You were five years old when you learned that not everybody lived as you did.
On the first day of Kindergarten, you timidly raised your hand during "Circle Time" like the teacher said all good students had to (and you wanted to be a good student) and waited patiently until Miss Rodriguez, pretty Miss Rodriguez with her perfect white toothed smile, pink sandals and dimples, said, "Tara, is there something you need to do?"
Shyly you got up and whispered into her ear; asking her if you could go pee-pee and she said "Yes."
Relieved, because you'd had to go all morning but had been hesitant to ask because Daddy had taught you that it was rude to interrupt people when they are talking, you got up, left the circle, left the room with its marvelous crayons, paints, chalks, bright colored toys and pretty pictures and tried to find the privy.
You wandered for nearly an hour up and down the halls of the big elementary school, finally following the bigger kids on their way to recess. Outside you wandered around the playground, a tiny little girl in long braids, a shabby dress, and ugly shoes, looking for the little shed.
By the time the assistant principal found you cryng under the slide, soaked with your own urine, Miss Rodriguez had panicked and called the police, thinking that you'd been abducted.
The story came out, bit by bit in between the sobs.
You had never been in such a nice place before - your father had brought you, your brother Donny, and your mama with him all the way from Arkansas when he came to find work in the Promised Land as a carpenter - you'd been living in a beat up camper shell on the back of his truck as he followed the work up and down the West Coast. State Park outhouses and such had been all you'd ever known. You had no idea that buildings had bathrooms in them.
And that most little boys and girls lived in houses with their own bathrooms.
That night a lady from Child Welfare came to where your Mama and Daddy had set up camp, waiting for a construction project to start.
Your daddy didn't say much, but you could tell he was mad.
He didn't like being told what to do and he didn't like handouts, "We may be poor, but we ain't lazy. If you didn't earn it with your own two hands, you don't deserve it!" he'd say all the time.
'Specially on payday.
Mama fussed around the campfire, her shabby dress and bare feet looking ugly against the Child Welfare lady's nice blouse, skirt and panty hose. This made you sad; until then you thought that your Mama was the most beautiful mama in the world, with her red-gold hair and green eyes.
Now she looked tired and faded, pregnant with your new brother so big she could bust. And your daddy looked old and worn out when he suddenly sat down on the hood of the truck in front of the Child Welfare lady and said, "I give up. If it means you won't take my babies away from me, I'll find a house tomorrow."
His shoulders were hunched up around his ears, his head hung low, and his hands dangled down between his knees when he said this.
You think he was crying.
The house was shabby, just like you were, but you thought it was a palace, like one of the palaces in Heaven daddy would tell you about at night after he got home from work. If you were good, if you were really good, and did the Lord's work, you earned yourself a beautiful golden palace among the saints down by the River Jordan.
As far as you were concerned, Daddy must have done a real good job at working for the Lord - this place had a stove. And a sink. No, two sinks. One for the kitchen. One for the bathroom. And lights that went on when you flipped a switch.
You and Donny your big brother spent a week going from room to room, just turning on the lights because you could.
Daddy and even mama smiled to watch you play with those lights.
It made up for the days when you had to go to school.
Even though Donny didn't, you liked school - the colors, the books, the BOOKS, the beautiful pictures, Miss Rodriguez, the games. You just didn't like the other children calling you "Tara Pee-Pee" and "Granny" because you talked like Granny Clampett on t.v.
You didn't know who Granny Clampett was - daddy didn't hold with T.V. - it was wicked and it cost money. You didn't find out who Granny Clampett was until one of the other little girls, the one with the thick glasses and clothes as shabby as yours invited you home one night for her birthday.
You had a special dinner: McDonalds - a rare treat and you got to eat all the French Fries you could hold. And then you got to stay up until nine and watch t.v. with your little friend after you helped her blow out the candles on her mama's box cake that was decorated with little colored sprinkles. (Your mama didn't hold with mixes, she made everything from scratch.)
The Beverly Hillbillies came on - there was Granny Clampett. Old, wizened, tough, nasty, loving and funny. You fell in love until your friend's big brother came into the room and started jeering at them "dirty-stooopid" hillbillies.
You asked him to please not talk so loud because you couldn't hear the pictures.
Then he started laughing at you because you sounded just like Granny, Ellie Mae, Jethro and Jed (who reminded you of your daddy who you loved very much) - called you "Graaaaaaan-neeeeeeee"; turning it into something dirty just with the way he said it. Then your friend started saying it too.
