My elementary school practiced experimental, self-guided education in which we completed assignments at our own pace, then tested and graded ourselves. I was not a fast reader and had poor reading comprehension. In fourth grade, embarrassed to be on the lower level of the reading scale, I cheated. My teacher must have suspected my scam, because she put her arm around my waist and asked me a few questions about what I had supposedly read. Busted, I cried in shame and humiliation.

My best friend told my older sister, Susan, what had happened, and I became my sister’s servant. “If you don’t bring me a pop,” Susan would say, “I’m telling Mom.” She didn’t even have to say what it was she’d tell. I knew. Sometimes she made me do her chores for a week. I continued to be my sister’s servant until enough time had gone by that I figured my cheating no longer mattered.

I got my revenge when I was in sixth grade and my sister was in eighth. We were in our aunt Elaine’s living room at a family gathering, entertaining each other with a goofy dance that involved sticking our butts out. My sister laughed so hard that she lost control of her bladder. She quickly sat on the couch and crossed her legs, but it was too late. When she stood, there was a huge wet spot on the cushion. She turned it over to hide the stain.

“I’m telling Aunt Elaine you peed on her couch,” I said, “unless . . .” Now I had my sister waiting on me.

When Susan was a senior in high school, she finally confessed to Aunt Elaine. Our aunt, who had long ago discarded that sofa, said, “And all these years, we blamed the dogs!”

Kate Siska
Easton, Kansas

When I was growing up, for a girl to “get in trouble” meant just one thing. The nuns dished out warnings in a less-than-subtle manner: Being with a boy “that way” would send you straight to hell. “You don’t want to make the Blessed Mother cry, do you?”

The neighbors used words like slut and whore to describe girls who got in trouble. They were considered “damaged goods.” I would not get in trouble. I could not do that to my mother. I was a good girl.

Then I met my friend’s brother. He was tall, handsome, and in uniform. He was also nineteen to my fifteen. My mother allowed the relationship because she thought of him as a good neighborhood boy. For six months, whenever he was home on leave, we were together, at his house or mine. I think my mother felt comfortable with the arrangement because we were always within at least one parent’s sight. But he knew ways to touch me without our mothers’ seeing.

When we were alone for short periods of time, the touching became heated and exciting. One night, after my mother fell asleep, we almost went all the way, but I pushed him off. What stopped me was the thought of my mother weeping because her daughter had become one of “those girls.” I would not let that happen.

So I married him. At fifteen.

Charlene Chapman
Doylestown, Pennsylvania

As a college senior in the small town of Grinnell, Iowa, I was surprised to get a phone call from the chief of police. He wanted me to come to the station the next morning.

I was a columnist for the student newspaper and had been arguing passionately for the legalization of marijuana. Had my advocacy brought me the wrong kind of attention?

When I showed up at the police station, I was ready to talk about free speech and the absence (I hoped) of evidence that I had done anything illegal. But I didn’t need my prepared speech. Instead the chief asked when I’d last been to the Grinnell State Bank.

A few months earlier, the bank had been robbed, and a teller and her husband had been kidnapped and murdered. For sleepy Grinnell, it was the crime of the century.

I’d had nothing to do with it, of course. I laughed and said, “I was afraid you were going to ask me about marijuana!”

I’d been worried I might be in real trouble.

Nathaniel Borenstein
Greenbush, Michigan

Sitting at the edge of the hospital bed, I thought, If I were under the care of a physician, I would have been admitted by now. I wasn’t under a doctor’s care, though, because I was a nurse and believed I could treat myself. I was taking my blood pressure, and the numbers were not good. If one of my patients had had stats like mine and I’d failed to report it, I could have lost my license.

In the preceding two weeks I had reduced my caloric intake to almost zero because I couldn’t stand the sight of food. I’d lost seven pounds. I was also working twelve-hour shifts and getting about two hours of fitful sleep a night. When not struggling to appear functional, I was contemplating pain-free methods of suicide. And now I was likely in withdrawal, having forgotten to pack my “emergency” anti-anxiety pill.

