She grew up in the Piedmont of North Carolina, in a tiny little no-nothing town with nothing but an old country road separating her home from a cotton field. It was a small subdivision, just fifteen minutes from the grocery stores and shopping malls and Maribeth liked it just fine. The railroad tracks about a half mile past her house separated the good part of town there in the country and the bad part. She wasn’t quite sure what made it so bad. People with lighter skin seemed to have some sort of problem with people who had darker skin and Maribeth couldn’t understand why. A person’s skin color seemed irrelevant to what kind of person they were.
She mostly stuck to the cotton fields though, finding wide open rows in-between the fluffy white puffs after school, fashioning makeshift beds for her Care Bears, thoughtfully removing the hull and seeds to create little pod for each. At dusk, her mom would call her in for supper from the front porch, yelling her and her brother’s names as loud as she could “Maaaaaaariiiii” she’d yell for short and “Beeeeeeeen” “DIIIIIIINEEERRR!” She knew her brother wasn’t far, hanging out in a tree or with one of the other neighborhood kids doing whatever boys do. Back inside with her mother, she’d sit perched on the faded yellow countertop with little golden flecks of micah embedded within, fidgeting with kitchen utensils as she rambled on about her day. As mom chopped the onion and stir fryed a big hunk of beef in the frying pan, she’d laugh and question Maribeth about her schoolwork and the teachers and what kinds of books she was reading because Maribeth was always reading one or two different books.
As someone who struggled with her weight at a young age, Maribeth was also taunted and teased quite regularly for being a bit bigger than some of the other kids her age. Her classmates would point and giggle, call her a boo-o–o–oy (said just like that in a long, drawn out sing-songy voice) and would run over, lift her arm up over their head and yell out that they’d found the perrrrfect shade tree. Maribeth tried to let it go. She would hold her breath and tuck her toes up tight in her shoes, keep her eyes squinched until the surge of heat rushing from heart to cheeks to feet subsided. That helped her hold it all in, enabled her to somehow to keep her small plump body from exploding into a million pieces, or so she imagined. When she got home to the cotton field, she let it go, asking the sun way up high and her worn Care Bear friends as they laid in their cotton pods why she deserved this funny body she’d been given. It didn’t make sense and she didn’t understand why anyone would want to be so cruel. Why was she so different from anyone else her age, she wondered. She ate the food both her mom and the school made for her and that seemed like what everyone else ate. She ran in gym class and even played softball with the other kids in her class. Why did she grow any different from anyone else and what was so funny about it? Where did this preferred way to look come from and why didn’t she get the schoolwide memo? So many dang questions for this strange planet she found herself a part of.
One afternoon as Maribeth lay inside her closet, another happy place for her when it was too cold or dark to be outside, she read about a boy around the same age as her who wasn’t having an easy go of it either. This boy imagined a bucket deep down inside himself where he would ball up that horrible feeling and think about stuffing it inside. He knew that any of the bad feelings that didn’t get put in would just keep swimming a path between his heart and his mind, slowly eating away at him. He could feel it every day and creating this bucket inside himself was the only way he had figured out so far in his eleven years of living to release it, to keep the pain from eating away at all the things he rather liked about himself. After breathing and imaging that little bucket tucked away in there, sucking up all of the hurtful stuff and shooting back out into the stars, he somehow transferred all the hurt into something else. It made him feel powerful and in charge of his own existence, like no one could control him with their nasty comments and silly songs. He could close his eyes, breathe really deep and imagine all of that stuff going right down into that black bucket where it belonged and out into a mystical endless blue sea. It was there that his mind opened up and his heart danced in wonder.
Maribeth knew these feelings all too well and decided that she too would attempt to shove all the nasty remarks and cruel jokes made up about her from those ridiculous kids deep down into her own little black bucket inside and out into an endless sparkly sea.
She knew that she always felt better when she walked by herself in the woods so she thought she’d give that a try first. One Saturday morning she set out across the street into the cotton field and wandered past riverbeds and enormous tree trunks. She ran under the canopies of beautiful hardwoods, running her finger over sappy pines and pulling the buds from dogwoods until she was good and lost. She thought back through all the things she wanted to place in this black bucket and cried and sang and jumped over fallen limbs, swinging sticks up at the clouds and releasing all that hurt as best she could.
She thought about all the things that hurt her, all the pain from those silly songs and mean kids at school that didn’t like her. She shoved it all in there until it was adrift in an endless blue.
The sun soon fell, sinking low down behind the cotton field and she began making her way back home. She felt lighter, free somehow from the torment of other people’s perceptions, relieved from these deeply rooted expectations of how she wanted this world to be, how she hoped other people would treat one another–free to dream up the world as she felt it in her heart. She wasn’t sure if her bucket would ever be empty, in fact that seemed impossible, but she knew that she’d need to do to continue dreaming, to free herself from the menial day-to-day anger from unfulfilled people without light in their eyes.