From the moment she holds her baby niece, Rose is on a mission. Terrified that her baby niece will fall victim to the sexual abuse rampant in the family, Rose tells us in her own warm, funny, down-to-earth voice, how she reluctantly agrees to join a therapy group, hoping she can find out how to prevent disaster and see that baby Jenny grows up unharmed. In the group, she meets new friends who will become like family: Josie, who “sees” the future; Tammy, with a suspicious bruise on her neck; good and steady Marg, whose father is threatening to burn down her apartment house; and sweet, grieving, spiritual Sally. Rose’s own chronic problem, she confesses, is picking wrong men. Josie finds a small magazine picture of a little town in northern Ontario. She sees, with her second sight, a resort hotel to be built in this town and a sunnier life for the group. As they begin to take the first painful steps of emotional recovery, an intense fantasy about this unknown town and dream hotel becomes the secret life of the group. Deep friendships evolve as the women help one another through the roller coasters of their recovery process. Despite setbacks, they cling to their dream of moving up north and running their own hotel.
“With a delightful touch of fantasy, Laurie Ray Hill brings us Rose’s strong, determined, sometimes faltering journey towards healing in this insightful and humorous narrative of a group of diverse women who work their way out of early trauma to hard-won recovery. This is a story told with compassion that brings comfort and awe at the human capacity to rebuild lives, no matter how broken.”
—Marie Prins, author of Uncommon Quest 2019 Silver Winner The Girl from the Attic
“Riveting and wryly humorous, Paper Stones follows the heartbreaks and ultimate triumph of Rose Underhill, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Laurie Ray Hill’s exquisite prose navigates this difficult topic with tenacious hope and unflinching attention to the profound effects of childhood experience.”
—Pili Palm-Leis, author of Keep Up, Katmai
“Warm, accessible, human, Paper Stones is a goldmine…. I could see building a whole course around this book.”
—Andrew Buntin, professor, Child and Youth Care Programme, George Brown College, Toronto
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There’s Darlene the next Tuesday telling us about Ivan who’s coming over. Ivan, he’s “handsome for looking,” according to himself on the email. He “admires womans.” He “has much exciting” to meet Darlene. Wants to come over here and get married.
Of course Meredith, she’s sweating, trying to get Darlene to think about how good of an idea it’s likely to turn out, if you go and marry some guy you never seen in your life, that you don’t know nothing about.
Darlene gets this shy smile like a six-year-old. Rolls her eyes at Meredith. Says she’s very happy. She’s in love. Her life is going to be happy now. Why don’t Meredith yell at her?
Darlene’s never filled out one sheet. Don’t know shit about her own life. She’s where the people in Dave’s adventure books are normally at. Out of food, out of fuel, one foot hanging out in space over a hole in the mountain. Wall of fire on one side, flood on the other. Only difference is the people in Dave’s books don’t seem to run out of brains.
I used to be just as bad. All them guys I went through? I was generally waltzing over the edge of some cliff.
Your life changes when you take a look at it. You feel yourself smarten up. It quits seeming like just some bad luck used to make you act like a frigging idiot.
See, when I think about it careful, I know I never used judgement about no man before Dave. When I used to get mixed up with one after another, I was like what Sandra’s like. And Darlene. I never asked myself one sensible question such as “How does this guy treat people (including me)?”
I was off somewheres else, desperate for anything that could numb my pain and—in a dim light—look like love.
Everybody yaps about following your heart. I’m here to say: use your brains, too.
Tammy, she moved into her own place. Sally went and measured for to make drapes. She can see a nice soft shade of salmon for the front room, Sally says, and she’s going to help Tammy sew café style curtains, in maybe a raspberry colour, for the kitchen.
I says, “Look out, Tammy! Sal’s trying to make the whole place pink on you.”
Meredith walks in. Asks Tammy what her own favourite colour is.
Tammy, she looks blank. So that’s her Question for the Week: “What’s your favourite colour, Tammy?”
Back before Christmas, I would’ve turned up my nose at that question. Hasn’t Tammy got more important things to figure out? But now I see Meredith’s trying to get her to listen to herself. For a change. You can bet Asshole don’t care what Tammy’s favourite colour is! If she can start listening to herself about what colour in a drape looks good to her, there’s a hope she can start listening to herself about what else feels good to her. And what don’t.
I can see that that’s what helped me out where Dave’s concerned. I started noticing them little things like when he asked me my opinion, asked permission to look at my paper, asked what I wanted to do. It felt so nice.
Me taking notice of them things, taking notice how I felt about them, that was all new. That was how I started to have any judgement.
Darlene says her and Ivan just fixed it up today.
“Josie told me last week,” I says.
“Did she say if it’s going to turn out lucky?”
I lost my temper. “Use your frigging brain! How lucky does it look like it’s going to turn out?”