I splashed cold water on my face and slipped into the hall. It was time for me to give out patients’ medications. Maybe at the supply lock-up I could find something to address my blood pressure. I hoped I could get the dose right. If I overshot, I could end up passing out due to low blood pressure.

I wheeled my cart to the med room and navigated the touch screen to select my patients’ meds. When the drawer popped open for an elderly patient’s blood-pressure pill, I grabbed an extra for myself. We collectively gave sixty to seventy of these pills a day. One would not be missed.

Steering the cart to my first room, I already felt a little better. (This was a placebo effect — the blood-pressure med I’d taken would not start working for a half-hour.)

I was preparing to give a patient IV medication when the unit clerk told me I had a call. It was Dr. Wessler downstairs. “I need to discuss some lab results with you,” he said. I assumed it was about a patient’s labs. Then the doctor said we needed to talk in person: Room 145B.

I could feel my heart rate climb. “You OK, man?” the clerk asked, probably thinking there had been a death in my family. I mumbled something about being right back and walked to the elevator.

Entering Room 145B, I saw the doctor sitting next to a large man in a suit with a cop mustache — obviously hospital security. The doctor said we were there because my last routine drug test had come back positive for THC, benzodiazepine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and hydromorphone.

The security guy seemed to be waiting for my rebuttal or an outburst. “OK,” I said, feeling a drop of sweat go down my back.

“We just need you to sign here to indicate that you understand the results,” the doctor said, sliding the clipboard toward me.

I squiggled an approximation of my signature on the line. “What now?” I asked.

“Well, I guess you go back to work.”

It took me a minute to absorb this. I was expecting handcuffs, or at least an escort out of the building.

Back on the floor, I tried to appear busy. When no one was looking, I leaned on my med cart and breathed deeply.

The worst was yet to come: forced resignation; thwarted suicide attempt; explaining to the wife, kids, and family; going to rehab; dealing with professional and criminal charges; and reinventing my life. First, though, I had to get through this shift.

Brent Van Ham
Carbondale, Illinois

Ideliez was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. The summer I turned twelve, she came over to babysit me every weekday while my mother was at work. I was thrilled to avoid another horrid summer at camp, where the counselors would force me to play kickball until my shirt was wet with sweat.

By the second month of summer vacation, Ideliez and I had run out of things to do. The cheap crafts my mother had purchased were boring, and the formidable heat made outings to the swing set or trampoline in my backyard unbearable. I could tell Ideliez was growing tired of movie marathons and toenail painting. As she bent over my right foot, dark curls falling to her shoulder, I decided she deserved something better to do than painting a twelve-year-old girl’s toenails hot pink again.

The next day I asked Ideliez what she wanted to do. Her brown eyes widened slightly, and she revealed that, by coincidence, her boyfriend, David, had asked if we could meet him that day around lunch.

My heart hammered in my chest. Ideliez was fifteen and had a real boyfriend who could drive, while I was still pining over the boys in the posters on my wall. Of course I wanted to go.

Around noon we set off on our bikes and met David and a few of his friends on Palmetto, one street over. Ideliez climbed into his car with the others, leaving me standing alone on the dirt shoulder.

While they did whatever it was they’d planned to do, I rode my bike for hours around a golf-course community nearby, past million-dollar homes and kids driving golf carts. As the afternoon wore on, I grew nervous; my mom would be home from work soon. I took a shortcut through the woods, vines scratching my arms, and found Ideliez waiting for me on Palmetto with her bike and her boyfriend.

I followed her back to her house; she had something to show me, she said. I parked my bike next to hers in her driveway and watched as she climbed a huge cypress tree next to the house. From its branches she got on the roof. Then she poked her head over the side and called for me to come up. I knew what we were doing was wrong, but I desperately wanted Ideliez to like me. I pulled myself up through the branches and threw a leg onto the shingles, then hauled myself over.

