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‘Walk Through The Fire and Be Brave’: Domestic violence victim vocal in new novel

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“We do what we do as kids to survive. Sometimes because our love is so present, yet there is no place to express it, we do what we do in or to hopefully garner love.” – excerpt from the forward to “Cloud People” by BJ Rae

For BJ Rae, writing is both her passion and her therapy. Rae is the author of “Cloud People” and will present a reading and host a book signing at Ellerbe Springs Inn and Campground this Sunday from 1-4 p.m.

The road to Ellerbe Springs for Rae has been far from smoothly paved.

She was born in Spain, but her family moved back to North Carolina when she was six months old.

“My grandmother knew that I wasn’t being fed, loved or anything like that, so she did everything she could for me,” Rae recalled. “I realized that she loved me and that I was an OK and worthy person.”

Her grandmother was giving her the love her mother could not or would not.

“For so long, I spent my time trying to show my mother love,” said Rae. “And every time I did, she crushed me like a bug, and she died squashing me like a bug. I loved her, I always showed her love and she’s the one who didn’t respond to me and I can’t let her actions cause me to feel bad about me.”

This is not a unicorn and pink, puffy cloud novel. It tells the story of a life of abuse.

“I changed the dates, the times, the places and the names of the people,” said Rae “but everything in there is real. I had to make changes because some of the people in there are still alive.

“My adoptive mother, who is in the book, is in a nursing home in Concord. She was my world when I was growing up,” Rae continued. “There were many days that I was going without food. So, I got to stay with my adoptive mom, she took care of me, threw me birthday parties, she really loved me and now she’s in a facility not doing well.”

Writing this book was a healing therapy for Rae.

“When I was 16 years old,” said Rae, “I was in the gifted program in school and my teacher told me ‘One of these days, you’re gonna write a book and it’s gonna be a really good book.’ I was her aide for one period of the day.

“We’d talk and she knew I had a really hard life at home and she said ‘You’ve got to put that story on paper and when you do, you’re gonna have to tell everyone that it’s fiction because no one would believe that anyone could survive that much stuff and still smile.’”

Rae began putting her thoughts together while confined to a hospital bed.

“I was aggravated and depressed and the only thing I could do was write,” said Rae. “I’d lie in bed and visualize the words and, whenever a memory would pop into my head, I would pull out my notebook and my pencil and scrawl it out and describe everything in that scene and that turned into my novel ‘Cloud People.’”

Rae’s ties to Richmond County go back to when she was a student at Campbell University.

“Campbell University is where I met Billy Dennis,” said Rae. “During my freshman year, he was one of the campus guides and we’ve been friends for over 37 years. He and he and his family were one of the reasons I came to Rockingham because other than being a preacher here, he’s a really good moral support person.”

Dennis is currently pastor of Roberdel Baptist Church.

Though she started her college journey at Buies Creek, Rae moved west and completed her Master’s degree in special education at the University of New Mexico.

After graduation, Rae entered into teaching students who were suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

“I taught special education to behavior disorder high school students,” said Rae. “My students had been hospitalized, and were coming back to school and were having struggles … much less being able to complete the competency exam in April.”

Soon after, the cycle of abuse began again.

“I married my first husband and he was terrifyingly abusive — to the extent of me winding up with traumatic brain injuries as well as a litany of other indescribable injuries,” said Rae. “I was scared to leave him and eventually I did.”

Richmond County has welcomed her and given her permission to feel safe again.

“Richmond county is an oasis for me,” said Rae. “I feel safe here. When I got here, people were very accepting of me. I love it here.”

Rae moved from North Conway, New Hampshire, so she could be closer to her adoptive mother.

“It’s been a breath of fresh air for me down here.”

Rae attributes her strong faith in God to getting her through all of her trials and tribulations.

“I have come out stronger on the other side,” said Rae, “and that’s the point I had hoped people would have gotten from reading the book.

“So many people today complain and have no personal accountability but the truth is you don’t have to be that way,” she continued. “All those people who are hurting me, as my grandmother taught me, they have the problem not you. They don’t accept you for who you are.”

Rae’s advice to aspiring authors: write everything down.

“Start with a journal format,” said Rae. “Write down the things you remember the most. Re-reread them, then write the next part. Eventually you’ll fill up your book. Then put things in order and organize your thoughts.

“It’s really hard to write a book like this,” she added. “It’s also helpful and writing it helps to cleanse your soul. It helps other people, and if they know they’ve been through something like this, they don’t feel alone. Who knows what it might do for someone else?”

Rae said that she is a survivor and not a soldier.

“I feel I am a survivor,” said Rae. “A soldier continues fighting where a survivor, on the other hand, gets through it, looks back and realizes how good things are now and how to keep them from going bad again.”


Rae credits her success to her grandmother.

“My grandmother encouraged me and saw what I wanted to do,” said Rae.

Her grandmother told her: “What you’re going through is really hard but if you write it down, that’s gonna be your salvation. Writing will be your salvation, second to God.”

Rae said she was right — “And without her, I wouldn’t be here.”

So why write this book?

“I didn’t write it to cause other people to rethink their lives,” said Rae. “I wrote it to encourage people, to give them hope.

“People who’ve been through hard things are hurting, but when you can’t voice your experiences, when you don’t even remember them and you don’t have the strength to remember or voice them, it helps you remember that you are not alone. You can get through it.”

Contact reporter Christopher McDonald: cmcdonald@richmondobserver.com

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