“Ready or not, here I come!”
When you hear those words in hide-and-seek and you haven’t hidden yet, you have a real chance of losing. Get out of sight, though, and you might manage to sneak back home safely to play another game. And sometimes, that game lasts for decades, as it does in the memoir Hiding Out by Tina Alexis Allen, now out in paperback.
Growing up, Christina, who is now an actress, knew her father hated her.
Her 12 siblings knew it, too, and they reminded her of it often: She was the youngest, her mother’s “lucky 13” and the victim of much of her father’s wrath. Starting about age 9, Tina was also the victim of sexual abuse by two of her then-adult brothers.
But she never told anyone about it. Instead, she acted out at school until the nuns were at their wits’ end and her “saint” of a mother was exasperated. At age 11, a younger teacher finally took Tina under her wing – and into her bed.
Two years later, by the time her teacher-lover sent her away, Tina knew she was more attracted to girls than to boys. By her mid-teens, she had a college-age girlfriend who lived near her parents’ Washington, D.C.-area house. She managed to mostly stay away from her parents’ house, where hiding her real self was necessary. She found more comfort in the girlfriend’s apartment.
But no one can hide forever.
When her father invited her and her girlfriend to lunch one day, Tina was guarded – and rightfully so, because he had figured out her secret, one that she couldn’t deny. Then he revealed a shocker of his own: He was gay, too.
Within weeks, Tina went from hated daughter to favorite, from being ignored to being invited to her father’s dinners and clubs. They agreed to keep one another’s secrets from the rest of the family, partying, drinking, and doing drugs until the stress of it all bubbled over. Tina couldn’t take the lies anymore, and out of her lips spilled the truth.
Years later, there was one last secret.
Memoirs, by their nature, are generally focused inwardly to some degree. Hiding Out, however, is less so than many.
Starting with a raucous anecdote of sibling rivalry before Christmas Mass, readers are in for more than a look-at-me memoir. This is, in fact, a whole-family tale in which author Tina Alexis Allen puts the focus mainly on her parents, with siblings ringing the action as needed. Using that as a base, tales eke out tantalizingly slowly over the course of this book. Some are shocking, but told so casually that you’ll have a “wait, what?” backlash. Don’t be surprised if you read the occasional sentence twice, in disbelief.
Add a tight window of time and a deep, unsubstantiated-rumor-type mystery that feels like a character unto itself, and you’ve got a compulsively readable book that is, at its close, quite unusual. If that sounds perfect for a long winter’s night, turn to Hiding Out.
Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception, and Double Lives by Tina Alexis Allen
c. 2018, Dey Street Books, $16.99, 288 pages