The roof was hot against my bare legs. Ideliez led me to the peak, where a breeze blew my hair. We could see the whole neighborhood from this vantage point. Then she began telling me about David. Apparently her dad didn’t want them dating, and she and David got to see each other only at school or when her father wasn’t home. Her mom liked David, but her mother didn’t really have a say. I felt sorry for Ideliez.

We talked until long after my mother had returned from work. Then Ideliez’s father came home. When she saw his truck pull into the driveway, she crawled to the edge of the roof and jumped to the ground, but I couldn’t follow. I was terrified at the idea of jumping. The more urgent Ideliez’s pleas, the more stuck to the roof I became. Then her father saw us, and in my fear I leaped.

I twisted my ankle when I hit the ground. As I lay in the grass, too stunned to move, Ideliez’s father grabbed her by her shirt collar and spun her around so hard that her shirt ripped, revealing her breast. Tugging her into the house, he proceeded to beat her with his fist. I played dead so he wouldn’t beat me, too.

At home I told my mom everything, and I didn’t get in trouble. I suppose she thought that witnessing Ideliez’s punishment had been enough.

I didn’t see Ideliez again until the fall of the following year. She was getting out of her car, carrying a newborn baby into her father’s house with her husband, David.

Amanda Glass-Bortle
Valdosta, Georgia

You were new to town. I was single and more than a little lonely. You asked for my phone number, and within a week you were spending most nights in my bed. Our relationship was intensely sexual. I was curious and inexperienced; you were ravenous and eager. You told me I was beautiful.

You had a dark side that aroused me: You’d been dishonorably discharged from the Army for failing a drug test. You’d lost your license due to reckless driving. You’d been evicted from your girlfriend’s home and denied custody of your six-year-old son. I naively thought I could redeem you.

What began as sexual exploration quickly turned into violence, and the lines between consent and rape grew blurred. (Was it rape if I agreed only because I was afraid to deny you?) You wrapped your belt around my wrists, your hands around my throat. You left bruises on my thighs and neck. You whispered, “I love you,” in my ear as I nearly lost consciousness. Intimacy became a nightmarish game. My blood stained the sheets.

When I wouldn’t have sex, you grew angry and insisted I was withholding affection. You became suspicious of my interactions with other men, isolated me from friends, and accused me of hiding my true intentions. I decided I had to get out.

After two months I broke off our relationship. You begged me to take you back. You entered my apartment one evening and pleaded with me while I stood in a bathrobe, trying to hide my fear. You said you loved me and would never desire another woman the same way. You said I was special. When that didn’t work, you became furious and accused me of manipulation. You claimed I had used you to overcome sexual trauma in my past. You told me I’d wanted the violence. You said I’d gotten off on it, and you had only played the role in which I had cast you. You said you had ruined me for all other men.

I told you to go to hell.

That was nearly a year ago. I rarely see you around town now, and when I do, we don’t talk. I often wonder how I could have let this happen. I’ve always seen myself as a feminist and a liberated individual. Why didn’t I say no to you the first time your abusive personality emerged? At least I was strong enough to end it. And I never apologized or accepted the blame.

Most days I can move forward and not dwell on those two months, but sometimes, alone in the dark, I remember what it was like to be afraid to fall asleep next to you. Sometimes I dream about your hands around my throat. I wonder when I will have the courage to make love to a man again.

Name Withheld

My parents tried to raise my older brother and me to be obedient children. My brother resisted their attempts mightily. He got into trouble for fighting, breaking rules, talking back — and he got spanked for all of it. I tried hard not to do anything that would result in a spanking. My job was to be a good daughter and not make my mother sad or worried or angry.

On the first day of kindergarten, my teacher, Mrs. Crites, stood at the door of her room and welcomed us to class. Mrs. Crites wore bright-red lipstick that spread beyond her lip line, and her feet were crammed into too-tight shoes.

