Here is an excerpt from my newly released Memoir Chasing Eden:
Momma hated going to the laundromat, but I loved it. Dirty clothes gave us an excuse to get out of the motel room and talk by ourselves for a couple of hours with no Daddy to interrupt, no younger kids to discipline, and no household tasks to distract her. Helping Momma with the laundry gave me a weekly opportunity to have her undivided attention and talk about my teenage dreams while she seemed willing to listen.
Laundromats were also a great place to go people-watching. I liked to analyze everything from their style of clothing to the kind of cars people drove. It might’ve been the stories I told myself, but it seemed like most people were living more exciting lives than I was. Momma wasn’t beyond people watching herself, but whenever my staring distracted me from doing my chores, she’d accuse me of “spacing out,” and threaten to bring my sister next time.
One spring day in 1982 began like every other laundry day. Daddy drove us through the Seattle fog and parked our yellow Ford van in front of the glass doors so we could haul our nine garbage bags of dirty laundry inside. He gave Momma a twenty-dollar bill for the quarter machine before buying a newspaper and going back to the car to read it.
Momma went to make quarters, while I rushed to spread the laundry across an entire row of washers to claim our territory. I dreaded opening the bags, knowing at least one of them would include the rotten stench of dirty socks–so I held my breath and started filling washers as fast as I could. When I paused to catch my breath, my eyes traveled around the room, checking out the stories of the day.
A bearded man read a hunting magazine while his wife pushed a cart full of clothes to the dryers. A little girl in pigtails was throwing a tantrum and begging her mother for candy. Then I saw her–a teenage girl about my age, stacking t-shirts into a laundry basket. I didn’t mean to stare, but I couldn’t help it. It’d been months since I’d spoken to a girl my age.
She wore a short, feathered haircut, designer jeans, and a red peasant blouse. Hanging from her neck swung a gold heart on a chain. Next to her purse sat a small transistor radio. I could faintly hear the voice of Juice Newton singing, “Angel of the Morning.” On top of her jeans sat an oval key-chain. I squinted to read the words, “Green River Community College.” It wasn’t her clothes or tousled hairstyle, and it wasn’t the radio—although I could only dream of rocking out freely. The truth was this girl had everything I’d ever wanted and probably a boyfriend too, but the thing I envied the most was her key-chain. It symbolized freedom to drive, go to school, and make friends.
It wasn’t her fault she was living a charmed life, and I didn’t wish to steal anything from her. I would’ve flashed her a smile if she’d looked my way, but she never even glanced toward my ragged skirt and faded blouse. It was apparent she had friends to see and places to go. She set her radio on the top of her clean laundry and strategically balanced the basket on her hip. As she passed through the glass doors, I went to the window to see what kind of car she drove. She set the basket down next to a gold Trans Am and unlocked the driver’s door.
A thud distracted me when a small, brown bird crashed into the glass window on the other side and fell to the sidewalk below. I decided to step outside and see if I could help it, but I looked back when I heard the girl shut her door and start the engine. She adjusted the rearview mirror and paused for a second. I wondered whether she noticed me staring. Without signaling, she pulled out into the traffic, while I watched her golden form fade into the Seattle mist.
The sparrow looked so out of place lying on the concrete. I hoped she wasn’t dead. When I touched her, she opened her eyes, fluttered her wings, and flew straight up, disappearing into the clouds. I went back inside to the flickering fluorescent light, hoping Momma hadn’t noticed I was gone. But it was too late. I found her shaking her head.
“Cherie, where have you been? Maybe I should bring Mara next time.”
Momma spoke in staccato-like tones as though we were dealing with an emergency. She gave me a handful of quarters. I went back to loading the machines until I felt a sharp stab at my waist. I reached inside my skirt to re-hook the safety pin holding my underwear together. Then ignoring the musty odor of mildewed towels, I became a machine myself—one washer filled, soap dispensed, quarters fed, and on to the next–until all nine began to vibrate and hum while they shook the dirt out of our clothes.
After I slid the quarters into the last machine, my feet seemed glued to the avocado-colored carpet. For a moment, I thought it was sticky. I could see where someone had spilled their soda, but as I forced myself to move past the stain, I realized it was something more. I’d been vaguely aware that I’d been old enough to leave home since my last birthday–but I couldn’t figure out how to separate from my family. For over a year, my parents had been telling me they’d help me as soon as we got settled, but we’d been living in a motel for months.
