Marvelous Mabel Fox | Part One | By Brittney Hogue, Central IL Birth Photographer

Today is January 17, 2019. I was sitting at my desk trying to rack my brain for fun, engaging, and original captions to photos I have been sharing recently. It’s a lot of work to come up with all of those posts, guys! Ha. But I got to the post that will be shared January 31. And my heart skipped just one beat at the memories. Heads up — this is about to get personal. Deeply personal. This is not something I have shared with many people in my life, though some may remember bits from our childhood.

Part One

January 31st. Happy birthday, Mabel. My grandmother in heaven. She would have been 99 years old.

My grandmother is pretty special to me. She was an incredible influence in my life. And though I know she felt like she was failing throughout most of my teen years, I hope she sees what I have managed to do with my life and smiles down at me.

I lived with my grandmother off and on for several years in adolescence. My parents were not exactly involved. Life had happened to them. An extraordinary series of events just happened to domino into the valley of distance that was our relationship. My parents were just … absent.

I understood for the first time how different my life was from my peers when I was 12 years old. A scrawny sixth grader, I felt unloved and unwanted. Much of that was maybe a little unwarranted, but nonetheless, I felt it. Acutely. In November of 2002 I wrote my first goodbye letter. It was the only one that was ever given to anyone. It was the only one that was ever read. I packed my book bag with clothes, my school books and nicked pop-tarts from the pantry cart in the kitchen. I decided I would just live on my own and that would make me happy. But where does a 12 year old go to live alone?

At 8:00p.m., my very strictly adhered to bedtime, I put on my coat, took one last glance on the note left neatly folded on my messy bed and climbed out my bedroom window. It was dark. It was freezing.

I walked the familiar route to school and kept going the few extra blocks to empty house on Elm Street. Sky blue with two driveways and too-tall hedges on either side, my grandmother’s house stood like a beacon of hope before me. She was in Hawaii for the next several days and I knew where the spare key was kept… in a loose piece of siding on the back porch. I entered the house, put my small assortment of belongings in the bedroom I didn’t know would one day be mine and logged on to NeoPets to make sure all my internet animals were well loved and fed. Around three hours later the temperature plummeted outside to a bitter cold. I felt the temperature dropping in the house. I can remember sitting by the window in the dark, watching my warm breath dissapate between me and the bulky computer screen. It was cold. I was alone. And no one had come looking for me.

I called my dad. He has a traumatic brain injury and some physical handicaps. I love my dad, but he is still just an absent figurehead in my life. I needed to know how to operate a thermostat. I was just too cold.

He asked where I was. “Brittney Lynne, where the fuck are you? Exc-c-c-c-c-use my f-f-f-fr-r-r-ench.” My dad stutters when he is worked up. It was fun to infuriate him as a kid and watch him stumble over his words like he stumbled over his feet. Children are cruel.

I’m fine. Don’t worry about it. I’m going to school tomorrow.

Tell me where you are.

No.

After only a few short minutes I shared I was at my grandma’s house. My dad didn’t know she was in Hawaii. My mother hadn’t thought to look there. She didn’t know I knew where a key was.

A few short minutes later, the red and blue flashers of too many squad cars were lighting up the double driveways. I couldn’t reach the fold-over lock at the top of the front door, so I walked through the kitchen and to the back door where I tried to remember which way to turn the key to unlock the deadbolt.

An officer was screaming at me. He was throwing himself against the door as if he was going to break it down.

My hands shook. I have never been able to stay collected around screaming adults. I fall apart.

I fell apart a little. The officer was still screaming through the deadbolted door not to try to run. Open the door. I was trying. My hands hand was cramping trying to turn the key. It wasn’t in all the way. Stop yelling. I’m trying. He shook the handle. He shook door frame with his body as it slammed against the door once more. I was crying. The key finally turned. The officer grabbed my arms and pulled me outside. He walked me around the front of the house where spotlights were shining on the windows and officers were littered across the yard. The D.A.R.E. officer approached me. I don’t remember much of what he said. The words I remember were “run away”, “you don’t want this”, “foster care”, something about how I could only do this twice before being taken away.

The D.A.R.E. officer whose name I cannot remember put me in the back of his car and drove me the quick four minute journey up the hill. Back to a house that never felt like home. My mother didn’t do much. She didn’t really look at me. She told the officer to leave. He asked me if I wanted to stay. It was the first of two times in my life a police officer would stand in my mother’s living room and ask me if I wanted to stay in that home.

I didn’t answer. No one did. He left.

My grandmother and aunt returned from Hawaii. They were furious. I needed Jesus and discipline.

I needed to feel loved.

In the coming months my life changed drastically. My teeny bopper heart fell in teeny bopper love with Anthony Michael Esposito. I created a deepened, unbreakable friendship with a bushy haired, brace-faced brilliant girl. We were inseparable. I found art. I found self-worth. I found normalcy in the seventh grade. My home life was still dismal, but I was happy.

The first day of summer I went to a friend’s house. I stayed out of the house for too long. My sister wanted to get me in trouble and deleted my check-ins off of the answering machine. My grandmother and aunt were more diligent at checking in with me. They called the police and reported me as a run away.

That evening I found myself riding across the tiny city of Marquette Heights in the back of an Oldsmobile Alero, tuning out the sound of someone yelling at me. I had tried to explain. No one had the capacity to listen. I was just a a child in the back of sedan who had no regard for anyone. Selfish. That night I found myself standing in my mother’s living room with her again not making eye contact with anyone. She stared at the floor, at the game on the 35” television she was so proud of. Golf. The officer asked me for the second time in my life if I wanted to be in that home. He was tall. My mom was tall and he was taller than her, so 6’2” at least. His shoulders seemed to hunch forward a bit in the corner of my memory. The ceiling light radiated soft amber light behind him. I didn’t answer. Someone did for me. My aunt I think. She’ll handle this. And the officer left.

I packed my things. Clothes, tooth brush, a few books from the library. Art supplies. My note collection from Autumna. My momento collection of Tony Esposito. Pack only what you can carry in one car load. A lesson I carried on throughout my life.

The first night of summer break 2003 I went to live with my grandmother.