As told to Victoria Engelhardt
It had been a perfect date. I was fifteen and barely knew what love was, but I thought I could be falling in it. The laughter and flirtation that filled the dimly lit booth in Dairy Queen had put butterflies in my stomach yet put my mind at ease. I had managed to cleanse my nostrils of the scent of booze mixed with chemicals as I devoured my Blizzard and spoke sweet words to the handsome boy across the booth.
As my possible Prince Charming drove me home, I began to let my mind wander like all fifteen-year old girls do, until we rounded the mountain. In an instant, all notions of love and longing were gone; replaced immediately with the familiar mix of dread, embarrassment and fear. I could see the red and blue lights twinkling and knew they were coming from my driveway. A wave of nausea overcame me when I looked at my date’s face and saw it contorted into a look of bewilderment and confusion.
“Oh don’t mind them, I’m sure someone just got into a fight,” I told him, trying to reassure myself of the same thing. We pulled into the driveway and I noticed it: the ambulance.
My pulse quickened, my stomach tightened and my head pounded with thoughts:
Who had overdosed this time? Was my brother dead? Could it have been my aunt? Had they hurt each other? Or did the drugs make somebody feel on top of the world again and just have a stupid accident? Were they going to find the drugs my brother was on? Had they already found them? Who was going to jail this time?
I stumblingly apologized to my date as I jumped out of the car before it had even stopped. My eyes tried to make sense of my surroundings as I fumbled into my house. One look told me it had to be my brother—there were holes in the walls, and there were paramedics and policemen trying to get a screaming, kicking body to hold still. “Stay back!” the cop screamed at me as the paramedics placed my older brother onto the stretcher. I slowly turned and walked back outside.
As I stood staring at the scene before me, the floodgates opened and memories of my family’s problems with drugs overtook me. Tiny, six-year old me standing in the kitchen, screaming for my drunk, passed-out grandfather to wake up my father, who was foaming at the mouth. The fear that consumed my whole body when the paramedic picked me up and told me that my father had overdosed. The faces of important people in town—who could never be named or spoken of—snorting pills off my kitchen counter. My big brother, 12-years-old, smoking pot in front of me; the sickly sweet stench of marijuana tickling my nose and making me cough. The horror in my eyes as I watched the social worker gathering up my clothes, putting me in a car and explaining to me that both of my parents had been arrested so now I had to go to another place. My father’s scruffy face promising me he would stop making and selling meth then the look of anger and anguish on his face as he got arrested and put into prison for manufacturing and selling two days later.
That night, and all the memories that came with it, was the defining moment that made me who I am today. I knew I didn’t want that to be me. I’ve seen what drugs can do to you mentally and physically. I lost a parental figure to drugs and I have nearly lost my brother as well. I’ve never picked up any drug because I’ve seen what it can do to you and to your family.
I’ve learned that I can make a choice to not let my childhood circumstances define the rest of my life. Through poetry, through education, having supportive teachers and peers, and through a belief in who I want to be, I can overcome my family’s drug addictions. I cannot change them, and I will always love them for who they are, but I can stop the cycle with me.
I’m just sixteen; I have my whole life ahead of me to become something greater than what anyone imagined a Bays could ever be.
When I was seven, my grandfather gave me this advice. He said, “There’s a black area and a white area—you’re always in the gray but you have to figure out which way you want to go.“ I choose to use the black to help me get to the white area—I want to help people overcome their circumstances, poverty and drug addiction, and help them fulfill their dreams.
Poetry is my outlet, my way to the white area—I can relate to it because I can express myself through it.
Once I sit down and write about what has happened to me, it’s easier to see both sides of the story and to be able to let that experience go. It can be happy, sad, inspirational, exciting, romantic—writing poetry gives me the opportunity to choose my emotions and to let them out in a way that will help others feel as I feel and see as I see. I used to write a lot of sad poetry until I realized how much power my words had in them and how much good I can do in others’ lives by telling my story and giving hope and inspiration to kids like me.
I don’t want people to be sad about my life or pity me because I believe you have to suffer before you can succeed—I want them to see me becoming more than anyone ever thought I’d be.
This story originally appeared in Facing Addiction in Knox County, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky.