This is a love story.
MaryJo is 4 feet tall and change, with a weathered smile and Peter Pan wispy short hair. It is easy to imagine what she was like as a child, forty years ago, with big eyes and those fragile, vulnerable features.
She sings. This is what she does, and what she should do. Clouds rain, birds fly and MaryJo sings.
She especially loves singing in front of a live audience, she told me that she has never had stage fright. Never.
When five years old, MaryJo, her stepfather, Don, and mother Christine started working and traveling the Carnival in Minnesota. They didn’t have to pay rent and could collect unemployment. She never really knew her biological dad. Don and Christine would work “joints,” what the gaming booths were called.
MaryJo job was to be the “Stick in the Mark” she would walk around the carnival (alone) with the largest stuffed bear and when people would ask about it, she would tell them she won it at her mother’s joint. She would do this all day.
Her job was essentially to be cute, and to lie, she was five. Some nights, she would fall asleep on the bench of the carousel because she felt safer there.
Her mother only worked the Carnivals in the summer so she could take college classes, she was obsessed with schooling, it was an escape from the life and responsibilities she loathed, so in the fall, she lived in the school dorms leaving MaryJo alone with Don.
Starting in the first grade, Don, her only real father figure, would regularly ask MaryJo to come in to his room and he would sexually abuse her. She repeatedly tried to tell her mother, but Christine told her to “never speak of it again, that’s what your are here for.”
Three weeks after her twelfth birthday, MaryJo came home from school to find Don dead, his body wedged between the bed and the wall.
Apparently, even the heartless can have a heart attack.
Christine was now solely forced to take care of her daughter in order to continuing receive state and federal assistance money. She felt angry and trapped. So she took it out on MaryJo.
She would beat her and lock her in a closet, repeating to her how worthless she was, blaming her daughter as the reason for her “horrible” life. Once in High School, MaryJo made the mistake of telling her that she had found a boyfriend, her mom printed up an article about how certain cultures would pay as much as $10,000 for a virgin. She threw the article on the kitchen table and said to her “See, you are not even worth this now!”
MaryJo finally left at 15, she slept on friends couches and finished High School.
But she had Love.
She found it and it found her when she was six years old. It came just in time and saved her and it surrounded her like a blanket, a shield.
It was when she sang her first solo in a small church in Western Minnesota, her voice sweeping and filling the room and her heart.
She got a standing ovation.
So she kept singing. She sang shows, in clubs and in halls. People were washed in her in voice and thereby changed. Meaning, love and hope began to take root in a life where there was none, in circumstances unimaginable.
MaryJo has done the improbable, she has survived and built a real life and recently celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary.
She and her friends are currently working on a theatre production to tell her story with music and help others to make their way through struggle.
She sings. This is what she does and what she should do. Clouds rain, Birds fly. And MaryJo sings.