It takes a lot of courage to grow up and become who you really are.

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Thanks for joining me!

I’ve always been a writer. I don’t know if I’m a very good one, but I’ve always done it. It has been an escape for me from a pretty tough life. Things are so much different now that I’m able to make my own choices. I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at, but I have so much further to go… mentally, I mean. I started this page to just be able to share things I’ve written. I like to call my stuff “creative nonfiction.” A lot of it is based upon my life. Not everything is true, though. Unfortunately, a lot of it is.

 

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A Sofa in Kentucky

I am a high school teacher, and my students are getting ready to write their first creative pieces of the year: narratives about fictional heroes that reflect their values. I like to write alongside them. Considering my family had a pretty messed up value system, I thought it only fitting that I write from an anti-hero point-of-view. Unfortunately, this is based on a true story, but names and places have been changed.

1976, America’s 200th birthday and the year I gave birth to my first daughter. I was 16 and unsure who the father was. Does a dad really matter, though? I mean, I am a product of the generation who burned their bras and demanded equal treatment. My father died the year before and left my oldest brother to be the man of the house. At 18, Ray was carrying the responsibility of an eight-person household, but we were all contributing. There was always food in the house, even if it was just a few cans of vegetables and Spam shared between us. Point is we were surviving. 

It was hard to tell how our mother was taking the loss of Dad. Several days would pass where we wouldn’t see her. She was mostly sleeping if she was home or she was staying away from the house altogether. On occasion, she could be found at the kitchen table, a lit cigarette with ashes an inch long dangling between two fingers. In between drags, she’d sip a Budweiser and chase that with a gulp of tomato juice. I never saw her eat much, and her white nurses gown had begun to balloon around her.

Besides Ray, I was the oldest. I had three younger brothers and two younger sisters. Matthew was the youngest and only 6 years old when Dad died– he was still clinging to Mom and sucking his thumb! I had begun to play the role of mom to Matthew, so when Katherine was born I was already kinda used to the whining and the neediness. What I wasn’t prepared for was the constant hunger, filthy diapers, and getting no sleep. Jackie, my sister who was 13 at the time, would often get up and make a bottle or change Kathy in the middle of the night (I did have to yell at her sometimes to do it, but at least I had some help). 

Imagine the frustration of everyone in that three bedroom house when, in 1978, my second daughter, Amy, was born. I did know who Amy’s dad was, though, and he had told me that his parents would help us. Tom said we could move in with them, and he’d start working at his dad’s shop, changing oil then, but his dad was going to make him a manager and soon he’d be part owner. Ray didn’t even pretend he was going to miss the three of us as we loaded up Tom’s mom’s station wagon with just two trash bags full of stuff. 

Tom’s parents let us take over their basement, which had a small kitchenette and a bar full of hard liquor. Problem was Tom and I liked that hard liquor a little too much. We’d try to cover our deeds by filling the bottles up with water, but there was no covering the amount of anger and resentment that liquor spread through our bodies. It’s hard telling how all our fights got started, but often it was him accusing me of sleeping around or sitting on my ass all day while he was at work. Tom’s parents would holler at us, come down to take Kathy and Amy upstairs with them just long enough for Tom to shut me up with a fist to the mouth. I’m real proud to say that after a few months of this same old dance, I took my girls and went back home. Mom was hanging around the house more, and she acted real happy to to have Kathy and Amy to look after.

One condition of me moving back in was I had to get a job. I was bringing in three mouths, not just one, Mom said. I hadn’t graduated high school and had no experience doing anything other than being a mother. One thing I did have going for me was my figure. I never ate much of anything and consumed most of my calories through the alcohol that always seemed to be on hand. Everybody was so shocked when they’d meet me and learn I had two kids already. Some older friends of my brother would take me partying, driving around to smoke, stopping at bars to get a drink, and I’d get served because I was a cute girl. One of these nights, I met a guy named Steve. I was leaning against the wall holding my cue and waiting for my shot at the pool table. Steve walked right up to me with a beer, one thing led to another, and we got friendly. I went home with him that night and he later offered me a job at his club. 

I was making money hand over fist just by taking my top off, and Mom and Ray were not complaining about the stacks of bills I’d bring home. They were, however, complaining about Kathy and Amy. Between all those people at that house, you’d think there’d be no problem getting one of them to watch the girls for a few hours before their bedtime. It got to be a real issue, and one night I just decided to take them with me. The girls were throwing all kinds of fits, and I couldn’t just have them “making all that noise,” Steve said. They would run away paying customers and the authorities sure wouldn’t approve of them being there. I did my best to take care of them and the customers, and one guy sensed my struggle and offered to help. Carl said I needed a vacation; I agreed. This man had money, I tell ya! He wanted me to see the ocean.

