Cocoon (A Poem)

The little green caterpillar munches on a leaf, looking around with big brown eyes as the world spins around and around. She keeps trying to catch up but her short legs can’t keep up. She keeps falling and falling, further behind, scrapping up her knees and hands, blood staining her clothes.

She tries to keep her head down, be like all the other girls.

Keep smiling. Be sweet. Shut your mouth.

Don’t say a word even as the greedy grasshopper grabs her ass.

Don’t raise your fists as the angry ants swarm her, her supposed friends, calling her names and acting like she’s all to blame, Crawling inside her and devouring her up until there’s nothing left but green goop.

Don’t try to be unique. Get in line.

Neat little green caterpillars all in a row with their perfect white teeth, every hair in place, letting greedy grasshoppers move their limbs wherever they want them to go, bending and twisting, putting on a show for the whole world to see.

You’re too thin whispers the others. But don’t they know that it’s because she has hungry larvae to feed? So she hides behind baggy clothes and shrinks into herself like she can just disappear into nothing, fading away into the mist.

The whispers get louder and louder, crueler and crueler.

She’ll spread her legs for any grasshopper, they say. Let them stick their greasy claws in and tear out her insides until she’s just a Hollow husk of flesh with empty dead eyes and a broken heart.

The green caterpillar hides away, until she’s finally free of angry ants and greedy grasshoppers.

She builds up her shell, making thick outer layers to protect herself but doesn’t harden her heart. Instead she creates solid bones, a spine to hold up her head and a sharp tongue to defend herself.

Slowly the caterpillar starts to strengthen with the care and nourishment she never had as a child, flourishing and flourishing.

She becomes strong, finding her voice and speaking her truth with no fear of the repercussions, knowing that she’s not the victim. She is the heroine in her story as long as she believes. She builds herself a suit of armor, made of the encouragement of the others before her, telling her. You can do it. You can do it.

Just keep trying.

Keep your head held up high.

She wraps herself in her own strength that she never knew she had, forming a cocoon.

She used to be so afraid but now she’s not, even as she dissolves into green sticky liquid in her cocoon, shaping into something new. Change can be scary but she’s somehow she’s not afraid even as she breaks down until she’s nothing.

But then, then ugly brown shell cracks and the caterpillar slowly breaks out, shaking the wet off her face, more pieces crumble and as she dries, she spreads out beautiful wings of multitude colors. Vibrant blues, reds, yellows, oranges, greens. All in varying shades. Some pieces darker than others, others darker, some have no color at all, instead black as the night or as white as snow.

In some places, the wings have holes, letting the light through, a little scarred, torn in places but they will still get her where she goes.

She takes a slow hesitant step, still afraid. What if they get more torn? she wonders.


She will simply add more colors, more scars and more tears that tell the story of her life.

So she spreads her wings, the kaleidoscope of colors shimmering in the sun and then she takes off to the sky, feeling the wind in her air and the sun on her face, as she finally tastes true freedom at last.


The Snow Family (A Poem)

The house looks so picturesque, like something you’d see in a magazine for Home Garden, the Christmas edition.

The front yard blanketed with a fresh layer of snow, icicles forming on the gutters, so artfully dripping as if it was planned.

A neat snowman with a black top hat, a checkered blue and white scarf around his frozen neck, little black buttons to make him a sharp jacket, a carrot for his nose and blue buttons for his eyes, a smile on his face. He carries a briefcase in his hand.

Next to the snowman is his snow wife, a pink scarf around her frozen neck and a cream-colored faux fur hat, a wide smile plastered onto her face. She holds the hand of the snow girl, a mini copy of her with the same pink scarf and faux fur hat. The snow boy stands next to his snow father, a baseball cap on his head and a mischievous smile on his face.

The house is strung up with lights that start white then flash to green, red, blue, yellow, and every color in between. A Christmas tree behind the little snow family, the decorations perfectly in place. Not a pine needle out of order.

No, no, that must never happen. Everything must be perfect.

Emerald green, shimmering silver, gleaming gold, and radiant red delicate glass ornaments so carefully set in the tree. A string of white lights and a wide velvet ribbon wrap around the tree like a noose. Glittery white snowflakes and shimmering clear glass icicles. Cranberries and popcorn on a thread in between the ornaments, snowflakes, and icicles. The snow father placed an angel on top of the tree, her beautiful face filled with reverence, gold wings stretched out behind her, and a glowing halo above her head.

Everything is perfect. They seem like the ideal snow family. Their house is seen in one of those magazines that talks about how the family, a mom, and a dad, two kids, one boy, and one girl, have lived in this house since before there were children. When it was just snowman and his little snow wife.

It seems like nothing is wrong until it slowly starts to melt, revealing what they don’t want you to see.

Snowman yells at his snow wife and broke her carrot nose, blue buttons flashing with anger. “I am the man in this house!”

Snow wife threw a plate at his head even as she clutched her bleeding nose. “It’s Christmas!” she yelled. “How could you?”

Snow boy hid with his little snow sister in their closet, covering her ears instead of her own. “Everything will be okay,” he whispers even as the shouting gets louder, flinching at the sound of glass shattering and their mothers cries. The front door slams.

The icicles dripped onto the polished wood floor.

The angel turned up her nose as her wings turned black and charred, a broken halo on her head.

Snowman knocked the tree over, scattering pine needles and glass for his snow wife to cut her feet on as he fled. “Don’t come back!” screams the snow wife.

Crows eat the cranberries and the popcorn while the snow wife cried, her tears freezing on her face.

