October 16, 2001
7 years old
Mom and Dad love each other. I know they do because I’ve heard them say it, and I saw them kissing once when I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Dad says that he and Momma don’t live together anymore so that they can spend more quality time with me and my sister. I love my family very much, but I don’t really understand the love that Momma and Dad say that they have. Mom says that if I’m lucky, I’ll get to marry someone when I’m older, too. I know what lucky means. It’s the word Dad calls me and my sister every time Momma buys us McDonald’s. He doesn’t let us “eat the garbage that’s making Mom fat.” The lady that lives at Dad’s apartment tells us that too, and she pokes our tummies really hard every time Momma drops us off. Her fingers are cold and bony, and I hate it when she touches me. Momma sometimes tells me and Courtney that Dad doesn’t live with us anymore because the other lady is skinny and pretty, and she’s not. I always think that Momma is beautiful because her smile makes her eyes scrunch up to match the shape of her mouth. I want to look like that when I’m older, but I don’t love Momma because I think she’s pretty. I love her because I just do.
I don’t think I want the kind of love that Momma and Dad have when I’m older. It makes Momma cry a lot.
June 9, 2009
17 years old
I’ll save you the headache from years of overthinking and just tell you what took me a long time to accept: you’re sick. It’s not the type of sickness that gets better after a couple days of resting and a few hot baths. Doctors can’t help you, and most people who come into your life will never even notice that you’re unwell. It is, however, contagious. It’s the same illness you noticed in your mom when you were little, with symptoms producing a progression more terminal than most deadly diseases. You’ll spend the majority of your childhood sticking brightly colored Band-Aids over your mother’s wounds–wounds that should’ve been treated with stitches. I think you’ll blame yourself for her scars until the day you die, even though you bear ones that look almost identical to hers. I wish I wasn’t speaking metaphorically. You might not agree right now, but you have to believe me when I say that I wish the wounds only ran as deep as the skin.
October 25, 2001
7 years old
Today I walked into Momma’s room without knocking. I saw her sitting on our apartment floor, ripping up all the pictures of her and my dad, crying. I went in and sat on her lap, but she screamed at me and told me to get out. I didn’t leave, though. I had never seen Momma that sad before, and I’ve felt really lonely since then. She kept saying that she hated my dad and that she wasn’t skinny enough for him, and I didn’t really know what she meant. I’m not too sure what being skinny has to do with love, but it must be really important because Dad wants it for me and Courtney, too.
Momma’s been spending the past couple of days locked inside of our bathroom throwing up, and she only comes out to eat. I spent almost all day sitting with my ear pressed against her door, and I could hear her getting really sick.
When she finally did come out, I could see her trying on a dress that I remember my dad giving her when we all lived together. On that night, he had it wrapped up so beautifully, with a bow on top that was bigger than my head. Momma cried with happiness when she unwrapped it, but I remember her telling dad that the size was too small. He said he bought her the dress for something called motivation, and then they fought.
Through the crack under the door, I could see Momma zip up the dress without having to try too hard. I thought she’d be happy, but it only made her cry more. I don’t understand how she could cry dressed so beautifully. Maybe it was because she thought there was no one there to see.
August 11, 2011
18 years old
Your blurred perception of what Mom was going through that day will come into focus when you’re a little bit older. At fourteen, you’ll have already obtained a perfected personification of self-hatred that’ll take its form as numbers on a scale. Every time you give in to the unsatisfied grumbling in your stomach, depression will set in, and you’ll learn your lesson. It won’t be until your early 20’s that you’ll stop blaming Mom for giving you your first glimpse of an unquenchable desire for bodily perfection. Looking back, you’ll come to realize that she had the same teacher as you.
That “lady” that lived with Dad in the early days becomes your step-mom too soon after the divorce. At fourteen years old and 80 pounds, you’ll finally begin to receive their approval, something that you’d longed for since the day you realized it wasn’t there. Dad and Ann will begin to use you as the example child, and they’ll ask Courtney every night at dinner “why she can’t leave most of her food on the plate like her sister.” After two bites of your meal and an empty plate across from Courtney, Dad will have both of you stand up with your shirts above your waist while he examines and Ann pokes. They’ll tell you “good job” and give you dessert to eat in front of your sister who “obviously got enough to eat already.” You won’t know at that time that the pride you felt was a very misguided, planted emotion, but how could you have known? So you’ll sit and eat with a smile on your face while Courtney stares down at her belly.