There was one problem, though, with his vacation idea and that was that I was a mother without anyone to watch my girls. Carl said he knew an older couple a state over that loved children and would be happy to babysit while we went to the beach. How could I argue with a man with a plan? Two days after we met, Carl pulled up in front of the house just before 8 am. Kathy and Amy, then four and two years old, were in good spirits as we drove away. I still remember the giggles and stories about all they were going to do on their vacation. We arrived at the tiny but tidy house of the older couple (I can’t remember their names except the last name was White), and though hesitant, the girls found the tv and settled into the sofa in their front room. Carl assured them we’d be back in four days, and I kissed their soft white hair for the last time.

That was twenty years ago. I have no excuses. Carl and I snorted cocaine off a sink in a bathroom in Atlanta, drank Jack Daniels while pushing quarters into a jukebox in a roadside honkytonk, and had sex on a chartered fishing boat. It felt good to forget about my boring and taxing midwest life, but as day four approached, Carl said he had no plans to head back to Illinois. We argued in the parking lot of Publix, and I threw a beer bottle into the windshield of his Firebird. He spun his tires, and I breathed in the smell of burnt rubber and hopelessness.

I had no choice but to resort to hitchhiking. I was lucky enough to get back home with the help of only three truck drivers. However, none of them had the time to find the tiny house in Kentucky where I last saw my girls. With a last name like White and few other details, how would anyone ever know who I was talking about? I didn’t even write down their address because I was sure Carl would get me back there. My family didn’t ask many questions about the girls or my trip, and we quickly fell back into old routines. Some nights I’d wake and think I heard the whimper of Amy on the other side of the room, but of course she wasn’t there. Each week that passed I was sure it would be the last week I’d be without them, but the attention, the money, the drugs, the need to not feel guilty and alone overtook me.

I wonder who they are now.

 

4/20, CCR, and Past Tense

A beautiful, spring day- Saturday, April 20th, 2019. After making a big breakfast for my girls and their friends, I have to get cleaned up for the birthday party this afternoon: Marley is turning 8 tomorrow. Something about today just feels like I need to listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival. John Fogerty’s voice transcends time, puts me into this overwhelming nostalgia and brings about a good mood. However, as I’ve always been told, I’m overdramatic. I feel every lyric as if it’s the first time I’ve ever heard it and also every time I’ve ever heard it.

Cracking a window, I look outside and recall Mom on a day like today, maybe 25 or 30 years ago. What would she be doing today if she were here? Would she also be listening to CCR, Steve Miller, Don McLean? I imagine so.

She would have the record player on or KSHE 95. There would be specks of dust in the ray of sunshine through the window as she cleaned our trailer for the visitors to come in the afternoon. There would be Maull’s on the counter, pounds of pork steak and Milwaukee’s Best in the fridge. She’d have jean shorts on, a black t-shirt and flip flops. She’d serve me scrambled eggs, and I’d hum along to her music.

This soundtrack would become my way to be close to her when she was no longer here:

“Got to sit down, take a rest on the porch

Imagination sets in, pretty soon I’m singin’

Doo, doo, doo, lookin’ out my back door”

The morning would pass, and as the analog clock ticked past noon, we’d hear a rumble in the distance. Two or three at a time, motorcycles would appear on the gravel hill. Mustaches and long ponytails would cease twirling as the kickstands found their places in our driveway. The old Weber grill would be smoking by now, and Dad would carry out the aluminum pan full of meat slathered in BBQ sauce and beer.

I would sit on my swing and watch them all embrace or give a handshake. Cold beers ever present in their hands, their bellies would jiggle, bare under black leather vests. Eventually, I’d make my way to the concrete slab where the lawn chairs perched. I’d draw flowers in chalk that they’d trample on their way to and from the stairs that led to the bathroom. They’d make jokes and tell wild stories. I loved having them there.

Mom would be in charge of rolling joints. An opaque tupperware cake lid she called her tray held lighters, roach clips, ZigZags and other paraphernalia. Sometimes she’d ask me to retrieve it for her. It was hidden underneath our couch. There was also a cookie tin that accompanied it. That’s where the baggies of marijuana were kept.