Snowman grabbed his car keys and screeched out of the driveway, running over the snow boy and snowgirl in the yard, leaving a track of mud.

Snow wife pours herself more mulled wine, telling her best friend over the phone, “I can’t do this anymore.” Her face in her hands, the tree still laying on its side, needles bent and broken. The first ornamanet they ever bought, a simple blue ball with a pretty white Christmas tree painted on it, laid in pieces on the floor.

Snow boy creeps out of his room, sneaking a candy cane to give to his sister. He carefully picked up the pieces of the ornament and took it to his room, spending all night trying to glue it back together, cutting his little fingers, his tongue sticking out of his mouth in determination.

Snow girl hides under the covers, crying but not understanding why, sucking on the sweet candy cane but not tasting it, clutching her stuffed bear tight, a red bow on his neck.

Snow man drives to the bar, picking up a blonde with too much red lipstick smeared on her face. “Make me feel something,” He tells her. But as she leaves red stains on his tie, the one his snow wife bought him as a gag gift, the one with little briefcases on it, he feels nothing. He shoves her face further down, closes his eyes, and finishes the bottle of whiskey, melting into the bed that smells like piss.

Later snow man will come home. He will kiss his snow wife’s cheek. “I’m sorry, baby,” he’ll say. She’ll smile and forgive him, like she always does. “It’ll get better,” says the snow man as he kisses her frozen lips.

And maybe it does. For a while. The snow boy proudly shows his parents the blue ornament he spent all night fixing, lines of silver glitter hiding the Elmer’s glue. The snow wife will say, “It looks even prettier now.” Presents will be given, red and green wrapping paper on the flooring.

The snow man gives his snow wife a heart shaped dimond to hand around her neck. It will get heavier and heavier as the years go by as her smile gets wider and wider. Back to crisp suits and steak and potatoes on the table. Back to screaming and crying, slamming of doors and broken bottles.

The snow man will continue to see random, nameless woman with lipstick smeared on their faces and cheap perfume. He’ll end up dying of a heartattack, sitting in his own filth in front of the television and leaving his wife all his gambling debts.

The snow wife will drink, throwing herself into PTA meetings, soccer games and ballet recitals, and trying to make everything perfect, putting so much Botox in her face, it’s like she’s permanently smiling. She’ll have to get a job after her husband dies, then another until she’s working three jobs.

The snow boy will drown his pain in pills and whatever else he can shove down his throat to forget the yelling that happens. He’ll turn to a life of petty crime, begging for someone to see him, to save him, until at 17 he ends up on a slab with a bullet in his head. His own hand pulled the trigger.

The snow girl grows up with earbuds in her ears, locked inside her own mind as she makes red lines on her arms and writes into a batter composition note book, hiding from the world. She won’t even mourn her father. She barely knew him.

She’ll try to help her brother but it’s too late, and she’ll always remember the blood on their family portrait and he said, “I can’t do this anymore.” She’ll remember her mother screaming and hitting the ground, clutching her brother’s body.

She’ll end up going to the school counselor and pouring her heart out. Her father’s drinking. The fights between him and her mother. Her brother’s crime record and suicide. She’ll slowly heal, telling her story to group therapy sessions and then eventually to a crowd of teenagers at her old high school, with her wife by her side and her children in the crowd.

She’ll visit her mother every weekend, take care of her and talk about the good days. Only the good days though.

She’ll place flowers and baseball cards on the grave and tell her brother that she’s okay, that she still loves candy canes and making snow angels with her children. She’ll tell him that it wasn’t perfect but at least they had each other. She’ll tell him that now she counsels children who came from homes like theirs so maybe there won’t be another him. Maybe she can save another snow boy when she couldn’t save him. She’ll tell him she loves him and that he was right. It will get better. Maybe not at first but it will.

Then she’ll set a blue ornament on the grave that their mother kept all these years, little lines of white glue visible where the silver and gold glitter had flaked off. She’ll remember how she took a glitter pen to hide the glue and how her brother said “That’s a great idea!

Then she’ll walk away, taking the hand of her snow wife, their daughter in her arms as they walk away. Money is tight. Stress is high. Their daughter is sick. Her snow wife lost her job. But the snow girl will remember.

It will get better.


Bottles in the Closet (A Poem)

You only call me when you’re drunk.

I can hear the slur in your words even as you say, “I haven’t had a drink all day.” We both know it’s a lie. I can almost smell the alcohol on your breath over the phone.

You poured another glass of red wine, instead of putting the cork in the bottle and just walking away. Drink some water and start up again the very next day. As if drinking red wine will numb the pain and erase all the memories you swear you don’t remember.

Or maybe it was a shot of vodka to chase all the bad thoughts away. When you wonder why it is that none of your children want to stay. Throwback the shot glass, the alcohol burning your throat. I bet you don’t need a chaser. You simply grab another.

You keep pouring

and pouring

and pouring,

until everything goes fuzzy. You almost feel like you’re invincible. Like you aren’t risking your life and everyone else’s when you get behind that steering wheel.

You only call me when you’re drunk.

You tell me you don’t want to be here anymore. It’s something I’ve heard before, ever since I was 13 years old. What a thing that a teenager hears from her mother. Can you imagine how that makes me feel?

That time you took a steak knife in the kitchen and cut your wrist in front of me, slurring your words as you screamed and cried. Always playing the victim and making it about you when it should’ve been about us. Your children.

But no.

I had to be the mother. Coax you to hand me the knife even as the smell of vomit on your breath and leftover wine made me gag. I had to lie and tell you that it would be alright. I had to tell you that you were a good mother and that we loved you. That we didn’t blame you for all the hard times.

