Molly Ruddell likes hiding in small dark spaces, curling up in the fetal position, and people watching from a safe distance. Writing lets her manipulate characters without having to make physical contact. It's kind of like playing with voodoo dolls. Her written work, short fiction and essay, also appears in Apiary and Gravel.



Out of the Box

Molly Ruddell


My childhood was full of sugar maple festivals and Israeli folk dances where saggy-titted women in gypsy skirts moved wildly to their own heartbeats. Prior, I was born during a rarity, a tornado in Philadelphia. The circumstance of my mother’s C-Section fits my personality eerily. I cringe at the thought of most physical contact. Even with my mother’s vagina. It makes me think that nothing is really random. Not even childhood. My brother and I were bound for the chaotic but beautiful disorganization of youth. 

My parents were an interesting pair. Mother, who we later referred to as “Sherrie” or “Ma,” was a Jewish American art therapist. Nothing boxy like “Mom” could ever suit her. Emotional expression was her medium of choice. She often described how damaging it is to hit your children and explained why she’d never do that to us. She’d hold it over our heads really. “Do you know how lucky you are?” At times, I might have preferred a swift clap to my ear as opposed to a tedious discussion about my feelings. 

Our father, “Pop,” as we called him, hailed from Northern Ireland but lived in his own head wherever he was. He was quiet, gentle, and contemplative, but prone to fits of rage, and hurling tools across the basement. We’d hide until he’d defamed Jesus Christ enough and then we’d laugh about his antics when we felt we were safe. My parents’ polarities prepared us for the larger world around us. They always reminded us that wherever you were, somewhere else other people were doing the exact opposite of what you knew to be socially acceptable.

My father enlightened us to Bedouin table manners at dinner. He’d burp and grin. “It means I enjoyed the food. And you eat with your left hand. Never your right,” he instructed.

“Why not?” we probed. 

“You use your right hand to wipe your ass,” he informed us. We could have dined in any yurt that would have us.

Pop described the world colorfully while my mother’s creativity and artistic talents added dimension to our concept of life. She sewed dolls for my brother and me. A boy and a girl that miraculously and hideously resembled us. Evan’s had brown hair, green eyes, a tweed vest, and a tiny little penis. Mine had a reddish yarn mop, hazel eyes, a floral dress, breasts, and a vulva. I was mortified by that doll. I unclothed her and bound her limbs, just in case toys really did come alive while I was asleep. Then I threw her in the back of my closet, hog tied, with my Colonial Williamsburg Barbie, so my friends would never see her when they came to play. God forbid they thought that I had the same anatomical equipment as Chucky’s homemade cousin. 

My favorite toy, by far, was a refrigerator box that my mother had dragged in from someone’s trash. She cut and decorated each facing so that the box was a play house, a bus, a puppet theater, and a Charlie Brown style booth for practicing psychotherapy, dispensing advice, or what-have-you. I loved that thing, despite the Freon residue that probably seeped into my brain as I lounged inside it. 

Besides exposure to toxins, there are no boundaries to creativity. When my brother was four he went through a “Robin Hood” phase. Not exactly a DSM disorder but a hallucination all the same. His make-believe play did not stop from morning until night. He was Robin Hood and everyone around him was somehow involved in his moral conquests and escapades. He dressed up in the Robin Hood costume that my mother had made for him: green hat, tights, and a sling pouch for his arrows. He’d call my father “Little John,” demoting him from legal guardian to sidekick. Our mother was Maid Marian. No one enlightened my brother to the Oedipal complex. Only I, not walking yet, did not play a role in his fantasies. He hadn’t really adjusted to my presence. Hence, the escapist delusions. The little fellow would run towards the windows as the trash truck passed and yell, “The bin lorry are coming! The bin lorry are coming!” The bloody trash truck couldn’t even pass by without evoking wonderment in us heathens.  

In our house, convenient rationalizations accompanied the sparks of childhood creativity. My parents saw creativity as a resource, something they could use to preserve the tender self-esteem of their pre-teen daughter. My father often defended his ego this way. After he almost got us T-boned racing through an intersection, he started blaming everyone else for their poor driving. “I’m a perfectly fine driver. It’s everyone else…” he asserted. My parents often said to me, “The ruling was political.” Like the time I lost an essay contest to a girl who mentioned 9/11 and patriotism. 

In second grade, I wrote a story called “Blank Wall.” It was about an old mural painter who adopts a juvenile delinquent and shows him the redemptive power of art. Upon its debut at our class reading, I doubted my artistic abilities. My parents said of my peers, “They can’t appreciate what you have to offer. It is too original for them.” I didn’t want recognition when I was surrounded by my white-bread-eating-Backstreet-Boy-listening classmates. I wanted acceptance. I rolled my eyes and thumped down on the floor to wallow in the fetal position for a while. It was in this way that I became a skeptic.  

In retrospect, I realize I inherited this trait from my father. His worldview seemed isolated from any kind of collective unconscious pool of symbols. On the Valentine’s Day of my eighth year, I asked him to cut out a felt heart for the pillow I was making. It took him a while.

By the time he’d finished, it was tiny and spindly. It didn’t look like the shape you make with your hands. “What’s this?” I interrogated. He explained that the large tube at the top is your aorta. The next one to the right is your basic pulmonary artery. He then described the mechanics of how the heart pumps blood. And no Valentine’s Day is complete without a cautionary tale. “Plaque can build up in the coronary arteries and constrict oxygen. It is very serious.” I’ll say this. Ventricles are fucking hard to sew.