In Pages in the Wind, Emily spends a month of every summer at her Grandma’s house. She enjoyed herself during those weeks without the task of anticipating her father’s disgust and rage. She could leave the hyper-vigilance of a little soldier on the battlefield, and enjoy being a child. Instead of packing the weeks with constant activity, she allowed herself to breathe and savor the ease of being present in the moment. At home, she was rarely present in the moment because she was always anticipating the outcome of the moment. Being at her grandma’s house, encased in security and pleasure was a welcome respite from the constant turmoil in her fearful mind. In those weeks, instead of using her imagination to escape reality, she was free to use her imagination to enjoy being a young girl.
This was Emily’s refuge. She enjoyed the fantasy of being a child, using her vivid imagination to create skits and plays with her cousins. Emily was the leader, the child with the imagination that captured the minds of the other children. She loved to dress up and pretend to be a princess, and put on disguises to comb the neighborhood as a world-traveled spy. During the evenings she would relax on Grandma’s porch and sing to her. Grandma was her captive audience, always appreciative and asking for several encores before Emily closed the day with a goodnight kiss, and ran upstairs to her room feeling loved, safe, and happy. She was grateful for those days; they were like opening a chest of treasures, holding them, living them, and ultimately carefully putting them away for the next time.
The transition from grandma’s refuge to home illustrates a dramatic shift in young Emily’s psyche:
The long drive home was quiet for Emily for her father did not allow her to talk, and he rarely ridiculed Emily when her mother was around. Her parents chatted about adult things until Emily drifted to sleep, knowing that when she woke up she would be home. She knew that she would have to leave the other child behind and be a different Emily, on guard to avoid the mistakes that would ignite her father’s temper. Her child’s mind was constantly looking for the right compass to point her away from evil, toward the path of goodness and worthiness so her father would accept her as he did her brother. In Emily’s deepest fantasy, maybe he would even love her.
I wonder what this pervasive anticipation of violence does to a young mind. Emily is far too young to know that it is a battle that cannot be won, so she continues to fight to be someone that is worthy of her father’s approval. She is similar to a soldier in battle, strategizing, and trying to stay safe. Emily is a soldier without a higher cause, however, with no comrades to help her. Her only ally is her fertile mind which she uses to cope with the unrelenting stress inflicted by her father.
Where is the little girl that was present at her grandma’s house? In a practical sense, she is battling her father – but in a larger sense is she in a battle with herself?