Dark

unable to do anything to make it stop

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Sometimes I have very dark days. The kind of darkness that just swallows you up, leaving nothing but ash in its wake. Where no amount of tears seems to do justice for what I feel. On those days, I forget such an important thing. I am a survivor; of so, so many things. I know that many people have had life much worse than I, but it does not dull the sharp edge of the blade that’s been slicing it’s way through my life since I was born.

I survived a house fire that killed my little brother and sent my mother to prison and house arrest, while I surfed foster homes for a year, not knowing if I would see my mom each visitation day and simultaneously grieving my brother. Let’s not even get into surviving the abuse I endured in one of those homes, at just 4 years old. I survived the years upon years of therapy I went through to try and cope with everything that had happened. And among the therapy, splatters of more trauma in the abuse of a boy who lived on my street and the hammer thrown at my head by another boy in my school. I watched in horror as the mother of my best friend slapped her across her face for no reason at all when she was only 10, learning way too young that sometimes violence happens for no reason as I watched my best friend sob after her mom left the car.

I moved homes and schools more times than I can remember, so much so that when I finally remained in a school for more than a year, I didn’t know how to make friends or keep friendships. I’d never had the chance for long. I waded my way through teenage waters, scarring my arm along the way. I endured the rage of other emotional and furious teenagers also wading through the murky waves. I lost friends, but so did everyone else. I found a few solid lights among the mist. They still shine. They shined one of their brightest moments when a classmate took to sending me death threats daily, spreading vicious rumors, attempting to run my boyfriend off the road, and sparking one hell of a screaming match in the middle of lunch one afternoon.

I was raped, more than once. I told my mother years later, and she said everything finally made sense.

She got sick, and never got better. I watched her memory fade and her world spin, unable to do anything to make it stop.

I crashed, and life was turned upside down. I uprooted my life and ran, straight into the arms of another abuser. Nearly losing everything, he made me push away my family, friends, and even strangers who tried to reach out. I couldn’t even speak to another guy in a class without facing the next 8 hours of fighting. The court system failed me, shown by the rage in those who saw the mistake made.

I lost my grandmother who had raised me for a large part of my life, and shed many tears.

And 2 months later, my mom died as well. I turned my wheel slightly to the left as I briefly considered driving myself into a tree as I rounded the bridge on my way to my parents’ house, overtaken by the deepest pain I’ve ever felt. I survived, with help. A lot of it.

My dreams of finishing college were ripped from underneath me due to my financial aid cap being reached. I did a lot of crying that month. I had to find a way to take a different path, and soon realized there was no set path for me, only the trail I chose to follow.

Since then, I’ve been surviving and will continue to survive through severe anxiety and depression. It took a long time for me to accept that this is what I am dealing with, because I convinced myself that surely I didn’t have either of those things. I thought it was all in my head. Reinforced by years of being told by others that nothing was wrong with me, I was just over dramatic.

So on my dark days, I force myself to remember the things I’ve endured, and I encourage anyone who has their own trauma and pain to remember what they have also endured.

Keep surviving.

Mema

I didn’t want to listen to it, because then it would be real.

I was talking with one of my best friends a few months ago about the losses I have endured and the pain that came along with them. One loss in particular was so monumental that I have yet to write about it like I have written about my mom and my brother. The loss I’m talking about is that of my grandmother, my Mema.

She and I did not always see eye-to-eye, because as I got older I pulled away from religion and Christianity, which was a core aspect in her life. She was a churchgoer, a lover of all things Jesus. I was heavily into religion growing up until I was around 13 years old. I’m talking singing at church, going to bible study, attending vacation bible school every year, and even going to a large camp-style event in North Carolina one year. I knew my bible better than most Christians, but it didn’t change the route I chose to take. Now, I’m not going to bash religion in this, but me going a different route in life in terms of religion put a small strain on our relationship. I wish sometimes that she had been able to understand where I was coming from, but I know she was from a much older generation, and it was hard for her to see things a different way.

Despite my issues with religion, I listened to her every time I visited. She would tell me that Jesus loved me, that I needed to return to Christianity, so on and so forth, and even though it bothered me, I still listened. Because at the end of the day, it mattered to her, and I knew I wasn’t going to have her forever.

Everyone in my family knew that her time was going to come sooner rather than later. My husband and I were told we could stay in her house and keep it up for her return, and if she didn’t return, we could continue to stay there. We both talked to her about her house every time we saw her, so she would know it was still okay. We told her about how we kept it as clean as 2 college students could, and she approved any changes we made before we made them.

When the day came that she was in the hospital for the final time, my mom told me she would only have a few days left. I had to make a decision. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life: whether or not to go see her before she was gone.

I talked in great length with my mom about my Mema’s condition; about how she couldn’t recognize anyone hardly and was struggling to remember people. After a long time of thinking and talking about it, I decided not to go see her. It’s been years since then, and I still stand by my decision to not see her.

How could I possibly go see her in such a condition, where this amazing woman, whom I counted as a second parent, would not remember who I was? This woman, who had walked along the old railroad tracks in town with me countless times growing up; who took me out for ice cream every day after school during elementary and middle school; who stayed up with me many nights to watch America’s Funniest Home Videos; who gave me countless talks about my future and to not let any boy run it; who raised me in a way that I knew how to be a strong and independent person. I could not face a moment of her looking me in the eyes and not knowing who I was.

I am glad that the last time I saw her in person, she was doing well. We talked, and I sat by her bedside with my hand on hers. I remember how soft her skin was, and that she was still wearing her perfume. To this day, I know that perfume any time I smell it on someone or out somewhere. It instantly brings tears to my eyes, just as Phil Collins’ song “You’ll Be In My Heart” reminds me of my mom every time I hear it.

I wish I could relive that day.

I went to bed one October night, and when I woke the next morning, I had a voicemail from my mom. I sat in bed, staring at my phone until my husband woke up and noticed. He asked me what I was doing, and I told him I had a voicemail from my mom and that I knew what it was. That I didn’t want to listen to it, because then it would be real.

