Dark Shame: A Novel Excerpt

Part of me is tearing up right now; this is so hard to write I want to press delete, but because April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and so many have gone through what I have, I decided that it was time to come out about what happened to me. Maybe sometime my story will make a difference for someone.

I was 17 and hitchhiking home from a rock concert when it happened. I know I shouldn’t have hitchhiked, but my teen-aged self argued, You can’t miss the greatest rock concert of the year! You saved for months to get that ticket. Bad things don’t happen to nice girls. Anyhow, you are safe because your are with a boy. 

But what power does a skinny sixteen-year-old have against two grown men with gun? The boy was robbed and left in a gutter while I was taken to a shack and…and… and… did everything I could to keep them from killing me.

I survived but for years I have woken up screaming from open-eyed nightmares believing there is someone next to my bed, hands inching toward my throat. When I’m in public and see men that look like my attackers, my heart starts pounding, it’s hard to breath, and I begin to shake uncontrollably searching furtively for escape. Being alone at night is the worst. When I hear the rustling of what is probably some animal in the yard, I imagine an intruder and search behind shower curtains, beneath beds, inside doors to every closet, bedroom and corner of the garage. Some nights these panic attacks have me crying uncontrollably wishing I could crack open my skull and empty the horrific images branded in memory.

I have gotten counseling many times, but for the last two years I  have been trying to work through these feelings in a novel.  Even though this project brings up a great deal of pain, I am compelled to continue. For some reason I keep going. I don’t know why since I’m crying half the time I work on it.

Here is an excerpt from the first chapter.

“So here I was, a kid certain that someday the light of hippie sun would shine on all our faces as we danced barefoot in meadows. I had so much faith in this dream that I thought if you can really talk to a person, get them face to face, and bare the beauty of your child soul you could soften even the hardest of hearts.

Naïve, I know. But when you’re a kid you see the world through your own eyes. And when you’re high to boot everything is tinged with this soft mist, like an out of focus camera and you trust people, thinking they just want to give you a ride.

Yeah, I never knew people were truly ugly until the night I peered into the tunnel of darkness.

You know, I really thought the face there was just a mask. One I could melt away with my Kodachrome soul.

But I was wrong. And by the time I figured it out, it was too late.”



About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Sugar Purge: Week 1

About a week ago I was feeling like dog doo. Everything hurt. My neck, my arms, legs, even my friggin’ hands ached. After a long day at work, I shuffled in the door and collapsed on the couch, so tired I cancelled my plans to go out dancing. And someone who loves to boogie as much as I do has to be in a truck load of pain to skip the chance to shake, rattle, and roll.

As I sat there, legs propped up, massaging tight muscles I began to freak out. I was too young for this kind of pain. Other people my age don’t deal with this. Heck, even my parents didn’t have aches like mine.

So I took stock of my lifestyle.

Now, I’ve been into health foods since my first year of college and was a vegetarian for ten years. Even when I reintroduced meat, it consisted of poultry and fish. My low-fat diet consists of salads, lots of fruits and veggies, and nuts for snacks avoiding fried, processed, or high cholesterol foods. And I’ve worked out my entire life.

But I’ve always loved sugar. As soon as a sweet cookie or smooth piece of fudge touches my lips, I’m a goner. Like a drug, it never satisfies me. I need more. And more. And more. Until finally I’m in a sugar induced stupor.

And Valentine’s week was one for the books. My intake alone must have shot C & H Sugar’s profits up by 20%. Between a class party, chocolate hearts from my students, cake in the teacher’s lounge, and a tub of Hershey’s Miniatures during the staff meeting, I must have ingested five-hundred pounds of sugar.

So I went on-line and did some research. I was surprised to discover that foods high in sugar can cause inflammation. Studies discovered that spikes in insulin trigger biochemical reactions that lead to inflammation. Sugar also  Sugar also contributes to joint pain and stiffness through a process called glycation.  This occurs when sugar bonds with proteins to form compounds called advanced glycation end products which  damage cells in the body by speeding up the oxidative process and changing normal cell behavior.

Aha! Time to make a change.

I began last Saturday with one simple goal. No candy, cookies, or cakes. I did great all weekend  since I don’t keep sweets at home. Work, on the other hand, has so many sweets calling to me I felt as if I were a drug addict in a free pharmacy.

