It started early last week.

A copy of my book lay on my desk at work.  A co-worker saw it, then asked me about it.  When she asked what it was about, I gave her my standard response:  “It’s not a light read.  It’s about child abuse, actually, and it’s written in first person narrative of a ten-year-old.”  She arched her brows.  “Hm.  Is it about you?”

No one has so bluntly asked me that as an opening discussion topic.  My face flushed and, unprepared, I bent my head forward.  “The book is fiction,”  I said slowly and carefully.

“But it’s based on true life.”

I inclined my head.  She asked to read it, I lent her my only copy.  The next time I went into work, four people, including my male boss, were reading the book.  When asked what they thought, they just stared at each other as if searching for words.  One of them said, “I think you’re very brave.”  The other: “I don’t know what to think. It’s quite disturbing.”  I was thrilled because, for the record, if an author ever tells you she doesn’t secretly long to listen to a group of people excitedly discussing her book—-she’s lying.  Every now and then, I’d be working and then hear one of them go, “AH!” or “That really ticks me off” or,  my favorite,  “If you two don’t STOP ruining the ending for me, I. am. going. to FIRE you.”  Smiling, I’d look over my shoulder; one of them would see me and smile brightly, then whisper,  ‘She hears us.’  It was like listening in on a book club where the book that’s being discussed is yours.  It made me downright giddy.  Giddy, people.  It was great.  It was so fabulous, I just can’t tell you.

The group that surrounds me started finishing it:  they’d bring me their copies, have me sign it, and that was pretty much it. And I was beside myself with joy.  I wanted to clap and jump up and down like a kid in a candy store.  All my life I have LOVED reading.  No, you really don’t understand. When I read, “Stacey’s Big Crush” (A Baby-Sitter’s Club book), I literally could not BREATHE from laughing, and crying, so much.  My face turned blue from embarrassment for a character who never really existed.  Also, I have imaginary conversations with characters—both that I create in my books and the ones in books I love (Judith McNaught’s Clayton Westmoreland and I are grand friends).  Book are not just pages to me.  They, like, well, they come alive. They really do. I LOVE THEM. And, even more, I love TALKING about them.  Not just my books—-ANY book, I’ll even talk about horrible, gosh awful books because it is so freaking fun to imagine a world you’re not actually in. It allows you to examine parts of yourself without being too emotionally endangered.

SO…

To hear MY book being so passionately discussed was almost surreal.  It was better than getting the first paycheck I received for selling the first books. Such a dream come true.  In fact, I was so happy about the fact that they were interested and creating a buzz about it around the office that I kind of lost sight for a minute of the book’s power.  Until, that is, today.

I had to go into the office for awhile this morning. I get there at the crack of dawn so that I can leave early.  Mid-morning, I am always in desperate need of a Coke. So I was at the vending machine.  There with me were two women, both of whom work in entirely different departments than I do and with whom I don’t normally associate.  To my knowledge, they were clueless about the fact that I write books. One of them is quite hilarious, and insists on calling me “I” every day. “Hey I,” she’ll say. She’ll chase me down halls, sneak up on me and do weird things. She is awesome.  The other woman, I had never met. I’d seen her, but did not know her name and had never spoken to her. The funny lady, Pearl, was doing her normal, “pickonIroutine”.  The other woman was strangely quiet.  Finally, Pearl left, and the woman said,   “You’re Tiffini, right?”

I nodded. “That I am.”

“I’m halfway through your book.”

Shocked, was I.  First of all, who was she, I wanted to ask.  Second of all, how the heck did she know about the book?  Third of all, even if she did know about the book, why did she buy it, seeing as she had never talked to me before?  “Really?  That’s great.  How is it going?”

Then I actually looked at the woman, something I should have done before.  When I did, I noticed unmistakable tears shining in her eyes.  Instantly, my joy was gone, as I knew she had something important happening.

“You wrote two other books, right?”

“Ah, well, two others are published, yes.”

