At thirteen years old I started a keepsake box, these are excerpts from some of the letters I’ve received over the years.

“I have never met anyone who is anything like me. I used to think I was the only person who cared so much about writing, about pain, about boys, about losing people. Until I started talking to you. You showed me it’s okay to get lost in your emotions, because you can always find a brand new way to escape. You were the first person I ever did drugs with. The first person I ever left campus with and the only person I have ever let into my life this much. I wanted to say thank you for introducing new ways to escape my nightmares. And you need to know that you were wrong, that people are medicine, but not the kind that cure your sickness. The kind that is dangerous, that messes with your brain and makes you forget where you are. You were my medicine, and you were the best high I’ve ever had.” –Zoie Gasch, 2015.

She handed me this note, folded into four little squares, as she walked out the double doors of our high school, on the day that we knew would be our last day ever seeing each other. She moved to a different state with her mom, had no phone and her parents wouldn’t allow us to have contact because they thought I was a bad influence. I watch her life through snapchat stories now.

“This is the one and only card with this design & color scheme because you are the one and only Helen Forbes. No one could take your place in my life you are the best sister & friend I could imagine. I love you and hope you have an absolute Jolly Christmas. P.S I absolutely wrecked my blue marker for this.” -Corinne Forbes, 2021.

Christmas of 2021 my little sister bought a set of blank cards & stencils to make her own Christmas cards. She actually let me use her supplies & we spent a whole day baking Christmas treats and making custom cards for every family member.

“Basically yesterday we were little kids running around grandmas house, plotting and scheming, avoiding the rest of the family at grandmas classic parties. We were spending the night at your house; walking through the streets at night with uncle Trent, going to Walmart at 2am, staying up forever watching ridiculous horror movies. We were running around Kroger, acting stupid, messing with employees and customers, and laughing our ass off. We were barefoot, walking through the sand by the beach with our family. We were laughing and dancing and not giving a shit what anyone else thought. We were spending the night at my house, staying up late or in the alley, or lying in the grass in the front lawn staring up at the stars. We would dance across Walmart and act stupid and nobody could judge us because nobody else mattered – We were together and we were having a blast and that’s all that mattered. But today we’re apart. You’re starting your freshman year and you’re smart and cute and beautiful and nothing is holding you back. I’m in this goddamn rehab and I’ll be here for while. But I love you. And I miss you and I can’t just not talk to you, so I’m writing you a letter. Some of my best memories of you were at the beach. That’s where I want to be right now. On the beach with you, David and the rest of the family.” –John Prestenberg, 2014.

In 2013 John & his twin brother David were sent to a behavioral correction ranch after they both came out as gay to their extremely religious parents. John stayed at the ranch until 2017, he’s been heavily into drug addiction ever since.

“All of Alexis’s relationship problems remind me of Alex & I already think about him enough this just about makes my day complete. I don’t want to be mean she is like one of my best friends too (You’re better because your there for me and I don’t feel used, but I still care about her.) But like I have my own problems to worry about, a bunch in fact and it’s physically hurting me like for the past week I keep having sharp pains in my mid stomach and chest are engulfed in pain, an awful pain and every time it happens is when I think of Alex but it’s always when I’m alone. And when I hangout with you all the thoughts go away and I’m back to reality. But like sometimes it’s just really bad where even you can’t make me happy.” -Baylee Dalton, 2016

Baylee wrote me this letter in what I’m assuming was her attempt at apologizing for cancelling on me last minute. At the end of the letter she signs off with “I Love You!” Baylee is still my best friend to this day.

A defintion of Sobriety

*Trigger warning*

Sobriety has many different definitions. The Webster dictionary only lists one definition, but everybody knows that a street survey, coordinated by undergrads, is more reliable than the Webster dictionary. I haven’t ever seen a street survey focused on the definition of sobriety but I have in some ways, been taking my own personal survey on sobriety since I was eight years old. 