Mom will cry when you change in front of her. She’ll tell you it’s not healthy, that you need to eat, that you’re beautiful no matter what. You’ll still be able to hear her throwing up sometimes after dinner, so you won’t believe her.
Long after you’ve healed, you’ll still look at the models on TV with an envious fire in your eyes. Skin-to-bone has always been more attractive to you than the flashy clothing they’re selling, and you buy into it time and time again. Now, at 22, you still hold on to the occasional bad habit of punishing yourself after you eat. I think this illness might be one that never heals.
Like I said before, this disease is contagious. Courtney will go all throughout high school with a heavy cloud of insecurity over her. People will notice and they’ll keep their distance. I guess after graduation, she couldn’t take it anymore, so she finally decided to stop fighting the sickness to let it take over.
Hers is worse than you’ve seen yet in the family, maybe from years of letting it build up. You won’t know what’s going on until you begin to notice the pride in Dad’s eyes–the kind that only comes from this sort of thing. For the first time, his approval shifts to your sister, and you’ll know it’s his encouragement that keeps her ill. You have to stand up for her. You have to save her before it’s too late.
June 18, 2002
8 years old
I think she’s gone crazy. There’s no other explanation. I’ve already poured out every bad smelling bottle from the kitchen that I could find, and I search the apartment every night before my sister and I tuck ourselves into bed. But Momma will still go days without saying a word to us, and then, without warning, transform into someone I don’t know, laughing at the walls and stumbling over even ground. I can’t figure it out. None of us can.
June 19, 2002
8 years old
Today at the pool, Momma told me and Courtney to dare her to jump in, even with her clothes on. We were at our community pool, so I got embarrassed and tried to keep my head under water for as long as I could. I could still hear Courtney tell Momma that she couldn’t swim without a bathing suit, but I guess she didn’t hear her. A huge splash followed her cannonball into the water, and she screamed and laughed and told us that she wanted to give us the world. I’m not sure what she meant, but that’s all she kept saying until we got out of the pool.
Courtney asked me what was wrong with Momma, and I didn’t know what to tell her except to be quiet. I think Momma might be sad. She smells the same every night after she and my dad get off of the phone. It’s not a good smell.
Sometimes when I get really afraid, I lock myself in the bathroom to call Dad and ask him how I can bring her back to normal. He usually just says some words that I’m not allowed to say and tells me to go to bed, so I’ve stopped. One time he made me go to bed at 7:00 P.M.
Momma’s new boyfriend was with us at the pool today, and he took turns throwing me and Courtney into the water. I don’t particularly like him because his breath smells bad like Mommas, and I can see all of his silver teeth when he laughs. Dad tells me that he has them because he wasn’t responsible enough to brush his teeth every day. I thought they were fancy until he told me that, and now I brush my teeth four times a day just in case.
When Momma is with Mike, they laugh a whole lot. I love seeing Momma happy, but for some reason my belly feels sick when she acts too silly, kind of like she did today. After a couple hours at the pool, Mike began staring at me and my sister for a really long time, so I took Courtney’s hand and told her it was time for bed. His teeth were making me nervous.
Momma asked me where I was taking my sister, so I reminded her that it was 10 o’clock on a school night and that we were supposed to be in bed at 8:30. She started screaming and crying, saying she was so sorry for being a bad mom. I ran Courtney upstairs, hurrying to lock the door. Momma stumbled and fell backwards, all the way down to the first step. I was so scared. I prayed and prayed and prayed, asking God to please help us, please help my momma. I didn’t understand, but I looked up to the sky and felt better for a second.
It didn’t last for very long. She began banging on the door, pleading for me to let her in. After thinking for a little bit, I opened it, and she stumbled in with bruises on her face, dripping from the pool. I couldn’t tell if she was crying or if her face was wet from swimming.