And when I finally got the knife away, you wouldn’t let me call the police even as the blood dripped on the floor that I’d clean later that night.

You left to go have some fun with drinks. Drank more. It was as if it never happened. As if I was the one who was crazy instead of you. As I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the red off the floor and trying my best to erase the memory of you dragging the knife across your wrist oh so slowly, like you had to make sure I was watching.

You tell me that you’re a good mother, and that you tried your best. Yet you do the same thing over

and over

and over again. You hit repeat. You never learn. You never listen.

You are not a good mother. You never were a mother.

You didn’t do your best. You don’t even know what that means.

Your best is not staying out late partying while your oldest daughter takes care of your children.

Your best is not the water or the electricity being turned off because you got more clothes rather than pay the bills.

Your best is not the pantry and fridge being empty and children going hungry because your happiness is more important than your children’s.

But go ahead, pour yourself another glass of wine. Fill up the cup if that makes you feel better. Makes you feel like you’re not a failure of a mother. Like you’ve done nothing wrong. Like you’re the saint that you think you are.

I remember once I opened your closet door and on top of all the shoes were empty alcohol bottles. Dozens of them, sparkling in pretty colors in the yellow light. Like it was some dirty little secret that you failed at hiding.

How many times did I help you out of your shoes and into bed, making sure you were on your side so you didn’t choke on your own vomit? I couldn’t tell you, I lost track. I know it was too many for a teenage girl to have to deal with.

You always said you weren’t an alcoholic but you’ve got bottles in the closet and wine on your breath that tells another story.

You always say that you’re a good mother and that you love your children. I don’t doubt that you love us. But I don’t think you loved us enough. I think you love yourself and the bottle more. You love partying with friends and trying to capture your youth while your children are left behind. Then we are the bad guys when we want to leave. When we want out of that toxic environment and to do better for ourselves. Suddenly we are abandoning you and turning on you.

You only call me when you’re drunk.

You tell me you love me, that you are so proud of me. As if that matters to me. You had nothing to do with the woman I am. There is not a single part of you in me, and for that I am glad. I don’t see you anywhere, and if I did, I’d be terrified.

I don’t want to be like you. A woman who drowns her self-loathing and insecurities in booze. A woman is so blinded by her own perceived greatness of motherhood that she can’t see the mental scars she’s left on her children. That she still leaves on them. A woman who puts the blame on everyone else instead of looking in the damn mirror and realizing that it’s been her all along. That she is the problem. Not us.

Go ahead. Pour yourself another drink, all the up to the brim until it pours over the edges and drips like the blood did on the linoleum all those years ago. I bet you’ll lick that wine up too. Make sure you don’t waste a single drop to numb the pain and ease the guilt.

Go ahead and call me, tell me you’re a good mother and that you did your best.

I know the truth.

The truth is in the bottles in the closet.

You only call me when you’re drunk.


I Don’t Think About You (A Poem)

I thought I would miss you.

Instead, I don’t. And I think that’s what hurts the most. The fact that I don’t miss you. The fact that our friendship is over and it doesn’t hurt like it should.

Shouldn’t it hurt more? Shouldn’t I feel your loss like a phantom limb? But I don’t. I barely feel it at all.

Maybe the reason it doesn’t hurt, why I barely feel your absence, is because you weren’t there. You stopped being present a long time ago. It’s like you were there when you wanted to be. When it was convenient to you. You were like a ghost, fading in and out and only showing up when you wanted to haunt me.

I don’t know when we grew apart. Could it be when I moved here? No. I’ve had friends who kept in touch more than you did.

It can’t be that.

Maybe it began before that. Before we graduated high school. When I needed you in tenth grade, when there were rumors running around about me and I was alone with no one on my side. With no one to turn to. No friendly ear to listen to me.

You would pass by and let me suffer alone, when what I needed back then was a friend. Someone to have my back. Like I had always had yours no matter what.

You would call me and I answered like a best friend does. Immediately. I dropped everything. And it wasn’t until you had cut me off. Told me that I was selfish that I realized. . .

It wasn’t me.

It was you.

I thought it would hurt more. But I don’t feel a thing. Maybe that makes me cold. I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t think about you. Not really. Maybe for a fleeting moment but then that’s it.

After all, you can’t really miss someone who wasn’t there in the first place.

I don’t wish you any ill will. I hope that you are happy and safe. I hope you find everything that you are looking for and even more.

I don’t regret our good times.

Going to the park and spending hours swinging and enjoying the sun.

Late-night talks as we discussed the stories in our heads.

Your passion equaled mine and a part of me, might miss having that. But I don’t need you to have that passion. I don’t need you to be who I am. To be a writer. To be an artist.

I don’t think about you. Maybe I should. Maybe it’s cruel. Or maybe it’s the cold stone truth. That I don’t miss you.

You are not a thought. You are barely a memory. You are nothing to me.

You were long gone before we ever said goodbye.


Maybe You’re Just You

When people first meet me, the first thing they usually say is this:

You’re really sweet.

You’re really kind.

You’re really nice.

At first, it seems like that’s not a bad thing, you know? Like being really of something. That’s fine. That’s good. Over time, however, that really changes into too.

You’re too sweet.

You’re too kind.

You’re too nice.

All my life I’ve heard that I’m too sweet/kind/nice {insert-whatever else synonym here}. All my life. It’s the first thing anyone says. Or they mention that I’m short or that I have a great smile. Now, yes. I am short. And you know what? I do have a great smile. I’m confident enough to say that. I smile at everyone I walk past because you never know what people are going through. Maybe they could really use a smile. And maybe — just maybe — they could use a little kindness.