She died on the 17th anniversary of my brothers’ death. Now every year, when October 20th rolls by, I grieve them both.

Her visitation was one I dreaded. I knew there would be people there who didn’t really care about her, because they hadn’t visited her or talked to her in years. They were there for their 30 seconds of attention, and I accepted that before I went in. I had a few true friends by my side that night and I am still thankful for that today.

Her casket was closed, and was a beautiful baby blue. My mom told me I could shoo everyone out and visit with her alone, but I never did. I didn’t look at her or my mom when they were in their baby blue caskets, the same color that spread across my brothers’ picket fence surrounding his grave years ago. I held it together the entire night, until close to the end.

When everyone started trickling out, I took my moment to say goodbye.

I laid my hand on her casket, thinking about who was inside. I cried, and my mom noticed. My mom knew me so well, she asked everyone to just leave me alone. It was exactly what I needed.

I went to her funeral, and gritted my teeth through it. I listened to my mom cry her heart out, I listened to the preacher preach, I hugged those who wanted to be hugged. Afterwards, my husband and I picked up food from the seafood restaurant in town, and spent some time at my parents’ house. Then I went home, to face the inevitable.

Just driving into the yard, her yard, knowing she’d never be sitting on that front porch in her rocking chair ever again made my chest feel like it was imploding. I cried a lot after she died, and then when my mom died 2 months later, I felt like it was the end of the world. I’d lost 2 of the most important people in my life in such a short time span, it just didn’t seem fair.

A few months after they were both gone, it was time to start cleaning. The house was going into my name due to my Mema leaving it to my mom in her will. Because my mom died so soon after my grandma, it automatically went to my dad, who transferred it to me. He knew I would use it more than him, and he wanted to give me this one thing to help. I am eternally grateful, because spending those years in her house gave my husband and I the time we needed to get our lives truly started.

I spent weeks going through what everyone called the “junk room”. Furniture, clothes, old recipes stored everywhere. The room was so full that you could hardly walk inside. I saved the pictures, the recipes, the poetry. My Mema was a writer, just like I am. It’s a connection I’ll always have to her, just mine alone. There was a lot of crying, as you can imagine. But eventually, things were donated and things were stored. I climbed my way out of the worst of the grief, and entered a never-ending plateau.

It’s been over 4 years since she died, and I do not visit her grave. To me, she isn’t there. She lives on in the smell of freshly baked biscuits. She lives on in the stones we picked out and hid under the railroad bridge. She lives on in the cool, calming breeze that flies throughout that small southern town every morning. She lives on in my memories, in my heart.

Forever shall she be.

Bad Dream

I was finally able to pull that rusted knife out from between my shoulder blades and toss it aside.

Hello, again.

I know I’m not the only person out there that has loved and lost. No, this isn’t about romantic love, but friendship. So many people think that romantic heartbreak is the only true heartbreak that can break a person down, but I can say without a doubt that losing a friend can hurt just as much.

When I was just in elementary school, my best friend suddenly stopped talking to me one day with no explanation. Little did I know, this was going to happen more than once in my life. I guess this first instance was a way of preparation. In this case, it was because of my mom and the fire. Her parents suddenly didn’t want her associated with my family, because despite the fact my mom had been proven innocent, people like them still existed (and do still) who believed she was guilty.

In high school, casualties of friendship surpassed the typical teenage drama we all hear about. Throughout my 4 years, I was told to kill myself a ridiculous amount of times; I was harassed, mostly by boys who were angry I wouldn’t give myself up to them and girls who thought they knew everything about me. Rumors spread about body parts that those boys hadn’t even seen or touched because I knew better. And when the day did come that I trusted someone enough to have sex with them, as soon as that relationship ended, they spread disgusting rumors out of anger. More than once, girls I thought were my friends listened to those rumors and did nothing to defend me. Instead, they carved their names on my heart with the knife they buried in my back.

I spent hours upon hours every night sitting outside my house in high school, wondering if my life was ever going to change. I would take extremely long walks alone, getting used to the solitude. But no one knew the extent of what I was dealing with, because no one tried to find out.

When the day came that an ex raised his hand to hit me in front of the whole school, I realized the truth. The truth further pounded into my brain when a boy flipped my books over on top of me in the middle of lunch, and only one true friend stood up and nearly fought him because of it. I realized I was mostly on my own, and I was just going to have to accept that.

The problem with that realization is that I have always trusted too hard, too fast. I bond quickly with people I meet, and I let them in when I should know better. I forgave lies and betrayals repeatedly throughout high school, and actually seemed surprised when they would slash their way through me once again. For a couple of years, I even cut my wrist just to see a physical representation of the pain I was feeling internally. If I noticed someone had also been cutting, instead of reacting with disgust or horror, I just understood. We were all in a silent club.

When I left high school, I made it a point to go to a college where barely anyone I knew would be going. I wanted to close that chapter of my life. The chapter where cops were called to intervene on the harassment being done against me my senior year. Where a girl told me during my freshman year that she would kill me the next time she saw me because I told the truth about her stealing someone else’s property then trying to blame it on my friend. Where my own principal knew how terribly I was being treated that he let me pick what day I stayed home instead of suspending me for a week when an ex stalked me all evening, unsurprisingly ending in a fight. Where the day I picked was because yet another person who wanted me dead spent the morning making horrible remarks about me to my face and I just couldn’t take it anymore. Where people would send me text after text telling me that no one would miss me if I were gone. I wanted to slam that chapter closed and burn all of the pages.

I thought that going to college would be better. It was, but not by much.

I forged friendships that resulted in nothing but pain. Invested years of my life into these people who were supposed to be there for me, expected me to be there for them, but really weren’t.