But pain is powerful motivator and I stayed away all week.

So how do I feel one week later? Better! The pain in my hands is gone. The rest of my body feels better and I have more energy.  Neck stiffness I’ll always have, since two discs have degeneratated and last year’s hernia caused damage to a third. Still, even my neck pain diminished. Without mega-doses of ibuprofen.

I’d have to say that week one of my sugar purge was a success. I can’t wait for week two!

Bullying Burns

Burning Memories Video

Does your skin burn from invisible tattoos? Those bullying scars that continue to pierce your psyche? Are there times you look in the mirror and only see what others had hissed? Dog. Freak. If you’re like me and heard the daily taunts, felt the rising welts from rubber bands, or the swelling cheeks after meeting fists, then you might want to purge those memories.

“How?” You ask. “I don’t have a laser to remove every inked memory.” Counseling helps, I’d answer. As does a healthy life of purpose. Finding friends who really get you makes a difference. Surrounded by others who accept you just as you are, will help those marks to fade.

But sometimes all those things are just not enough. We need more.  Such as the Burn the Bully happening at the 2017 Cuesta College Writer’s Conference I participated in recently.

The event was sponsored by Thirteen Reasons Why author, Jay Asher,  whose New York bestseller chronicles the tragic suicide of a teen that has been bullied. Since it’s release ten years ago, Jay has been a champion for the voiceless victims of bullying  speaking nationwide to teens to help them navigate through the pain.

This ceremony  was intended to both raise awareness as well as be a coming together to heal from the scars of bullying. It was open to the public and participants wrote the name of a bully on a strip of paper and placed it into the fire pit. The fire and name burning was meant to release the bully and the memory to ash. Afterwards, volunteers gave hugs and affirmations.

It was strange. As I watched decades old wounds go from paper to flame, a lump grew in my throat. For a moment, when the fires grew, those words licked at my skin. But then, as the blazing bonfire waned, the pain dissipated with every wisp of smoke.


Seeing the Good

Students Seeing their Wonder by Volunteering to Create Peace

Even though news events have been beyond heartbreaking recently I still believe with every cell of my being that people are essentially good. It’s everywhere: you only have to look… Just in the past 24 hours a hulking bear of an African-American man who was grinning ear to ear in Home Depot while he chatted up every one, offered to help me carry my leaf blower to my car. He didn’t look at the color of my skin, just that the box was almost as big as me. Yesterday while I was admiring a little girl’s sand castle on the beach she gifted her treasured shell to me. When our family pup, Magnum got out yesterday morning a homeless man who naps under the trees helped me look for him. (He was returned unharmed by another kind neighbor.) I’ve seen news casts of good people taking to the streets in peace, showing solidarity with others who work for peace.
Love abounds!

Cyberbullying’s Silent Wounds


It’s just a text. Or a post. Only a few words. It’s not like I punched or kicked someone. No biggie.

Or is it? Just how big is cyberbullying to a victim?

  1. 25 percent of teenagers report that they have experienced repeated bullying via their cell phone or on the internet.
  2. Over half (52 percent) off young people report being cyberbullied.
  3. Embarrassing or damaging photographs taken without the knowledge or consent of the subject has been reported by 11 percent of adolescents and teens.
  4. Of the young people who reported cyberbullying incidents against them, one-third (33 percent) of them reported that their bullies issued online threats.
  5. Often, both bullies and cyberbullies turn to hate speech to victimize their target. One-tenth of all middle school and high school students have been on the receiving end of ‘hate terms’ hurled against them.
  6. Over half, (55 percent) of all teens who use social media have witnessed outright bullying via that medium.
  7. An astounding 95 percent of teens who witnessed bullying on social media report that others, like them, have ignored the behavior.
  8. Unfortunately, victims of cyber bullying sometimes, in an attempt to fight back, can shift roles, becoming the aggressor. Often, this happens as a sort of back-and-forth between victim and aggressor which tends to continue the behavior.
  9. More than half of young people surveyed say that they never confide in their parents when cyber bullying happens to them.
  10. Only one out of every six parents of adolescents and teens are even aware of the scope and intensity involved with cyber bullying.
  11. More than 80 percent of teens regularly use cell phones, making them the most popular form of technology and, therefore, a common medium for cyber bullying
  12. About half of young people have experienced some form of cyberbullying; among them, between 10 and 20 percent experience cyber bullying regularly.
  13. The most common types of cyberbullying tactics reported are mean, hurtful comments as posts.
It’s important to let children know that they can speak up against cyberbullying. If we educate them and have them stand up with assertive language the victims will become empowered. At the same time, adults need to monitor their child’s social media sites for predation and bullying.
Every child deserves to see their own wonder. Let’s not let cyberbullies rob them of that.