On the way in the house to grab her drugs, she’d shout, “Fawn, get me a Dr. Pepper, too, will ya?”

I’d set the soda at her feet and watch her lick her lips. She twisted the ends of the paper, my eyes on her pointy, pink nails and the long gold earrings at rest in her black ringlets. She smelled of  White Shoulders and love. My mom was so pretty and badass.

The Mamas and Papas would come on and she’d tell me about Mama Cass dying by choking on a ham sandwich. We’d giggle at the misfortune and irony; she’d go on making others laugh, and I kind of wanted to be her.

But the sun would set, and the motorcycles would make their ascent, leaving a pile of aluminum cans, ash where there used to be charcoal, and a snoozing Dad. As Mom carried in the food, there would inevitably be some noise as she attempted to clean up. Some words would be mumbled from the living room and my badass mom, who was always so outspoken, was a tad too outspoken given the situation: a drunk looking for a fight.

My parents would dance, but the music was no longer playing, and they used their fists. I was cowering in my room and missing CCR, sunshine, and that happy, confident Mom. Tears would stream down my face, and I would spit through clenched teeth, “I hate him.” I knew this was their cycle:

“Someone told me long ago

There’s a calm before the storm

I know it’s been comin’ for some time

When it’s over so they say

It’ll rain a sunny day

I know shinin’ down like water.”

Mom has been gone for six years, but she’s still here because I’m here. I hear her in music, tell her jokes, wear black t-shirts, and I speak my mind. She will never be completely past tense as long as there are days like today.

A Dystopian Reality

A word from the author, the narrator:

My dad died twenty-three years ago yesterday, and I couldn’t be more thankful. It’s not that I didn’t love my dad, but I also didn’t really like him. Despite what anyone says, he would not be proud of me. He may have boasted of my accomplishments: my degrees, my career, my family. However, he would have been disappointed in my political beliefs, my tattoos, my **gasp** red nail polish or black clothes, my lack of religion. We would have been in constant conflict. My children are lucky to not know their grandfather or his side of the family, and you can’t persuade me otherwise.

Prologue:

Sometimes life plays out in such a way that I’m convinced I must be acting out some amateur screenwriter’s early films. There seems to be ironies and symbols abound. Maybe it’s just because I’m an English nerd, but this weekend was definitely an end of a season cliffhanger, where some conflicts were resolved but new ones presented themselves. The protagonist and her accomplice stood awestruck, and the audience was left with the feeling that there’s got to be more; how can they leave us hanging like this? Is this the end for our beloved character, or is it a teaser for a new exciting season not yet fully written?

Exposition and initial incident:

Two days ago, the eve of the anniversary of my father’s death, my sister was brutally cyber-attacked by my uncle and then our cousin. I woke to a long and despairing message from her. Like me, Danielle has begun to write about our childhood and has found comfort in the release of the turmoil hidden deep inside her gut out through her fingertips and onto the screen. She made a series of blog posts in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, our uncle, scrolling through social media in the middle of the night, no doubt drunk and/or high, happened upon one of her stories. In a direct post to her page, this grown man of fifty something years summons all of his stupidity to form the threat: “If you ever post some bullshit again, about my brother, I will fuck your world up.”

Rising Action:

As my sister responds to this conflict and reminds him that my uncle’s brother is her father, she also points out that everyone in the family knew our dad beat our mom. Most of them were present for the physical fights, let alone the verbal assaults. I’m not privy to their entire conversation, as I am just the third person narrator for most of this, but I can tell you that she was distraught and confused. To further complicate, he proceeded to scroll through her posts, some from many months ago, and make as many homophobic, racist, and redneck comments his small brain could muster. This is where she drew the line and blocked him.

I responded to her message, defending her, trying to calm her anxieties and assure her that his opinion means little in our now chosen lives. What she has written is the truth, and to heal from the trauma she experienced, she needs to be able to speak that truth. However, the story does not end there…

Climax:

Later that day, a cousin of ours, not a child of his but a daughter of one of my dad’s sisters, posts on my sister’s page about the worst sin of all sins (sarcasm): telling family secrets. She defends crazy uncle and tells my sister that she also can tell secrets. According to the cousin, “Love covers all sins.” Guess what sin she wants to remind my sister, all our family, and everyone on Facebook about: the rape of my then eleven-year-old sister by our aunt’s boyfriend. She blames her for hanging around adults too much the summer we visited them in Texas. She blames her for her flirtatious behavior with a grown man. She blames her for not telling someone if she felt uncomfortable. She blames. She then makes excuses for the behaviors of everyone else who was an adult at the time of our childhoods.