That first day of school started the way every day would: We sat in a large circle, and Mrs. Crites called our names one by one. When your name was called, you were supposed to stand up and say, “Here!” But when she called someone named Elizabeth Marie, no one stood up. I looked around the circle. Then I realized Mrs. Crites meant me.

I shrank into the hard wooden chair and squirmed. “My name is not Elizabeth,” I told her in a soft voice. “My name is Betsy.” I don’t think I even knew, at that age, that my name was Elizabeth. I had always been called Betsy. I thought Elizabeth was an ugly name. It made me think of lizards.

“Well, it says right here that your name is Elizabeth Marie, and that is what we are going to call you,” Mrs. Crites replied.

I said that if she called me Elizabeth, I wasn’t going to stand.

I can’t believe I had the audacity to defy an adult like this, but I guess I was determined not to answer to a name that wasn’t mine. How hard would it have been for her to just call me Betsy? Every day after that, when the roll was called, I refused to stand up.

Then came the open house for parents. On that morning our mothers were seated behind us in the circle. As Mrs. Crites began calling names, I faced a grave dilemma: If I stood up, Mrs. Crites would win. If I didn’t stand up, my mother would be embarrassed, which might lead to a spanking.

When the moment came, I reluctantly stood. Mrs. Crites looked triumphant.

At a high-school reunion recently, I met a woman who said she had been in my kindergarten class. I didn’t remember her, but she remembered me as that feisty girl who never stood up when her name was called.

Elizabeth Emerson
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

“We can’t miss this,” my friend Randy said.

It was August 9, 1966, a sweltering day in Detroit. I was fifteen, and a small-scale riot had broken out in the city — a sort of precursor to the full-scale one to come the following summer.

There were rumors that police had attacked members of the Afro-American Youth Movement on the corner of Pennsylvania and Kercheval. Now police cruisers roamed the streets, snipers prowled the rooftops, and buildings burned.

On the way out the door I yelled, “Mom, Randy and I are going swimming!” I didn’t wait to hear her answer.

We headed to Kercheval on Randy’s motorcycle. As we crossed the street that marked the dividing line between the black and white neighborhoods, the smell of burning tires and wood smoke filled the air. Windows had been smashed, and trash littered the streets. A policeman yelled at us, and we took off up a side street to Jefferson Avenue, where the police were gathering for an assault.

While we watched, two officers told us to go home.

“We just wanted to see what was going on,” I said, feeling pretty stupid by now.

“Watch the news!” one cop yelled. The other laughed. Then they warned us we could be arrested for violating curfew if we didn’t leave now.

As the first whiff of tear gas wafted by, we headed home.

Fifty years later I wonder what would have happened if we had been two black teenagers on a motorcycle that August night.

Mark Oldani
Portland, Oregon

I remember counting up my symptoms for weeks and praying that I was wrong. As I sat in the clinic’s examining room, I marveled at how cold my hands were, even though it was hot outside. I had graduated from high school six weeks earlier and had been all set for a carefree summer — until now.

The look on the doctor’s face gave away the results even before she said the words: “It’s positive.”

The doctor handed me some tissues and gave me a minute to compose myself before she asked what I wanted to do. Without hesitation I asked how soon I could schedule an abortion.

As a Catholic I had been raised to believe that an embryo was the same as a human baby. I was pro-life and judged women who had abortions. Yet the decision to terminate the pregnancy had come quickly to me.

“Friday afternoon at the Women’s Clinic,” the doctor said.

No one, other than the friend who would give me a ride to the clinic, could know about this. My parents, especially my dad, could never find out.

I remember the humid heat as I stepped outside, and the fleeting sense of wonder that there was a baby growing inside me. I felt sick to think that I would be ridding myself of it in four days’ time. I wanted to believe I could still change my mind, that I was still the same person I’d thought I was. I turned the air conditioning in the car as high as it would go and tried not to listen to the small voice in my head that chanted, You’re a hypocrite and a murderer and a bad person.