There were times in my life when a drug test could prove my sobriety, my pee was more trustworthy than my word when it came down to the judgment of my parents. Although I knew, whether it said I passed or failed, I knew I had failed. Coke didn’t show up on tests as long as it had been a week, my extreme abuse of random prescription drugs or OTC pills wouldn’t show up on their silly little pee sticks. In some way it made me feel more justified, them trying to prove I abused drugs & me, being so good at hiding it. 

Sophomore year of high school I was becoming more & more confident, hiding inside my sobriety shadow. Nobody ever suspected I did drugs, they thought I was weird, or lazy. But not someone who was taking opiates and prescription pain pills daily. During first period one day the teacher stepped out of the class and the 12 Triple C’s I had for breakfast were starting to dissolve in my stomach acid. I had been glaring down our tiny classroom trash can for what felt like hours. I finally had the courage, or maybe the lack of self awareness, to crawl and sit at the trash can. With my legs wrapped around it I started to throw up. The classmate sitting at his desk next to me was one of the few people to notice. He helped tie up my hair & brought me some napkins along with a water bottle. I don’t know if I was conscious enough to thank him but I hope I was. When the teacher came back I had already dragged myself back to my seat and was laying my head down. Before he dismissed the class he made a point to ask me if I was okay. My eyes bloodshot, face pale as snow  and shaking, I replied with some lame excuse about having a bad breakfast. I could tell he didn’t believe me, but that teacher liked me & I knew I had gotten away with it. 

Junior year started off strong, I was determined to be sober, get good grades and prove my parents wrong. I don’t remember what happened, but one day I was home alone getting ready to take a bath, looking under my parents sink when I found my dads black bag. This bag was infamous & the whole family knew exactly what was in it. All his prescription pain medicine from when his back was broken. Including some pills that were prescribed to many other family members. Without even opening the bag I squealed with excitement, My whole week had just changed. I ditched the bath and spent the rest of my night researching every single pill I found in that bag. I planned which days I would take certain ones & lined up the perfect high for my schedule. A days I had English & history so those were the days I could take the stronger pills. B days I had Math & Science, I reserved the pills I wasn’t sure about for B days. Of course I couldn’t be high at home, because that would blow my cover & not only would I be in trouble but I would have to acknowledge I was doing the wrong thing, & that was almost worse. 

It was a B day & I took this pill that fell into a weird drug class, it was an anti anxiety pill as well as an anti nausea medicine. In my mind I thought that made it safe to take without any food. I went about four hours on an empty stomach feeling a slight effect, like I was stoned without being tired. As soon as I walked into the cafeteria I was starving, but my legs started to feel weak & the thought of standing in a lunch line was making me feel sick. I grabbed a bag of hot Cheetos from the vending machine and ate the whole bag in less than 2 minutes. For a while I felt better, renewed, like I could go to class, take a nap & before I knew it the school day would be over. I slept through about 30 minutes of my human development class when the teacher decided we would change the seating chart. She asked everybody to grab their belongings and line up against the wall. Standing there my legs started to shake beneath me, I thought I was going to fall over but before I did, I had to throw up. My eyes darted across the room, as the teacher rambled on. A specialized water bottle with somebody’s initials monogrammed on it, stared back at me. I lunged for the water bottle and threw up the perfect amount to be able to put the lid back on. Nobody saw, not even the girl whose water bottle it was. I waited till the teacher was done talking & raised my hand. “Um I threw up” I said, holding out the water bottle with red & clear chunks. I’ve blocked out the majority of what happens next. I remember crying in the nurse’s office & I didn’t know why I was crying but I couldn’t stop. My mom came to pick me up & we rode home in silence. I sat down on the couch & she asked if I was okay, if I knew why I threw up & if I needed anything. I think all her questions overwhelmed me because all I could say was “No” before bursting into sobs. She sat next to me & held my head in her lap while I sobbed until I fell asleep. When she tried to leave me to pick up my sister I cried begging her to not leave me alone. Once we arrived at the school I opened the car door to throw up one more time. When I sat back & used my sleeve to wipe off my mouth, my mother & I looked at each other & laughed. 

