I get your letters in the mail, and most of the time, I don't open them. I put them somewhere; in a desk drawer, under a pile of papers, fitted neatly between books on my shelf. Then, a day like today will happen where the house is quiet and my body is sore and I'm feeling a million miles away from myself, like I'm a tiny thing at the bottom of a well. How I view the world is through a circle of light so far above my head. And I'll find a sealed envelope behind the coffee maker.
You write about letters, how they're something special. They aren't an essay, you said, so I'm going to try not to make this an essay. It's hard, though, because I write essays to stay alive. I write essays to pull on the rope.
You said that you never grew up. You talk a lot about the kids you knew in groups homes, how they can't work for anybody, as adults. I'm like that, too. Only, I think that I probably have grown up, and what it's done for me is make me anemic. I used to be a giant thing with painted eyes, and now I can barely get out of bed in the morning. It's sick, but I feel good, like this. I never loved anything until I gave birth to my daughters. The way I loved people before becoming a mother was that they burned me up inside. Sometimes people without kids don't like it when I say things like that. I don't need it to be true for everyone.
My parents were evangelical Christians, and I was raised in a revival. As a child, I cried all the time. I was good at spelling and wanted grown ups to like me. I would become crippled with anxiety in the middle of the school day, and all I wanted was my mother. She had too many children and my dad believed women were meant to be subservient. It said in the bible that men were the head of the household, and women were created to serve them. I was the oldest of four kids. My mother was good with children, but she didn't have anything left for me. I would be sitting at my desk in school, and suddenly I couldn't breathe or talk for wanting her. The idea that I was trapped in this building, that I wasn't allowed to stand up and walk away, it terrified me. I would get sick and lie on one of those vinyl covered beds in the nurses office for hours and hours.
I cried when I got a B on tests. I wanted to be a teacher's pet, but I was from a poor family and all of my clothes had puffy sleeves and were from the salvation army. I wanted out so badly, it froze me up inside and I thought I would choke and die. All I could think was that my mom could help me, somehow, but she never did.
Eventually, I stopped trying to be good. I realized I wasn't as trapped as I felt. I did acid and skipped high school to walk the railroad tracks that led out of my town. I grew up in a hollowed out coal bed. The creeks ran with yellow water and everything was stained the color of rust. I made up wild things, in my head. I talked to myself into the middle of nowhere. There were trees everywhere and I was something else. I wanted to die.
I have a group of people that I think back on, like your friends from the group home. They were my roommates in college. They're all actors and bartenders with brown teeth, now. They still smoke cigarettes and have a favorite bar. I haven't been to a bar in years. I was always the worst off, except for the boy I married. I used heroin and cut my wrists when boys were mean to me. He got robbed while lying passed out at the city bus stop.
We fell terribly in love. The kind I mentioned, earlier. The kind where I made up suicide notes in my head while he fucked me. The kind that found me wrapped up in a sheet in an empty apartment on a mattress on the floor. We didn't sleep. In the morning, he pulled on black pants and tucked in his shirt and I rolled up his sleeve and pulled his belt tight between my teeth. I saved him from drowning once. I wrote you an email about it, I don't know if you remember. He threw up on the bank of a river and we were friends and I loved him. Years later, I put a needle into his arm and he crumpled in front of me and turned blue. His lips swelled and started to crack and one of his eyes looked in the wrong direction. I always thought an overdose would be romantic, but it wasn't. It looked like a halloween mask. That's how we loved each other.
So, now, I don't have ideas that spill out of me and hurt people's eyes. I don't even drink coffee. I grow a garden and own a juicer. We're married and we have two little girls and I love them. My husband works for a reputable university, and I've never figured out how to do the same thing every day without breaking down. I have a job, writing about diseases for a health magazine.
I found out after my babies were born that I have hepatitis C. You've alluded to your health problems and about health insurance suddenly being relevant. I think that's why I'm sharing this with you, although there's more to it than that. I don't tell anyone that I have it. I don't know why, for sure. My husband's family doesn't know, and they wouldn't like it. I feel like it's a black spot on my motherhood. I feel like I'm so good with my spinach smoothies and gym membership, nobody can say shit to me, but my health insurance doesn't cover the testing I need. It doesn't cover treatment for hepatitis, and if it did, it probably wouldn't matter because it only works about 30% of the time, and then only for young, thin, white males. There are terrible side effects of the medication. Exhaustion, anxiety, irritability, paranoia. All I can do is wake up and love my kids.
I used to panic about everything, but I don't any more. I used to get depressed. I took Zoloft for two years after my second baby was born, but it destroyed my sex drive. I didn't even think about sex. I couldn't even recognize when something was attractive to me. I felt like such a loser, like I'd been duped. This wasn't what I needed. I didn't need to cure what was wrong with me. I needed to live with it. I couldn't take a pill and an iv of chemicals and be better. My love doesn't burn me up, anymore. Nothing does. I wrote a book. I was in a wedding where there were fireworks at the end of the night, a few weeks ago. I just got home from visiting a fishing village at the end of the world. I stopped panicking because there isn't anything wrong.
I want you to know that you're something very special. You're so much more important than you could ever know. You tell stories because they happened. People don't want to be made up of the things they've done and the places they've been. They want to make believe they are ordinary and new and clean every day, and then they lie awake at night, afraid of everything, afraid of who they are. Thank you for being you.