I find memoirs to be absolutely fascinating. I love to learn about people because it gives me a better perspective on the world. Today I have a new one for you. Read an excerpt from Girl Hidden by Jesse Rene Gibbs and then stay tuned to learn the top 10 things you need to know about this book. Follow the tour for even more! Best of luck entering the giveaway!
Echoing among the Blue Ridge Mountains were the cries of newborn babies that disappeared into the night. The screams of children nearly drowned out by the sound of crickets. A girl, hidden and waiting to be found, terrified, and confused. The fireflies sparkling in the woods, bringing light to darkled places.
The bulk of Jesse’s memories were of growing up in the farm country of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. The farm folks stayed pretty much outside of town, except for visits to the feed store causing random tractors to travel down Main Street. There were beatings and abuses, manipulation and terror carried out in spaces breathtaking in their beauty. There were twenty-seven Baptist churches, three non-denominational churches, and one Catholic Church.
There were annual Ku Klux Klan rallies on the street where they would walk right by all the black families who came out to watch and the white folks who came out for moral support—whether of the blacks or the whites, no one knew for sure. Black people did not marry white people in a civilized society, and so were rarely seen socializing. There was a young woman who was pregnant with a black man’s baby, so her parents disowned her. Jesse’s family was accused of killing the child and burying it on their property.
There was the Berkley House Bed and Breakfast toward the end of town, with gold plated silverware and hardwood floors, rumored to be the local sex worker house. There was a mansion up on a hill that overlooked the other humble houses in the town. In the local cemetery, there was “Will B. Jolly” carved into the graves used by bootleggers back in the twenties. Everyone had some form of thick southern drawl, though the length of the “aw” would extend the further south you went. There was a tiny baseball field and a tinier fire department. There was an old lady in the foothills that let the family raid her garden during the summer. And in exchange, Jesse’s family helped her husband bring in the hay for their animals every year.
There was a black snake in the attic—the door opened inside the closet next to Jesse’s bed. She would find his shed skins left behind in the summer months measuring close to seven feet in length. There was a creek with crawdads and a moss-covered bridge. There were mulberry and pecan trees that filled her and her siblings’ aching bellies as the weather turned.
There were hot summer days and freezing cold winters. There were dogs that were best friends, cats that kept her warm at night, and a cow that committed suicide. There was red clay instead of dirt, hayfields instead of grass, and a favorite swimming hole: Lenny’s Mill, the local grain mill on a glacier-fed creek where you could take a dip if you were brave enough to challenge the frigid waters.
Girl Hidden is the story of an unwanted child, born nonetheless and forced into servitude, desperate to protect her siblings and find her way out from under the vicious, manipulative abuses heaped on her by the one person who was supposed to love her unconditionally: her mother.
A siren howled outside the window down in the street, and she clutched the sacred book to her chest. A small-town girl in a big city, all alone… Man, did she feel lost. She opened the well-worn book to one of her favorite Psalms and reminded herself that God was still in control. Sometimes she wondered, in the quietest part of her heart, if He had dropped the ball.
She finished reading and asked God to watch over her family while she was away. She prayed especially for her siblings and named them off one by one as if God would forget them if she failed even once to remind Him. “Luke… Ezra… Noah… Judah… Faith… Louise…”
She turned off the light and lay there in the semi-dark. Her eyes adjusted and the streetlamps down below left weird shadows in the corners of the room. She tossed and turned for a bit. Twelve years of having little kids in bed with her made sleeping alone a strange feeling. She pushed and pulled and got some of the big pink comforter into a pile so that it felt like someone was next to her. She lay on her back and tried desperately to get her mind to turn off.
Eventually, exhaustion won the battle. Jesse slept.
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1. I was kidnapped twice in my life. The first time it happened, my grandmother was rescuing me from my narcissistic mother and my stepfather, who treated me inappropriately. During the second time, my mother stalked me for three days, waiting for my grandparents to leave me alone. One day, there was a knock on the door, and a strange woman was standing there. She said, "Come quickly, your mommy is in the car." I was only seven years old, and I was wearing dress-up clothes with bare feet. Despite the cold December air chilling my feet, I refused to go with the stranger. The woman seemed surprised and commented that I was a very good girl.
But, ten seconds later, my mother kicked open the front door, dragged me out kicking and screaming, and threw me into the back of the car. I was covered in splinters from trying to hold on to the door frame and banisters of the porch stairs, and I was absolutely terrified.
2. I loved writing from the perspective of my mother; she was extremely abusive to me and my siblings, but I had all of her letters to reach into her mind and try and create a character that was honest about the abuse but also humanized her.
So often memories can be subjective and influenced by our own biases, and I was also deep in the well of the perspectives of my narcissistic mother, so research was one of the most important aspects of this book. My best friend June and I dug through boxes, did interviews, along with a lot of extraneous research to make this book come about.
June both collaborated with me and provided me with the support and encouragement that I needed through the entire experience. It can be challenging to organize and write about personal experiences, but having someone who believes in you and is willing to help can make all the difference. Writing a memoir can be a cathartic and rewarding experience, but it is also emotionally taxing. And she was my rock through the whole experience.
