Cheryl Hughes: A Snowball's Chance
I knew a sweet little girl, once. She was about the age of my oldest daughter. I feared for her, I hurt for her, I hoped for her. I visited her home. I can’t remember the reason. It was one of those houses, not just cluttered, but also dying from neglect. I met the little girl’s mother. She didn’t speak much, and the words she did speak were barely audible, as if she had had the breath knocked out of her. Life had gut-punched her, and she had little left to give the little girl, her youngest child. From that one visit, I understood the little girl would have an uphill climb in order to make it to ground level, the starting point for most people. “She has a snowball’s chance in hell”—that is what I thought as I left that house.
The little girl didn’t make it to ground level. The little girl still hasn’t made it to ground level. She is on drugs and in and out of abusive relationships. I still pray for her. I still ask her older sister, who did make it to ground level and above, about her. Her sister shakes her head and says the little girl is running with the wrong crowd. Maybe, the older sister made the climb simply because she is the older sister. Maybe, the mother still had enough hope or enough fight to pass on one or both attributes to the older daughter, and that’s why she made it out.
When I think of that little girl, the thought often leads me to thoughts of my little sister—the youngest of the four of us who are biological sisters. She didn’t understand that you cannot speak the truth to people who are living a lie or that you have to get along with people who are treating you unfairly, even if they are your parents—especially if they are your parents—until the time comes when you can run away. She told me once that she made bad choices because she wasn’t as smart as them—them being the family members that didn’t include her biological sisters. But she was as smart as them, as smart as us, she just got pushed down so many times that she couldn’t make the climb out.
I’ve written before about our family’s move from Mt. Washington to Ashes Creek, near Taylorsville, and how I have always seen it as a move from light into darkness. When my sister was grown, she married a boy from one of the families on that creek, a family that had lived on government assistance for generations. Things did not go well for the two of them. After the marriage ended, I asked my sister why she had married the guy. “There wasn’t anybody else,” she replied, “There weren’t any good boys in my life.”
She was living with Garey and me when she met the next guy she became involved with. He worked for a cable company and was constantly on the move from city to city. I begged her not to leave with him. I told her there were worse things than living alone. She left anyway. I guess, there weren’t worse things for her. A few years later, they returned, a baby girl in tow. They moved in with Garey and me for a while. They moved around to other places. They finally settled in Taylorsville. I will never understand why—I do not relate to the concept of familiar pain. The family wasn’t happy to see them locate there. My dad, who had become involved in politics by that time, said, “They’re going to ruin me!” The other family members living in the area said, “You can’t help them.”
My little sister’s children made it to the surface. My sister made sure of it. All three children have successful careers and lives. They are some of my favorite people. My sister’s husband died a little over a year ago, and she told me, “I loved him, but for the first time, I finally feel free.” She has become involved in her church. She writes and directs the Christmas play each year, and she is planning some future mission trips.
The downward spiral has ceased. The graph of her life shows an upward curve. I don’t understand all the variables that make up a life. I do not espouse statements like, “She had just as much of a chance as I did.” Did she? What if I had been the one born in 1957, and she had been the one born in 1955? What if we had remained at Mt. Washington in the light?
Some people believe the hand of God is on some people and not on others. My little sister has more faith in God than all of us—her sisters, her stepsister, her half-brothers, her dad and her stepmother—put together. If the outcome of her life had been based on her faith in God, she would have been the counterpart to Mother Teresa. I’m starting to believe that chance has a bigger part in our lives than I ever before thought possible, and I wish to God, someone could prove me wrong.