After that day, I thought there’s no way my mom can think I’m sober. Maybe her definition of sober is different. 

Making Room for the new

I don’t understand love at all. I was probably two the first time I was able to link the word love with the feeling produced by only close family members. Then around five years old I started making friends and understanding love in a different way, at eighteen I felt love in an even more new way than before, it was fast and felt never ending at the same time. Now that I’m twenty I feel as if I have lost all understanding of the word love. How can it be so different for everybody and in every different relationship? How do you develop the people you love in your mind? I have trouble continuing someone’s story after deciding I love them, even with family my capacity for their development is smaller once I have let them in my heart. It’s the same fear of change that I carry for myself, I don’t ever want to move on from what is now, and what will eventually become the past. I never feel ready for the future so I tend to linger in the oldest identification of everyone around me. unfortunately everyone is changing and I am feeling left behind, not because I haven’t accepted my future self but because I don’t want to leave behind what we used to be. I’m sitting on the toilet right now trying to decide how to make room, where can I fit the identity of my new mom, dad, sister and boyfriend? How can I forget everything while still taking on new information?

I’m the middle child

I’m the sister who makes the whole family walk around the neighborhood five times because it’s good for your soul, I’m the sister who drinks hot tea every night and leaves dark stains on the white counter, I’m the sister who stays up till 4am making everyone breakfast then sleeps in till 7 making everyone late to school, I’m the sister who ignores my chores so I can write three page long letters to the brother who is moving out, I’m the sister who cleans your room but misplaces your favorite shirt, the sister who always talks about all the dreams that nobody thinks will come true. I’m the sister who gets in trouble for staying out too late walking around the neighborhood six times, I’m the sister who gets in trouble for leaving dark stains on the white counter, the one who gets in trouble for making everyone late to school, for ignoring her chores, and loosing your favorite shirt, I’m the sister with all the dreams that will come true.

The simplicity of pooh

My parents were the organized working type of hippies when I was younger. I’d throw fits and instead of first spanking me or locking me in my room they would sit me in a corner and give me three heavy metal balls with little bells inside that would jingle when they moved. I was to sit there and roll them in my hands and think about what made me upset. Of course when you’re seven years old and sitting in a corner with three balls you don’t appreciate the comfort the walls provide, and the jingle of the three beautiful spheres. Instead you throw them at what made you angry and then you get a spanking.

I was never allowed to watch caillou and I hated barney and every other show seemed a little too old for me at the time and since the barbie show wasn’t yet a thing I would make people read me books all the way until I was old enough to read my own. Both me and my younger sister loved Winnie the pooh. I always wanted to be pooh or maybe Christopher robin because everybody loved both of them and it was hard for me to find any flaws in either one. Tigger was cool but rabbit was always trying to get rid of him and I didn’t want rabbit to not like me cause I thought bunnies were pretty cute. Piglet was too anxious, sure he had fun but only cause pooh allowed him to tag along on all the adventures, and owl was too smart I didn’t want to give my self that much credit, roo didn’t seem to be as important as everybody else and I never wanted to be less than important,  and Eeyore was funny but too sad. And in my house if you’re sad you got the three jingly balls and the beautiful life book which were not something I wanted.

So I was pooh. I related to him and tried to attain his simple mindedness and good ideas. But the other day I read a story from Winnie the pooh a familiar one, my favorite one in fact. In this story roo and tigger are walking past a large amount of pine trees and tigger is talking about all the things tiggers can do. When roo asks if he can swim cause roo fell in the river one day and he can swim. Of course tigger says “yes I can swim better than any roo.” Then roo asks if tigger can climb a tree and tigger says “yes I can climb a tree.” That’s when Tigger and roo get stuck in the tree and everyone comes over to save them. After tigger falls out of the tree crushing everyone below him and everyone below him crushing Eeyore, tigger says “Of course you won’t find me doing anything like that again.” then when he’s asked where he’s going next he replies “Roo and I are going swimming.”

Tigger doesn’t know his limitations, he thinks a lot about what he can do and not what he can’t. Since he has yet to try doing everything then he doesn’t know he can’t do everything. As much as poo was loved for his simplicity, in my eyes tigger is loved for being much more than simple. Even though I always wanted to be pooh I never was. I was always tigger, loving pooh for his simplicity and being loved for my lack of simplicity. Because who knows, maybe I too can fly just as high as a bird.

Everything but wanted

Everyday I try to understand my self more and more, but I never have understood my complete lack of trust for people who care about me and the doors to my mind that I leave open for people who question whether I’m even worth their time.

It’ll begin with my father who begs for an explanation. He’ll start off with the synonyms of why. “Why didn’t you tell me you had your first kiss? How come you never said you had a boy friend? How did this boy get up in your room at 2 am? Where are your clothes? Explain to me why you don’t own any longer shorts? What are you thinking? How did this happen?” But I never did care, none of it ever bothered me. They’re just boys, I would tell my self over and over again. But as I got older and I found myself wondering why nobody loved me, why nobody wanted me. I would run through the synonyms of why putting every question under the same category ‘Why?’ even if it was never why or how come but just a riddle or a question. To me, it was still ‘why’ it was always ‘why’. Because why was it even a question I can’t be the only one whose bed is too big for one person I can’t be the only one who gets tired of hugging them selves.

I found the answer, deep in the blue eyes of a boy down the street who would bring me what I wanted when I wanted and I found the answer in between my legs, I found the answer in his name under the sheets. But after, I wouldn’t ask myself why because I had the answer laying right beside me. Every night I would tell the moon I did it, I found the answer and he found me and I’m going to be okay.

But when the answer turned into a question, when the answer became unreliable, when the answer told me I wasn’t worth his time he told me he was in love but her name started with a C and that’s funny I thought because my name doesn’t start with a C. So I started asking the moon “How come I thought I had found the answer why did you let him come in my room if you knew I wasn’t the question he was looking for.” But it never made sense because my unfinished metaphors never made any sense to anybody but me.

So I was back to the beginning, running through the synonyms of ‘why’. I convinced my self it was okay I could clean my room, I could stop crying, I deserved better. But it never ends that way, not with me because I’m not any other letter of the alphabet I am who I am and I always know I can fix things I’ll make him fall in love with me eventually, it’ll happen. The night he told me he didn’t love C anymore was the same night we joked about how one day I’ll see him on the big screen and I’ll remember that guy as a good friend of mine.

That’s when I realized, you can’t fix everything. You can’t change people and you can’t avoid the unavoidable. No matter how many words you count the amount you say will never be enough to change her mind, because the plants that bring her to a state of euphoria you have never reached, will never leave her taste buds or escape her sight despite the tears she cries at night. His hands will never touch your heart no matter how many times they’ve skimmed the surface and taken your breathe away you will stay the same to him, just a figure moving in the dark drifting further into his past so he can continue his future without you.

Don’t get caught up in other people, you have enough to worry about and very few chances.

Waking up at 2am

I thought I knew people, I thought I knew what I was doing, but I don’t because your haunting my nightmares.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry you were so stuck up. I’m sorry I loved you so much, I trusted too much. I put too much weight on your shoulders. I carried around so many of your problems as you did mine and now I have no idea what to do with the baggage you left me. What am I supposed to do with these shorts you left at my house? I can’t just leave them in this drawer I keep opening it on accident, god please. Your mom called and I couldn’t speak to her, I just kept apologizing. I don’t know what I did or how this is my fault but I need you can that be a good enough reason for you to be alive right now? Nothing feels right, this isn’t my life I can’t sleep because I found a brown curly hair on the pillow beside me and I’m pretty sure its yours, and I want to take these lights down because you helped me put them up and, why did you burn a q tip and leave it in the gutter on my roof right outside my window because it doesn’t belong but I can’t throw it away and why were there roses on your casket cause you know there’s a rose in my room, please leave me alone. I love you too much.”

and I wake up thinking I know people, people don’t die like they do in dreams. But I’m terrified cause I loose too much and nobody deserves to be a nightmare.

