I have featured this writer here before because I love her. I love her in a YOU MUST READ HER STORIES kind of way. Helena is no stranger to bullying, is a survivor of child abuse, and has been a witness to abuse. I want you to know how amazing I think Helena is.
I didn’t always know exactly WHO Helena was. I remember wondering WHO she was because she was hilarious and extremely clever. Over time we started emailing and every now and then she would squawk about her anonymity. I assured her I was fine with her secret identity. I didn’t need to see her or know intimate details about her life to KNOW her.
And then she sent me a picture. Let’s just say she had a five o’ clock shadow.
Several weeks ago Helena Hann-Basquiat decided to unveil herself. I was nervous for her because I already knew she was a HE and people judge whether they admit it or not.
Stop and think about this for a minute. What Helena ( I will always call him Helena ) did is impressive. Could you pull off writing so convincingly as another gender? I can barely remember my pen name at times.
Although Ken had some really great reasons for creating Helena, which you can read about HERE, I doubt he realized he was creating a whole world people would be getting lost in. Helena is a wonderful person who has learned to use humor to make life bearable. The fact that Helena is really a HE makes the books even that much more brilliant.
Please don’t miss out on Helena’s newest project. He needs your help because PROMOTION and MARKETING is hard. You have about 20 more days to become a fan and and pre-order your copy of Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two via Pubslush .
Plus, he trusted me to do the photo for the cover. I would also like to thank my daughter for letting me take pictures of her when she really just wanted to go read a book.
Helena agreed to let me post an excerpt from her latest book for my bullying theme this month. Thank you Helena! xoxo
Leaving Arcadia – an excerpt
Brooke didn’t belong in Arcadia.
I wanted to steal her away, take her to New York, to Toronto, to Montreal. I wanted to hitchhike across the country with her, show her that there was more to the world than chicken wings, beer and football.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that when I first met her, all I’d want-ed to do was run away myself. Arcadia was never my home, and yet that’s where they sent me when I left England, because that’s where my parents were. Never mind that I was technically an adult, I guess they figured that after my actions, I shouldn’t be on my own. They were probably right, but at the same time, sending me to Arcadia was like sending me to the Overlook Hotel for the winter with only Jack Torrance for company.
All work and no play make Helena a dull girl…
At that point I didn’t have my US citizenship, so I couldn’t work, I couldn’t go to school, and at 18, I was too young to drink – legally, anyway – and so my options were few. The town did have a library, which is where I met Brooke.
Cheryl and Ted had their hands full. My parents had moved down to be closer to them, but had yet to get a place of their own, and so they were living in the spare bedroom. Having us all under the same roof was like putting a bunch of ex-POWs together and watching a marathon of Vietnam movies. I was constantly on edge, biting my lip at the selfishness of my parents, who didn’t seem to understand the imposition that they were being. My father would walk into a room where we were watching something on TV and just sit down, grab the remote, and start flipping around to something he wanted to watch. My mother would be running around like his personal handmaiden, fetching him tea, or snacks, or whatever his royal highness demanded. I tried appealing to my mother to stop waiting on him and tell him to get off his ass and get his own shit, but she reacted pretty much as I expected – with incredulous disbelief at the mere suggestion. You’d think that I’d asked her to slit his throat in his sleep.
Once I met Brooke, I practically lived at the library. I couldn’t stand to be in the same room as my father, and I think he felt the same. Brooke was three years older than me, and already married at twenty-one to her high school sweetheart. It was a small town cliché that I tried my best to ignore, though I often asked her if she hadn’t wanted to get out, see the world, and have some adventures of her own before settling down into married life. Her husband wasn’t exactly the “let’s hop in a car and drive until we run out of gas, and then see where it takes us” type of guy.
