This lyrical debut memoir reveals the indelible consequences of childhood abuse.
Poet and essayist Chin was raised in an atmosphere of violence. Her depressed, angry mother rejected her, and her father savagely beat her. “For as long as I can remember,” writes the author, “I knew that my parents were out of control. I knew they were capable of anything.” At the age of 11, she started running away from home; by the time she was 14, she was in jail. She spent the next years living in state-run institutions or on the streets, sleeping in stairwells “or, more often, the questionable beds of men and women.” Chin became a stripper, abused drugs and sold herself for sex. Addicted to cocaine, she realized that she had hit bottom. Drawing on a spark of inner strength, she managed to wrest control of her life, earning a GED, taking college courses and eventually completing an MFA degree. Then, in her mid-30s, married to a neurosurgeon, just having moved into their first home, she became overwhelmed with panic attacks. She was afraid to climb stairs, leave her house and drive on highways. Desperate, she sought help from an array of medical professionals, with varying success. Finally, she found a measure of peace from riding horses, particularly one skittish horse whose reaction to the world mirrored her own. Cantering, she discovered, felt “like the opposite of panic…it was only by holding on so tightly that I could begin learning how to get go.” She discovered, too, that panic “wasn’t a virus or an erratic black bird…in the end, panic was me.” Although she could not escape her past, it need not dominate the present: “No matter how many stories you put on top of the first story, the first one is always there, visible.”
Chin deftly creates the palimpsest of those stories, past and present, in this candid, graceful testimony to remarkable resilience.