3. I have always had a natural talent for storytelling, which I attribute to my mother's charismatic personality and my grandfather's love for fishing and fish tales. Writing is one of my may passions, and I take on the challenge of making my stories real, interesting, and engaging. Choosing to write my memoir in the third person adds another layer of complexity to the process, but it provides a unique perspective to the story. To make my memoir feel authentic, I incorporated sensory details to bring the reader into the scenes, added dialogue to bring the characters to life, and emphasized the key themes and lessons that emerged from my experiences. Staying true to my own style and voice is crucial in crafting a memoir that resonates with readers.
4. The story of how I met my best friend June is often asked about; June is an important friend in my life and someone who I consider my rock. Our connection was immediate, and it made me believe in the concept of love at first sight.
June was only seventeen years old when she visited her older brother at the inner-city commune where I lived. Her father, who was getting remarried, was no longer interested in being a parent, so he provided her with a one-way ticket to Chicago and essentially left her on her own. June's older brother was friends with my ex-husband, so I did him a favor and picked her up from the airport on her arrival. By the time we got to baggage claim we were best friends. We later discovered that our grandparents had been friends for over thirty years, but we had never met until then. It felt like we were meant to find each other.
5. Elsie the dairy cow had her life end in the only way it could have on the Taylors’ farm: by cow suicide. My little brother Ezra had taken Elsie down the hill, over the creek, up the hill, and into the hayfield to stake her out to one of the trees. He hauled a half-full five-gallon bucket – nearly as large as he was at age eight – from the creek up to where the cow was tied and left her there to dine. Ezra didn’t realize that not only was she tied to a tree that was balanced precariously over a ravine, but that cows are not known to be that bright.
Elsie either slipped on the red mud, or could no longer handle life on the Taylor farm, and was found hanging from the edge of the cliff, breaking her neck and Ezra’s precious heart in the same moment.
6. As I was growing up, I was taught all of the specifics of “Purity Culture”: a Christian ideology that teaches young women that if a man shows any kind of interest in her, that it is because of what she is wearing or how she is acting. I was indoctrinated on how I should exist, from what I should wear to my very thoughts. I was pointedly taught that my stepfather was where I should practice being a godly girlfriend. For my birthday, he even gave me a ruby “promise ring,” asking me to pledge my virginity to him until he released it to my husband. All this from a man who took advantage of me under both the permission and supervision of my mother.
7. I delivered my baby sister. My stepfather woke me up at five in the morning to tell me that Momma was in labor, and I needed to get up and get the house picked up because we were having company that day.
Momma went from a few regular contractions straight into transition in a matter of minutes. She decided that getting into a lukewarm bath might help with the unreasonable amount of pain that she was in. She made it into the tub but before she sat down, her water broke. She screamed at me (I was in the laundry room next to the bathroom) to get her a towel, so I ran into the living room, grabbed a couple of towels, and threw them into the bathroom. She yelled, “Jesse you have to come catch this baby!”
I pulled open the curtain (we didn’t have a door on the bathroom) and saw my stepfather holding Momma up while she stood in the tub. The baby was crowning, so I grabbed the towels and hit the floor. Crawling between the tub and Poppa’s legs, I barely made it over the tub and up under Momma before the baby came out with a wet squelching sound. She was so sweet and quiet. I held her close as Momma caught her breath and was able to stand on her own. I handed the baby to Poppa and ran upstairs to get the birthing kit so that we could cut the umbilical cord and suction out her mouth. She didn’t make a sound. She was so sweet and quiet. Poppa cut the cord and that’s when we realized that after four boys in a row, we finally got a little girl.
8. I left home at the tender age of nineteen after my stepfather had given me a spanking the day before. I decided that of all the abuse that I had endured over the years, that experience was a bridge too far. My parents showed up at the radio station where I was a DJ and raided my office while I was on air. They found my suitcase and figured out that I was running away. There was a huge fight and after three hours of screaming at me, Momma went home while Poppa convinced me to come home too. By the time I got home, my mother had informed my siblings that I was running away because they had been bad, that I didn’t love them anymore and that I was possessed by demons. It was beyond heartbreaking.
10. I joined an inner-city commune when I left home and very much fell out of the frying pan into the fire. There’s been an incredible amount of deconstruction in my world between my mother’s religious fervor and the inner-city commune. But coming to terms with my own faults and foibles has been incredibly impactful and healing.
This book is based on the true story of my life, gleaned from years of my mother’s writings, my grandmother’s journals and my own experiences. I did my best to showcase the depth of damage that growing up with a narcissistic parent can have on a person, and how hard it is to come to terms with the amount of gaslighting that comes with that life. My siblings all have their own stories of being played against each other, bullied and even emotionally tortured by our parents. We were trained to not trust our own intuition, raised in a life of poverty, a lack of privacy and the endlessly traumatizing purity culture.
I was hunted in my own home by the man my mother married and escaped at nineteen only to land in an intentional community in Chicago that did nearly as much damage. My best friend in the book is also real, and she did more to walk me through my trauma, and she is the main reason that these stories were finally published.
My new life in Seattle didn’t start until well into my thirties, and I’m still working on deconstructing my life up to that point. I wrote this book to organize my life in my own mind and to undo years of lies. I also wrote it because others need to know that they are not alone.
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