A Letter to You

When I was 15, I was not living at home. I was not in school, and I was living in a car with my 16 year old friend Christine and her 2 year old daughter. Christine and I both waited tables at the same truck stop, illegally working third shift and getting paid under the table. Men would sit in my section and look me up and down before saying, "15 minutes with a 15 year old will get you 15 years in jail!" and then they would laugh...and I would laugh, too, because I really needed that job...and if you thought it was funny, I also thought it was funny.

I need this job.

One day, a guy named Al came in, and sat in Christine's section. They talked for a while, and shortly after, she came over and said that he had an extra room, and that we could stay there if we wanted.

If you and another girl and her 2 year old daughter are living in a car, where the radio doesn't work, but there's a cassette of the Eagle's Greatest Hits, and all you do is listen to "Hotel California" over and over again, while you're trying to get comfortable enough to sleep and praying your hardest that the cops don't show'll take that offer. Even if the guy is 35 and a drug dealer and missing most of his teeth and looks kind of scary and you don't really know him or what his motives might be.

I can't sleep in that car one more night. And I really hate "Hotel California."

So we moved into Al's double wide trailer, in the very worst trailer park in town. The trailer wasn't even put together properly - you had to step over the seam that ran through the middle - you could see the ground beneath and it was wide enough that you could catch your feet and break your ankle. The trailer park itself was just a big patch of dirt, with trailers just kind of thrown here and there (years later they condemned the entire trailer park and tore it down).

Al was really nice. He never tried anything, we stayed out of his way, he stayed out of ours.

A few months after Christine and I moved in with Al, my mother found out where I was. She showed up and offered to take me to family counseling - some place up by Chicago, where we could "really work everything out."

I went willingly...

...and she had me committed to a mental hospital.

I was there for 6 weeks and everything about it was wrong and unethical and terrible and they actually ended up shutting that hospital down a few years later, but right now, that doesn't matter. What matters is this:

When they released me, they advised against me going back to live with my mother. It was clear to everyone that that situation was ...not ok. They told my mother that she shouldn't have me. They weren't sure where I should go. I didn't know what to do so I called Al, and Al had gotten engaged to a woman with 3 daughters, and Christine had moved out and I was pretty sure I had nowhere to go.

But on the day that I was released, Al showed up. He drove the three hours to the hospital, his fiance came with him, and they were dressed in the very best clothes they had.  Al's fiance wore a sparkly black cocktail dress... because it was her nicest dress... and she wanted to make sure she looked her best for me and for the people deciding my fate.

They showed up for me, and they said they would take me home.

This man didn't owe me anything.  I was not his, he easily could have walked away...

...but he showed up. With his fiance. His fiance, who had never even met me and already had 3 kids of her own. They showed up...and they took me home.

And my entire life, as jagged as the path has been, as populated as it has been with people who are just really not that nice, my entire life has also always been filled with people who have shown up for me, when I very least expected it. And many times they have been the people who don't have the right clothes, the right jobs, the right house, the right connections, enough money, the right religion, etc. etc. forever and ever amen...

Al was a drug dealer...he showed up for me.
I was a stripper for years...and to this day, the women I worked with still show up for me.
I live by a man who battles his heroin addiction every day...but he shows up for me.
My friend Eugene doesn't even have a home, but he shows up for me.
My husband, the people I've met at church, my in-laws, my niece, ex-employees...people keep showing up for me.
In the moments where my own demons and the world around me was so painful that I could barely show up for myself, people kept showing up for me.

I still sometimes have a hard time believing that people love me, or want to let down my guard enough to let them love me, but they keep showing up...and you's working. I feel like I'm making progress. It was a year ago that I thought I would never be able to love people again, and look how far I've come! I love the crap out of everybody, all of the time!

It's just letting them love me back that's kind of hard. But I'm getting there.

(The other day someone came in to hug me and I very loudly said "Oh shit!" as they came in. And then...we had a hug. Because I really am getting there.)

And you are my heart. I say it a lot, but I mean it so much. SO MUCH. You heal me every day with your presence and your hearts and your courage and just who you are. I have come so very far because of the people that keep showing up. You keep showing up.

Sometimes you show up and you say "I love you" and sometimes you show up and all you can say is, "I hurt, too." and in that moment my heart loves you SO much because you said it. You said it out loud and you were vulnerable and that is beautiful and amazing and that's how we connect. Because we're in it together, now. We're not alone. We're not faking anything for anybody.

When I considered writing about the mental hospital (and I had to consider it for a while) I thought about telling you all of the gory details and about all of the emotional trauma that comes with that experience but instead...I thought...

I want to write about Al.

I want to write about how, in this really awful situation, how amazing it was that the last person anyone would ever expect to do something so kind and generous and amazing, came through for me like a superhero.

And how that keeps happening. And how I see you and I see you showing up. And that when you share with me, sometimes that's what propels me to get out of the house that day. Because I'm reminded that I'm not alone. We're in it together. We can be honest with each other. We don't have to fake anything for anybody.

And how I can't say anymore, ever, that there's not something bigger at work here. That there's not a meaning to the madness. I see God in the people who show up. I see God in the people I show up for. I see that we all have this brokenness but we also all have this ability to heal each other. And that feels really big. Really, REALLY big.

Like God is with us.

I will never be the person that's going to pretend that life doesn't just suck sometimes. I won't ever pretend that things are awesome when things actually feel terrible. But I'm glad that I can also look back at the awful and see the beauty that came out of it.

Does that make it worth it?

I think it does. I think sometimes you need a little bit of awful so you can see the beauty that you might have otherwise missed.

(I'd never been here before until my therapist prescribed nature for my depression. Depression is horrid. This place is beautiful. And depression brought me here.)


Karen Cassidy said...

So amazingly beautifully written. I had an Al- his name was Wendell and he always showed up for me- and in many ways he still does, although he doesn't have to he does. It helps so much to have a reminder that no matter how badly we feel about ourselves, other people think we are worthwhile! thank you for writing this!

Vintage Inspired Jewelry said...

Thank you for sharing that part of your life. You are Incredibly talented and you matter ❤️

Unknown said...

So good! Your words, your story... The unique attributes of your Becoming.
I cant express how much I appreciate your truth telling... Its so bold and yet vulnerable , it's heartbreaking and stunning. Im So glad to know of you. Cheering you on from my own broken & beautiful corner.