Falling Action (The narrator loses her damn mind):

This is the turning point for not only me, as the one telling the story, but I believe for my sister. I will be honest in that I haven’t had much interest in my sister since I left my parents’ home when I was fourteen. I think I wanted to leave behind everything I could and put up a fence around what used to be. However, victim blaming, making excuses for abuse and neglect, intimidation, blind allegiance to secrets, and racism and bigotry of any kind pushed us beyond our limits. We had a choice to make. After defending what we felt necessary, even more unfriending/un”family”ing occurred.

Resolution:

Twenty-three years after our dad’s death, we now have some closure. The full destruction of our lives as we had known them had run its course. We the heroes made the brave decision to eliminate the source of all threats. In some alternate reality where our father lived past 1996 and became a grandfather, the antagonists would have been nearer and continued the dehumanization of not only me and my siblings but our children. So we ask ourselves, “Is the great paradox of this story, our lives, that we have suffered so great just so we could know such relief? Was our dad’s death a sacrifice so that our children did not grow up in the hate, abuse, prejudices, and disappointments? Was our dad not the villain I first suspected, but the unsung hero, the martyr?”

However, my sister, left with the feeling of rejection, abandonment, and PTSD, struggles with her internal demons. How will she handle this new episode of her life? Will she be able to find peace after the only world she knew has been discarded? New anxieties present themselves.

To be continued…

 

On Memories I Tried to Forget

When I stop and wonder how I came to be who I am, it doesn’t take long for me to get lost in the melancholy. I don’t want to use my past as an excuse, be defined by where I come from. However, the long pink tears extending from cuticle to first knuckle give hint of the anxiety I carry with me, the constant feeling of inadequacy, of uncertainty, of keeping to myself to avoid criticism. There’s a part of me that needs to justify that I am worthy. That is the part of me that pushes myself to exhaustion, to be a wife, mother, and a professional. It’s the part that tells me I need to strive for perfection, to not say no, to not settle for a college degree because neither of my parents graduated high school: I need to become a doctor (and I did!). But guess what: it’s still not good enough.

When I first began to tell my story, I told my experiences from the third person because I spent so much of my life being one person at home and another in public. At school, my teachers and peers could never know the addiction, abuse and neglect I faced on the evenings and weekends. I had an idea of what it meant to mean something to someone, and that meaning had to be created by pretending to be something I was not. Some may say I need to rewrite those first narratives and change the point of view; however, I feel there’s some sort of psychological importance to keeping them as they are. In order to admit to what I experienced, I had to gauge the reaction of other people. Did they chastise my characters or embrace them and empathize with them? Were my stories even worth telling?

The process of first recording my stories is even thought provoking. I remember driving along and listening to Everclear’s “Father of Mine.” A thought popped in my head about feeling abandoned just as the lyrics imply. My abandonment was not literal as the song’s speaker’s was, and maybe that’s what gets me, maybe that’s why I’ve always been so confused. A stray tear still rolls down my cheek when I hear this song, as I choke on the words of the melody. A memory of my childhood, one well-turned phrase created in my mind, haunted me until I could pull into my garage and create a note in my phone to remember for later. The moment my kids were occupied and set for the evening, I plopped on my bed with my Chromebook and pushed the whole story out. I shook as I reread. My vulnerability became tangible, and I questioned if this was something I could even share with another person. My husband knew parts of my life, but I had never spelled it out like this.

The stories are important for my growth. I can’t forget who I am or the parts that made me who I am. I’ve had a shocking realization over the past few weeks that I’ve already almost fully forgotten some pretty intense memories. I spent an entire Saturday crying at random moments as I thought about how I had not defied science: I had suppressed memories. I sat in the Costco parking lot and continued to berate myself for being so selfish and self-centered, though I am a critic of such traits. I can now also define myself as a hypocrite. And just as a hypocrite does when called out, I’ve began to make excuses for my behavior: “I was just trying to survive,” I tell myself.

Hi, I’m Fawn, and I have Borderline Personality Disorder

Hi, I’m Fawn, and I have Borderline Personality Disorder.