The girl my age had slapped my face with the brutal truth that it was too late to catch up to my peers. As my brain strained to accept this reality, I sat down in an orange melamine chair and forced myself to breathe. I imagined her dancing and laughing with her friends, while I was stuck in another universe, sorting my siblings’ dirty laundry. I wondered how I could get from my planet to hers.
When the washers quit spinning, Momma washed her hands and began to load the wet clothes into the dryers. My job was to drop quarters into each machine and turn the dial. Our task complete, we counted the extra coins to see how much we had left for the candy machine.
Every Friday afternoon, Momma and I savored chocolate while we meditated on the colorful clothes swirling in the dryers like a row of kaleidoscopes. In this noisy place, without upsetting Daddy, we discussed our dream to live in a house like normal people. This ritual was our liturgy, the candy our sacrament–and our hopes ascended like prayers, fulfilling this weekly communion between mother and daughter.
As I munched on the candy, I made small talk with Momma. I told her about the bird so she wouldn’t wonder what I was doing outside the building. I never mentioned the girl until I realized it was time to unload the dryers. I felt a rising panic when I realized we might not talk alone for another week. I couched my words carefully knowing any discussion about my lack of education or loneliness got on her nerves.
“I wish I had a friend my age.” Even before the words left my mouth, I realized I’d made a mistake, and I knew what she’d say. Momma had been lonely with only one sister, so she’d planned a family of four kids to give me more siblings. I rephrased my words, “I’m grateful for my siblings, but I want to go to school and have friends like the kids on TV. I feel so far behind all the people my age that I’m afraid I’ll never catch up.” I tried to keep my throat from cracking to sound as calm as possible, but speaking the truth out loud caused my voice to shake against my will.
Momma rolled her eyes. “I hope you’re not complaining about not going to school again. We’ve discussed this before. For one thing, TV isn’t real life. And for another, I went to an academy, and believe me; school is not all it’s cracked up to be. If watching TV gives you a bad attitude, maybe you should stop watching it.”
I started to say it wasn’t the TV, but before I could finish, Momma gathered up the detergent and bleach and headed for the door. She waved for Daddy to come and help us carry out the clean clothes. Once we’d loaded the laundry into the back seat, I slumped against a clean garbage bag full of warm towels and inhaled the scent of hot plastic.
Daddy, sensing I was upset about something, looked at me through the rearview mirror.
“What’s going on?”
I was afraid I’d blurt out what was on my mind, so I turned toward the window to avoid eye contact. “Nothing. I’m just depressed about not going to school.”
Daddy drove the few blocks to the motel in silence, then blew through his lips as he turned onto the asphalt parking lot. “Cherie, when are you going to stop living in the past? We can’t do anything about last year. Give me a break. I’m trying to get us back to Montana as soon as the next car sells.”
He’d been saying this for months. I knew complaining about it wouldn’t solve my problem. As soon as the car stopped, I grabbed a bag of laundry and hauled it across the threshold of the motel door, past the tiny kitchenette, and into the crowded bedroom I shared with my three younger siblings. Sorting through the bag, I pulled out my blouses and tossed them into the worn cardboard box I used as a dresser.
The younger kids were watching the Brady Bunch–the one where Marcia broke her nose on a football. With the bluish light from the TV flashing on the wall, I wadded up a faded gold bedspread and placed two flat, lumpy pillows in front of it on the bed. Crossing my legs, I positioned myself against the headboard, with the bedding supporting my back. My parents had tried everything to stop me from rocking, but this was one of those days I couldn’t help myself. The girl at the laundromat had stirred my deepest dreams, and I was trying to remember what made me forget them.
Shutting my eyes to escape the flicker of the TV, the faint smell of dead mouse, and the sounds of Marcia and Greg yelling at each other, I started to rock back and forth. But just as I entered an altered, dream-like state and began to escape my body, Abby’s voice sucked me back into the room.
“Cherie, can you play Monopoly with me?”
I opened my eyes to see my twelve-year-old sister standing in front of me with a fist full of colored bills. I usually loved playing with her, but at the moment, I was sick of watching fake families on TV and playing games with counterfeit money. Abby still had the luxury of childhood for a few more years and had no clue how far we’d drifted off course.