You cried so hard that you couldn't stop.
Your daddy had to come get you because your crying scared your friend's mama so much.
He held you on his lap as he drove you home.
You knew he was mad because his encircling arms were all hard as he steered the old truck he drove.
He'd said some real loud words to your friend's mama and boyfriend once he found out what your friend and her big brother had called you.
Words of the four letter kind that would have got your mouth washed out with soap had you said them.
You knew that it was your fault that daddy had to say dirty words.
Monday your little friend avoided you so you had to sit alone during graham cracker and milk time.
Maybe it was just as well because real friends don't laugh at you and call you names.
But it still made you sad so your mama, that afternoon after the big yellow school bus dropped you and Donny off at the end of the street, your baby brother balanced on one hip as she held your hand, taught you your first charm.
It was a simple one.
You held a flower in your cupped hands, closed your eyes real tight, and whispered the special words into your hands.
You'd feel a tiny stirring.
You'd open your hand and the flower would be a different color.
It made you laugh!
She told you to never, ever tell anyone about what you could do. Least of all your father. That sort of thing was wicked, but to change the color of one little flower wasn't that wicked, but you never knew...
After that, she'd teach you things when daddy wasn't looking: what it meant when you dropped a dish towel, the names of the stars, the secret names of cats, how to call the deer from the woods and to your hand.
She didn't teach Donny.
She didn't teach the baby.
She taught you.
It was your superspecialdoubletopsecret the two of you shared.
Even if it was wicked.
When you were seven, your little brother died.
Your mama didn't teach you any more charms for a while. She said the Lord was punishing her for being so wicked and she didn't want to lose you or Donny, even if you secretly thought he was a pig.
But thinking like that was wicked too, so you prayed real hard and Donny didn't die.
Eventually your mama taught you more charms: the right way to hang a horseshoe for luck, how to keep the devil from following you, and the best way to get peppers to grow real hot.
Daddy caught her one day and hit her real hard.
He said he was doing it for her own good. He was going to beat Satan out of her to save her soul.
You hid in the closet with Donny.
But he hit you anyway.
When you were twelve, your mama let you join the choir of the little charismatic church that you and your family went to every Sunday and Wednesday and whenever you weren't doing anything else. You loved to sing. Singing carried you away on a cloud of love and sound.
And you fell in love with Mrs. Pickett, the choir director.
Somehow you knew this was wrong. You were supposed to like boys.
Boys were mean. They threw things and hurt small animals. They called you names.
One Sunday, you were watching Mrs. Pickett, with her beautiful black hair and dark eyes as she directed you and the rest of the choir, blushing inside with the love that you felt for her, glowing in ecstacy that such a marvelous person wanted you to sing for her (Before the service started, she gave you a big hug, telling you, "Tara, the Lord must shine on you, you have such joy in your voice when you sing His words. Thank you for helping me express His wonderous love for us all!") that you forgot and so by the time you and the choir reached the third hallelujah you rose up and hovered over the congregation, eyes closed in delight, arms spread out and hair blowing on the wind of charms, singing your joyous love for God and Miss Pickett.
The silence that enfolded you made you stop in mid-note. You looked down between your feet and saw the shocked faces, the fear, the anger on your daddy's face, and you fell, crash, knocking over the rickety wooden folding chairs. People screamed, the minister, Brother Ogden, began to bellow that Satan was among us!
Weeping, your father came up, dragged you out of the church and beat you in the parking lot with his belt even as he tearfully prayed for your damned soul because he didn't want you to go to Hell.
But you already knew that it was too late for you, you were already there.
When you were sixteen, you noticed your mama had a new friend.
She was very pretty even if she cut her hair short and wore men's clothing; she lived across the street.
She spent a lot of time at your house when your daddy wasn't home.
Your mama sang a lot when this new friend was around. They kissed a lot, too, but never in front of Donny who was a pig even though your mama loved him.
You knew what was going on and it was wicked, but you didn't care because your mama was happy. She sang and taught you new charms, showing you the boxes hidden away in the attic, boxes full of wonderful things, and how to use them and how to read the special books.
This didn't last long.
One day daddy came home and caught your mama and the neighbor woman kissing.
There was more screaming.
The police came.
Daddy was taken away.
Mama locked herself in their bedroom.
The friend tried to get her to come out.
She wouldn't come.
Daddy came home.
He was furious.
You tried to hide at the friend's house. She wanted to know what was going on.
You told her.
