By Joyanna Priest



Sixteen says indignantly that she hasn’t taken pills in a month.

Since she got caught, she means.

Oxy was her favorite. I never tried Oxy, but I used to love heroin more than my own dreams.




There’s darkness beneath the glamour, I warn her, but her ears are closed.




What I point out: addiction dulls brightness, makes ideas go nowhere, splices generosity with blinding selfishness, makes a person betray themselves so they’re left with no one to trust.

What I say: “I’ve never seen anybody get out whole.”

“Not you, though,” she shakes her head like it’s the only true thing in the world. “You’re the best person I know. You kept your brightness.”

No, daughter. No.




Life scars everyone, yes, but why stand in front of the knife thrower when there are other places to stand? Why, Sixteen?

Why, indeed. I haven’t finished answering that question for myself.




“I don’t want to be normal, Mom. I don’t like normal people. Junkies are the most complex and interesting people I know, with the brightest flames. They understand sadness. I belong with them.” There’s passion in her voice.

“That’s the tragedy of it,” I tell her, skipping I belong with them for now. A siren’s seduction, this promise of belonging. You’ll dash yourself on the rocks for the thing you want more than anything else.




Never mind that “junkies” strikes me as a bit dramatic. More like rich unsupervised teenagers with coke and pill problems, using their parents’ money to get out of their heads.

My judgment will not help her. I bury it.




She asks to read my journals from when I was twenty, the year I quit heroin. She says it would help her understand what I say about the darkness.

But I stopped writing that year. The beauty had slipped from my life. Another darkness came over me.




Before that, I wrote constantly, from the time I was able, filling notebooks and notebooks. I wrote through addiction and self-destruction, through loss and grief and hopelessness, but when I got clean, silence settled on me.

I remember trying. I remember I’d take out a notebook and pick up a pen. That was as far as I got. Sometimes a few words came out before my hand slowed; never a full sentence. The spaces between my letters stretched out and the markings grew lighter until the words dissolved. I had nothing to say; I was gone.

It took me almost a year to write a line. Then all I could write about was that lost life, the brightness I thought I had rejected and never imagined I would find again.




She’s getting expelled for smoking weed at school, a consequence that’s hitting her hard.

What she wants me to do: leave her alone, stop talking for once, keep my ideas about what would help her to myself (thank you very much), to leave her bedroom and not come back.

What she says next: “Mom! Please come back.”

What else she wants from me: not to mention goals or therapists or her Situation, and also, don’t make any decisions without her input, and also…could I make her some tea? She wants me to snuggle on her futon with her, to follow her to the kitchen when she gets a drink of water, to join her in the bathroom. She shows me videos that make her laugh. She wants me to listen while she tells me that she is furious, that she will never forgive me. She does not want me to try to comfort her when her rage veers into hurt.

What she feels: rejected, unloved, afraid. The injustice of the world is unbearable and I have betrayed her by not saving her from it.

She says she needs to smoke, that I don’t understand, it’s the only thing that helps quell her anxiety. Don’t I want her to be helped?

She reads aloud to me from her plans for revenge pranks and her funny-serious poems about alternatives to suicide.

She sobs and scratches her face and says she wants to die.

She crawls in bed with me after I’m asleep and I wake with her warm legs wrapped around me, the fake fur cape she rarely takes off, even when sleeping, shrugged from her shoulders and tickling my nose, my pillows smudged with her makeup.


Some details in this essay have been changed to protect individuals.

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JOYANNA PRIEST is a storyteller and teacher who lives in Maryland. Her work has appeared in Hip Mama, Literary Kitchen, and elsewhere. She enjoys making lists of things she's curious about and taking spiders outside to ask them questions.

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