At home I pasted a smile on my face and greeted my mom as if nothing were wrong. She told me to fill out my thank-you cards for the graduation gifts I had received. Then I made a plan with a friend to get a ride to the clinic and stay at her place for a couple of days afterward. I cannot remember where I told my parents I would be for those two days, but the lie worked. Friday morning I packed my bag and waited on the front step for my friend to pick me up. Dad asked me if I was excited for my “trip.”

“Oh, yeah,” I lied.

Two days later I became the girl who’d had an abortion, the girl whose parents didn’t know her at all.

I pretended that nothing profoundly sad had happened to me that summer. I pretended until the following March, when the insistent voice telling me I was a bad person became so loud that I fell apart. I saw a psychiatrist, but I still couldn’t tell my parents what I’d done. For years I second-guessed nearly all of my decisions. It took me a long time to trust myself again. It wasn’t the abortion that had hurt me; it was the complete loss of self-confidence at the age of eighteen.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

One morning in second grade I convinced my friend Oscar to skip school and go to the arcade with me. Neither of us had any money, so I devised a scheme: We went door to door telling people we were homeless and hungry, which was plausible in South Central Los Angeles. Soon our pockets were fat with change. Then a woman we’d asked for money grabbed Oscar and held him while her daughter called the police. I could have run away, but I didn’t want to leave my friend.

I feared the police — and all white people — so I was astonished when the two white policemen who showed up were friendly. I’d expected them to take our money and handcuff us and rough us up, but all they did was ask us some questions. We confessed, and they laughed about our scheme. Then they told us that jail was fun — lots of good food, no school, and video games all day. We begged them to take us to jail, but instead they took us to school, where we were in big trouble.

Later, at home, one parent whipped my bare legs with a belt, the other with an extension cord. For days it hurt to walk.

I am now serving a life sentence in prison. I can tell you that those friendly policemen lied. Jail is not fun.

Angel Ayala
Corcoran, California

In 1953 my mother invited a man named Al over for dinner. We almost never had grown-up visitors at our house, so my two sisters and I were excited. Our father was not.

The dinner must have gone well, because Al moved in with us. As an innocent eight-year-old, I accepted this arrangement, just as I accepted my mother’s occasional absences, her meteoric mood changes, her periodic diatribes, and her use of a wooden spoon on our legs.

A few years later, alone in the house and bored, I went snooping in my mother’s bureau and found a packet of letters Al had written to her. His avowals of love stunned me.

Too upset to keep this knowledge to myself, I told my two best friends what I’d found. Though I swore them to secrecy, they went home and told their mothers, who of course called my mother.

That night my parents sat my sisters and me down and announced that they were getting a divorce. My father moved out, and Al remained.

The years that followed were chaotic, with Mother and Al often separating after drunken squabbles and then reuniting. Our father eventually returned, and our mother left to live with Al, but each time they had a fight, she would come back to us.

Though I was never punished for going in my mother’s bureau, I spent many years believing my snooping was the cause of my family’s brokenness.

Falls Church, Virginia

A day after seventeen people were killed by a gunman at a high school in Parkland, Florida, the college where I teach English sent a memo to all staff: we were invited to attend a meeting about school safety in the event of an “active shooter” on campus.

Unable to go, I sent my suggestions instead: Ensure that the classroom doors could be locked from the inside. Put impact-resistant glass in the door windows. And replace all National Rifle Association pawns in the state capitol with legislators who actually cared about the lives of students.

Hours later I received an e-mail from my dean with the ominous heading “Incident Report.” It read, “Although some of your colleagues might share your opinion, others may find it offensive. Please keep that in mind in future communications.”

One of the thirty or so teachers who’d received my e-mail must have seen fit to report me. A note of reprimand would now likely be placed in my record.

