When I was a little Dyr, my mother would play with my dolls with me. I had a mermaid doll that was my favorite. She had long, thick black hair that I loved to braid. My other favorite dolls were Jasmin, the Arabian princess from Aladdin, and my Belle doll (from Beauty and the Beast). My grandmother has a picture of me, just two years old, posing on the front treehouse steps with all of my favorite dolls.
I also collected Lucky Troll dolls, and I was sure I was destined to be a teacher, so I would practice my educational skills by lining my dolls up in my room and teaching my “students”. I was usually more of the disciplinarian vs. the teacher-most of the time, my “students” would misbehave and I would have to paddle them.
These toys, aside from my favorite GloWorm doll and my Rainbow Brite doll with the orange yarn for hair and the Velcro hands, were the only items I owned that would be considered normal for a little girl. Everything else I loved as a little Dyr took the form of millions of rocks and seashells, recovered items from dumpster diving, and my dozen or so boxes of frogs-yes, real frogs-in my bedroom closet.
Some of my fondest memories as a young Dyr include my mother. She spent hours teaching me to read and write, and because she had named me after one of her favorite romance authors, she had me read all of her novels. We used to walk around outside for hours, mostly in the woods. Without fail, every time my mother picked a buttercup she would convince me to smell it and then she would rub that bright yellow pollen all over the tip of my nose and laugh. We would pick berries that my mother would use for pies and jams, and wildflowers to place in a vase on the dining room table-my mother always made sure there were fresh flowers in our house-and we would suck on sweet honeysuckle or long reeds of sugar cane as we walked and talked.
While we moved around frequently, we always managed to live in the country, particularly in the forests of Haliwell in Lestrobexe. This-our love for Haliwell and our constant return to the small forests-had a lot to do with the fact that my step-father worked for my great grandfather in Haliwell. My great grandfather, Elder Bjorn, owned a farming business and my family worked for him off and on; my step-father was a horticulturist (and a well-paid and highly sought after Harvester) and I learned at a young age how to cut grain with a sickle, how mow down the grass with the scythe, and how to use all leftover wood for fuel. A lot of my childhood was spent on the farm, which was located right on Elder Bjorn’s property-and I mean acres and acres of- property. When I was not working or spending time with my mother, I was swinging in the tire swing or playing on the old neglected boat filled with stray cats-these cats were tough, some missing an eye or a limb, and my favorite was a mangy orange tabby that hated everyone…but me-or I was sitting in Elder Bjorn’s living room reading from his colossal selection of nature magazines.
Growing up in the country and being part Dyr, part Mer, meant that I often encountered bigotry and ignorance. When my parents hit rock bottom, dragging Judit and I down with them, I was not only the mixed breed, but a poor mixed breed to boot. It didn’t take long for classmates to find out that we got our Christmas presents through the graciousness of Lord Daveth Tennyson’s court, and everyone knew my parents smoked Rutaceae. Judit and I often had no choice other than to wear mismatched clothes that were typically far too big for us, and we went barefoot all year round.
In the summer we would usually go out to Rudham, to a little city called Talonford, where my mother’s sister lived. There we would have fresh clams and Courgette flowers stuffed with risotto-the whole family would show up, and we’d pull all the couches and chairs and the little old-timey radio outside so everyone could listen to the sprites sing while they ate and drank, with the feel of the cool breeze and the Neuroptera swarming over all of our heads-and my mother and my aunt would make me and my dozen or so cousins slip ‘n slides from large trash bags and Dawn dish soap. My aunt would cover us from head to toe in Avon Skin So Soft insect repellant and send us outside for the entire day. Back then, this wasn’t a punishment; we enjoyed being outside all day. We would dig up pools big enough to swim in from the mud-we weren’t the types to be bothered by snakes. My aunt happened to live on a street built by our ancestors, and each house down the road contained a relative or two (except for the Griffins, who were a family very close to mine-as a matter of fact, Klement Griffin was my childhood best friend, and the giver of my very first real kiss). At times, we would go to the Thand River, where we would fearlessly jump from the bridge into the shallow water, avoid the Nereids, and build bonfires in the sand.
On the rare occasions when we did not go to Talonford for the summer, my family and I would spend the hot summer months camping and swimming in briny water at the beach. I was like a fish-I always stayed in the water longer than my younger sister, Judit. The salt would dry my hair and make me thirsty, but I would refuse to get out, jumping over the waves in the deepest end I could bear, until my mother would call me to come eat dinner. Often I would go off with my step-father and sister to fish, and I even would, on occasion, catch a fish with my bare hands that I would promptly name and keep for a pet-this never lasted long for me …or I should say, for the fish. We would also go to the county fairs and festivals and get sugar highs from enormous amounts of cotton candy and funnel cakes. I preferred the fairs in Talonford because they served Taniwha tongue on a stick, but the fairs in Haliwell tended to have the bigger, better rides. My sister would usually convince me to ride the scarier rides and then be the one to hurl everywhere.
Summers changed the year after my eldest cousin was killed. We stopped going to visit my aunt, who would send us Christmas cards still signed with my cousin’s name. My cousin, Tybald Stoddart, was murdered by his own best friend during a game of Dueling Swords.
The night of his death my family and I made the long drive to my aunt’s, and when we arrived at her home we found my uncle sitting in his recliner, drinking Azantil tonic and listening to the sprites on the radio, who happened to be discussing finding my cousin Tybald dead in the field near his home. His wake, although held in a massive Dyr Adorans temple, was absolutely packed-there were many standing outside because it was just so crowded within-and many of his friends stood to speak. His girlfriend was also present, whom he had been preparing to propose to. My mother and step-father walked with me to view his body, and at the sight of him I went weak in the knees and would have collapsed on the floor had my parents not supported my weight and held me upright. He looked as though he were merely resting for a bit, and his hands were folded neatly over his enlarged-bloated from the embalming, I would later come to understand-chest. That year my aunt gave birth to a beautiful little girl whom she would never have the capacity to fully love and know due to her grief over losing Tybald.
This tragedy marked the end of my light-hearted, carefree summers, and truly, the end of my childhood… because the truth is, throughout all of this, life at home when the doors were closed was traumatic. My mother started off as an alcoholic with a slight addiction to Psilocybe callosa, but it did not take long to begin to find slender glass tubes covered in toxic-smelling black residue, spoons coated with what appeared to be tar, and eventually, needles in the junk drawer in the kitchen. My step-father was no better, and the worse nights for us would be when he had run out of his foxglove and had drank too much tonic, or when my mother acted crazy in a fit for more mushrooms. At these times, his violent tendencies were more frequent than usual, and I would witness my father beating my mother. Other times, I would be on the receiving end of his large clenched fists, and his wand. Often he would come to my room, and my mother would later confess to knowing of the heinous acts he would commit but being too high to move or even to speak. When his perverse attention was no longer solely on me, but on my baby sister as well, the nightmares began and my faith in Fawn Pictor diminished.