My mom was a firm believer in naps, mostly because she was a young mother with two small kids who also taught 9th grade English. She hadn’t reconciled the fact that requiring students to write papers meant she had to find quiet time to read them. The workload wore her out.
I was 5 and didn’t really need to nap, but my 3-year-old brother walked in his sleep and the doctor suggested maybe he was overtired. So my mother brought us both into her big bed and laid down with one of us on either side of her. She’d fling an arm across Allen and a leg over me to hold us still until naptime was over.
Unable to sleep or even to wiggle, I told myself stories to pass the hours. My favorite book at the time was Peter Pan. I hated wet blanket Wendy, but idolized Princess Tiger Lily, who would rather be tied to a rock and drowned rather than betray her friends. Usually, I was Tiger Lily, standing up to Captain Hook and flying off on adventures with Peter.
I also liked a Gary Anderson marionette show called Stingray. Among its characters was Marina, a mute mermaid who could come out of the water for brief periods of time. I didn’t want to be her, but I imagined myself as her friend. Together we traveled to a beautiful underwater city, had trident battles against giant squids, and raced seahorses. I rescued her a lot.
I’ve never written anything about pirates or Indian princesses or mermaids. I was older when I began to write things down. By then my obsessions had changed.
Still, the first stories remain, locked in my heart. I became a storyteller before I was able to read. I still think about the stories first, before the words begin to flow.