When she got to your house, everything stopped.
An ambulance came.
A lot more police came.
Mama never came home.
Daddy said she succumbed to the demon inside her. He wanted to tell you about the demon that all the women in your family had, but he didn't want to scare you, and now it was too late.
If that's so, why do demons make some women hang themselves in bedrooms? Mama? Tell me am I next?
The neighbor lady moved away without a word.
Daddy wanted you to stay home and take care of him and Donny, but the police made him send you back to school.
When you graduated after Donny did, you won scholarships all over the place.
Daddy told you that girls didn't need to know any more than they did, and that you needed to stay home where he could help you with the demon, the hideous demon that you would turn in to when you turned 21. Meanwhile, you could take care of him and Donny, who was still a pig.
You wanted to leave.
You didn't get an answer.
So you figured seeing as the Lord had turned his back on you, he wouldn't care if your left, so you ran away.
You only took your mama's books, the ones that her mama and her mama's mama had given to her. Daddy didn't know how to read them anyway, and Donny didn't care.
Sunnydale was a different world.
Nobody cared what you were or who you were.
Wicked girls like you kissed in public and nobody cared.
Some of them did magic, or claimed they did.
You even slept with some of them, but somehow you knew they didn't mean it.
And nobody cared.
All the while aware of the demon inside of you, wanting out.
You met Willow.
She was wonderful; she was Mrs. Pickett, she was Miss Roudrigez, she was what you wanted to be but were too scared to become.
So you didn't blame her when she hid you from her friends, but she told you all about them, funny dumb Xander, an old guy named Giles, from England that used to be her school librarian but she still liked even though his job burned up one night, and Buffy, her best friend who could do amazing things, and Buffy's boyfriend Riley who was nice even if he was a man. Then there was Anya who was just plain weird, and Buffy's mama who was so kind, like your mama only she seemed stronger, and that really creepy even weirder guy Spike who just hung around saying horrible things to everybody; you kind of felt sorry for him even though just hearing Willow talk about him scared you. Somehow you had the feeling even before meeting Spike that he too, had a demon inside.
Eventually you met them.
They figured out what was going on.
Between you and Willow. You didn't dare risk their telling you to leave once they found out about your demon, the one supposed to come out at 21, the same one that killed your mama, the one you couldn't run away from, the one that made you wicked, the one that made you different.
And nobody cared, except an old boyfriend of Willow's - which made you sad because you really liked him. He did music and was real smart and even though he was a man, you would have really liked to have gotten to know him better because he was... he was cool and somehow if he'd known about the demon inside of you like an unborn baby, he wouldn't have cared.
They let you help. They knew you could do magic and they didn't care. It felt so good, doing it out in the open; it made you feel quietly special, like you were doing what you were supposed to be doing for once in your life and that it wasn't wrong.
At least not among these people, it just made you one of many... Oh God, what a relief!
Eventually your father and Donny found you just before your 21st birthday, the bad day, Donny smirking, jeering, making you feel dirty, like you'd never left home, and you might as well use your broom for cleaning floors and not working wonders that on second thought didn't seem like such abominations after all. And your prissy cousin, the one who was bad in school and made eyes at boys, was with them.
So you did some really dumb things.
You did them to people who's only crime had been to want to get to know you better.
You nearly got them killed.
Now that, was wicked.
Daddy taught you well. You faced up to it.
You were ready to go home - it was only fair. Someone who did things like that to people had no right to be around people even if you loved them, even the weird guy Spike who really was a demon and who could be really, really nasty even to people who tried to be nice to him had more of a right to be with your friends than you did.
It was only fair.
You'd blown your chance.
You'd proven that even before the demon got out, you were capable of dangerous, hideous things.
Serve you right!
They came to get you.
You would have left quietly.
Buffy wouldn't let you.
She said it was all a crock of shit.
(Well, not in so many words, but you felt "crock of shit" in what she said.)
Daddy started to get mad and you knew that this was the end. You knew what Buffy could do, but still, you screamed inside, "Get out of the way! The Lord is in his hand and..."
That weird demon guy Spike, the one nobody really liked even though you sort of felt sorry for, head-butted you and fell back yelling like he does when things aren't going the way he wants them too.
Oh God, no, oh Goddess, I'm not a demon after all.
Daddy you lied!
I'm staying with my family, and it isn't you, Donny, and Miss Priss!
And daddy? That demon you kept frightening me with all these years?
That demon was me.
I'm not scared of her anymore!