My story is all wrong. It goes backwards and roundabout; it starts in the middle and who knows how it will end. Of course, all the best stories are like that. We think we can track them, but by tracking them we miss out on secret hidden paths and wise, beautiful moments loitering by the wayside.
When I was small, we lived in the dark forest. Literally, that is. Later in my life I would enter metaphorical dark forests, and oddly enough, for all my early years amongst old dark trees and storms, I never knew how to best navigate those forests. Metaphorical is so much harder, more dangerous, than real.
- But that is not the tale I'm telling today.
I lived in a big, old, haunted house in the dark forest. And the forest itself was haunted too, not by vague memories of previous occupations (for I believe ghosts are just a house remembering) but by stories. Perhaps I drew the stories from my imagination, for I'd been raised on fairytales, or perhaps they were always there. And perhaps, in meeting a little wild-haired girl with a whole lot of imagination, they realised they'd found a kindred spirit.
The stories were my playfellows. I knew there was a witch who listened to our laughter from her unseen house just over the hill-bothered horizon; I knew the owl king looked down and wished we would be more quiet. But what I understood only very dimly - and not in words - was that a wild god also was watching. And waiting.
We left the forest when I was too young to go. We went to live in suburbia. I remember looking up at our new townhouse (literally, that is: a brand new house with no memories in it) and seeing the mouldery, magical stories fade away from my life. I grieved, although I couldn't tell anyone.
I spent a long time being ordinary.
Reading novels, reading comic books, cutting out paper dolls.
But one day, when my family was visiting a friend's house, I came upon a typewriter. And I wrote a sassy, wry job application to an imaginary company. It made everyone laugh. As a shy, heart-sore child, that laughter sounded very sweet indeed to me. So I started writing little bits and pieces.
I don't remember much about this time. What I wrote weren't really stories, not in the way they should have been: they came from books, and wishes, and not at all from house-ghosts or forest-shadows or the wind.
But then we went to live on an island. In a white house between sea and small dark mountains. And I started writing for real. My mother bought a book of fairytale illustrations for my step-father. He looked at it once before I dragged it away. My heart, oh my heart, it had rediscovered its native language. It had remembered.
And in remembering, and beginning to write about trolls, dragons, it drew the attention again of the wild and dark-eyed god who stalks the forest at the edge of the soul.
I became very frightened, living on that island, knowing something was looking in at me and breathing on my bones. So frightened, I couldn't bear to be alone in the dark. My family were bewildered. I didn't stop writing, because I didn't connect it with the experience - I didn't understand that what I sensed were only stories. The strange, untold tales of the island's hills and hidden places. But subconsciously I veered away from magic, into words and sentence structure and grammar. For the next several years, I learned to write. And write well enough that I could do business with it. But I forgot how to tell stories.
And then I had my daughter. Sometimes I wonder what she was born of - my body or my love for the wild? She drew me back into the old magic. I learned stories again by telling them to her, first from books, but then from my own heart and the heart of the forest. I felt truth begin to ravel around me once more.
And the sunsets became like wicked smiles, and the wind whispered until I shook and shook. The wild god had returned, and this time he was not leaving.
Because I did not want him to.
I understand now what I'm doing when I tell stories. I'm not telling them to you out there (not when I'm doing it properly.) I'm having a conversation - with words and hands and trembling looks - with the dangerous, feral, beautiful spirit of poetry.
When I look back to my childhood, I see him there. I hear him in the night whispers, and in the wind coming in from the white, wicked sea. It scares me to think that I wandered away from him and might never have returned. I'd like to think he'd have come looking for me, to bring me home. And maybe he did, or maybe he didn't. I can never tell with such a wild god. All I know is that I will go on telling story forever, just to keep him close.