When I was younger, I was a people pleaser. I did what my friends wanted because well, I wanted to have friends. I did what Heather (my mother) wanted because I thought that maybe if I made her happy, she’d stay home and be with us kids. Growing up as a people pleaser — and if you were and maybe still are one you know this — kind of sucks. People walk all over you like you are nothing to them. You are their doormat. That’s all you are to them. As I grew up I realized that. I realized that I had no voice because I thought — believed that I wasn’t allowed to speak up because it would be rude. I believed that if I said something wrong that I would no longer have friends. That they would turn away after I finally said no. It wasn’t really until I moved to Arkansas at 19 that I realized that I could say no. I could have an opinion. I could have a voice. Thank you to my aunt Wendy for that. Yes, I am proud of that. I’m proud that I am not afraid to voice my thoughts. Now, don’t get wrong. Sometimes I still do bow down or out of an argument because I simply don’t care enough to say someone is wrong or because I simply don’t want to continue on with this argument. That is something I’m still working on. It will take time but I will get there.

The thing is, even if I do get to that point where I am the first to give my opinion, I don’t want to lose my sweetness or kindness or niceness. No, I’m not going to let anyone walk all over me. I am not a doormat. I am not however going to be the person who is so aggressively opinionated. You know the ones. The ones on the internet who start arguments and never let it go. The people that my aunt and I look at and say:

Tell it to them, Taylor.

Here’s the thing, I don’t see a problem with being sweet or kind or nice. Don’t let people walk all over you. Don’t be a doormat. But also, don’t be a jerk. The world is shit, okay? And yeah, it’s full of shit people at times. Most of the time, honestly. But I still believe that there are good people. And if you can just be that one person who can be kind, then maybe, the world won’t be such a shitty place. No, I’m not saying that kindness is going to save the world. I’m not saying that love is either. That’s some Lifetime, Hallmark bullshit. What I am saying is this. There are already enough assholes in the world. How about you not contribute to the asshole pandemic? It takes more effort to be kind to someone that it does to be a jerk.

So yes.

I am sweet. I am kind. I am nice. But never mistake that for weakness. I will have your back if you have mine. I will keep your secrets if you keep mine. I will protect you if you protect me. If you betray me, that trust takes a long time to regain. But you can regain it, if I feel you are worthy. If you hurt someone I love, you will never see me coming. I am ruthless when it comes to the people I love. I am fiercely passionate about the things I believe in.

I am sweet. I am kind. I am nice. But there is so much more to me than that. Those words do not define me because I like the rest of you am a complicated individual. But while those words do not define me completely, I am also not ashamed to be those things. Sweetness, kindness, niceness is not a weakness. It’s a superpower.

So I want you to take a moment. What is your weakness? What do people tell you you are too much of? Maybe you’re too loud. Maybe you’re too proud. Maybe you’re too sweet. Like me. Maybe you’re too serious. Maybe you’re too funny. Maybe you’re too brave. Maybe you’re too cautious. Whatever it is. I want you to think. Because maybe, just maybe, that’s not a weakness. You’re not ‘too‘ much of anything. Maybe you’re just. . . .you.


50 Random Questions

Here’s a bit about me! Copy and paste and join in on the fun!

  1. What is the color of your hairbrush? Red.
  2. Name a food you never ever eat.
  3. Are you typically too warm or too cold? Cold.
  4. What were you doing 45 minutes ago? Watching Criminal Minds
  5. What is your favorite candy bar?Hershey’s Cookies ‘n Cream candy bar
  6. Have you ever been to a professional sports game? One basketball game and one hockey game.
  7. What is the last thing you said out loud? “Three things helped with my headache. Mom cuddles, a crystal and a shower.”
  8. What is your favorite ice cream?
    Cookie Dough.
  9. What was the last thing you had to drink? Mountain Dew.
  10. Do you like your wallet? Yes. It’s The Lion King so awesome!
  11. What was the last thing you ate?
  12. Did you buy any new clothes last weekend? Nope.
  13. The last sporting event you watched? Super Bowl LIV.
  14. What is your favorite flavor of popcorn? Buttery popcorn.
  15. Who is the last person you sent a text message to? Angela Ash.
  16. Ever go camping? Yes. It’s been a good 10 years though.
  17. Do you take vitamins? No. Probably should though…
  18. Do you go to church every Sunday? Nope. Not on Wednesday either.
  19. Do you have a tan? Yes.
  20. Do you prefer Chinese food over pizza? Yes. I love Chinese food.
  21. Do you drink your soda with a straw? Only at restaurants and fast food places.
  22. What color socks do you usually wear? Colorful.
  23. Do you ever drive above the speed limit? No. I’m an old lady. My mom is always telling me to speed up.
  24. What terrifies you? Driving. I guess.
  25. Look to your left, what do you see? Roku remote.
  26. What chore do you hate? Laundry.
  27. What do you think of when you hear an Australian accent? Hugh Jackman.
  28. What’s your favorite soda? Mountain Dew or Barq’s Root Beer if I can find it.
  29. Do you go in a fast food place or just hit the drive? Drive thru generally.
  30. What is your favorite number? 13.
  31. Who’s the last person you talked to? My mom.
  32. Favorite cut of beef? Hamburger?
  33. Last song you listened to? What A Man Gotta Do by Jonas Brothers.
  34. Last book you read? Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined.
  35. Favorite day of the week? Thursday.
  36. Can you say the alphabet backwards? Nope.
  37. How do you like you like your coffee? I don’t.
  38. Favorite pair of shoes? My boots.
  39. Time you normally go to bed? I try to go to bed my midnight.
  40. Time you normally get up? Around 9 or 10.
  41. What do you prefer, sunrise or sunset? Sunrise.
  42. How many blankets on your bed?Two.
  43. Describe your kitchen plates?Round and mistmached.
  44. Do you have a favorite alcoholic drink? White wine. Specifically peach white wine.
  45. Do you play cards? Rarely.
  46. What color is your car? Invisible.
  47. Can you change a tire? Ha. No.
  48. Your favorite state? California.
  49. Favorite job you’ve had? Wildwood Park for the Arts.
  50. How did you get your biggest scar? Punched a brick wall.