Actually, I used to. (I think) I’m recovered. To be gifted such a label, one has to meet 5 of the 9 categories of the disorder. Once a person no longer meets 5, but maybe only 3 or 4, they no longer fit into this diagnosis. So what does that mean? Honestly, I’m not sure, and that kinda sucks because guess what: that’s pretty borderline of me, the not being sure thing.

Being borderline means I don’t have a sense of who I am. It means that I can change like a chameleon to match who I’m around. It means I’m moody. It means I lose my temper easily at silly things. It means I hate you but I also don’t want you to reject me. It means I need to be in control because very little in my life has been constant. It means things need to be perfect but that I’ll also blame others for things going wrong despite how much I obsess over making it right. It means that I won’t give up and that I need to be the center of attention but then also not know how to act when I am.

When I first received this diagnosis, I was pissed. I’ve always thought I had a great personality. I’m witty and intelligent. I’m kind and believe people are inherently good. I’m a hard worker and a good friend. I also dislike myself… a lot. I don’t feel like I’m good enough for anyone. I believe that when I fail, it’s because fate has set me up to fail and that I’ll never be anything more than the run-down, abuse-riddled trailer I grew up in. I feel like a phony, and one day I’ll be found out and lose everything. I’m not a good enough wife or mother or teacher. So I work harder and push myself to exhaustion all to prove Them wrong. But who is “Them”? Turns out the “Them” is my borderline personality.

I’m being harsh. I hate getting lost in this funnel and feeling empty. The good news is these empty days are rare. I don’t carry the diagnosis of having Borderline Personality Disorder any more. I now just have the diagnosis of High Functioning Anxiety, and I will probably always identify in this way. But I’ll take it because it gives me an identity that is not borderline.

On the eve of the six year anniversary of my mother’s death, I find it ironic how heavily my mental struggles are weighing on me. My mother was bipolar, and her death triggered my anxiety. Instead of dwelling on all the ways she screwed me up or how terrible my childhood was, I’m choosing to focus on all the things I have going for me, all the reasons why I no longer am borderline.

Safety is in the Arms of the Pill Holder

When I was 15 I was kidnapped by Indians.

The politically correct term is Native Americans, and maybe some would argue against the experience actually being a kidnapping, but the situation turned scary for me very quickly. The summer of 1996 was easily one of the most confusing times of my life, and honestly, it was insanity for my entire family. That last sentence barely scrapes the surface of meaning as it’s hard for me to put into words what insanity looks like for an already insane family riddled by mental illness, neglect, drug, alcohol, and physical/emotional abuse.

Let’s set the scene:

My father, the eldest of seven, died in March of that same year from an abscess tooth. What?! Yes, you read that right. In modern times, a man of 38 straight keeled over from a toothache. If you’ve ever had a tooth that required a root canal, as I have, you’d understand that the pain is one of the most unpleasant things you could feel. My dad didn’t go to the dentist or the doctor because 1) he was a man, 2) he didn’t have insurance, and 3) he was a drunk. He masked the pain with a case of beer a day and rolled a doobie or two for good measure.

At the time my dad reached the point of no return, I was a freshman in high school and had been living with my grandma for about a year (that’s an entirely different story, but it began with a belligerent father calling his 14-year-old a slut because a boy called her home phone). I had no idea Dad was ill, but Mom took him to the emergency room, carrying all 136 pounds of him to the car from their bed, because he was unable to move. The infection in his mouth had poisoned his blood stream; he had meningitis, needed heart valves replaced and all his teeth removed. Dad spent two weeks in the ICU, and I spent those two weeks reading William Shakespeare. My friends and I were deep into a culminating project, turning Romeo and Juliet into a 1970s-esque novella.

Things took a turn for the worst, Dad slipped into a coma, and he took his last breath on March 18, 1996. My mom slipped into depression. My home life had been pretty shitty for the past 15 years; however, the loss of my dad hit my mom like a combination of all the times my dad had hit her (with a rifle, jumper cables, a car, his fist). I learned what valium was, and I learned that my mom didn’t want to talk to me.

My dad’s family (three sisters, two brothers, and his mom from Texas; one brother from D.C.) spent the week at my parents’. They brought significant others. It was the week of my father’s death that I met the cutest boy (I thought so at the time anyway). He and his family were of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe in Livingston, Texas. The week passed in typical Greenlee fashion: a bar fight, lots of booze, and a marijuana-hazed burial where the family gathered at the cemetary to play frisbee and sing Hank Jr.’s “Family Tradition.” You can’t make this stuff up, folks. All the while, I’m making googly eyes at the boy with the shiny black skater cut.

