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Writer dream hampton tells of the life-changing night that taught her fear is no match for her resolve

dream hampton

by dream hampton, March 08, 2012

[ESSAY]<br />

of my friends found my interests interesting. I liked to tag and describe rocks and soil, read science fiction and drum the theme song to the Six Million Dollar Man on empty chlorine pails. I was never great at Double Dutch, or backwards skating. I did excel at jacks, and would always have a set and a ball handy in my pocket should one of the girls on my block be interested. Sometimes they wanted to play, most times they ignored me. And so it went. I wasn’t the loneliest girl in my city but I probably believed I was. By third grade I began to understand my mother to be an alcoholic. In the Pisces way, this was mostly an act of self-harm. Having drunk a bottle of vodka, she’d be passed out on the couch by the time we got home from school. My brother saw it as an opportunity to steal money from her purse to go to the arcade. I saw it as an opportunity to clean.

It wasn’t until the summer before fourth grade that I discovered I was fearless. My “real” father, who was always present, had gifted me and my brother a matching pair of green and yellow Schwins. The boys on the block knocked my brother, who is 363 days younger than me, off his bike and called it their own. My brother came home bloodied, muddied and crying. I put down my book (I distinctly remember I was reading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time), went to the backyard where my own bike was chained to the fence, unlocked my bike, put the chain around my neck and rode around the corner to get my brother’s bike. When I got around the corner three boys were arguing about who was going to ride my brother’s bike next. I hopped off my own, and it fell to the ground on my friend Marqueila’s grass. I told them to give me the damn bike.

It was my first time cursing to anyone but my mirror. The boys laughed at me. I took the bike chain from around my neck and swung it at the legs of the boy trying to mount my brother’s bike. He fell to the ground in pain and the group’s leader, Marvel, an older, 5th grade boy who’d already grown taller than my mother, pushed the bike my way, holding the other two boys back from revenge as I walked our twin Schwinns home around the corner. I remember being surprised at my lack of adrenaline rush (I’d learned about such things watching the Bionic Man). My heart wasn’t beating fast at all, and what I remember most is how deeply annoyed I was that my book was interrupted. My diary entry from that night says as much.

By fifth grade I learned I loved to drive. I’d steal my mother’s car as she was passed out on the couch, stack some books on the driver’s seat and circle my neighborhood with one arm out the window like I’d seen my father do. In my mind, my neighbors were duly impressed. By middle school my writing skills had become public knowledge and boys at my neighborhood junior high, Alexander Hamilton, would pay me their lunch money to write their essays. Some of these boys were as old as fourteen and had mopeds. My friend Darius had a red moped and a chin length jheri curl and had been held back once. He really wanted to make it to high school so I began doing all his homework, and when he ran out of money I’d barter rides on the back of his moped. He’d take me back to my old neighborhood, which had only become worse in the three or four years since we moved, and I would watch kids and young men who’d dress alike battle dance each other doing elaborate pop and lock routines. Darius was the big brother I never had. He’d remind lecherous high school drop-outs that I was only eleven (“she ain’t even got not titties man!”), backing them off me when they’d try to talk to and touch me. I was losing my fear of “outside.”

My seventh grade English teacher nominated me for the highly selective magnet school, Bates Academy, where I’d graduate from eighth grade. And it was the spring of my second semester at my new school that Marvel and two boys broke into my house to rape me. It was storming that night. A movie kind of storm. My mom was waitressing nights and my stepdad often stopped at a bar near his job before coming home. I’d cooked dinner for my brother and his friend Bo. Or rather, I’d shook some drumsticks in a Shake n Bake bag and roasted them in the

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