Brianna Wolfson from Medium gave us her blessing to republish this beautifully written reflection on a childhood lived. Trigger warning: descriptions of addiction and abuse.
If I could do it over, I would love Dad as much as I love Mom. I wouldn’t decide Mom is the better parent because she lets us eat Pixie Sticks for breakfast while Dad yells when I leave my toys in the living room. I would know there is more to love than skipping school and sneaking candy.
I would tell the social worker the truth, even if it meant Mom might not get custody. I wouldn’t lie and say I’m scared Dad might hit me.
I would tell Dad about everything happening at Mom’s. I wouldn’t feel betrayed when I found out he’d been listening in on Mom’s phone calls, searching for clues. I would know Dad could help Mom if I just told him she passed out behind the wheel again.
I would hug my soon-to-be stepmother instead of hiding her shoes. I wouldn’t tape a long list of ways to get rid of her to the wall of my tree house. I would appreciate that Marla would cook dinner for me when Mom was in rehab and Dad didn’t know how.
I would tell my mother it isn’t fair for her to demand that I never call Marla “Mom.” I wouldn’t hide my cheek with a pillow when Marla tries to kiss me goodnight. I would know Marla would be the only one listening to me when Mom and Dad were too distracted to parent.
If I could do it over, I would sit with my soon-to-be stepsister on the bus when she is nervous for her first day of second grade at a new school. I wouldn’t force Lana to sleep on the floor when we begin to share my room, even though I have a king-sized bed. I would know Lana would be the one to tickle my back in the middle of the night when I missed Mom so much that everything hurts.
I would recognize what a gift it is to have Dad wash the sand off my toes during getaways at the beach. I wouldn’t be so angry with him for taking us away from Mom. I would know Mom is too stoned to parent.
I would call Dad when I find mom passed out in her closet next to a bottle of spilled pills. I wouldn’t clean them up or place that blanket over her without telling anyone. I would know that everybody needs help.
I wouldn’t wish that Dad, not Mom, was the one to crash the car into a telephone pole.
I wouldn’t think the wrong parent died when they pulled the plug on Mom’s life support.
I would tell Dad I’m confused when my brother tells me he woke up to the sound of Mom’s boyfriend slamming her head into a dresser the night she died. I wouldn’t go mute for six months because I don’t know how to ask Dad, or anyone, about it. I would know there is more to the story of how Mom died.
I would say, “I love you, too” every time Marla says it first. I wouldn’t avert my eyes and run down the driveway when she sends me to the bus stop with a brown-bag lunch and an I Love You. I would know that, starting when I turn twelve, I will write Marla’s wisdoms down in a tiny yellow notebook and store it in my sock drawer.
I would circle ‘yes’ on the ‘will you go out with me?’ note Greg Warren passes to Lana in Mrs. Iraggi’s fifth class. I wouldn’t start the rumor that Lana smells bad when I hear Greg likes her. I would know that when I have my first break-up at sixteen, Lana will build a roaring fire in our backyard for me to burn all of Marc Flynn’s pictures in.
I would listen to Marla when she tells me gently how to be a better daughter to her and a better sister to Lana. I wouldn’t tell her you’re not my mother or I don’t care about you or your kids. I would know how lucky I am to have her.
I would let Dad console me when he tells me Mom’s drug addiction is what really killed her. I wouldn’t lock myself in my room and cry alone. I would know how good a hug from him would feel.
I would kiss Marla’s convex belly when Dad says they are having a baby. I wouldn’t keep so quiet as my eyes fill up with tears and my heart fills up with love. I would know my love for Kate will be so full and abundant that it will spill over onto Dad and Marla and Lana, too.
I would tell Dad, and Marla, and Lana that I love them the second I am ready. I wouldn’t let my pride deprive them of that. I would know that they are the ones lifting me up all this time.
Even though I don’t deserve it.
If I could do it over, I would apologize for not saying it sooner when I finally muster an, “I love you, too.” I wouldn’t be so cavalier about doing it while signing off a family Skype conversation from my college dorm room. I would know that today, eight years later, Marla, Lana, and my father are still the most important people in my life.
At least now they know I know it.