Share your answers!

Stay safe and sane, everyone!



This is a piece that I wrote for my nonfiction class a few years ago. It was my first real experience writing something that was about me, rather than a fiction story. This is true. This is raw. Writing this was therapeutic. It was like, I released everything that I’ve felt since my childhood. I wanted to share this story with you.

My stepdad had been with us since I was four years old. When I was 14 years old, he locked us out of the house. There we were—Mom, Tristan, Chloe, Kody, and I—standing outside the front door of the house while Mom screamed and pounded for us to be let in, but it was no use.

It was the worst and best moment of my life. Worst since I didn’t know where we were going. Best since we were finally free of Brian. Things had been steadily getting worse between Brian and Mom. There wasn’t a night where they weren’t arguing. There wasn’t a dinner where there wasn’t curt responses and barbed words.

Brian kicked us out because he thought Mom was cheating on him. Again.

This was the third time he had kicked us out.

They had a repetitive process. Fight and then make up. Fight. Make up. Fight. Apologize. Fight. Fight. Make up. Rinse and repeat. It was a never-ending process. We’d move out, then we’d move back in. Or he’d move out then move back in. There was no end. Tristan, Chloe and I never talked about it, trying to make it easier for Kody. (Later, when Camron was born, we also shielded him too. It was like an unspoken rule between us three older siblings to prevent our younger brothers from seeing the truth of our shitty childhood.)

One-night, Chloe and I finally talked about it. That elephant that had always been there was finally acknowledged rather than shoved into a closet with the door locked and the key thrown out the window.

It was a bittersweet moment for me. Chloe and I were never that close. Tristan and I were close, being only a year and a half apart. He and I stuck together, two peas in a pod. But Chloe and me? After she turned 10, we didn’t get along—no more playing Barbies or playing dress up. I was no longer her hero who dressed up as a princess with her for Halloween even though I wanted to be a witch. Chloe looked at me, and she was angry and jealous. Why wouldn’t she be? Mom always asked Chloe, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” She grew up with this complex that she had to be exactly like her big sister, and due to that, our relationship was strained.

But that night so many years ago, we understood each other.

Chloe and I were in bed, feigning sleep, when Brian and Mom started fighting. Since our room was right next to theirs, we could hear them very clearly. It didn’t help that the walls were thin, and Mom and Brian weren’t exactly trying to be quiet. I was glad that Kody’s room was further away, so he couldn’t hear them arguing. Chloe was crying. I could hear her, and I asked if she was okay (clearly, she wasn’t), but like me, she was too stubborn to seek comfort. I got out of bed, laid down next to her, and held in her my arms. I pulled the blanket over us, hoping it would muffle the yelling. It didn’t. Chloe didn’t pull away from me, instead, she sought comfort from me. Her big sister.

She asked, “Why do they always fight?”

How was I supposed to answer that question? I was 14 years old. I should only care about boys and makeup. But I had to be the big sister: “I don’t know. But it’ll get better. I promise.” She clung to me, suspending that teenage independence she already developed at 10 years old, and we cried together.

The next day, Brian and Mom were getting along again. We went out to eat. Chloe went back to hating me. We were one big happy family. It was like the fight never happened. But it was all lies.

Here we were again, a few weeks later, standing outside in the rain, us kids crowding around Mom underneath the overhang of the garage. Chloe and Kody were crying, the latter clinging to Mom. Tristan was indifferent. I was resigned.

“What are we going to do?” I asked Mom again in-between the yelling and banging.

“I don’t know. But we’ll figure it out, okay?” she said.

Mom continued to yell and pound on the door until Brian threatened to call the cops. We left and stayed with a friend of Mom’s.

I assumed that we would move back in with Brian. They had that process after all. Fight. Kick Out. Make up. Come back. Fight. Kick out. Make up. Come back. I figured this would be the same. We’d stay with Mom’s friend. Mom would curse Brian’s name. We wouldn’t see him for a few weeks. But then he and Mom would kiss and makeup. We’d come back like we always did. Brian would apologize to Mom and to us kids. He’d shower us with presents and tell us that he loved us.

I was wrong.

We moved into our new house in Tulsa a few weeks later.

The house wasn’t perfect. It was smaller than the one in Broken Arrow. But those first few weeks in the new house? That was perfect. It was just us kids and Mom. She was our mom again. She played with us. She watched movies with us. She was our mom. Just ours. We lived in a crappy little house, but we were together.

Chloe and I shared a room again, and neither of us were very happy about that. Our room was cramped, barely big enough for the worn-out desk, relatively new dresser, and hand-me-down futon. Chloe and I hated that futon because the mattress always slipped out of the metal frame and we’d wake up hitting our heads. Tristan and Kody shared a room, and theirs was just as cramped. The house had rats in the garage, and the roof leaked when it rained, but we were together, and we were away from my stepdad. It was beautiful. I was happy. We were happy.