Mike was with her, and he pushed her inside the door, yelling at her to shut the hell up. I could tell that Courtney was really scared, so I tucked her into bed as fast as I could, and I promised that she could have all my chips at lunch the next day if she went to sleep. I could hear Momma yelling and saying that she wished she was dead, and Mike told her she deserved to because she was a fat psycho. I know what fat means, but Momma always gets called that by my dad and doesn’t react the way she did tonight. All I could hear was screaming and banging and then nothing. I ran into the living room as fast as I could. Momma was whimpering quietly on the floor, holding her face in pain. Mike was gone, but I knew what he had done.
I don’t care if it’s a school night, I can’t leave my momma alone. I’m here now, and I think she’s crying in her sleep because when I talk to her she doesn’t answer. When her chest rests, I have to shake her to make sure that she’s still breathing. I need my momma. Please, stay with me. I don’t know how to be alone.
June 18, 2002
8 years old
It’s raining today. Normally I like the rain, but today it made it harder for me to wave goodbye to Momma from the back window. I was blowing her kisses, just like I always do when we have to go to Dad’s, but this time we will be gone for a really long time. I didn’t think she could see me. The windows were so foggy, but I could barely make out her figure until we turned to leave her behind. She stood in the rain, soaked from head-to-toe, and I think I saw her fall right before her blurry image faded into the fog on the window. I wanted to cry, but Dad always got mad at us for it, so I held it in until my throat hurt. It felt like I was drowning.
He said we were going away because Momma was a bad person, and she didn’t know how to take care of us. By now, I know I can take care of myself, so I don’t care what they say about Momma. I know she loves us more than Dad and Ann, and I’m already craving her loving arms, even though we said goodbye only minutes ago. Now no one will be there to watch her or take care of her. I didn’t know my heart could feel so heavy.
I looked over at Courtney, who was staring out the foggy window. I could hear her soft whimpers, so I put my hand on her shoulder and whispered for her to be quiet. I didn’t want her to get in trouble.
December 11, 2013
20 years old
She thought she was a God, and Dad believed her. Ann. Courtney and I knew the truth. You’ll have dreams about her living in Heaven, with a beauty that surpasses all of creation. Like Lucifer, the amount of power she had would not be enough, and she would fall out of heaven and into a world, ignorant to the fact that her authority was limited. To you, she was a perfect fit to that story you learned in Sunday school, but at the time, submission was the only option.
The one thing that kept you and your sister sane throughout those days was the ability to quietly snicker at her false sense of divinity. For two weeks straight she will make you and Courtney go on a “juice cleanse,” which means you’ll be stuck on a strict diet of veggie purée. Mom always felt guilty when times like these came around, and she would drive 20 miles almost every night to bring us solid food before Dad and Ann would come home. You’ll trash the evidence in the outside garbage bins, making sure that the empty McDonald’s bag stayed buried deep underneath the trash.
After a couple days of food smuggling, you’ll hop off the school bus to find Ann standing at the door, arms crossed, with a red vein in the middle of her forehead that only emerges when she’s angry. She’ll grab your wrist tightly and yank you into the kitchen, exclaiming that God came to her and told her that Mom had been bringing you and your sister food. You’ll believe it, shaking for your life, until you catch a glimpse of the crumpled up fast food wrappers on top of the trash can. Besides the month long grounding you’ll receive, the incident will be one that you and Courtney laugh at when the times get rough.
The punishment you’ll receive will be better than what she does after incidents like these. She’ll call your mom and make you listen good while she tells her she’s fat and has no self-control. You will hold back the tears. You don’t want her to notice any trace of victory from her taunting words, but the redness in your face will be enough to make her smirk. It’s torture at its finest, and to this day there will be no amount of pain that will be able to match up to this sense of helplessness–hearing your mom cry through the phone, with her demon right in front of you.
The only type of revenge you’ll ever get to afflict upon your stepmother will consist of spitting the (very expensive) diet pills she made you and Courtney take every morning into the toilet. She never finds out, but the sense of control you receive from this petty act will be enough to keep you sane for a while. That is, until the charts come.
Big, white eraser boards will be nailed to the front of your bedrooms. The “motivation” chart, as Dad and Ann liked to call it, will consist of a “positive reinforcement” technique found in a book called “How to Train your Child” that they studied like the bible. On the whiteboard, different numbers will be listed, followed by Ilbs. For every pound lost, you’ll receive an award, like “a day taken off of your grounding,” or “no chores for a day.” If you lose ten pounds, you’ll get to go on a camping trip. You and your sister always loved camping, so you will both work extra hard to starve yourself. You will sit at the lunch table every day watching your friends eat while you try not to throw up, and it works. You get to go on the camping trip. Courtney doesn’t.