Even after leaving college, it continued. People angry I couldn’t hang out every week, people angry I had an annuity in my name from my brother dying in a fire and being in foster care for a year, people angry I got a new car, people angry I was getting married, people angry when I was sad. I was called selfish every time, as if working towards my own happiness was something I should be ashamed of. I could only stretch myself so far.

I lost friends when my mom died. Yes, you read that right. People who couldn’t handle my sad status updates and anger episodes. To them, I say sorry that their lives were so filled with joy that it was offensive to them for me to talk about my dead mother. It must have been so hard to read my posts about missing her.

And so the long list of betrayals continued. Hacking away at my willingness to seek friendship. At 25 years old, I’ve reached a point where if someone doesn’t make an active effort to be a true friend to me, I stop trying. When you’ve suffered as much pain as I have from people you cared about, you get tired of it.

To say that I am fed up and angry is an understatement. I can count the people on one hand who truly know the emotional damage I have been dealing with my entire life. To those people, I say I love and thank you. For you have been the only ones to show me that it’s not always pain. That people don’t always hurt you, even though it happens more often than not.

I did manage to mold a true relationship with a few people in my years so far, but with my track record, I don’t think I would be all that surprised if something happened to damage those few too. I remember moments in my life where I thought I was just caught in a bad dream, and surely I was going to wake up soon and have friends who wanted to help me by my side. I slumbered on through middle school, high school, and college.

It wasn’t until meeting my husband that I awakened. Despite all of the horror that had been my life, he was the ray of sunlight shining on my face in early morning, forcing me to open my eyes and smile. Truly, smile. He is what kept me going those first couple of years after my mom died. He made me eat, he made me get out of bed, he helped me laugh. And he still does.

I am thankful to have the few people in my life now that I know do truly care. I worked hard, for a very long time, to get to this point of happiness in my life surrounded by those select few that I trust. These people don’t need to be named-they know who they are.

If someone had told my 16 year old self that I would be this happy today, I wouldn’t have believed them. I was finally able to pull that rusted knife out from between my shoulder blades and toss it aside.

Fire Dot Com-The Joshua Hinson Fire

On October 20, 1996, his heart stopped beating. There were no more first words, no more first steps, no more first anything’s. His entire future went up in smoke, literally.

On May 10, 1995, Joshua Cade Hinson was brought into the world. I do not have many memories of him. I am now 25 years old, and there was once a time when I could remember his face and his voice, but those memories have faded after all this time.

On October 20, 1996, his heart stopped beating. There were no more first words, no more first steps, no more first anything’s. His entire future went up in smoke, literally.

Most people following this blog know me as Brittany Zedalis, because I got married to Michael Zedalis in 2012 and have avoided using my maiden name as much as possible due to not wanting to be associated with the Hinson family. But my maiden name was Brittany Denise Hinson, and as much as I hate it, I’ll always have Hinson blood in my veins.

So yes, I am the same Brittany Hinson that was in the very well known house fire in Tabor City, NC, that fateful night. I was 4 years old at the time. I have very few memories from before the fire. I remember running through our kitchen with a box of cereal in my hand early one morning. I remember the bright blue baby swing that we had hanging in our backyard for Josh. I remember our staircase, and how there was an aquarium sitting next to it for a long time. I remember my first fireworks; being woken up in the evening and carried to the car to go see them. The only memory I have of Josh is of the look on his face as he sat in his stroller and saw fireworks for the first time.

My memories pre-fire end there.

I don’t remember the days or weeks following the fire. I know that I was found inside the house and was airlifted to a hospital. I know I woke up on the flight there and they had to stick me with something to knock me back out until we arrived.

I’ve had a deep love for art and imagination for as long as I can remember, and it started with my recovery after the fire. Growing up, I was told by a few close individuals that I woke up in the hospital and knew Josh was dead. That I spouted out a whole story about Jesus, Heaven, and all that. It wasn’t until my mom died in 2013 and I found a folder full of my medical records that I realized none of that was true, and that was something that will always bother me.

The truth is that I didn’t know Josh was dead when I woke up. I didn’t speak for weeks after I woke up. I wouldn’t talk. No one told me that he had died for a long time because of all of the trauma I had already endured. One of my lungs had partially collapsed, which I also didn’t know until finding my medical records. The doctors wanted to focus on me recovering.

There was a children’s play room in the hospital. A big one. It was there that my love for art and imagination was born. I communicated with everyone through art, and I think in that process, art became a part of my soul. I became severely attached to that room, not wanting to leave it for anything.

I don’t remember being taken from my mom initially. I just remember that after my time in the hospital, I was living with my Mema, Bernice Prince. I remember my visits with my mom. I didn’t understand what was going on by that time. I knew my brother was dead, my home was gone, and that I wasn’t allowed to be with the one person I needed the most-my mom. There was one visit in particular that was most traumatizing. All I wanted was to stay with my mom, and the social workers practically dragged me to their car. I screamed and cried, was covered in snot, and still they would not let my 4 year old self stay with my mom. There is no room in my heart for forgiveness for anyone involved in keeping me from her that very long year.

I was then taken from my grandma, because she had suddenly gotten very sick. When I was older, I learned she had had a stroke. Funny how I lived with her for many years later on just fine, but somehow the courts thought she couldn’t handle taking care of me at the time and stuck me with strangers multiple times.

It was my time in foster care that is seared into my brain and I’ll never forget it.

I was in a few homes, but there was one that shouldn’t have been allowed to take care of me, or any children for that matter.

I remember there were multiple children living in the house, but they were all teenagers and were the family of the mother “caring” for me. I say “caring” because what they did was not caring at all. I was forced to take baths with literal ice in the tub. I was made to sleep on the top bunk of a set of bunk beds, and repeatedly fell off in the night. They didn’t care. One of the older boys sat me down one day and forced 5 or 6 jalapeño peppers into my mouth at once. It wasn’t until a year ago that I could finally handle eating spicy things again. They stuck my pampers on my head. They put me on a trampoline and took away the ladder so I was stuck there for hours, crying. They were abusive, and no one ever believed me or punished them. I can only hope that karma reached them one day.