The truth is, I didn’t know what he was like – not firsthand anyway. She talked about him in terms of him being a great guy, a solid guy, a good husband, but she never spoke about him the way she talked about Margaret Atwood, or her love for 1970s cinema, or The Pixies. I could talk to her for hours, and learned what kind of cake she had at her wedding (chocolate with orange cream), what her favourite subject was in school (English Lit), and what her guilty musical pleasure was (Michael Jackson), but not a thing about her husband other than where he worked, and that they’d known each other since they were kids, and that everyone pretty much knew that they’d end up together.
If she’d seemed happy, it might be considered terribly roman-tic, but she didn’t. At twenty-one, she already seemed so much older, and constantly had that “deer in the headlights” look about her, as if she were in a state of permanent flinching. I slowly began to have my suspicions about her every time I left the library and went back to Cheryl’s. I saw the same look on my mother’s face – teeth clenched, tension lines around her eyes, unable to relax.
I was trapped in Arcadia for three months that time, and much as Cheryl wanted me to stay, get my citizenship taken care of, and be close to her and Ted and Penny, I just couldn’t. I had escaped my parents once, and planned on staying as far away from them as I could. And so, shortly after my nineteenth birthday, I found myself living on my own in Toronto.
The next time I visited, things had taken a turn for the surreal. My father and mother had finally moved out, and had started going to a church in town, and not just going, but getting involved. They were actually living in the parsonage – a house that the church owned and usually let the pastor live in, but since their pastor had a house of his own, they were letting my parents live there. Cheryl had warned me on the phone that Dad had re-discovered Jesus af-ter what he called “his time in the wilderness” and was all about forgiveness and repentance, but she couldn’t have prepared me for the greeting I got when I arrived at Cheryl and Ted’s that day.
My father wrapped his arms around me and immediately start-ed blubbering, telling me how sorry he was, and asking me to for-give him. He gave me the same old spiel about how we often hurt those closest to us because we know that they understand, and will forgive us. He spoke about how he was a terrible father, and re-ferred to things long past, as if speaking about another person that wasn’t him.
My mother added her commentary, saying that “Jesus has for-given your father, Helena, and so should you.”
I’d been there five minutes, and already I wanted to get back on the train and go home. Penny, not quite two, rescued me by clinging to my leg and demanding to be picked up.
I took her out back and stifled a scream by blowing into my little niece’s belly, eliciting a peal of pleasure, followed by a gaggle of giggles that served to soften my mood. Penny’s always been able to make me feel better, right from the very start. Cheryl joined me on the back porch and put her arm around me.
“Who needs a drink?” I asked, raising my free hand. Little Penny rose her own, mimicking mine, and I laughed and poked her nose.
“Okay, little dumpling – what’s your poison?”
She grabbed my finger and stuck it in her mouth, biting down hard enough to hurt.
“Ouch!” I cried, still laughing. “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! You little monster!”
“Onster!” Penny repeated, and then growled ferociously.
“Ted should be home in another hour,” Cheryl offered. “You want me to see if he’ll watch Penny and we can go out?”
“Sounds good,” I said, “we’ll go hit up all the good clubs, maybe catch a band. Is anyone good playing tonight?”
Cheryl looked at me sourly. “Could you not? Please?”
“What?” I said, feigning innocence. Arcadia had no clubs, good or otherwise, and the only band that was playing there would occasionally be the high school marching band for some parade or other. The biggest entertainment in or around Arcadia was probably the high school football games, which held no interest for me.
“It’s hard enough being the country mouse to your city mouse without you rubbing it in,” Cheryl sighed.
“Well, what is there to do?”
“We have a tavern,” she suggested. “They even have pool ta-bles and a jukebox, Helena.”
I made my eyes go wide with manufactured amazement.
“Oh my stars and garters! A jukebox! Why didn’t you say so? That’s a horse of a different colour!”
When Ted got home, I suggested we pick up Brooke from the library – when I’d left I’d promised to keep in touch, and of course I hadn’t, so I wanted to surprise her by just showing up.