Something more than nothing

All I ever wanted to be was important, meaningful, significant, different.The kind of person nobody could read, the main character of the story. The kind of person who could ramble on and on without having their thoughts interrupted. I wanted to be as courageous as Junie B. Jones, moody as Judy moody, to have a friendship like Calvin and Hobbes. I yearned to be someone important.

We all want to be more than what we are. When I was younger I would stare up at the stars and beg to one day be equivalent to all the specs of glitter that littered the night sky. I didn’t want to be a star, no I wanted to be more than that. I wanted all of my memories, experiences, thoughts and ideas, I wanted every single one to equal up to the amount of stars that you could only find late at night on my uncles farm. But as I built them up, one by one tossing them into the sky hoping they find their way, I realized none of it was worth it. I didn’t want to be as courageous as Junie B Jones, when I realized how much trouble she was always getting into. I didn’t want to be as moody as Judy moody when I realized how stressed she always was, and Calvin and Hobbes friendship was nothing more than an imagination.

As I got older, braver, and more intelligent I found myself begging to just be something more than nothing. For months that’s all I wanted. A life, no. A story. But recently I realized something; I’ve always been something more than nothing, I’ve always been as courageous as I could be, as moody as needed, and my friendships have been more amazing than I could ever imagine. I’ve always been Helen Forbes. The tall girl with an ever changing smile, the confident, loud, beautiful girl, that not every one loved but it’s okay because she loves herself. I love my self. I will always be something more than nothing.

Bad things come in three

Mentally I’m sometime okay and I’m sometimes not and that’s okay. Physically I most always feel not okay but sometimes I’m almost sure I could be a model

Every since he’s moved in my stress level has increased. How can I possibly relate to someone who has both parents in prison. It was a mistake, I keep telling myself he’s not supposed to be here, it’s not his fault. He asks me “where are my jeans?” “I’m hungry could you make me something to eat?” “Helen, could you go on a walk with me?” and late on Sunday nights after he’s visits his parents The questions cease for a day. But around one am I can hear him in the other room crying his mothers name over and over again. I want to ignore his problems, handle mine then help him. But I can’t help it. I do his laundry, make his lunch, and go on long quiet walks with him. And Monday morning when I come to school with bags under my eyes and a slump in my walk, nobody will understand what it’s like to live with my nine year old cousin.

I’m upset that you’r gone, tired of holding in my emotions and regretting not helping you. I wish I would have said something, came up with a plan. Helped you in some way, because knowing that now you are gone locked up in rehab I feel guilty for missing you. Maybe I’m over dramatic, maybe the mother like responsibilities that my little cousin hangs over my head are finally getting to me. Maybe I’m just sad that you still don’t know how I feel. But how can I move on when you aren’t here to reassure me that my hair looks okay today and my braces are cute and not to worry because things are going to get better. 

Self loathing. My body is like a building and my soul is the tiny people running around ringing phones and burning old files. My soul can be stable and quiet, all the little people sitting at their desks filling memory’s and remind me of my responsibilities and when everything is good on this inside most everything is good on the outside. But when I’m walking the halls or called up Infront of the class and dragged to my parents party’s, my little people go wild pressing every nerve and sending signals in all different places at all different times. They call that anxiety. And when I see him, with his green eyes and soft hands, the little people inside me get happy and jittery and quiet. And when I see him my soul screams from the inside out catching fire to every memory he gave me. They call this feelings. But lately, the mirror hasn’t agreed with me, I haven’t felt like a model or a princess and beautiful is a word my ears long to hear again from the little people inside of me. They call this self loathing and for me it’s a new type of torture. 

When bad things come in threes, try to remember that good things come in fives.