The last home I was in was with my aunt. I remember she had adorable pug puppies, and I got chicken pox during my stay from the neighbor’s boys. Hey, at least I can’t get them now.

I remember many of my visits with my mom during that year. I remember playing with my puppy at her house, building things from play-doh, my Sailor Moon pillow on her couch, her final hugs before I was always ripped away.

I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be with my mom. I have no doubt that me being ripped away from her was why my mom never recovered from the fire or the loss of Josh. I was her rock, and she was mine, and there was a cavern forced between us.

So many people were determined to prove that she was guilty. It was a small town surrounded by other small towns, and everyone was eager to point fingers at a Hinson girl. They were/are vile, disgusting, horrible people.

I remember a lawyer trying to prove that I could have started the fire by playing with a lighter, and I remember proving him utterly wrong the day he held a lighter out to me in his hand, trying to get me to take it, and I refused because I knew lighters were dangerous. Moron.

The day all charges were finally dropped against my mom, she fought as hard as she could to take me back. She called the elementary school I was attending and let them know she was on her way. Everyone in the school knew, except me. When she arrived, I was on the playground. Students and teachers inside went to the windows to watch. Someone snapped a picture the moment I saw her. I ran to her, she ran to me, our arms outstretched, and I was finally with my mom again. As I should have been the entire time.

For the rest of my mom’s life, she was haunted by the fire. She was haunted by my brother’s last words, “mama, mama, mama”. She was haunted by the townspeople who are still determined to this day that she set the fire on purpose, despite Dr. Hurst proving that it was started by exposed wiring in the attic and water damage.

We didn’t talk about Josh a lot. I was more open about him than my mom, understandably. Because anytime she tried to talk about him, her heart broke. I remember a horrific afternoon in 2010 when I first truly saw her heartbreak over the loss of her baby boy. Her and my dad were sorting through old boxes, and she found one with something inside that she didn’t realize was there-his hair from his first haircut. My mom lost it. She absolutely lost it. She screamed and wailed that she wanted her little boy back. I had to go outside because it was so horrible. I’ll never, ever forget it.

No one ever wanted her to move on. No one ever wanted her to go a day without feeling the pain. Her own family held a grudge because of how much notoriety she and I both received around the country. My own cousin hated me because I received so many clothes and toys that Christmas. I guess they forgot that my brother died. Or maybe they didn’t care. Or both.

A man decided to write a horrible, lie-filled book on the fire and my mom. He interviewed people who barely knew my mom, and they said plenty of hateful things that weren’t true in order to try and garner themselves 15 minutes of fame. Thankfully, it was all buried and gone. Probably because none of it was true. But I remember my mom throwing a kitchen chair across the room the day she found out about the book, because it seemed as though no one would let her live her life.

A show known as Forensic Files made an episode called Fire Dot Com. It was about the fire, the case, and my mom being proven innocent. The entire point of the episode was to be an example for how sometimes, the law gets it wrong and the subject is innocent. That episode is now on Netflix, Hulu, and all over YouTube. It went up shortly after my mom died, and I am glad she wasn’t alive when it resurfaced. Why? Because although there have been plenty of kind words from commenter’s and viewers, there have been a ton of hateful responses as well. People who didn’t know her, people who didn’t watch the episode all the way through, people too stupid to comprehend what the episode was saying, people focusing on my sibling’s adoptions.

I have 3 half siblings, 2 brothers and a sister. They are much older than me and were adopted out before I was born. I was told one story for their adoption, they were told another. I don’t know why Forensic Files decided to mention their adoptions in the episode, because it had absolutely nothing to do with the fire. They must have just wanted to add more drama, and they succeeded. I go onto those YouTube videos once a week to read through any new comments and stand up for my mom when I can because she’s no longer here to do it herself.

I’ve been in contact with all 3 of my siblings for years, even though I don’t always get along with them. 2 of them even lived with my mom and I off and on over the years. So despite what other people believe, my mom loved ALL of her children. Even when it hurt.

Tomorrow marks 21 years since the fire. I still cannot believe it’s been so long. I don’t know why I decided to write this today. It feels cathartic, so I’m glad I did. I know that people search for me online because of the Fire Dot Com episode, so perhaps they will find this and it will answer some of their questions. In the years since the episode resurfaced, I have been contacted on Facebook and email by people who were deeply moved by my story.

At the end of the day, mine and my mom’s lives were permanently changed the day of the fire. I grew up fast, forced to process my trauma alone after being taken from her. I went through counseling for years to come to terms with everything. 21 years later, I think I’m doing pretty well. But my mom was never the same. She went to her grave knowing the world had formed an unfair opinion on her, and she was never allowed to be truly happy again. I can’t find it in my heart to forgive everyone involved, because they did irreparable damage to my best friend and they tainted the memory of my little brother.

When the time comes, my daughter will know everything that happened. She’ll know about the grandma that would have showered her with love and the uncle she never got to meet. She’ll know how strong her mother is and the trials she faced and conquered. She’ll know of the officials who put their own desires for money and a quick-close case above the safety of my mom and myself.

Every time I look at my little girl, I see a little bit of Josh in her. Sometimes it’s her smile, sometimes it’s her laugh. But despite being ripped from the world far too young, he still lives on in her and in myself. I can only hope I serve his memory justice.

In Memory Of..

Fire Dot Com-The Episode

In My Heart

sometimes grief doesn’t make sense

In just a few months, it will have been 4 years since my mom unexpectedly died.

She had been sick for a very, very long time. She was sick with so many different things, that frankly I’m surprised she held on for so long. A hysterectomy gone wrong caused her non-stop pain for years until she died. A rare brain tumor that made its presence known in 2010 onward caused severe vertigo, memory loss, and confusion. She had mini heart attacks that made her heart weak. A not-well-known type of tuberculosis caused weight loss and she was unable to keep anything down.

By the end, I could barely recognize her as the woman who raised me.

She was skin and bones, but I had grown used to it by those final years. When people visited that hadn’t seen her in a long time and were shocked by her appearance, it always surprised me. I remember a girl who was like my sister, who had lived with us for a few years in high school, visited one evening in that last year. It was the first time she’d seen my mom in a long time. My mom was talking on the couch about different things, and I looked next to me and saw that my friend was crying and trying to hide it. She was shocked by how different my mom looked.

I had to remind myself that these people hadn’t seen her every day; they didn’t see it happen like I did.

They didn’t get phone calls from her at all hours of the night where she was confused and thought someone had called her. They didn’t get random text messages full of scribble and nonsense because she didn’t know what she was saying. They didn’t see her many moments of pure dizziness to the point she had to cling to something close by to stay standing.

It was not easy.

We couldn’t go to the mall like other mothers and daughters because she wasn’t able to walk the distance without being in immense pain. We couldn’t go to the movies, either. When I was little, we used to ride bikes and roller-blade pretty often. That was out of the window as well.

I moved out in my college years, and even though I did visit her often, I wish I had visited even more. She and I talked every single day, even if we had argued over something, except for the day she died (December 14, 2013). I remember she was feeling bad that day, so I figured she hadn’t texted me because she was tired and that I would get my usual goodnight text from her at least.

I didn’t.

My phone rang, and it was my dad. My dad and I weren’t on good terms, so I knew something horrible had to have happened for him to be calling me. I watched my phone ring for several rings, not wanting to answer it. I’ve never dreaded answering a phone more than I did in that moment, because some part of me just knew.

I answered, and the first thing he said was, “Brittany, your mom is dead.”.

She had laid down to take a nap, and never woke back up. I remember being really angry with him for a while afterwards because I couldn’t believe he just came out and said it like that, over the phone no less. He apologized a few days later for telling me over the phone. He said he wished he had told me to give the phone to my husband, Michael, so Michael could tell me. But I would have known if he’d asked for Mike. I would have. So I forgave him. He had to be there with the police and emergency crew.

I remember just dropping my phone. My dad was still connected, but I don’t know if he heard me screaming. Mike turned around from his computer, saw my face, and I just screamed that my mom was dead. I remember it was as if his face broke, and he flew to me. I started hitting anything I could reach, and I remember Mike holding my arms down and trying to help me calm down. I just screamed over and over that I wanted my mom. It was the worst moment of my life.

I had the option to go see her that night. I didn’t go.
I didn’t see her at all after she died.

I wanted to remember her the way she was the last time I saw her. Happy, smiling at me through the glass door while sitting on the couch, holding a Winnie the Pooh plushie I had just given her.

Side note: My mom was obsessed with Winnie the Pooh. Ob-sess-ed. So anytime I was out and saw anything Pooh related, I bought it and gave it to her. My 11 month old daughter now has my mom’s Tigger plushie. She loves it.

I remember it rained that night. It was like the sky opened up and the rain fell just as hard as my own tears. I called the people who needed to know. I realized that my mom meant more to more people than I had realized. A friend collapsed in a store when she got my call. Another immediately jumped in her car and drove to me. Another grabbed a bottle of wine and rushed over. That night and in the following months, then years, I found out who my friends really were.

We didn’t have a visitation or a funeral, and I’m glad we didn’t. I couldn’t have handled it. I would have ended up in a hospital myself. She was buried next to my little brother, just as she had wanted. My dad brought roses to her burial, and we all put one on her coffin. That is seared into my brain. Today her burial spot lies without a gravestone because I haven’t been able to afford the stone I want to get her. One day, she will have a gravestone with Winnie the Pooh etched onto it.

It’s been years, and I don’t let myself cry about it much anymore. I always feel weird when I cry over her, because people make it seem like you shouldn’t be crying anymore after all this time. But just because I don’t cry doesn’t mean I don’t hurt every second of every day. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I was able to listen to the song “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Tarzan (it was our song) without losing it.

When it rains, I think of her. When it snows, I think of her. When I hear certain songs, I think of her. When I’m outside letting our dogs out, I think of how nice it would be for her to drive up in the driveway for a visit.

When someone leaves me an anonymous message saying “I’m still around, even though you think I’m not…I’m here.”, I think of her because I never let myself have the closure of seeing her after she died. My brain knows that she is gone, and I know how stupid it is, but for that brief moment in those instances, I wonder if it could be her. I know, stupid. But sometimes grief doesn’t make sense.

Somehow I learned how to live with the pain. There was a time when I felt like I was literally going to die from the loss of her. But I slowly went a day without crying, then a few days, then a week, and so on.

I took one step, then another, and another.

But in between those steps, I still remember the bright smile on her face as she cuddled her new plushie and watched me drive away.

Breathe

I stood in the middle of the disaster, and after taking everything in, just started to scream. I screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

Story time, again.

If you thought the last one was intense, you haven’t seen anything yet. This one is a roller coaster ride of feelings, of which I have debated on writing for a while now. With encouragement from a few close individuals, I’ve decided to write it down.

Car crashes. We’ve all heard of them, some of us have even been in one or two. Some more serious than others.

I was one of those teenagers that was convinced I would never get into a car crash. I was a good driver, thanks to my parents. On October 15, 2010, I found out that no one is immune. It’s been almost 7 years since it happened, and yet it still affects my life in many ways.

I’m getting ahead of myself. You want to know what happened, right?

I was driving a Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, stick shift. I was pretty proud of learning stick shift as fast as I did. I remember my mom telling me that the only way I could drive it to my first day of college was if she were convinced that I knew how to (she had driven a stick shift for years when she was younger).

