(for Amanda sorry it’s taken me 20 years)

I think I was 13 when I realized that my life was fucked up.


Christmas Eve 1994, my aunt Pam came to visit us for my dad’s annual Christmas Eve bash. All of the Hartford clan was there; my two aunts Diane and Kate, my dad’s three brothers David, Bryan, and Ronnie. My father was the eldest of six. His youngest was Pam, who had always been the black sheep of the family. Pam started smoking weed when she was 12 because my grandmother worked as a barmaid in the late 70’s. Pam would sneak out to hang with some of the younger patrons who were around 21, and they would happily give it to her thinking she was older.  She would sneak into her older sister’s makeup and get dolled up like a “hooker” was how my dad put it.


It put my aunt Pam on a rocky path, no supervision, and the youngest of 6 children. It was hard for my grandma, who was single at the time to raise them right. They basically raised themselves.


So on that Christmas Eve, my aunt Pam was in the kitchen talking with her two sisters Diane and Kate. One thing led to another, and my aunt Pam came running upstairs in a fit of anger. She had found me in my family’s bathroom (we only had the one).


Aunt Pam entered with a loud bang, and one look, I knew she had been fighting with my aunts again.


I sat there and looked at her because I was sneaking a cigarette and burning a Yankee Candle. It was the only way I knew to survive Christmas Eve with the Hartford’s.


“Tessa, I’m sorry I didn’t realize anyone was in here.”


“Well, the door was shut.” I smiled sarcastically.


“I just need a minute, you mind?” She asked


“No. Is everything okay?”


“My bitch sisters think they’re better than me! I remember a time when Diane had barely two nickels to rub together. She slept on my couch with her two babies. Now I’m white trash? I’ve been clean for six months!”


I patted her shoulder, awkwardly. To which she grabbed me and hugged me — more awkwardness. I left her alone, but before I left, I blew out the candle.

She stopped me. “Hey, can I borrow that lighter?”

I didn’t think anything of it. “Sure.”

“Don’t worry, and the smoking will be our little secret.” She said winking


Little did I know that my aunt Pam planned to smoke a little crack in the bathroom. To which she somehow left her makeshift lightbulb pipe near my mother’s new wool towels. It was still lit enough that a full-fledged fire started.


Up in smoke, our family bathroom went. Luckily, I smelled it in time and screamed for my father to help put out the fire. My aunt was long gone, of course, not to be seen again for a few more years.


I was quickly blamed as the culprit because it was my lighter. What was I doing smoking cigarettes anyway? My father had screamed at me.


“Young lady, what have we learned?” my mother bellowed in dramatic affliction.


I said nothing to her at the time. Instead, I quietly balled my eyes out.


It was a stupid question to ask from my mother.


What did I learn?


What did I learn that day?


Never give a crackhead a light.


There mom, that’s what I learned.

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