It was never your fault.
When your mom left, you were a forgotten consequence but never the cause. She chose drugs because of her own weakness, not your self-described inadequacies. You were a toddler who lived every moment with a full heart and a pocket full of hope, but she was too far gone to bask in that light. I know you thought that if you were better, if you had done better, she would never have taken that first hit. She wouldn’t have put you in the closet to play so she could get high with her friends in your living room. She would never have left you behind for a few turns passing through the revolving door of addiction and prison. She would never have lost herself while chasing an impossible high. But she made her own choices and took her own risks with a mind only for herself. You see, dear child, it was never your fault.
When you moved in with your dad and his girlfriend berated your body and heart, you did nothing to deserve her hatred. When she blamed you for the maelstroms of nasty words and thrown punches she shared with your father, she told you it was because you were disgusting. Unwanted. Unloved. Her fingers skated across a steamed mirror to give you spelling lessons, and she told you she was teaching you about yourself. G-R-O-S-S, U-G-L-Y, T-R-A-S-H. She refused you food and warmth, taking her payment in your flesh and reminding you that you owed her for existing in her presence. You believed that you did, and you fought every day to make her love you.
You cleaned the house, cooked, did laundry and dishes, cared for the dogs, and even helped raise her sons. You took her venom into your bloodstream and let it poison you, but you never spat it back. You exhaled only kindness. But the source of this woman’s darkness was her own. She was jealous of the joy you spread, of the love you earned from your father and your teachers and your friends. You must know, dear child, it was never your fault.
Eventually, your father left her. The two of you held together by a taught rubber band, stretched thin by his alcoholism and oblivious ignorance to your slowly healing wounds. He drank and smoked pot and you tried to sleep through it all. You felt isolated and adrift but you trooped forward, evolving quickly into an adult despite your young age. You started working to support yourself. You made friends and continued to excel in school. You were kind to your classmates and coworkers.
So kind, in fact, that one of them expressed an interest in a sexual relationship. You told him you were waiting, and he laughed, but he seemed accepting. You drove him home from work, grateful for a friend, and a bit flattered to feel noticed. That flattery turned to bile when you got to his house and he reached across the center of the car to stuff his clammy hand into your pants. I know you still hear it sometimes, his voice, saying, “See, you do want me! You’re so wet.” I know you still feel the heat of tears trailing down your cheeks and the choking silence as you fought to find a way to say no, to vocalize the panic and fear and the lack of understanding. He ignored your shaking head and your shaking body and your shaking stability. And when he finally got out, hissing a “fuck you” as the door slammed, you cried and told yourself you led him on and you should have been clearer. But truly, dear child, it was never your fault.
These painful carvings etched on your soul by abuse and neglect - you must know you didn’t cause them. It was never something you deserved. You didn’t earn the badge of trauma, but it was pinned to you, nonetheless. You could have shattered under its weight. You could have given up and let the waves of depression pull you into the darkness.
Instead, you held strong, soaring above the murky depths. This, dear child, this wasyour fault. The resilience you clung to, the hope for a shift in fate, were the result of a steadfast momentum you cultivated.
You should know that despite your fears, you have so much to look forward to. You may not believe this is possible, but someday, you will be married to a man who treasures you for who you are. He’ll hold you when the darkness crashes over your head and pull you back to the surface. You’ll own a business and be surrounded by hundreds of people who respect you and see value in the same heart that so often feels wilted and weak. You’ll have a job you love where you set an example of excellence and a master’s degree and so much wisdom and knowledge to share. You’ll have friends who would do anything to see you smile and laugh. And you’ll have enthusiasm and joy and sunshine, and this will be your most distinguishing trait.
Most of all, you’ll begin to understand how incredible you are. You will see how these moments forged you into something new, something better. You will know, finally and completely, that you, dear child, are more than the sum of your scars. You are unique, and powerful, and no longer a child, but a woman with magic in your soul and a smile on your lips.
Kaeli is an emerging writer beginning her foray into short prose and creative nonfiction. She is a student in Grand Canyon University's MA in English and currently works in craft beer and employee learning and development. She lives in the Phoenix metro area with her husband and our three cats.