My ex boyfriend was in the passenger seat, and 4 of my friends were in the back. Yes, yes, I know. I KNOW. Irresponsible and stupid. My ex boyfriend had suggested using two cars, and I stubbornly said no because I didn’t see the point. We were only going 25 minutes away to a football game. We’d be fine. So we all piled into the car. 3 boys, 3 girls. My two girlfriends sat on the laps of the two boys in the back. They tried to put the seatbelts over themselves, and one couple managed to, but the other didn’t.

Fallout Boy was playing on the stereo.

We got about 4 minutes from my parents house when it happened.

There’s a statistic out there that says people are less cautious when driving close to home. Something about being so close to home makes them feel safer, invincible. I don’t know if that was my case.

While rounding a curve I had driven many, many times before, I reached over to change the CD that was playing. I’d done this plenty of times, no problem. Except this time, between all of the laughter and talking in the car, focusing on the road, and just plain stupidity on my part (I could have asked my boyfriend to change it for me instead), I went off of the road to the right about a foot.

This is no excuse, of course, but I know plenty of people have driven off the side of the road a little and got right back on without any issues. This time, for some reason, my boyfriend got extremely freaked out and screamed.

Note to others: do not suddenly scream when someone else is driving unless you are completely sure of a problem.

I heard him scream, and out of instinct I assumed maybe something had come out in front of us. It was a 2 second decision, one that changed all of our lives.

I jerked the wheel to the left, trying to avoid whatever it was he was screaming at, because by the time he screamed I was already back on the road. Delayed reaction, maybe? I don’t know.

I overcorrected.

My mom had always told me that if I got into a crash, cover my head with both of my arms as best as I could. I didn’t do that at first.

At first, I gripped the steering wheel so tight that the two rings I was wearing were bent completely out of shape afterwards. I still have one of them, and you can still tell that it had been warped back into place by my dad.

I kept my eyes closed tight, scared of any glass or anything else getting into them, so I don’t know what exactly caused my car to end up in the position it did. The police assumed it must have rolled, but I don’t know. Looking at pictures today, I still can’t make sense of it. I really wish I could.

But I do remember everything else. I remember the screaming, the sound of crunching metal, the feeling of my head slamming to the left. I remember frantically thinking to myself, “Is this really happening?!“.

Apparently, I was knocked out. I didn’t even know this until a few days later when one of the other passengers told me they had woken up after the first, found me hunched over the steering wheel, and tried to wake me. Didn’t work.

When I did wake up, Fallout Boy was still playing.

What a soundtrack.

I remember the smell of the airbags and dirt. 7 years later, I still smell it sometimes. Completely random, for no reason at all.

I remember hearing my boyfriend saying my name. I looked around, confused, not understanding what had just happened. I was the only one left in the car. Everything in the car was shattered. Blood and dirt were covering me. To my right, the car door was wrapped around a tree, but around the side where I could have reached out and touched the tree. I have no idea how that happened. Behind me, part of the convertible bar had gone straight through the back of the car. Later, I was told that if they hadn’t been ejected, the ones sitting in that spot would have been hit by it.

My boyfriend came around my side of the car, missing his glasses and the button on his pants. He reached for me, pulling me out of the car, because I couldn’t do it myself.

I remember my first thought. Where are they?

They were scattered. I walked around to the back of the car, and found one of them unconscious on the ground. I remember their red hair vividly. I reached down to make sure they were still breathing, and cried when I realized they were.

I remember looking up and seeing two others. One hunched over the other, who was on their back on the ground. The one hunched over was on a phone, presumably calling 911. They were desperately trying to wake the one on the ground. I had a sick feeling in my stomach when I stared at the one on the ground. They weren’t breathing, and I had to turn away.

At that moment, one more came running up. They had been the first to wake, and had run to a house nearby for help, which was on the way. Once they stood still, they said their back and neck were hurting. Terrified, I told them to sit down, and they didn’t get back up after that. It’s a wonder that they walk today.

My boyfriend wandered off looking for his glasses, a nasty gash on the back of his hand. He still has the scar today.

I stood in the middle of the disaster, and after taking everything in, just started to scream. I screamed, and screamed, and screamed. I couldn’t stop. Not until people started arriving.

The first was a car. The color was light, I don’t remember specifically what. But they were driving by, saw what had happened, stopped, and backed up. I found out later on that the person driving was actually my cousin, someone I hadn’t even seen in a very long time. What are the odds?

More people started showing up. I remember a man coming up to me, asking if he could help, and me asking if I could use his phone.

I am horrible at remembering phone numbers. Somehow I remembered my moms. I called her, and surprisingly she answered. I had to repeat it multiple times for her to understand what had happened. She and my dad took off.

Later on, she swore that my name showed up on her phone when I called, even though it was impossible.

Everything that happened next was a blur. Ambulances and cops arrived. My parents arrived. I sat on the side of the road, my mom on one side, boyfriend on the other, and a cop in front of me. I was told it wasn’t my fault. It was an accident.

I did something that garnered me much hatred later on. I got a phone, and announced on Facebook what had happened. I was in shock. I was supposed to be picking another friend up after dropping everyone else off, and that was the fastest way for me to tell them something had happened.

One of the two unconcious people woke up. I remember them screaming that they wanted their mom, over and over again. They went into an ambulance. The one I had told to sit down also went into an ambulance. The other unconscious one was still on the ground. An old woman had shown up, and to this day no one has been able to figure out who she was or where she came from. I was told later on that she prayed over the one still gone, and after the medics worked on them, they finally started breathing again.

I remember their hand shooting up into the air, reaching for something, anything.

Into the ambulance they went with the other.

My boyfriend and I were the only ones remaining.

Around now, I noticed a gash on the back of my arm. I still have the scar.

That same old woman made her way to me. She went right by the cops as if they weren’t even there. She got right in my face, stared me straight in my eyes, and told me not to blame myself; that what had happened was an accident and it wasn’t anyone’s fault. She walked off, and I haven’t seen her since.

