The ‘Memoir Challange’:Petals

A note from the editor:

This will be our final published submission from the extremely successful ‘Memoir Challange.’ We would like to thank all of the writers that responded to this challenge, and also our loyal audience for their participation in the discussions that ensued. We are going to have another writing contest in the near future. Stay tuned. 


Note: This is a vignette from my memoir-in-progress, Small Parts. This piece is part of a chapter early on in the memoir-a scene of myself with my biological father before I left for another city with my mother and abusive stepfather. That abuse resulted in suffering from Complex Trauma/Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder and dissociation for a large part of my life. A loss of the self, and the rebuilding of a woman. The memoir is in vignettes and disordered prose, mirroring how my mind works.


by Amy Sprague


I fish for the knife in the pocket of my dirty overalls and slice at Barbie’s pretty blue eyes, so they open. I sit and poke little holes where her pupils are, and then I saw at her ratty hair. I lick my bottom lip, almost got it. A pleasure fills me.

“Amy!” Nikki dashes out of the white hamper of a farmhouse, the screen door slamming shut. I throw the doll, stash the knife in my pocket, and leap out of the lilacs in time to see her break across the dirt driveway for the grass. I know she is heading for the apple trees.  The swing.

Lunch must be over because Gramma Helen walks out after, pressing her wrist to her lower back, her heavy arms tan against the white apron she always wears.

“Amy Jo, I know you was out here in them flowers again,” but I have no time for her, it’s my turn for the swing.

“Daddy John says he’ll push you now!” Nikki squeaks with excitement. I can hear the zip-zip of her corduroy pant legs racing ahead of me, but I know she’ll save it for me even if she wins.

The swing is made out of a splintered, soft wood with thinning yellowed ropes knotted beneath it, reaching up to the boughs of the crab apple tree. It creeks when I swing and the pink apple blossoms shake down like snow to the green grass my bare feet dangle over. I pick at the unraveling cords and notice the fresh grass stains on my knees around a medium-sized hole I had managed to make in the pant leg. I want to pretend it’s not there, that it will go unnoticed at home.

“I built you’s this swing,” I hear his muffled voice behind me now, but coming from high above so I know he is looking up, talking into his beer. I run my cupped palms up and down the rotting ropes. I think of how it feels oily, and it looks like the texture of Barbie’s wiry eyelashes. I start picking apart the rope, trying not to look down at the hole mom and my new stepdad will see.

Maybe my dad had strong hands when he built this because my efforts at its unraveling are making my hands sweaty. I pick and pick the cord, my movements getting faster. I ask for his knife, forgetting I had it in my breast pocket. My stomach drops out and all my anxious efforts with it—at first I have no thoughts at all but by instinct to want to curl up into a ball or protect my face because I had stolen it; then I realize I’m only with my Daddy John, so the reaction ends but I start to feel funny in my stomach again. I try not to cry because that isn’t good either.

“No now you’s girls don’t belong with knives,” the familiar slugging of his Adam’s Apple as he tips the can back again. My stomach settles. It’s just him, and we still have a whole day left here plus tomorrow. His eyes are large like Nikki’s but blue-gray like Jodie’s.

Somewhere a time ago, beneath a kitchen table in a yellow warm room, my aunt leaned over to say just to me under a tablecloth, “You have your daddy’s dark eyes,” and I watched her eyeliner disappear into the smile’s wrinkle.

We’re moving away, I know. To a big city. My things at mom’s are packed, and yesterday mom showed us how to write the loopy cursive “S” to our new last name. This is our last weekend with him.

I notice he has stopped pushing because the swing is still.

“Hey,” I hear his knees crack beneath the faded denim covering his long legs as he gets down and asks me what’s wrong.  I can smell the familiar Old Style on his breath.

I begin to pick at the hole in my pants, and then I focus really hard and start ripping it open even wider, that strange pleasure filling me again.

“Hey you, what’s the matter?”

I look at the dandelions beneath my feet, transparent as ghosts.

“You want one of these? You blow on this, see? And then you make a wish, and when they fly away your wish will come true!” His goggle-thick glasses magnify his long lashes as he grins.

How can you believe in something you can’t hold onto?

All I know about safety is here, on this farm. My stepdad takes up all space; he is massive, looming over me every time I stop running from him. The skin on his hands…his smell, his anger—I forget I am on the swing under the tree. My world there is exposure-his threats to keep the secret presses up like a blade against the thread that connects me to my dad. And my dad’s hands aren’t strong; my dad isn’t stronger than him, and my dad’s letting me go.

I wish I knew how to tell him “I won’t ask for anything; I will be a good girl for you if you keep me.”

He hands me the dandelion after he blows away the seeds-an ugly, bald stem in my chubby hand. I notice a seed left. I don’t make a wish; I already know somehow: he is too small to save us. Small like us.

Then I feel the sting of the rope scratch against my forearm and thigh, and I am jerked backward a little as he drops his beer can and attempts to stand—pulling on the swing for leverage, and begins to push me into the pink fragrance overhead.



I am currently deciding between continuing on with this memoir or breaking it up into a memoir of essays/vignettes. It’s a story of abuse, Complex PTSD, identity, loss, and change—a survival story in a way, dark and light, breaking and healing. My poems and essays have been published at Word Riot, Frigg Magazine, Haggard and Halloo, DMU’s The Abaton, Blood and Thunder: Medical Musings, Psychic Meatloaf, The Writing Disorder, The Survivor Chronicles, Third Wednesday, and several others. I blog at Difficult Degrees.


  1. Hi, Amy. I know how difficult it is to write about abuse. The richness of both your external and internal descriptions is excellent. I don’t know that people understand the complexity of the thoughts and feelings that children who are abused can have. This may help some realize how often the silent cries for help are uttered. Thank you for this, Amy.

  2. Your story is powerful and goes directly to the heart. However, what caught my attention was your talent for taking the written word and making it sing. I was more captivated by your ability to structure your writing to not only feel the emotions, but also see them. Writers with your natural ability and the level of your verse are rare and I have to admit I am envious. Please, never stop writing and sharing your work. God Bless.

  3. Hi Amy, while I enjoyed reading your writing of this phenomenal piece. My heart broke for what you went through. I admire your courage to share this with everyone. Thank you.

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