Sitting outside the library leaning on a bike, smoking a cigarette and reading a Shirley Jackson novel – if I remember correctly, and I always do, darlings, it was We Have Always Lived in the Castle – was an Arcadian anomaly. A girl – maybe seventeen or eighteen – wearing short khaki shorts and ripped black stockings, ending in a pair of Doc Martens. The stockings didn’t cover up the bruises she wore all up and down her legs, and I felt an instinctive anger fill my head like buzzing bees. Her head was shaved, all except for her bangs, which she’d dyed black. She caught me staring and looked up at me with angry eyes made even angrier by heavy black eyeliner.
“Hi,” I said, embarrassed at being caught. “Good book?”
Exhaling smoke, she nodded, and barely audible, she said, “Educational.”
Later, I’d have cause to think about that and shiver, but at the time, I just nodded back at her and entered the library without an-other thought on the matter.
“You know that girl?” I asked Cheryl after we got inside. She shook her head. “Did you see her legs? Someone’s hurting that girl, Cheryl. Someone’s…”
“I know,” she said. “I’ve seen her around, and she’s always covered in fresh bruises. She seems to wear them like a badge of honour or something. She’s always getting into fights, getting kicked out of places for mouthing off.”
“But you don’t know her? Don’t know her family?”
Arcadia was a small town, but Cheryl and Ted were relatively new to the community.
“I know her to see her, but I don’t even know her name.”
Less than a year later, everyone would know Amy LeFevre’s name. Her name would be plastered across newspapers, her picture up on posters, with words like Wanted in connection and Police investigation and most alarmingly, Murder suspect attached to them.
But just then, she was just a girl who looked tough and out of place in what was otherwise a slice of day old Rockwellian Ameri-cana, and as much as I wanted to do something for her, there wasn’t likely much I could have done.
Brooke was happy to see us – I got the feeling that she hadn’t seen much of Cheryl, either – which struck me as odd, as they should have been fast friends.
I was in for more surprises when I gave Brooke a hug and she winced, telling me that she’d hurt her stomach falling on one of her bedposts. I tried to make some joke about it being a sexy thing – a bedroom injury – but her fake laugh was unconvincing. The flash of panic in her eyes when we invited her out with us was more authentic.
“Oh, I couldn’t,” she insisted, shaking her head and smiling. “David’s expecting me home, I have to make dinner.”
“So he orders a pizza tonight,” I laughed. “He’s a big boy, Brooke, I’m sure he’ll be okay.”
“I don’t know,” Brooke hesitated.
“Look, I’m only in town for a few days, and other than my sis-ter, you’re the only good company here over the age of two. And besides – I’m almost legal – don’t you want to take me down to the local watering hole and help me get my drink on?”
“Like you didn’t do that before when you weren’t almost le-gal,” Cheryl chimed in.
“Yes, but now I’m almost legal,” I said with a grin. I wasn’t quite twenty-one yet myself, but it was close enough by Arcadian standards.
“Okay,” Brooke said, and gave a laugh that lit up her face. “Okay I’ll go with you. But just for a little while. And I’ll have to drop by my house and leave David a note.”
I rolled my eyes. I didn’t want to believe what was going through my mind.
I didn’t know her well enough to make those kinds of leaps or deductions. I lied to myself, saying that I’d just seen a girl with bruises all up and down her legs and was seeing monsters every-where; jumping at shadows.
But then the next day, when I dropped by to visit her at the li-brary, Brooke wasn’t there. The lady covering for her was very sweet.
“Oh, that poor girl,” she said. “She’s just so clumsy. She said her stomach was still bothering her, and that she might head over to the hospital to make sure she didn’t crack a rib or something.”
I didn’t see her after that.
I tried calling, but just kept getting the machine. I dropped by the library a couple more times, but she wasn’t in. On the day I was set to leave I went by her place to say goodbye, but no one answered the door.
It would be nearly three years before I heard the story of what happened to Brooke that night after we’d left the bar.
Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.
Last year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is about to release Volume Two, along with a Shakespearean style tragi-comedy, entitled Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.
Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat , and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE