I've been thinking about you a lot lately.
How are you doing?
Ok, that is silly of me to ask. I know how you are doing! It's kinda crappy, huh? I am going to tell you a few things that will hopefully help, help you get your light back. It has started to fade.
I know that it is very hard to believe right now, but it gets better! It will get worse before it gets better, but just trust me, it gets better - much, much, much better!
The Kid, Oceana, WV (circa 1985)
I know that you hate the fighting, it scares you, it embarrasses you! However, I know that you have been thinking about throwing yourself down the stairs hoping that that it will make them stop hitting and cursing each other. Do not do that! It may stop them for a few minutes, maybe even the whole night, but they will fight again. Plus, there is no guarantee that it will make them stop. You don't want to risk getting hurt...remember those casts last summer. They were awful, don't take a chance of having those again.
Go back to your room, turn your boom box on, put your new Tears for Fears tape in, sing along to Everybody Wants to Rule the World, pile all of those stuffed animals on you, and read. Escape into another world. Read. Read. Read. Then get up and escape to school. You're safe there. Work hard and don't get in trouble. I know that the free breakfast and lunch embarrasses you, but eat them.
I know that you are starting to lay the foundation for the walls that you will continue to build for years. The foundation starts in that HUD apartment, the one with the walls tinged yellow from Steve's Marlboros and everyone's weed, and the front door that gets so hot in the summer that you burn your hands. It is in that apartment that you will walk in on your mother, completely naked, sitting on the couch, tearing through a phone book. Looking. Searching. Crying. Screaming. I know that you don't know what you have done. You haven't done anything.
You're going to start picking up the crushed red capsules, emptied of their medicinal contents, and quarter straws that litter the floor. Thinking, hoping that is what has made her mad, that if you just clean it up she will stop screaming and get dressed. She won't. This will make her scream more.
Just go to your room, get your books and a change of clothes. Walk down to Alma's. I know that you hate calling her Maw-Maw, it makes you cringe. I know she kinda scares you, with her hair always having that severe curl right in the front, her perpetually dripping nose, and always saying mean things about your mom. For the time being, she is a safe haven. She is not a witch.
Her apartment is always super clean and you have your own bed. Just take the creepy dolls off of it. They won't bother you. Plus, she's a pretty good cook. She'll cook for you. She is nothing like your gran, she doesn't talk to you or take you fun places, but she is within walking distance. You have to work with what you have.
It gets better.
There is a fashion trend, granted a horrible one, in your isolated Appalachian middle school, where the girls are wearing long denim skirts and white Keds. Your gran has bought you a long denim skirt, but you do not have Keds. You beg for Keds, but you don't get them. You have purple and white Reebok high tops. Your mom tells you that wearing your Reeboks with the skirt is just the same, even better. You question it, fret about it, but decide - to do it to keep her happy. It is not the same. You hear everyone whispering and giggling. You will want to cry. Don't. Own it.
Soon after the fashion faux pas, your parents uproot you again. You don't want to move, but you have no choice. However, this time your gran is going to go with you, and your going to the same town as your Grandmother Conley. They will always protect you. So, take a deep breath.
Your going to be in your first wedding the same year of your move. It is super exciting. You adore your uncle John and think that his wife-to-be is so beautiful and fun. You love how she calls your grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Y. Your mom is going to insist on the most hideous lime green dress for the rehearsal. Gran and you will conclude that it is possibly the ugliest thing in the history of time, but that it is better to just keep your mom happy.
Your mom is pregnant at the wedding. She and her brother do not get along, and her husband, Steve, is blatantly not invited. Despite the potential for drama you are still super excited. You get to miss a couple days of school, go to restaurants, and best of all stay in a fancy hotel, there are few things that you love more than fancy hotels.
Your sister is almost three at the time of the wedding. She was not asked to be in the wedding because of her age. She is very upset that she didn't get to wear the pretty white dresses and walk down the aisle. However, the bride takes a lot of special pictures with her, and she has a great time at the reception. She loves to dance and lights up the dance floor. Unfortunately, she gets too wrapped up in her dancing and doesn't get to the bathroom in time. She pees down her adorable white tights. It should be no big deal, but it is - to your mom.
She rips her tights off, spanks her and then makes her sit outside the reception hall instead of going back to the dance floor. Gran and you will walk out to check on the situation, and when your gran tells your mom that it isn't a big deal and to let her come back in and dance, your mom hisses, No, this is what she gets for pissing her pants.
The Kid and her kid sister (Nashville, TN 1988)
This will stay with you for the rest of your life, more than any belt whippings or awful words spewed at you, this will stay with you. It's ok. Hold on to it.
It gets better!
Your grandfather will die when you are 14. You will be in the Bluefield Junior High School cafeteria. Your mom will come to the school and deliver this news. You don't have a complete concept of exactly what this means. You cry in that dramatic teenage girl way, not necessarily because you have grasped exactly how this will impact your life, but because you know that is what teenage girls are suppose to do and that the other girls will rush over in their Espirit sweatshirts and give you hugs. You will be the center of attention, and you kinda enjoy that.
However, after the funeral, after the all the pomp and circumstances are over, after you have been forced to sign over your college trust fund, after everyone is gone home, you will curl up on the green couch in your grandmother Conley's small duplex on Union Street, you will turn on Sisters, and you will cry. And cry. And cry. This time it will not be be for attention, but because you finally realize that one of the main stabilizing forces in your life is gone.
Things will certainly get worse from this point.
Well, right after your granddad, Skomie, is gone you think that things may get better. You father's lawsuit is finally settled. He nets a huge chunk of money, almost a million dollars. They buy a pickup truck, a Mustang 5.0, and a house. In South Bluefield. They pay cash. No mortgage. It is not a fancy house, kinda the redheaded step child of South Bluefield houses, but you will have your own room. It is nicer than anything you have lived in.
However, don't get too ahead of yourself, things will take a dramatic turn, a turn that will be crazy even for them. Yes, before you even have a chance to move into the little white bungalow on Powhatan Ave, before they even put up the drywall on the huge room in the basement, your life will take a dramatic change. It will be at this point when those walls get tall. Thick.
Your mother will be arrested right outside of your gran's cute little apartment on Cumberland Road. She will be arrested for selling drugs to an undercover agent. It will be a scene straight out of your beloved Law & Order. They will raid your gran's apartment, guns drawn. They will riffle through drawers and flip over cushions. They will touch your books. Your mom, while holding your little brother, will be handcuffed. Your gran will grab your brother and then your mom will be driven away. Your father is out of the state, scoring more drugs, but after hearing about the arrest he will run.
You will come home, gran will tell you that your mom has been arrested, you will look around at the disarray, the chaos, and you will get dizzy. You think that you are going to throw up. You don't. You grab a trash bag, put your books, your worn copy of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, some clothes, and you walk to your great-grandmothers. You will not allow yourself to cry. You are afraid that you may never stop.
You will sit in the floor of her living room, roll yourself into a ball, and wait for the six o'clock news. You will be relieved when your parents' faces don't appear, but it is only a temporary relief. You will jump every time you hear a siren. This will continue for years, but it will eventually go away.
It gets better.
I know that sitting there in that living room on that awful night, knowing that you have to go to school the next day, well, actually you don't, no one would care, actually, they would understand. You will make yourself go. You will hear the whispers, but you won't cry. You do not want to be the center of attention now.
You will pretty much be encased in your walls. You will make yourself hard, but it is just the veneer. You are crumbling a little inside. You will try way too hard. You will use your intelligence and wit to belittle others, others that you actually like. It is the only way you know how to make yourself feel a little better. You'll wear a lot of black, you won't go goth, just a lot of black because you are under the impression that it makes you hard. You will miss colors.
In high school, you will party - a lot. You won't understand that you are just numbing the pain. Oh, don't get me wrong, you have some good times, some really good times. However, you like it because it is an equalizer. You will want to hang with certain people, the popular kids because you think that this will make people think that you are not all screwed up. Other than a couple of your so-called friends, you will never be completely accepted. You will be forgotten to be picked up, you will be called the ugly one, you will be called a lesbian, as if that is a bad thing. Don't worry. You don't want to be someone that peaks in high school. You won't.
The Kid, third from the left in the sweet bomber jacket. Ok, maybe I get why those rumors were started.
Bluefield, WV 1992
You will go to college. You will remain hard, but you start to find your footing a little. You meet great friends and the love of your life. You are still insecure and certain that they will all leave you. This causes you to, at times, be petty, jealous, and suspecting. You push one of your true friends away because of this. She'll come back - it will take 10 years. You don't want to share. You want it all, all the love.
Your mom will take out a credit card in your name. She will max it out and it will take you years to pay it off. You will. During the summer between your freshman and sophomore year of college you will go home, so that you will be closer to Tony.
You will give her money to pay for Tony's birthday present, the one you put on lay-away. She buys pills with the money, and you lose the gift and the money that you had already paid on it. You are incredibly upset. You will confront her - in moment of insane courage. She knocks you up against a wall, slaps you around, scratches up your neck, and spews spit on you as she yells, I'll go sell my pussy if I have to get your precious little rich boyfriend a birthday present - it won't be the first time I've done it.
She will also force your to call her first husband's parents to borrow money. She will ask Tony's mom for money, telling her it is for food for the kids.You don't know how you will face your eventual mother-in-law again. You will. She will make it easy. She's good like that.
That summer is the last time you will ever live in Bluefield. You are not totally free from your mom or your walls, that will still be years from that point, but the light is starting to shine in through the cracks. It is also starting to shine out again - just a little.
It gets better.
You will graduate college. You will move to Charlotte, NC. You will marry an amazing man, the one that was stronger than you, the one that climbed over the walls and refused to leave. You will have good jobs and make great friends. However, you will still spend most of your twenties thinking that you are a little more amazing than you are. You will be under the impression that you did everything on your own. Honestly, you are completely full of yourself. You have done good, kid, but you haven't exactly won the Nobel Peace Prize.
It gets better.
No, you don't win the Nobel Peace Prize, but you do get one part of that prize. You get peace. Your peace will be speckled with pain, as you will lose your mom and brother in a two year span. However, in that two years you will welcome the most magical little person ever created, you will welcome in your peace.
Your peace comes to you on June 17, 2009 at 8:19pm. At this exact moment - you heal. When you look into your daughter's eyes you are certain that you would live it a thousand times over if you knew that in the end you would get to hold her. Surrounded by your incredible husband and amazing friends and family, you hold your peace and feel the last of your walls come crashing down.
You will always flash back on those dark and twisted memories, but you will use them now to help you learn. You will knock down the walls. You will let people in and you will let them know how happy you are that they are there.
You will gain empathy, true empathy. You will understand that there were parts of your life that were rough, really rough. However, there are so many people out there with problems so much greater than yours, and without the support you had.
You don't become a saint. You will still, at times, be a giant ass, an incredible bitch. You will still have to be put in check every now and then.
However, you will love and hug and kiss - every day, all day. You will not hit. You will not yell, well, you will try not to yell. You will use kind words. You will smile - lots! You will be goofy and silly. You will trust. You will find security. You will know who you are and you will like you.
Hell, you will love you!
Keep fighting, kid. Keep fighting!
The Kid and her kid - at peace!
The Kid and the two that saved her.
The Kid's superstar kid!
The Kid and her kid - letting their light shine! Shine on, shine on!