by Ashley Hebner
This post is dedicated to Virginia King and all her infinite words of wisdom.
When I was 13 years old my mother lost custody of me. My entire fucked up little world was turned on it’s axis and everything changed overnight. I woke up the next morning in a place I didn’t know, with people I didn’t know that well, and did what I had always done. I got up, grit my teeth, and continued to live. It was all I knew how to do. At best, I was a shell of a human being and at worst, I was a fucking train wreck waiting to happen.
And it did.
I had spent the first 13 years of my life as a seemingly normal kid with a secret, not so normal life. My mother was a drug addict and I had been through a gauntlet of things you would kill to protect your own daughters from. But, that was okay. That was normal. It wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t all good. It just was. I was apathetic and numb. I didn’t understand why everyone was so concerned. This was my “normal”. And that deeply disturbed the adults who encountered me. I spent a few months, after I moved to this new place, just surviving. To everyone around me, I was a ticking time bomb, that they were sure was going to blow at any minute.
And I did.
The woman who took me in, Ginnie, spent a lot of her time TEACHING me how to feel. Telling me how to properly identify my emotions (because they did exist) and how to appropriately act on them. That is something I will never be able to thank her enough for. But at the time I was not happy about it. As it turns out, when you take a damaged kid who’s spent their entire life burying their emotions, and you teach them how to feel again, it ALL happens at once.
13 years of sadness, rage, aggression, disgust, disappointment, and betrayal slammed me in the chest. The time bomb, had gone the fuck off. I started fighting, screaming, rebelling, stealing, cheating, having sex, and getting high more often. I made myself a burden. I was determined to prove that this woman, Ginnie, didn’t actually love me and was just out to get a paycheck or something from me. I believed that. And she stood by me and loved me even when I took 13 years worth of pain out on her heart. She gave me an environment where my feelings and thoughts mattered. She gave me a voice and a place where it was safe to express myself without fear of judgement.
But, there was still the issue of me being completely volatile. I had never once acknowledged the existence of these deeply buried emotions, nonetheless, had to handle them. Ginnie had an idea. “Why don’t you try writing?” I gave her every excuse in the book about how I had never done it before and probably wasn’t any good anyway. She said “It doesn’t matter if it’s good. It’s for you. Just do it.” And she bought me a notebook.
I still have that notebook today. It’s two rooms away from me, in a box with at least 20 others like it. It’s a one subject, bright blue notebook with the words “Virginia READ ME! ❤️Ashley :)” on the front. This battered, old notebook was the start of something for me. As usual, Ginnie knew that, and I did not.
I was in desperate need of an outlet and she gave me one. I never stopped writing over the years. However, before I started this blog, I could count on 2 hands the number of people I’ve allowed to read my words. Ginnie was the first, and my two best friends were next. They were the only people for at least 6 years. The poems I started in this first book, poorly written and filled with pain, started a fire in me. It gave me somewhere to express how I felt that was safe. Where no one could judge it or turn it into what they wanted out of me. It was mine. Something no one could take away. Over the years, writing SAVED MY LIFE. It gave me freedom. That, is why it is so important to me.
I experience joy as the words come together on the page (or phone) just the way I want them to. It makes me happy to see my writing inspire, touch, and help other people. I never intended to share it with anyone. That’s a path I stumbled onto; but it has been one full of love, encouragement, and support. The people who see my writing today respond to it with admiration. That is mind-blowing to me. That was never the plan. Hell, I never thought I was any good to start with. It was for me. It didn’t need to be good. It only needed to serve the purpose of sucking the poison out of my wounds. It freed me. It eased the pain. It makes me happy. Sometimes it’s messy. But it’s always honest. It’s raw; and I like it that way. I’ve never taken a writing class, maybe I don’t always properly punctuate my words, but I do put my heart and soul into my work. For THAT, is the only way I know how to write. And I have Ginnie, who I now call Mommy, to thank for that.
I have to add, as I went through the boxes to get all my notebooks for this photograph, I became really overwhelmed. The sheer number of them, 21 to be exact, is amazing. I used to number my poem books (as you can see in the photo). I believe I made it up to 17 or 18. A lot of them are missing today; 2-6, 9-12, and 14-17 or 18. My life hasn’t always been the most stable and unfortunately, a lot of my work has gone missing over the years. But even what I have left, brought tears to my eyes. I never realized there was so much, even with most of them missing. Wow. THIS is what writing means to me. Sitting in a room, at 25, looking at years of my work, and tearing up because I know I wouldn’t be here if these books (and some amazing people) didn’t exist.