I shook my head, “No, I’m tired.” The tone of my voice warned her to leave me alone.
For years, faces and places had spun around me like a revolving door, while my own life seemed to be standing still. I was caught up in some nebulous land between childhood and adulthood where birthdays stacked up but the years never seemed to make a difference or bring any new accomplishments. My peers were celebrating life with their friends, while my father’s choices had sequestered me inside a motel prison, with little to do but laundry and watching reruns on TV.
Daddy often said, “Don’t worry about an education–Jesus will come before you grow up.” But either he or Jesus had screwed up because time was running out and I was stuck in limbo–somewhere between reality and the end of the world. Was life meant to be this way, or was our family an exception because Daddy couldn’t figure out where to settle and make a living? And if Daddy couldn’t make his dreams come true, how could I?
Any discussion about my dreams and fears exasperated my parents. Daddy got angry when I remembered the things he hoped I’d forget, and Momma got frustrated when I spoke the truth about things she chose to ignore. I needed to understand how I had ended up in this predicament, but since they wouldn’t talk about it, I had no choice but to escape my body through rocking. So I closed my eyes, resumed my rhythm, and conjured up my elephant memory. I soon forgot I was sitting on a sagging mattress in a dark motel room and my mind fled the stale air, while I traveled back in time to find the truth.
Like what you just read?
This is the first chapter of my memoir Chasing Eden. It’s an indie book published by myself and it’s one month old this week. I call it “the little book that could” because it stayed #1 on the Amazon Teen and Young Adult Bestseller for New Releases for 3-1/2 weeks. And even though it’s dropped down, it has at least fifty reviews–many with five stars. I get emails every day from people telling me what a joy it’s been for them to read it.
Here’s what people are saying about Chasing Eden A Memoir:
“Spellbinding and inspiring. I couldn’t put it down.”-Kathleen Clem, MD, FACEP
“Clough’s story has the tension and energy to motivate staying up late to repeatedly promise oneself, “I will read just one more chapter.” -Cynthia Rempel Zirkwitz
“As someone who is obsessed with memoir, I can say this one stands with the best. Readers will see similarities to the narcissistic fathers in both Educated and The Glass Castle but this in no way makes Cherilyn’s story predictable. I was glued to my seat, fingernails dug in, going from tears of frustration and gasps of shock to being so angry that I wanted to throw my iPad across the room. However, and delightfully so, there were also enough laughs and beautiful moments to get me through the saga of neglect and abuse.” –Jeannie Robinson
About finding your voice and speaking your truth, despite the potentially eternal consequences of doing so. –Sharon Esteves
“This is a book about the power of hope. While trapped in its pages, I laughed, cried, and dreamt too. I loved its genuine plot, rich descriptions, and lovable characters…Chasing Eden will captivate you and inspire you all the way through! -Karina Bresla
“It is a story that is both heartbreaking and inspiring; told in such a kind and gracious manner that it stays with you long after the final page. Highly recommended!”–Barbara Womack
Clough unrolls a tapestry of survival, not a rose-tinted triumph, and it is finally this fidelity to what we all experience in the mixed bag of our own family dynamics that lends Clough’s account its impact. For readers who’ve appreciated the introspection of Educated, Clough adds another voice for those listening and trying to understand the way in which extremist beliefs are lived out in family life. –Shelley Weaver
Chasing Eden, a sensitively written memoir set in the cage of religious fundamentalism, captures the confusing nuances of childhood abuse. You can see, hear, smell, feel, and taste one little girl’s gradual awakening, but Clough creates space for her family members’ complexities and motivations as well. In the pages of this story, readers will discover insights for their own awakenings and be led a step further into the light of healing. -Natalie Hoffman, Author of Is It Just Me?
Many common threads run through our childhood stories–especially those of us raised by controlling parents, and yet, each story, yours and mine are unique–so unique they are different from the stories of our siblings. And each one is just as important as the other.
I’ve set the ebook so anyone can afford it because I believe stories teach us about hope and healing. If you’re writing a memoir, I wish you blessings as you write. Your story matters just as much as mine. We need all of our messy stories to heal the world.
Peace and freedom!