There was always this fear that Brian would come back, but Mom promised “This is it. I’m not going back. We’re not going back. I promise. It’s just us.”

I believed her. That was my mistake

A few weeks later, the bastard moved back in. I was pissed.

He’s been in my life since I was four years old. Growing up he was “Dad.” I still call him Dad when I see him occasionally. He stayed, and a part of me that will always love him, just like a part of me will always respect the fact that he raised children that weren’t his.

Brian was more of my dad than my biological father ever was. But he was cruel and vicious. He knew the right buttons to make us all cry. There were times I wished he would simply stay out of my life. There were times, especially on the days he and mom argued and threw things, that I wanted him gone. I didn’t want him as pseudo father or even a stepdad. If having him meant that my mom was always crying, then I didn’t want him. I didn’t need him.

Brian was an angry man who took out his frustrations on his girlfriend and his kids. He put my mom down, calling her all sorts of vile names: Whore. Slut. Skank. Worthless. Stupid. Cheater. He put us down, calling us all sorts of horrible names: Stupid. Lazy. Disrespectful. Ungrateful.

I didn’t need a father if he was going to be like that. I needed a mother. Of course, I didn’t quite have one of those either.

Living in Tulsa wasn’t perfect, even before Brian moved in. There was no win-win situation. Mom worked nights and didn’t come home until the next morning. I watched my siblings, ensuring they were fed, bathed, and safe. Mom was a shop alcoholic and half of the clothes in her closet still had tags. Mom spent money that she didn’t have which meant the pantry was barebones empty. But Mom was doing better. She was trying. She was better without Brian. And now the bastard was back. Again. So much for promises.

Brian came back because, in my mom’s words “He’s going through a rough time. He’ll only be staying until he gets a new job.” I couldn’t protest. What was I supposed to say? That he was a bastard, and I didn’t want him living here? I kept my mouth shut. It wasn’t like my opinion mattered.

Two weeks after Brian came back, I ran away from home. It certainly made for an interesting story come that Monday. I already had a reputation at Memorial High School for being quiet, usually tucked into a corner reading or writing with my earbuds in as I dared anyone to say something to me. Those brave enough to approach the rather standoffish new girl quickly became my friends. Being the new kid was horrible. But starting high school as the new kid? That was even worse.

We had moved to Tulsa to get away from my stepdad, and now here we were, a month after moving, and he was living with us. To me, fourteen and the oldest of 4, this was crazy. How could my mom let him come back? I didn’t understand it then, and 9 years later, I still don’t.

I couldn’t take that anymore. I couldn’t take Brian or Mom anymore. So that day, Saturday, I woke up early. Brian was at work, so I didn’t have to worry about him. I wrote a cheesy note that simply said, “I’m sorry.” I packed a backpack with clothes, a bag of chips, and a bottle of water. After I was dressed, I walked to the door. For a moment, I considered not leaving. I thought about my siblings: Tristan, Chloe and Kody. As the oldest, I was the responsible one. I made sure they got on the bus, did their homework, and finished their chores. That was my job. Being the oldest meant sacrifice, especially growing up in a broken home. But in a rare moment in my 14-year-old life, I thought about myself. I didn’t want to be responsible.

I was tired. I should have been thinking about school and boys, not concerning myself about if my stepdad decided to become physical with my mom. Again. In that moment of walking out the door of that shabby house with the rat-infested garage, I was selfish.

It was brilliant.

As I walked out that door, my heart felt like it would beat right out of my chest. I slowly closed the squeaky door. Once the door was closed, I ran. I kept running until I was a good few blocks away from my house. There was something. . .freeing about walking. But there was also guilt. I’d walk a few blocks then pause and turn around, looking back at all the responsibilities I had left behind. It was like I could hear my siblings: “How could you leave us, Keke?”

I had finally left my prison. I yanked open the barred door and ran as fast I could before I was caught. I was no longer bound by my mother’s expectations and my siblings’ need for the only true parent they knew—me. I was torn between excitement and guilt. I felt free from my prison but that crushing guilt at abandoning my siblings still came back. I swallowed that guilt and continued to walk. It was around eight in the morning. The sun was shining. It was a beautiful autumn day. People started on their daily business. I waved to a few neighbors I passed when I took walks. They probably thought I was out taking a walk again, but a longer one and that’s why I had the backpack. Walking didn’t make it seem real to me. It didn’t seem real until I realized I had nowhere to go.

I didn’t have any friends in the neighborhood. What did I do? Well, being a 14-year-old girl with no job, no cell phone, no car and no friends, I did the logical thing.

I walked to K-Mart.

It was a good two miles, on the side of a well-used road next to a Long John Silver’s and A&W fast food restaurant. Now that road is a four-lane highway, and K-Mart, Long John Silver’s and A&W are closed. The houses that once were across from them are gone.

The sidewalk was bumpy and uneven. I tripped more than twice on the way to K-Mart. But finally, I reached my destination.

What the hell was I going to do now? I walked into the store. The lady up front noticed my backpack and told me I couldn’t stay. There I was, a gangly bespectacled girl with a backpack, and she said I couldn’t stay because it would—in her words—“Disrupt the other customers.” She probably thought I was either homeless or a runaway. She was right about the latter, but I had hoped for a little sympathy.

With tears in my eyes, I asked, “Can I borrow the phone?” My voice cracked twice. That lump in my throat getting larger by the minute. I was barely holding it together.

“Yes, but you can’t stay here,” she repeated. As if I didn’t know that already. As if I didn’t know that her customers were more important than a teenage girl carrying a backpack with red-rimmed eyes.

