My parents divorce was finalized in the middle of my fifth grade year. I remember this clearly thanks in part to the sheer panic I experienced when I was told that I might have to testify in front of a judge, who would then decide to which parent I would go. Anyone who is a product of a broken home and used as weapon understands what I felt at the time and why I recall it so clearly today. I went to a small, private school in the country from Elementary to Middle School and the majority of the 20 students that I started with also stood next to me on graduation day. The turnover rate on the teaching staff was very minimal; in first grade I already knew who my sixth grade teacher would be and that she liked to wear dark blue wrap around skirts with pictures of tiny green whales spouting water, topped with white button down blouses and princess pink lipstick (and she has such big boobs that I can't stop staring at them even though I don't know why).
My early adolescence was spent under the rule of a draconian father, complete with belt whippings, Easter Egg hunts and Christmas mornings that were so strategically planned and executed that the Chinese Military made him an honorary member. At thirteen years old I was sent from my father's house to live with my mother and remained with her until I was seventeen and realized that my sanity was at stake if I stayed. My mother, who is a child herself in many ways, had no ability or desire to be an effective parent and could only be caught meting out punishment when she drunk enough to get herself good and angry.
My stepfather was somewhere on the periphery during all this, I assume praying nightly for my swift demise so that he could be free of the burden of involuntary fatherhood. Occasionally one could catch him swooping in to stir the pot, in his silent and passive aggressive fashion, I suppose it was the only way he felt he could vent his anger and frustration over his dysfunctional family, barring the time he cocked his good fist back and came an inch away from punching me in the face. I'll never forget seeing the play of thoughts and emotions over his face during that eternal moment when he was trying to decide whether or not breaking my nose was a good decision. In the end he dropped his fist, shook his head and walked out of my room and we never mentioned the incident again, not even to this very day.
It comes as no surprise then that I seemed to attract the people that were as wounded as I was; people that medicated themselves with drugs and alcohol, razors, hair dye, tattoos, piercing, sex and lies. At the time, the choices I was making seemed so benign, when you're young, nothing seems real and there is plenty of time to change everything. You're just making these choices today, but you know, you can stop anytime you want and do something totally different. It's so easy, what's everybody freaking out about, right? Then, silently, my choices become habits and 15, 16 and 17 were gone. High school ended and my habits kept me from growing, maturing, making the right choices with everyone's highest good in my heart. My family stopped talking to me, because at one point it became better not to know. Then my early twenties came and things started changing but that's another long story for another day.
Some people's early twenties never came. I know more dead people than is normal, I think. My best friend is dead. So is the boy who raped her. Too many to count. Saturday night, in my brother's hotel room, the topic turned to who we used to know, back in the day and what happened to them.
Dead, living on the streets, hooking, some are lawyers.
I suppose what still niggles at me since that night is this: why me? Why am I still alive, because by all rights, I should be six feet under. To prove this point I'll end with a story:
I was roughly 19 years old, I was strolling through the local mall and I saw a cop who I recognized from my angrier days; he stopped in his tracks, clearly shocked, and said "I know you! You're that Shelton girl! I swore you would be dead by now. I'm glad to see you're alright."