At the funeral home I made a comment to my uncle that I would probably never see them again now that my dad was gone, and he made a big fuss about it, but ultimately, I was kinda right as I’ve truly only seen them all a handful of times in the 20 years since. My siblings and I were invited to spend the summer with our dad’s family. My mom was a zombie now, a painkiller junkie, so it was an obvious ok from her. My uncle made the fourteen hour trip from Livingston in one day, stayed the night, and we rode back to Texas with him the next day. As an adult, I now see the economical genius of the quick trip: he was transporting pounds of pot in the panels of the truck from Texas to Missouri. It was no big deal to bring the kids back with him; he could take them home on his next run!

We get to my aunt’s house and are excited to see our cousins; at this time there were five. Truthfully, the summer wasn’t all bad, but it didn’t take long for the “vacation” feel to wear off. We ate Spam for breakfast, lunch and dinner (at least it seemed like that). My mom would sell her food stamps to send my aunt money for our care, but the food would last maybe a day with all the people staying under one roof, over twelve in a two-bedroom, one-bath house. The only air conditioning was a window unit in the living room, so that room was blocked from the rest of the house with sheets to keep the cool contained. The one toilet the house had didn’t flush, so every so often one of my uncles would have to get a bucket of water and a plunger and work some magic that I wanted no part of.

Over the course of our two month stay, my schizophrenic aunt tried to cut me with a beer bottle, another aunt got her foot run over in the parking lot of the local bar that served me wine coolers at 15, and the third aunt’s boyfriend molested my 11-year-old sister. My brother got Cat Scratch Fever and was unable to walk as the bacteria attacked the lymph node in his groin. No one was home except the kids at the time. I had to find keys to the only vehicle around, a car that needed major brake and engine work, and drive him 30 minutes to the bar my aunts and uncles were at so that he could go to the hospital and get help. There were no cell phones then, and I knew no phone numbers.

I was pretty miserable and over it all, but there was always a chance I’d see the cute boy. He was the son of the boyfriend of one of my aunts. We talked by phone and were able to hang out a few times. We were flirting and obviously liked each other, but he also had a Texas girlfriend that I was supposed to be scared of. Whatever, I wasn’t going to be there forever. He was cute, and I knew it wouldn’t last once summer was over. We had a picnic at the lake on the reservation, he took me to the PowWow and kissed me in the back of his dad’s truck. It was like a Nicholas Sparks romance!

One night, near the end of our stay, my aunt’s boyfriend was playing in a baseball game at the rez. Several of us went to watch him play, and I went with hopes of seeing him. My cousin is a year younger than me, and she was dating another boy from the tribe. He and some friends were going cruising and asked her to go. She invited me along. One of the friends was the brother of my summer fling, and he promised we’d see him that night. Our destination was L.A. Of course I now know what L.A. refers to, but at the time I just thought it was some place across town. I mean, my aunt even gave the ok (granted, she was probably stoned and drunk and didn’t know what she was agreeing to).

My cousin and I walk with the guys to their car, a goddamn Honda Passport! There were five guys, the car was a five-seater, and there were two of us girls. My cousin is fine, crawls right up on her boyfriend’s lap. Great. I told them I’d sit in the back, meaning the cargo area. It was actually kind of comfy, at least compared to everyone else’s positions. I could stretch my legs out and move around a bit. That was until they stopped to get a keg.

As the driver took each turn, the keg would slide and smash into my shoulder. A full keg weighs more than I did at 15, so I was really taking a beating and was uncomfortable. Not to mention that I became the portable barmaid. They’d pass me a solo cup, and I’d have to figure out how to pump and pass without a lot of waste. Too much slosh and I’d be soaked in beer and they’d be out dollars of liquid gold they weren’t willing to share with the floorboard.

After a while, I gave up and asked if I could sit up front. The passenger offered his lap. What were my choices here? I took him up on the offer but sat in such a way that was the least inviting, if that was even possible. This seating arrangement didn’t last long either. Everyone in the car was buzzed and/or high, and I know it may seem hard to believe, but I was not. It’s complicated with my history, but I was not about smoking or trying anything after all I’d witnessed as a kid. I’d had alcohol before, but I was still too young to appreciate the taste of beer. The passenger seat-guy got handsy, and I could only play like it was no big deal for so long. I somehow managed to get into the backseat and this time sat on the lap of the brother of my summer love.