December 18, 2005
13 years old
I can’t take this anymore. The loneliness is overwhelming, and I’m always grounded for something. I hate them. Ann lies to dad, he believes her, and I get all of my clothes taken away as punishment. Dad, Ann, if you ever find this, I do not forgive you. You hate me. YOU HATE ME. I know you do. Someday I’m going to take Courtney and we’re going to go so far away from here. If you loved me, you would do something. You would believe me. I take care of the baby, I’ve been taking your stupid pills for years, I do all of your laundry, I cook dinner every night, and you still won’t let me have friends.
Dad, I know you see what’s going on. You do nothing. NOTHING. You want us to look perfect and act perfect, but I don’t want to be like you. I like some of my flaws. I’m happy I’m not 80 pounds anymore because I finally grew into the body of a woman, which I know you were afraid of.
Everyone at school thinks we’re lucky because we have money, but I would rather live in a rotting shack than stay another day here. I pray to God every night that he would make Ann go away. I swear I would never miss her a day of my life. She still makes Mom cry, still makes me sit back and watch submissively. I am stuck in a house that’s not a home, behind bars inside of my mind.
Dad, why don’t you do something? You say you love me but I can’t see it. They’re just words, emptier than the hole you’ve drilled into my heart with your indifference. I’ve got to get out of here.
To my future self: If you’re reading this and you’ve made it out, don’t look back. Keep running. You’ll be better than them someday.
January 13, 2015
22 years old
You were just a little girl. Blonde hair, blue-eyed, and burdened. I remember it all so clearly, and when I look in the mirror, I can still see traces of the reflected image as only a child. Confused, introduced to the unfamiliar before learning to stand on your own two feet. The fears that erupted out of unacknowledged dependency still haunts me to this day, and sometimes I still catch myself losing my balance on flat surfaces. I wish you could read this so that you might be able to drown out the demons early on and just have your time do what children do. I wanted you to stand up for your mom and your sister, to tell them they were so perfect from the beginning. I know you didn’t know how, and now that so much time has passed, you don’t know how to say it.
You went to check on Mom today, and there is still someone different living in her eyes. I think its name might be loneliness, the hopeless kind you used to feel when Mom was drunk, leaving you on your own to tuck your sister into bed. All I can think about when I look back at those times is Mom’s screaming, and I wonder if she’s ever really stopped.
There will still be really good times for you to look back on. Sitting, looking down at the tiny blades of grass beneath you, watching Momma weave together flower crowns that would later fall apart on top of your heads. Don’t scold her, don’t ask why she can’t put something beautiful together without it falling apart. She’s trying her best, and you don’t have to have it all figured out.
Sometimes, those moments will haunt you on days like today. Not the rainy, gloomy days like one would expect. You’ve always liked the rain. It makes you feel as if God is empathizing with you, weeping tears of His own, striking bolts of lightning down onto the tall trees as anger on your behalf. It makes you feel a sense of relief. You’ve always hated crying, and on the rainy days, the sky does it for you.
Loneliness lives behind your eyes, too. It’s a place you used to hate the most, but you could never hide from it as a child. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that it latched itself to you, but I do know it’s never gone away. Now that I’m older, it’s a place so familiar that I like to call it home, and I find comfort in the solitude that it brings. No one can hurt me here. You’ll see it in time, but I know it’s scary now. It creeps up when you’re not looking for it, and it doesn’t listen when you tell it to go away. Momma is too sad to see it, dad is too shackled to his bride, and your sister looks to you for answers you don’t have, so you’ll sit in the dark and pray. Sometimes you’ll know He’s listening, and for a little while, everything will be okay. As you get older, His voice will become harder to find, but you have to keep listening, you have to hold on to the only footing that kept you from slipping in those deep, dark, days. If you don’t, the memories will eat you alive. They’ve almost claimed me for their own more than a few times, but for some reason, I am still here.
I spill the memories onto paper and tell them to stay where they are, and some of them do. The letters are my remedy, and if they ever reach you, swallow my words like the pills they used to make you take to keep you skinny. This medicine is different. The words will keep you alive.