I called my grandparents, proud that I had memorized their number. My grandparents were Brian’s parents. They had been in my life as long as he had. They enjoyed traveling so I didn’t get to see them that much, but they always made it clear that even though Tristan and I were not my stepdad’s biological children, we were still their grandchildren.

When my grandma answered the phone, suddenly no words come out. I felt like I was being strangled but somehow, between sobs and hiccups and the cashier rolling her eyes, I managed to ask, “Can you come pick me up? I’m at K-Mart. I-I ran . . . I ran away.”

There was a slight pause on the phone before my grandma responded, voice soft with that no-nonsense tone, “We’re on our way.”

“Okay,” I choked out.

I handed the phone back to the cashier. “My grandparents are on their way,” I said. She nodded, lips pursed. “Fine. Just don’t make trouble.”

I spent around twenty minutes pacing around K-Mart, ignoring the looks the cashier lady gave—as if I was a problem. I spent most of my time in the toy section, pushing the buttons and making noise . . . which was exactly what the cashier was worried about. But if she was going to be rude, I could be too. 

I couldn’t believe that I did it. I’ve thought about running away before but this time, I did it. I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that. I was still feeling guilty; pushing all the buttons on the noisiest toys helped to distract me from that guilt. After a while, I could feel the cashier’s eyes on me, so I walked back up to the front, that way I wouldn’t “disrupt the customers.” Not that there were any customers.

A few minutes later, my grandparents showed up, and I ran into my grandma’s arms. She gave me a hug, as did my grandpa. I felt safe and loved. They said I could stay with them until things were sorted out—my grandpa’s words.

For a moment, I was free. Then right as we were about to walk out the doors, my mom walked in, talking on the phone. The second my mom saw me, I was shoved right back into my windowless cell and the barred door slammed shut. She grabbed my arm and yanked me away from my grandparents while they did nothing.

“How could you do this to me?” she screamed in my face. Yes, because it was my fault that I wanted to run away from home.

I was dragged to the car. My grandparents looked at me with pity, but there was nothing they could do. My grandma told my mom. “You need to fix this,” and then she told me to call anytime. My grandparents left me.

The car ride was quiet. Mostly. Mom talked on the phone to her friend about how her oldest daughter ran away, and she just couldn’t believe I did this to her and to my siblings. I ignored her. A few times I contemplated opening the car door, rolling out action movie style and praying I didn’t get run over by another vehicle. I didn’t do it, but it was tempting.

Finally, we were back to that shabby house where my mom and I screamed at each other. It was back to prison where she threw things and I threw things. Tristan, Chloe and Kody were outside playing. Mom didn’t want them to witness our fight.

Or maybe she didn’t want to give them ideas.

“How could you be so selfish?” she yelled.

“I hate it here! He’s changing you again!” I yelled.

“So this is my fault? I am doing the best I can!” Really. She was doing the best she could? We barely had bread and milk in the house while she went out drinking with her friends. Tristan’s shoes were peeling at the bottom. Chloe needed new glasses. That was her best?

“Well it’s not enough!” I yelled.

It was a disaster. I slammed the door in her face and locked the bedroom door. I grabbed my iPod and listened to Avril Lavigne’s “Nobody’s Home” on repeat. The chorus kept repeating in my head:

She wants to go home but nobody’s home. 

That’s where she lies, broken inside, with no place to go. 

No place to go to dry her eyes. 

Broken inside.

The song played in my head until I finally fell into an uneasy sleep.

Later that night, Mom walked in. She laid down next to me, pulling out my earbuds and hugged me tight, waking me up. She said the same old things. “I’m sorry. Things will change. I promise. I love you.” The next day, she and I went out to eat and shopping. She got me a new purse, a notebook, and Ghirardelli chocolates—as if food and clothes could make me forget. My running away was never mentioned again, but it was not the last time that I left.

When I was 19, I ran away from home again, but this time I didn’t have to come back. This time, I had grandparents who could save me. This time, I was gone for good. This time it wasn’t running away since I was a legal adult. She couldn’t drag me back this time.

I’d been planning this move for a month, but I didn’t tell my mom I was leaving until the day before. My grandma and I have been talking for a few weeks. With the help of my friend, Angela, who understood more than most about my home life, I planned my escape. Angela and her dad took me to the storage unit and helped me gather my things. Angela helped me sort through the garage and find my books. I grabbed whatever I could. Whatever could fit in Angela’s dad’s car. Anything that wasn’t completely necessary was left.

Angela’s dad was going to drive me to Fayetteville to Mom’s parents. I knew I had to tell my mom though. To this day, I still don’t know how she didn’t know what was going on. I was very clearly gathering my things. I was very clearly packing. But she seemed so surprised while standing in the kitchen when I said: “Tomorrow I’m leaving. Angela’s dad is taking me to Grandma and Grandpa’s.”

My mom sighed, in that way she did when I had disappointed her. That sigh used to make me feel something. It doesn’t anymore. I felt nothing. I no longer needed her approval. I hadn’t since I was 14. She looked at me with those hazel eyes, filled with disappointment and betrayal.

“I told you I’d take you next weekend,” she said, her arms crossed. In my peripheral vision I saw Chloe in the doorway watching the argument unfold. It was her fault that Mom had found out so soon. I wanted to wait until the last possible minute, but Chloe had eavesdropped on Angela and my conversation. Thus, this confrontation.

Angela was waiting in my bedroom. She had offered to be with me when I told my mother I was leaving. I told her that I had to do this myself.