Ok, so here it is, hours into this trip to nowhere. I don’t recall exact times or places. It was all so confusing and disorienting. There were stops alongside the road, at gas stations to pee, somewhere by water, and even at someone’s house where I was attacked by giant mosquitoes. I would occasionally ask where we were, where we were going, if we were going to see him. The laughing, teasing, playing around started to feel a lot less fun. The brother was becoming touchy, and I was very uncomfortable. I did allow him to kiss me, and it’s scary what else could have happened because I was so vulnerable. I was able to make my way back into the safety of the keg-smashed cargo area, and I let tears run down my cheeks.

Night turns to day, and I learn we are in Louisiana… L.A. My cousin and her boyfriend get out of the car to swim and tell the driver to leave them behind. I try to get her to come, but she’s determined to stay. I’m torn because it’s hot, we’re in the middle of nowhere, and I have no water, food, or money. If I get in the car, the guys have money, there’s air conditioning, and they’re going to take me back to my aunt’s, right? In the car, they feed me beef jerky. I’m noticeably quiet, but I’ve asked a few times to go back.

We arrive at some guy’s house. It’s surprisingly nice, and while they share a joint, I am able to fall asleep on the sectional. They laugh at me for not wanting to smoke or drink with them, and they no longer are interested in me. The idea of me being a good time or a party girl has come and gone.

At a gas station later that afternoon, I find a payphone. I call my grandma in Missouri because it’s the only phone number I know. I’m crying into the receiver, and she’s telling me she can be in Louisiana by the next morning and to just stay at the gas station. I give her the number on the payphone, and she says she’ll call me again so stay near.

The payphone rings, and it’s my aunt’s boyfriend. He asks for his son. I can hear the yelling. We are all quiet back in the car.

A couple hours later, I jump out of the Honda onto the dirt yard of my aunt’s house, sweaty, smelly, hungry, and relieved. My cousin and her boyfriend sit cuddling on the couch with smirks and snacks, but there is no concern for what I had been through.

My uncle is angry with me, says my cousin told him all about the drugs I was doing and that when she wanted to go home, I just wanted to keep partying and that’s why I still wasn’t home when she made it back. I felt so betrayed. I wasn’t a completely innocent person, but I was a straight A student with absolutely no discipline issues up to this point (well, except the write up I got in 8th grade for kicking Greg in the nuts when I was trying to be a Power Ranger). How could my family think of me like this?

I had just a couple weeks left of summer vacation, and I spent them with my dad’s mom in a neighboring Texas town. When I packed to leave my aunt’s, I couldn’t find everything I came there with. My cousins and aunts denied having my stuff, said I thought I was better than them and too good to stay at their house. They said I was spoiled. Stupid me, I felt defeated, beaten, exhausted. My mom decided to make the trip to get us. She had just bought herself a classic Cutlass Supreme with my dad’s social security checks.

I don’t remember the trip back to Missouri, but I imagine I felt the safest I had in weeks.

 

Palindrome

I twist her arm, turning it palm up. My fingers wrap around her wrist, and her fingers curl in frustration. The red lines I refused to believe in are etched into her tender skin. They are fresh: raised and puffy. But there are also a few scabbed over and some turned pink, trying to camouflage themselves, disappear back into the sun-kissed arm of my twelve-year-old daughter.

I see these cuts and can’t help but connect them to the marks she left on me: those thin, sometimes jagged, remnants of her creation. I’ve tried to conceal them with lotions, self-tanner, high-waisted pants. I’ve stared at them in mirrors, looked down at them in disgust, and wished them away. And here she is, her beautiful skin now scarred, silently screaming that she wants to be seen.

I want to sit her in my lap, squeeze her tight, and tell her how much she’s loved. Tell her it will all be all right. She won’t believe me, so I go ahead and yell at her. Tell her I’m disappointed, embarrassed. “What is wrong with you? Why would you do that?”

She doesn’t tell me, and I know she hates me just as I hate my mother: with everything I have and not at all. This pain we share just as we’ve shared bodies, freckles, ice cream, and giggles. We now share anxiety, dissatisfaction and tears (but in separate rooms of course).

I’m worried because “mom” is a palindrome; it’s spelled the same forward and backwards. These scars I gave my mom that she gave me that I gave my daughter that she gave me that we give ourselves, will they continue back and forth? I’m failing to see a difference either way. I’m failing.