Later, I got what Dave calls a “stairs idea” (what you think of, on your way downstairs, that you should’ve said). I should’ve said Josie seen a Russian wolfhound eating her alive. Fangs dripping blood.
The exercise that night was about what Meredith calls Coping Mechanisms. What that is, is it’s whatever you done to survive your traumas. And whatever you done ever since, to keep from feeling the pain of your traumas.
Everybody put in ideas. We made a list. I still got it. I’ll copy it out for yous and yous can see if your own shit is here:
Taking care of people—focusing on other people’s pain (Sally, Marg, me)
Isolating self (me before we started Group, Darlene)
Not eating (Josie)
Falling in love (Darlene, me before)
Being too trustful and/or taking extreme risks (Darlene—both)
Conforming to others’ demands (Tammy)
Not conforming (Darlene)
Drinking (Josie, Darlene)
Sleeping (Sally—not now so much)
“Didn’t you want your name down for that second-last one, Marg? You with your drinking problem?”
Marg, she looks at me blank, then laughs.
Of course, Meredith goes, “Marg? Is this something you would like to share with us?”
I haven’t heard this good of a glug-glugging Marg laugh in a while.
I sing out, “Marg joined the AA!”
Marg can’t quit laughing, red in the face, glugging, sticking her soft elbow in me to shut me up.
Tammy says, “You joined AA?”
Everybody’s looking at her.
Marg says, “No! I’m going to kill you!” she says to me.
“She only goes for the free doughnuts,” I says, and Marg starts hitting me over the head with a piece of paper, laughing.
You got to stir the pot, once in a while at Group, eh, or you feel like you’re at your own funeral.
“It’s a joke,” I says.
Meredith gives us one of her lips-only smiles. Then we go back to listing down our Dysfunctional Coping Mechanisms.
Being too cautious (Darlene, Marg)
Pretending things are okay when they’re not (Tammy, all of us sometimes)
Accepting undue shame(everyone)
I had a question about that last one there. “Can I ask what’s wrong with fantasy?”
“Well,” Meredith tells me, “we have to live in reality, don’t we? It’s not healthy to escape into fantasy worlds. It’s an Avoidance of Reality.”
“Is that what it is?” I says.
“Oh yes. Fantasy is a Coping Mechanism. Abused children often invent fantasy worlds where everything is good. It’s a way of surviving the pain of their real situation. But of course, when we grow up, we have to set that aside or else it becomes a negative force in our lives. As adults we have to come to terms with things as they really are. Fantasy, used as a coping mechanism in adult life, can be very destructive.”
That’s what Meredith said.
Everything went chilly and dim in our fantasy town. A shadow come over the hotel and over the house where the lady was singing, baking her blueberry pies. The fellow next door who was sanding a garden bench for our hotel—it’s like I seen him shiver and look up, wondering how come he couldn’t feel the warmth of the sun on the back of his neck. A cloud shadow fell on the white church. Turned it grey. The sparkle died out of the pink stones. The deep water with the bright gold drifting down went dark. The house with blue curtains come under a cloud, and the glass stars in the window quit catching sunshine and casting coloured shadows.
But then I thought, no, dammit. I’m going to use my own judgement! I took and scratched fantasy off the bad list with a bold line. Warm sun lit the town up beautiful again.
I called Josie the next morning to bitch about Meredith.
“She don’t see the point in fantasy, using your imagination. Wants to nail everything down to what’s real and what makes sense,” I says.
Josie says. “Sense?” She says, “The world is a ball of dirt sailing through outer space hanging on to us by the feet.”
I wasn’t to the purple blue stepping stone yet, the spirit stone, which, when you stand on it, means you know you’re standing on a world in space and every single thing, yourself included, is beyond belief.
I was a long way from that yet, but I must’ve had some notion along them lines. Enough to make me stick up for daydreams.
I says, “I gotta go. They’ve got a dishwasher plugged, up in Snob Hill. Yelling it’s a frigging emergency.”
Dishwasher! They were lucky if they had anything to put in a dish, when Josie was growing up. That’s why she can’t hardly eat. A whole burger scares her. She’s waiting for her brother to grab it or her father to take and cut it in four. Or for her mother to hit her in the side of the head, call her a hog for being so hungry.
Doing her homework for Group, Josie had to sit and write, I do not need to be ashamed of normal hunger. Being hungry is nobody’s fault.
Just like when I had to write, It is not my fault the sidewalk’s heaved.
You gotta do it. Write her down. Dumb or not. That’s how you yank out the weeds of shame, the way Frances the helper puts it.
And then you work on thinking of what your good points are. Planting the garden of self-worth, Frances says.
Josie says, “Eating out with you at the restaurant? I ate the whole half of a burger?”
“Well,” Josie says, “that was the first time I ever ate food in front of anybody in twenty-one years.”