Christian. To this day I don’t know why he killed himself and suspect he may have been confused about some things. But I knew him well enough to know that there was no way he would have made such a major decision without first speaking to Jesus.
So, in the middle of my research on “accidental” suicide methods, I paused. I thought, “I can’t make a decision like this without first talking to Jesus.” So I stopped what I was doing and I started talking to Jesus. I told Him how bad I felt about everything. I told Him that I didn’t really want to die but couldn’t stand to keep on living in a world where the bullies always won. I told Him that I didn’t really want to kill myself but it seemed like the only solution within my control to make. I said, “If You don’t want me to kill myself, please, give me another solution. Otherwise, please be merciful and let me die so that this suffering will end.”
The very next day I got offered a job on the other side of the world.
So I didn’t kill myself.
Instead, like Michelle and J moving to the farm in Dixon Heights, I left my painful situation and spent a long time working, healing, and learning what it means to be loved and how to give love in return.
I still have issues, but Jesus is my J, and He’s teaching me to trust Him and showing me that the world beyond my pain can still be beautiful, and that good things can happen.
And I believe they will.
Join the Discussion
Who are you more like, Michelle or J? Share your thoughts in the comments!