My immediate reaction was a shrug. I’d had encounters with administrators at other schools who were scornful of the notion of academic freedom. But on second thought I bristled. Was I in trouble for my opposition to the NRA?

I responded to the dean, asking if my e-mail message had violated a rule or regulation. My statement hadn’t been made in the classroom, I pointed out, and my suggestion to replace self-interested legislators was nonpartisan. Even the president, just a day earlier, had asked Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey if he was too afraid of the NRA to include an age restriction on assault-rifle purchases.

The dean essentially concurred, saying that she had only been responding to a complaint from another staff member.

Still, a message from a supervisor does exert what the courts have described as a “chilling effect” on free speech. I wondered if the teacher who’d been offended was the sort of person who considered the slaughter of seventeen people — fourteen of them students — a small price to pay for maintaining unlimited individual access to military-style weapons.

Maybe the incident report was filed against the wrong person.

David McGrath
Port Charlotte, Florida

My mother was crying. I could hear her muffled sobs from her bedroom. Something had happened, but at the age of ten I was afraid to ask what.

I knew that my gifted oldest brother, Bobby, who was at Boston College, nine hours from home, had failed to answer my parents’ phone calls and letters for months. When my mother had contacted the college to see if he was all right, she’d learned that he wasn’t attending classes. My grandmother had come over to care for me and my three other siblings, and my parents had packed their bags and headed north.

Now they were back, and my mother was upset. I tiptoed into her room. “Are you all right?” I whispered.

She rolled over and motioned for me to come closer. When I got to her bedside, she wrapped her arms around me and said, “You won’t ever disappoint me, will you, sweetie?”

Bobby was my parents’ first child, born while my father was serving overseas during World War II. Bobby earned the nickname “Walking Encyclopedia” from his grammar-school classmates. He got outstanding grades in high school and received a full scholarship to Boston College. He’d left Baltimore carrying my parents’ hopes and dreams squarely on his shoulders.

I soon learned the reason for my brother’s disappearance: Bobby had met a young woman, and they were “in trouble.” They were going to have a baby.

There would be a small, quickly planned wedding in Boston, and the bride and groom would come to live with us. There would be no college degree, no well-paying job, no career. My parents felt that Bobby had thrown away his future.

As it happened, the marriage lasted forty-four years and produced five children and fourteen grandchildren (so far). Bobby and his wife stayed together until their deaths, three months apart.

Mary Helen Grasso
Baltimore, Maryland

I was twelve when my mother found the letter I had written to my “boyfriend,” Octavio. He was thirteen, and I considered him my boyfriend only because at night he and his best friend would walk down my street singing a popular song called “The Milkman,” and I had a strong impression that he was secretly serenading me.

This was in 1961 in southern Mexico. I’d written the letter to let Octavio know that I was leaving for Catholic boarding school. I did not want him to be disappointed by my absence, even though we had never talked. I filled the letter with declarations of love and lines from movies my sisters and I had seen. Then I put it under my pillow. I had no plan to mail it or give it to Octavio. I was just a foolish, romantic young girl.

My mother found the letter and got upset. She said it was not appropriate for a girl my age to write such things. And who was this Octavio? Had something happened between us? A virtuous Catholic girl did not speak of passionate desires. She called me a black sheep, una obeja negra. I felt sad and cheap.

The spanking I got that day did not hurt as much as her words.

Oakland, California

At thirty-nine I was abruptly yanked from my role as a working mom of four and thrust into the life of a leukemia patient. Overnight my calendar switched from playdates and client meetings to medical appointments. I usually recorded these appointments meticulously, so I was startled one evening when an intake nurse called and asked why I hadn’t checked in yet for my one-week hospital stay. How had I missed it? In the flurry of packing and saying goodbye to my confused children, I neglected to take my anti-seizure meds.

When I arrived for check-in several hours late, I confessed that I’d forgotten to take my meds.

“We’ll just give you a double dose tonight,” the nurse said.

