Some Kind Of Response To: Jayme Bigger’s “Open Letter to The Parent Who Chose Drugs Over Me”
My high school English teacher & mentor turned lifelong friend, Bobi Blue, just shared this letter on social media and tagged me, saying,
“In my Honors English 4 class, I require students to bring in a text that strikes them as phenomenal for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s the writing craft, other times the relevance or timeliness, or that is relatable. Today, this text was shared, which I could relate to immensely. I thought of you Callie as I watched the young woman read it aloud to the class. I thought about the life you are carving out and how proud I am of you. I thought about how I have no doubt this young woman is following in a similarly steadfast and confident path. We then had a discussion about letting go of those that drag us down and the courage it takes to rise above our circumstances; the courage it takes to say yes to ourselves.”
This woman, just eight years older than me, was the biggest champion of my voice in those days when so many people so much closer tried to silence me. Today, she sees students repeat history, the legacy of growing up in the poverty-riddled, meth-addicted southeast Portland, Oregon that doesn’t make it onto cute, quirky television shows. While some make it out, a lot never escape the cycle.
I think of her, and a lot of the staff of that small alternative high school I attended, whenever I get a cool job. When I was published by Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and Harper’s Bazaar, I thought of how it would make her proud. When I landed an editorial assistantship at Seattle magazine, I thought of how proud she’d be. She, and her colleagues, gave me someone to try and make proud. At twenty-seven, I’m still trying.
People like her change the lives of people like me. She’d know; she’s like me.
When I read the letter/essay by Jayme Bigger, my first thought was that almost every word could have been mine. Her words are my life. Being an essayist, I know they’re hers, and there are a few differences between our experiences to be sure, but I also know how no human experience is that unique; when I publish a story about my own hardship, I inevitably receive emails saying that I told someone else’s story.
It’s never pointed, never “you stole my words, my life,” it is always “thank god I’m not alone, but I’m so sorry you went through it too.” We find each other, and some sense of breaking free of the isolation of abuse, through speaking up.
What struck me in reading Bigger’s story was how much anger she shared.
How much of it I remember.
“It makes my blood boil to see you take credit for how I turned out. ‘I’m so proud of my baby. Raising you is the greatest thing I’ve ever done,’” Bigger writes, “… You don’t get to come into my life now that I’m an adult and take all the credit.”
It’s a memory, an echo of a conversation I had with my mother many times before she died a year ago. Before I stopped speaking to her altogether two years before that.
Three years after my last conversation with my mother, a lot of that anger has faded into something else. Something that’s not quite sadness, but not entirely without it. It has whispers of acceptance, a great sigh of emotion now that it’s all said and done. My mother, long dead, can no longer take credit for me, she cannot resent me for upholding my boundaries, and I can no longer hurt her — a consequence of my mental wellbeing that I never wanted to take on. No one wants to hurt their mother, but no one wants a mother who constantly hurts them, either. It is an either-or, black and white choice. There is no grey area when it comes to abuse.
To be the child of an abuser of any kind is to take on shit luck, all sparked by someone else’s decision. That’s the infuriating part, I think, is that it was never my choice to suffer the consequences, but it was hers. I will forever live out her mistakes, her choices, in every teardrop, every panic attack, every self-help book, every therapy appointment.
Her body may have given me life, but she tore my life down. It’s thanks to myself, and some outstanding individuals, that the woman I am was ever born. It’s thanks to my drive and the support of people like Bobi that I still strive for success. I live out my success because I built it. Thankfully, I did not have to build it alone.
Knowing there are younger people living out that same shit luck right now, I want them to know that the anger is important. Feeling the frustration of the situation is vital; it motivates you to get out. Once you do, it does not “get better,” as in, altogether, entirely, or immediately.
It comes in drops, steps, waves. But it does improve. First comes the freedom from the abuse, then comes healing. I don’t know the next part, because the healing seems to take a long time, at least from where I’m standing.
What I do know is that looking back, while I recognize the anger and the pain, I’ve come far enough that it’s blurry, out there in the distance. I was there once. I’m not out of the woods yet, but where I’m standing today is so much better than where I was before.
And tomorrow I’ll be somewhere closer to that next part, somewhere farther from where I began, and it will be because my own steps, my own choices, and my champions got me there.