I didn’t want to go into an ambulance. I was determined that I was fine. They told me I had to, that there could be internal injuries that I didn’t know of because of all the adrenaline. After arguing, I finally complied, as did my boyfriend, who went into a separate ambulance despite wanting to go with me.

They strapped me up, put a neck brace on me, and loaded me up.

On the way, the shock wore off, and the crying started again. I literally could not stop. I was shaking uncontrollably, crying uncontrollably, and the medic with me was desperate to help. Blankets were piled on me, but nothing worked. I don’t remember going into the hospital. I do remember events much later on. I remember being moved to get scanned, still crying, and the young nurse with dark hair telling me he wished he could help me.

I remember the look on his face.

Much later, I was put back into my room, still strapped down. It had been hours. A phone went off next door, and my mom came in to tell me that was where my boyfriend was. I asked her about everyone else, and cried when I found out how horrible of a condition they were all in. My tears were nothing compared to what they were going through, but it was all I could do.

At some point, a cop apparently came in and talked to me. I have no recollection at all of it. They even came back by my room before leaving to check on me, and I still don’t remember it. I do remember that the friend I was supposed to be picking up beat everyone to the hospital. I remember him coming in just when they were finally letting me sit up for the first time since getting there. He took my hand, hard, and helped lift me up. I almost fell back over because of being so lightheaded. I’ll never forget it, and I’ll always have a place in my heart for him because of it.

He left, and my dad came in alone. Now, my dad is not a crying man. He is a hard, tough man. I’ve barely ever seen him cry. But that evening, looking at the shape I was in, he cried. I won’t forget that, either, even if he has.

3 of us had minor physical injuries, while the other 3 were in horrible condition. 7 years later, all 3 of them are living happy lives. They are walking, in love, and despite carrying what happened with them in their minds and in their scars for the rest of their lives, they survived.

My healing was, and is, a long road. My only physical injuries were some memory problems that I still have trouble with, the gash on my arm, and bad whiplash. I did not suffer as much physically as the others, I know that. My heart hurts daily for them. Mental injuries? Those were big. It’s been 7 years and I still freak out every single time I get in a car. My anxiety shoots through the roof, and I literally cannot calm down until I’m out of the vehicle. I still have nightmares and anxiety attacks from reliving what happened. It was extremely hard for my mom to get me behind the wheel of a car again. I didn’t want to at all. But she made me. She said that if I didn’t do it, I would never do it.

I was blamed completely for what had happened, even though the cops had said I wasn’t speeding and it was an accident. I was charged with speeding only because it is a basic thing they do in nearly every car crash that happens, especially one as bad as the one I was in. That is what I was told.

My insurance was sued by everyone, and one in particular sued me personally. I’ll never forgive or forget, and I’m not going to be silent or ashamed for saying it. Their reason for suing me personally and making recovery even worse? I got a new car. It didn’t matter that I had to get a new car because I was still in college and had to have a way to class. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t use my moms car forever. It didn’t matter that I was required to go to class a week later or I would be dropped. It didn’t matter at all.

Just before I got sued personally, a nasty fight had happened between myself, them, and another involved in the crash, all over a boy who doesn’t even matter anymore. The damage was done, and someone I thought was my best friend was suing me. I hadn’t been to their hospital room every day of their recovery. I wasn’t at their house every day after they came home. But they were always on my mind, and my life didn’t just stop because of what had happened. I had to keep going on with college and everything, because I hadn’t suffered the injuries everyone else had.

After it all, I was able to count the number of friends I had on one hand.

I felt abandoned, alone, unwanted. I felt hurt. I felt a rage that still burns in my core sometimes today. I had lost everything I counted important. I moved out of town, away from it all, but the lawsuit was still there, a constant reminder.

A year of it went on. A year of meetings, phone calls, emails, worry. During all of this, my mom began getting sick. It turned out she had a brain tumor, and it was inoperable. Somehow, I survived through all of it, with her help and her love. She died a couple of years later.

I met my husband, and I remember laying with him one morning and getting the phone call that the suit had been settled because my ex boyfriend had given his deposition, which freed me from blame. That was what I was told. I don’t know if it is the true reason or not.

I hadn’t been able to listen to Fallout Boy since the crash. I know, stupid and silly. But it was there. Hearing them would send me into a panic attack, every time. One evening in 2011, I sat on a bench in a park with my husband (then boyfriend) as he played the song that had been on the stereo. For the first time, I felt what it would be like to be able to breathe again.

What happened was a true test of inner strength. On all involved. We could have all given up, but no one did. Everyone took their first steps, both physically and mentally. And then another step. And another. We all grew, we all healed in our own way. I may not forgive or forget, but I have made my own peace with what happened. Writing it all out was my last step.

We have gone our separate ways, but they will all forever have a spot in my heart because of what happened. Even the one that hurt the most.

“If He Picks On You, He Likes You”

I have no doubt that if I had gone into those woods, I wouldn’t have come back out.

Story time.

I remember when I was around 8 or 9 years old, I was being bullied by a boy in elementary school. This wasn’t your ordinary case of bullying. A group of friends and myself would ride to and from school on our bikes everyday, and so would a group of his friends. This boy hated me so much that he threw an actual hammer at me one afternoon while we were both riding the same route home. I biked home as fast as possible of course, told my parents, they went to his parents, and nothing was ever done. It was around this time that I heard the whole “if he’s picking on you, it means he likes you” line. And being a child who was in therapy over my brother’s death and being so young and impressionable, I believed it. I believed it until I was in my freshman year of college. And because of it, I was put through hell.

I’m going to reveal something about myself that literally only a handful of people know. There are people who have known me for 7+ years that don’t even know. My own parents didn’t/don’t know. I never told my mom before she died, but I wish I had. I guess my dad will read this and will know now.

It all started when I was 9 or 10.