“You said that last weekend. And the weekend before that. Angela’s dad is taking her to Iowa. It’s on the way. I am leaving tomorrow,” I said firmly. Fayetteville wasn’t on the way to Inola—in fact it was sort of out of the way. Angela’s dad would have to go up then down to get en route to Iowa. But he offered. I didn’t ask but he offered. I couldn’t refuse it when I might not have another chance.

Mom’s lips were pursed. She was angry. But there was nothing she could do. I was a legal adult. I had my social security number. I could re-order my birth certificate. I had everything I wanted to take with me. Clothes, books, and artwork. The few things that I couldn’t find, I could replace.

The next day, I said goodbye to my siblings. Kody and Camron cried and clung to me, but I told them I’d call when I could. Tristan hugged me and said, “Good luck.” Chloe glared at me and didn’t bother to say goodbye. Mom looked at me and said, “If you want to come home, call me.”

I got in the car, and I was off to a new life. A better life.

A few weeks after living with my grandparents and uncle, my aunt Wendy—or rather Aunt Meme—came and picked me up. It was an adjustment for me. I’ve never really had a parental figure. With my mother, I always felt like the mom. Living at my aunt’s, I didn’t have to ask if I could make myself hot tea like I had to at my stepdad’s. Hell, there was food in the house. My aunt provided for me. She says, to this day, if I need something, tell her. I’ve never had that before. She helped me enroll in Pulaski Technical College and get all my basics courses done. She encourages me and lets me talk her ear off about my art, writing, photography—whatever my interest is at the moment. She’s teaching me how to drive, something that Heather never encouraged. Once, I ended up in the ER while she was in Texas on vacation. She was supposed to be home that Sunday. Instead, she was there the next day. When I asked her why she said:

“My kid is sick. Of course I’m here.”

It certainly threw me for a loop.

Maybe that’s why I started calling Aunt Meme ‘Mom.’ Neither of us are sure when it started but I call her Mom now. I think it probably started off as a joke. Either Paul, Paige, or Pagan (her children, my cousins) called her Mom and then I said Mom. It made sense. It felt right.

I’ve graduated from Pulaski Technical College a two and a half years ago. Come next spring, I’ll be graduating from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock with two majors. I know that is in part thanks to her, my mom. She may have not given birth to me, but she’s my mom. We joke that a stork just dropped me off one day and I’ve been here ever since.

I’ve lived in Arkansas for 6 years, and not once have I called my mother and told her to come get me.

Occasionally I go back to Oklahoma, for Thanksgiving, for a wedding, for a comic con, but I never stay long. I don’t talk to my mother. Or rather, I never actively call her. She calls, I stupidly answer, groan, and feel exhausted. Talking to my mother makes me want to smoke. She tells me how much she misses me, loves me, and how she wishes I was home. She suddenly has to go every time I tell her with certainty, “I am home.” Then she calls a few weeks later and starts into how the boys, Kody and Camron, miss me so much. Suddenly, I’m the one who has to go. She does that all the time, trying to use the boys so I’ll come back. That’s the reason why—even though I really want too—I can’t entirely cut her out of my life. I know her. I know Heather would be petty enough to make it so that I could never talk to the boys again.

That’s another thing that’s changed. I don’t think of my mom as ‘Mom.’ I think Heather. To her face, and when I talk to my siblings, she’s Mom, said through gritted teeth with lots of eye rolls, but to my best friends, my aunt and uncle, my grandparents, she’s Heather. I don’t know when that started. Maybe it had always been there, but now I had the courage to realize that I never thought of Heather as a mother. Even my friends know when I say Mom I really mean my aunt. and when I say Heather or my mother (usually with a tone of disdain) I mean my biological mother.

I keep in contact with Tristan and Chloe, especially now that they’ve both moved out of Heather’s. Now that they aren’t pulling me back into her drama, I can speak freely to them. Tristan is happy with his fiancée and a new baby.

Chloe and my relationship has never been this good. There was a time she only texted me for my Netflix password. She moved out of our mother’s house last year. Since then, Chloe and I have gotten closer. I think having us both out of our mother’s house helped. Made it easier for us to connect and be sisters. We FaceTime regularly actually. And I enjoy our conversations. We are sisters.

When I first left Oklahoma, I did feel bad. The guilt was crushing, and sometimes I wanted to go back. But now? I don’t. It doesn’t hurt anymore. I am home. I don’t have to go to Oklahoma if I don’t want too.

This time, I left my prison for good.

This piece is now published in Quills & Pixels 2019 edition! My first published piece! Quills & Pixels is the nonfiction journal for the Rhetoric and Writing Department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I have the honor of being an editor for the 2018 edition and now, the honor of being a writer in this year’s edition!

Only (A Poem)

In the end

There’s only this

There’s only now

There’s only this moment

There’s only your breath on my skin

There’s only words left unspoken

Because we are too afraid

There’s only late nights

Laying under the stars

And telling each other

Our dreams

There’s only a lie

Because you left

There’s no breath

There’s no words

There’s no late nights

There’s only me

There’s only staggered breathing

As I try to forget you’re gone

There’s only regret as I remember

The words I never said

The words I wish I had said

There’s only late nights where

I can’t sleep

And the silence is loud like

A wave crashing on the shore

The sand being worn away as the

Waves keep coming in

There’s no our dreams

Because there’s no us

There’s no you

In the end

There’s only an empty bed

And a cold tombstone

There’s only the sharp

Cruel moment of sudden loss

Of a loved one

Suddenly being gone

Like a sand castle on the beach

Being swept away by

An angry roaring wave

And being gone

Just like you


Like you never existed

At all