It’s difficult to put into words the full range of emotions I experienced when reading Cherry Tigris’ hard-hitting, autobiographical tale of child abuse, Toilet Paper People. What started out as a plan to simply start reading late at night and finish the next day wound up taking me into the wee hours of the morning as I could not stop turning the pages of this riveting, gut-wrenching book. I had to keep reminding myself that Cherry actually endured the horrific crimes committed against her by her ostensible “mother” — a woman she rightfully refers to as “that woman” since it’s obvious there isn’t a loving, maternal bone in her overweight body, which is directed by a soul so twisted, it’s as if the Devil himself whispered ideas in her ear about new and creative ways to make her daughter’s life a living hell.
No innocent bystander, I felt nothing but anger at her cowardly excuse of a father, who turns a blind eye to his daughter’s misery while he himself has the luxury of escaping to his high-powered attorney practice each day. The one person with the wherewithal to help does nothing to rescue his daughter from her living nightmare — marked by endless abuses at the “chubby” hands of her mother for such “crimes” as having the “wrong” kind of toes, sporting too much body hair and not getting her period at the same time as the other girls in their fashionable neighborhood. On that last point, it was actually painful to read Cherry’s recounting of her mother violently raping her with a tampon after tying her arms and legs to the bedposts with nylon knee-highs. While there’s stiff competition throughout the book for the most evil act committed by this horrible woman (which also includes daily, endless verbal abuse toward “her little nightmare”, depriving her of food and making her believe she’d been abandoned as a child at the mall), that scene in particular filled me with palpable horror and disgust.
How could any human being do this to any defenseless child, let alone one they were supposed to love and nurture as their own?
At the same time, I was blown away by Cherry’s unbreakable will to survive and ultimately escape her miserable existence. Her remarkable strength of will first manifests itself in “The Toilet Paper People”, a coping mechanism she devises as a little girl, having been deprived of any toys that might have brought her comfort. Even at a young age, Cherry is resourceful in her determination and quickly discovers new uses for this familiar household product by using it to fashion her own team of supportive, loving champions. Of course, she’s also very careful to hide them at the first audible sounds of the familiar, foreboding footsteps coming down the hall in her room’s direction — were her sick mother to discover her daughter had found a way to make the abuse more bearable, she surely would have taken even something as basic as toilet paper away from her.
The book also has something to say about rampant hypocrisy, materialism and the unwillingness of outsiders to interfere in “family matters” even when their gut instinct is screaming that something is very wrong. In Cherry’s upwardly mobile neighborhood, most people are so wrapped up in their own superficial pursuits it is easier to just accept the lies served up by her alcoholic, status-obsessed mother and dismiss Cherry as some sort of freak than it is to question this house of cards. Sadly, her parents are also flaming religious posers, attending weekly mass for show as they pretend to be a normal, church-going family for the clergy and congregation. What’s even worse is that their motive for adopting Cherry from her biological mother has little or nothing to do with actually wanting a child, and everything to do with enhancing their socio-economic status. “That woman” frequently reminds her daughter that her birth mother originally tried to abort her. To call her cruel, vicious and heartless would be an understatement, particularly when operating under the effects of alcohol; unfortunately for her physically, emotionally and spiritually abused child, that was most of the time.
Realizing that Cherry had been robbed of a normal childhood and adolescence, I was also overwhelmed by sympathy for her and gratitude for my own upbringing by loving, involved parents who raised my siblings and me in a stable — if imperfect — home. Being human means we’re all flawed but I was incredibly blessed to have had something many of us take for granted: a normal childhood. One characterized by the typical trials and tribulations of youth and family but always built on a foundation of love, respect and caring. Anyone who can attest to the same ought to read Cherry’s book, if only for the experience of genuine, overwhelming appreciation for what they’d been given — a happy childhood.
Though robbed of this phase of life, Cherry’s courage, determination and will to survive are inspiring. I was riveted as I read the account of her triumphant escape, which sent chills up and down my spine. If anyone has a right to be bitter and angry, surely it’s someone like Cherry, but instead she has risen above her circumstances and created a full, abundant life in spite of them. Today, she’s an author, singer, songwriter and musician with a thriving career and a passion for helping others, particularly abused children.
Please get a copy of her book today. It will horrify and possibly jolt you out of your comfort zone but it will also change your perspective, give you renewed appreciation for your own life’s blessings, reassure you about the power of the human spirit and encourage you to help children in the same situation.
I will be interviewing Cherry on Writestream Radio on Tuesday, March 19 and hope you’ll tune in to discover more. In the meantime, follow her on twitter, find her on Facebook, like her website and purchase her book at Amazon.