Physical Therapy

photo (4)     I am so excited. Today I get to start physical therapy. No longer will I be that couch potato growing roots into the cushions. Now I will be active and on my way to getting this new ACL in my  knee working. Yes!

I clip clop with my crutches across the parking lot envying those people with handicapped stickers in their car, head for the elevator, and go upstairs to Beck and Cale’s office. I know this place. I went here after I injured my shoulder jogging with my weimaraner years ago. Their expert staff is as sweet as my favorite, chocolate raspberry truffles.

Physical therapy centers are a lot like gyms with weights, exercise balls, and a stationary bike or two. But they also have multiple exam tables, stability bars, and rolling carts with ultrasound machines. All around therapists direct patients in squats, finger stretches, shoulder rolls, and other strange-looking  exercises.

I’m ready. I head inside imagining  working out on the bike until sweat drips off  my face. Unfortunately my knee is not. Instead I do a few leg lifts, band exercises, and one where I press my foot into the ground. I have to wait two weeks for the bike.

I try not to look too disappointed as I follow Don Cale’s directions but finally blurt out what a drag it is . Then he patiently explains, in words I’m sure he’s used thousands of times before, that although the holes in my knee are small, it’s still surgery and I need to give the knee time to heal. I nod and vow to make that my summer’s work.

Next,  they apply adhesive electrodes beneath a cold wrap and I watch my tingling muscles twitch.  The electrical current is at the maximum I can bear so I grit my teeth, try to focus on fluff inside People Magazine and tell myself that it will all be over soon.

Thankfully it is and as I hobble to the elevator I realize that, just like writing, recovery takes place one page at a time.

Baby Steps

172I’m walking into the doctor’s office for my two week follow up since ACL surgery. A time to get stitches out and ask those nagging questions at the back of my mind. Am I doing the exercises correctly? Did I hurt anything by doing 100 reps instead of thirty? How soon can I do weights at the gym? Can I swim?

And most of all, how long do I have to wear this stupid brace that makes me walk like a peg leg in an old black and white pirate flick?

My doctor snips the blue nylon and pulls the stitches out with a needle-nosed instrument.” Ouch, that one hurt,” I say as he mumbles normal normal a couple of times. Next, he asks me to straighten my leg and bend my leg,  nods approvingly when I can.  I’ll have to admit that I am pretty proud of doing my exercises so religiously to get to this point.

“Time to start walkng without the brace,” he says demonstrating a careful tread across the floor. Baby steps at first and then more and more as your leg gets stronger.

Embarrassed to try in front of him I just ask my questions before thanking him

But once home I rip off the brace and take my first tentative steps across the floor. Strange to feel my naked leg shaking as I go heal toe from the kitchen to the living room.  Wobbling, I reach out an arm for the couch and make it.

My first baby steps.


crutchThere they are: two dull grey appendages leaning against the wall daring me to get up and use them.
But it’ll hurt!  I think looking down at my bandaged knee. It’s too soon. I can’t.  The doctor said I had to be careful.

So I wait.

An hour later they’re still there. Now the dare has turned into a judgmental glare. Did you know that crutches can glare?  Well they can. When a post-operative knee patient refuses to get off the couch, they give the dirtiest looks imaginable.
I try shooting dirty looks back but know it’s no good. I turn on the tv. They don’t disappear. I try looking the other way. Still there. I bury my face in a book.
Now the looks have turned into whispers.
“Come on, Laurie. Get up. You can lean on me,” the crutches say.
“Shut-up. You don’t know how much it hurts,” I growl back.
But they are insistent, a constant susurration that finally makes me shout, “Fine, have it your way!”
The pain is excruciating as I try to get up. But as I reach for their steel support I’m surprised that it throbs  just a little bit less.

Maybe a crutch is only a crutch until you  tentatively step forward.