She nodded. “I’ll have to look into those.”

I smiled. “Okay.”

Then, she turned and started walking away. She took three steps, then turned on a dime, and came close to me again, lowered her voice.  “And you know what?  You… you have to have personal knowledge.. You had to have been through this.”

I swallowed, and my eyes dropped. She sounded almost angry, which made me very nervous.

“You’ve had experience with this, personal experience.  I know because I know where I’m at, and I know where I came from…. do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

She was telling me that she’d been hurt as a child and that reading the book was powerfully affecting her.  That’s what she was telling me. She was also telling me that she knew I was more than a writer, that it was a lot more real than not, and that THAT made her feel understood.  I got it.  So I just nodded. Before I could speak, she turned on a dime again, and walked away, out of the break room and back into the office arena.  I stood paralyzed for a few seconds. The woman left so quickly because she was crying.  And she was crying because she didn’t want to talk about her story—and yet she did.  She was hurting.  Plain as day.

And I had to respond.

But I didn’t know how, because I didn’t know her name, or even from which department she came.  So I went on a quest to find out.  I questioned other employees who had been in the breakroom with us and thereby discovered her name. Everyone who works at the office has the same email setup so I knew how to email her, once I knew her name.  So I emailed her a very short note that read,    “You know…. in the end, she turns out okay.”   She responded with, “We all do if we try hard.  And don’t tell me the ending.”

Reassured that she was okay, and my words weren’t going to traumatize her again, I smiled and resumed working. I then asked the women in my group if they had talked about the book with this other woman, trying to figure out how she heard about it in the first place.  They said they had not.  I still don’t know how it reached her department, or what made her ask what the book was about.  But I do know that as giddy as I was listening to the healthy women lament the sadness of the book,  this other woman’s tears helped dry some of mine.

All I did was write a story about what happened to me.

All I did was write what I know.

She could have undoubtedly done the same.

More than any accolade, more than the thrilling possibility of one day having real help marketing the book, more than the childlike joy I got from listening to the bookclub-like discussion of it…. it’s powerful being reminded how healing feeling understood really can be.  Even when you don’t know the person personally…. just knowing that someone was once a child like you and that you both went through something very painful and life-altering, something that still makes you cry at the slightest mention of it…. there’s grace and comfort in actually seeing someone face to face and realizing that you are not alone, and you’re not crazy.  You never were.

I firmly believe that God was at work today, and that her life and mine intersected for a very brief moment for a reason. Sometimes trauma prevents friendship from blossoming because what you have in common is too painful a reminder to face every day.  But sometimes what you really need isn’t a friend, it’s something else, something undefined by words.  I know nothing about that woman’s life, and she knows nothing about mine, but today at the vending machine, when we looked at each other, we both knew that we understood undeniable truths about life that other people simply don’t get.  And that was enough to create a bond.

You have no conception of what it is like to realize that the bridge between trivial greetings you pass along to strangers all day and true connection was a book I wrote. It would be humbling, except I know that 1 in 3 girls could have written the same book.  I’m not so much humbled, or proud, as I am awed—awed by the living God who can use words on a piece of paper to speak to people’s hearts and allow those words to massage a hurting heart.

I have news.

Healing doesn’t really come from justice.  A rapist can be sent to jail for the rest of his life but if his victim never confronts head on the lies spoken through all the mind games, emotional, spiritual and psychological hell endured — then she won’t heal.  And if she never heals, then justice never really took place anyway.

I stand amazed at what God is taking a small book and doing with it.  I stand awed at the very idea He might use my words to promote healing, self-worth and a sense of understanding.  I bow in humble adoration at the idea that He’s allowing the words and the images they form to leap off the paper to become peace and comfort.  The world is not a bad place, and there are more friends than enemies. May it continue to shine light on children who are hurting, and give a measure of peace to the adults who remember being a hurting child.

And also….

Don’t forget …. Ash is actually real.

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