I swallowed the pills and tried to settle into bed for my last night of uninterrupted sleep for a week.

Around four in the morning the IV fluids I was receiving reached my bladder. I went through the routine for using the bathroom with an IV pole: Unplug the IV pump’s power cord. Coil the cord. Hang the cord on the pole.

As I stood up, the whole room lurched, and I nearly fell on my face. Double the dose of medication apparently meant double the dizziness. Somehow I made it to the bathroom and back without injury.

By morning the vertigo had worn off, and I bragged to the day nurse about my midnight journey.

Her face turned white. “You should have pressed the call button! What if you fell?”

I was put on “bed alarm” for the next forty-eight hours. That’s when they rig your bed with an ear-piercing siren. I couldn’t even get up to fetch a book from across the room. If I so much as dangled my feet over the side, the nurses would come running.

After that, I always wore the itchy, nonslip hospital socks (the kind with the sticky dots on the bottom), and I never told the nurse when I felt dizzy.

Jennifer Lovejoy
Santa Cruz, California

The old man was not feeling well and asked if I would take some papers to the prison library and get them copied for him. I was going anyway, so of course I said yes.

On the way there, one of the guards pulled me over for a routine pat down. No big deal, I thought. I had nothing to hide.

The guard discovered the old man’s paperwork and copy card, which he knew were not mine. Despite my explanation, the card and papers were confiscated, and I was sent on my way.

When I returned from the library, I was given two write-ups: one for theft and the other for “conduct that disrupts.” I returned to my cell block and explained to the old man, who promptly went down to the sergeant’s office and got his property back.

Later I was called to the office for my disciplinary hearing. My story matched the old man’s, so the theft charge was dropped, but the other write-up stuck.

“So I’m being punished for helping a sick old man?” I asked the sergeant.

The sergeant looked at me like I was stupid, but I wasn’t. I was just new to prison. I still did not comprehend how strange this place was.

John Hannan
Montana State Prison
Deer Lodge, Montana

One sunny day when I was four, I was idly tapping the dining-room window with the fireplace poker when the glass shattered. My mother spanked me soundly, even though it had been an accident.

A couple of years later I was climbing the stairs and spotted a small tear at the seam of the wallpaper. Wanting to tidy it up, I pulled at it. To my dismay, a large piece detached from the wall, and I hurried away.

That night my mother ordered my brother, Martin, our sister, Sarah, and me out of bed and made us stand in a row. “Now,” she said sternly, “no one is going back to bed until I find out who tore that wallpaper.” Remembering the window incident, I kept quiet. My mother waited. And waited.

Finally four-year-old Sarah said, “I did it.”

My mother yanked her by the arm and gave her a good hiding while Martin and I watched.

Back in bed I lay awake, listening to my little sister cry herself to sleep.

Thirty years later, when the family was all together, I made my confession. Everyone laughed, even Sarah. “I was just so sleepy,” she said. “I decided to own up to it so I could go back to bed.”

Victoria F. Stanton
Nevada City, California

My marriage was over before I turned twenty-two. It had lasted almost four years and ended with a note he left on our bed that read, “I don’t love you anymore.”

When we’d gotten married, I’d asked my mother to help me choose my dress, and she’d told me it couldn’t be white. In 1966, if you got pregnant before you were married, you couldn’t wear a white dress. My father said it wouldn’t be right for me to appear happy at the wedding since this was not a happy occasion. I was supposed to be ashamed, because I’d embarrassed my parents and ruined my life.

Nevertheless, I got married in the most beautiful off-white wedding dress you ever saw, and, despite my dad’s admonition, the smile on my face was genuine. Why not? I was full of joy that day, excited about starting a grown-up life with my high-school sweetheart. I felt sure I would be the best wife in the world, and we’d have the best marriage and family, and everything would be white picket fences and happily ever after.

How hard could it be?

Jan Pitcher
Los Gatos, California