Trigger Warning * Violence * Language
I slept each night on the couch with the stolen gun under my pillow. It made me feel better, safer. I didn’t know how to use it, but I was sure if I ever needed to, I could. Every morning, the first thing I did when I woke up was move it to the top of the kitchen cabinets, where even if Scott managed to scoot a chair to the counter and climb up, he still wouldn’t be able to reach. I didn’t fear the daylight hours, only the night.
Scott and I were finally living in our own place again. It wasn’t a terrible place, but it was far from nice. The cramped two-bedroom trailer was very old and hadn’t been cared for in a long time. The landlord usually rented it by the week, never expecting anyone to stay long. The nasty blue carpet had seen many different feet, and if the walls could talk, oh the trailer trash stories it could tell. I wondered what my story would look like.
I didn’t know when Nate was going to get out of prison. His release date changed so often, we just gave up. One side of me loved the freedom, being alone with Scott and doing what we wanted, but that side warred with my desire to have my husband home to take care of us. As usual, I didn’t know what I wanted.
We were fast approaching another summer, this one the summer of 1993. This one the year that all my friends from middle school were now seniors getting ready to graduate from high school. Being a high school dropout was exactly what people expected of me, and I hated that. With Mom as my chauffeur, we looked into one of the local welfare programs that was meant to help recipients get work and build better lives. I wanted work and a better life.
“We have a wonderful CNA program.” Ruthanne, the lady running the program smiled, talking to me, not Mom, which is what people usually did. Or Nate. It was rare to be so directly addressed when most people saw me as a child.
“No thank you,” I said. “I really can’t handle medical stuff.” It felt silly saying that, but I just knew I’d be miserable and not go through with it if that’s what I agreed to. I’d never come back. I needed to be pointed in the right direction, not just any direction.
“Well, can you type?”
I could, but not without looking at the keys, and certainly not as fast as a secretary. They sat me down to let me give it a try, and I could feel my heart racing in my chest. How was I supposed to do this well with a roomful of people staring at me? I immediately missed keystrokes. I failed before I could begin. Testing just wasn’t my thing.
“We really only have these two jobs to offer,” she said kindly. “What do you like to do?”
I looked at my feet, listening to Scott talk to my mom. I knew this was too good to be true. Only two kinds of jobs? Is that what I have to settle for? Don’t I settle enough?
“I like to write,” I said, barely above a whisper.
“Write? Are you good at it?”
“Oh yes, she once wrote a story that made people cry,” Mom said, setting Scott in the chair beside her and standing up. I felt my face flush. Mom was bragging on me? That was different.
“Writing jobs aren’t a dime a dozen,” Ruthanne said, “but…it just so happens a new newspaper just started in Williston, and I know the editor. Maybe…well, maybe you could get on there. It’s worth a try, right?”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Never in my wildest dreams could I have thought such an opportunity would exist for me.
“Now let’s get you started with a plan to get your GED,” she said, and I was on cloud nine.
By the end of the day, I was enrolled in math support classes and scheduled to take my GED test. And, to top it off, they sent me to go meet Skipper, the editor of the newspaper. He would be expecting me.
Shortly after, I stood at the door of Skipper’s home office and couldn’t make myself knock. I was scared to death. This was too good to be true. Life for me, well, it didn’t happen like this. There were no lucky breaks, no right place at the right time.
“Knock!” Mom whisper-yelled from the driver’s seat. I looked back at Scott playing in the backseat, enjoying his freedom from the car seat. I had to do it for him.
I knocked and could barely hide my surprise when a woman answered the door and introduced herself as Skipper. I just hadn’t expected a woman.
She welcomed me in, told me she already knew I was coming, and then invited me to tell her about myself and my desire to write. I left soon after with my first assignment: a short piece in an ongoing children’s serial.
When I got home, I immediately wrote Nate to tell him about my day. I was almost too excited to put pen to paper, but I couldn’t wait for our next visit to tell him. Then I sat at my typewriter and painstakingly wrote the most perfect story I could. I spent hours on it, making sure it was just right, that it would be exactly what Skipper wanted.
The next day, I turned it in and waited. Would she hate it? Would she declare I was definitely the loser I had begun to feel like?
She didn’t gush, didn’t exclaim what a brilliant writer I was. She said it was fine and that she’d run it. I wasn’t sure how I expected her to react, but if she was going to publish it, that was good enough for me. I resolved to wow her next time, if there was a next time. Getting paid by the column inch wouldn’t add up to much, but I got paid, and it helped me see that I wanted to work to get paid again and again doing something I love.
When publication day rolled around, my mom drove me from store to store to find copies of the paper. It was officially my first writing credit, my first byline. The excitement was almost too much to bear, though I had yet to hear back from Nate about any of it. Once he got a copy of the paper, he’d realize just how big this was for me.
It was a major rush seeing my name in the paper, and for a good reason, not like how Nate’s had been in the police blotter. I wanted more. For the first time in a very long time, I was proud of myself. I could do more, be more. I could choose not to settle. I could choose to dream.
Nate finally responded with a simple, “That’s cool.” I stared at the letter and re-read his response several times. Maybe he didn’t understand how big this was. I thought he knew how much I wanted to be a writer. He was the one who bought (or stole) the typewriter for me to begin with. But I wasn’t going to let him bring me down. His lack of excitement was not bigger than my joy.
Within a few weeks, Skipper assigned me the rest of the children’s serial story, as well as several features. During all this frenzied writing, I took my GED over the course of two days, nervous about the math portion but feeling positive over all. This writing gig was doing wonders for my confidence.
When the letter arrived telling me I passed and would receive my high school diploma, almost nothing could bring me down. I was graduating. I was doing it. I was making my son proud, even if he didn’t know it yet.
And it got me thinking about our future, mine and his. Where were we going? Was this the time we should leave Nate once and for all? But where would we go? By mid-June, he finally had a July parole date. I didn’t know if I could make anything happen before it was time for him to get out, or even if I had the nerve, but I was definitely going to start thinking about it.
About Angela Giles Klocke – I’m a Colorado-based speaker, writer, advocate, and princess! I am also a survivor of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. I would love to speak to your group, school, or organization. Catch my TEDx Colorado Springs Talk on abuse, violence, and talking about uncomfortable topics, coming soon. Contact me!