There was a boy that lived in my neighborhood while I lived in Florida. Lets call him Henry, because I don’t want to reveal his actual name for my own reasons. This boy was around 13 or 14 years old, so he knew what he was doing. I was known for being open and emotional because of all the trauma I had endured. This boy figured out pretty quickly from hanging around me and friends in the neighborhood that I had developed my first crush, and it was on him. I was rebellious, I was angry at the world, and I was looking for something solid to hang onto. I was stupid, I’m lucky I’m not dead. For months, this boy lured me into the forest behind my house and “made out” with me-let’s leave it there. He’d tell me he was going to tell everyone how he felt about me, but it never happened.

Remember, I was a child.

I vividly remember one evening when my grandma was visiting. I and several friends were hanging around on the road in front of my house and Henry was there. He publicly mocked me for having a crush on him and I ended up running home in tears. Lets just say my grandma was furious. Weirdly enough, I remember the zen garden my dad had on his front porch table that day.

This boy was manipulative and disturbing, and I was too young to realize what was going on.

There was even a night where he had climbed a tree outside of my bedroom window and was trying to peer in. I remember telling my dad and him running outside with a shotgun, chasing Henry down the road.

My last encounter with Henry was a very hot afternoon. He was lurking in the woods next to my house and I was taking a walk. I stopped when I saw him, and immediately had a sick feeling in my stomach. I remained in the road while he lurked in the shadows. He begged and begged for me to give him one last kiss for old times sake, and I refused. I am so glad now, at 24, that I refused. I have no doubt that if I had gone into those woods, I wouldn’t have come back out. I can only hope that he is jailed somewhere for some reason now. But everything that happened involving him still bothers me to this day.

Thus began my venture into being with manipulative, horrible men.

Middle school was tame, because I did all I could to keep to myself. But high school was a whole different ball game. I dated one boy off and on for 3 years, constantly giving chances. After the last time, I made a horrible mistake. I was with someone who damaged my body and soul for a very long time. I stayed and stayed. I stayed when my parents wanted me to leave him. I stayed when my friends wanted me to leave him. I let myself be emotionally and physically abused because I was convinced that despite being treated so badly, it was just because he really cared about me. Yeah, I know, stupid.

I finally got some sense and got out.

I jumped from guy to guy for a while, and during one relationship, one of the worst days of my life happened. I got into a horrific car wreck with several friends, was sued personally, was pushed out of my town, and felt completely abandoned. It also still bothers me to this day and always will.

So, add that to the trauma list.

Insert emotionally abusive boy.

Desperate for something to go stable for once, I once again let myself be manipulated by someone, except this cut much deeper.

I was pulled away from my mom, my dad, my friends, my classes. I almost failed my classes, I cried all the time, I slept as much as possible to avoid fights over nothing. I was pushed, I was screamed at. I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone of the opposite sex. I wasn’t allowed to be on my phone too much. I wasn’t allowed to do anything that didn’t pass his approval. I was terrified, and by the time I truly wanted to leave, I didn’t even know if my family would have me back. Thankfully, they wanted me back more than anything, and with their help and the help of my now husband of 5 years, I got out. Once again, I had believed that being loved also meant being treated like trash.

I finally broke the cycle and found someone who was none of the things I had been so used to. 11 months later, I married him. A few years later, we had a daughter. Today, we are still going strong.

He woke me up and opened my eyes to the reality of what love is supposed to be like.

I wrote this for my own peace of mind. I needed to get it out of my brain, and if it helps someone who feels trapped, then good. If someone needs to talk, I am always here.

So, girls of the world, if someone tells you that you’re being picked on because the boy likes you, don’t believe it. Someone who truly loves you will never hurt you the way I was hurt. It all starts with that one simple, stupid, well-known line.

Break the cycle.

Soothing Sea

In honor of my grandfather-in-law passing last night, I’m resharing this poem of mine. I wrote this poem during my trip to Puerto Lindo, Panama, where my husband, his dad, and I all stayed on a boat for over a week with my grandparents-in-law. They knew of my love of poetry and enjoyed what I’d been writing. I was assigned to write a poem about my stay there during the week, and they had me read it out loud to them on the boat during our last evening there. With is passing, this poem has new meaning to me. He was a wonderful person and I’m going to miss him dearly.

As Eventide Falls

champagne gleams in starlight

encapsulating souls of the ocean

weave through the coral maze

shades of the setting sun

shoot across the sky

golden eyes engulf a mind so alive

by Brittany Zedalis in Dead Snakes Poetry

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Seize the Day

radio playing, laughter transforms

into screams, metal crunching and

closing in, a flash of red hair,

or is it blood

 

the smell of dirt and smoke,

hands pull me from the wreckage,

covered in crimson water that

is not my own

 

            searching eyes and choked shrieks,

            where are they, where are-

 

face-down, still, twisted into

unnatural positions, unconscious,

the deafening screams are my

own, falling to my knees

 

helpless, seeing red but not in

anger, somewhere an ambulance

arrives, parents and bystanders

watch with unwavering fear

 

            they scream for their mother, and

            she is not breathing anymore-

 

uncontrollable shaking, a breath is

finally taken, but the battle is not won,

rushing, bright lights, tears and mud

staining my cheeks

 

she can only see shadows, his neck

is broken, another scream, a phone goes

off in the next room, a man in uniform

takes my hand and doesn’t let go

 

by Brittany Zedalis in Mad Swirl 2014

Midnight Eyes

During a trek through a frigid woodland,

something flashed before my eyes, white,

ripping me from silent solitude,

an owl starkly contrasted against the earthen tones,

I watched, devoted and inquisitive of this enigma

as its claws touched down just before me,

midnight eyes fixated on my own, motionless,

my feet fastened to the soil beneath,

I struggle to pull myself free, to reach beyond the barrier,

while the creature continued to stare, in such silence

that I was sure I must have been deafened,

my fingers outstretched, straining,

longing for just one connection, however brief,

and with the distance scant between,

its wings spread in blinding light, vanished,

restoring my solitude

 

by Brittany Zedalis in Dead Snakes Poetry