When you were about seven years old, possibly eight, perhaps six, I came home from the diner to find you giggling on the front steps. It was an unusual site; even at the age of seven, possibly eight, perhaps six, you weren't a very happy child. You're rolling your eyes, aren't you? You're saying to yourself, 'Gee, Edna, and why didn't I have a happy childhood?' but shut up, because it's taking a shitload of courage to write this letter, and I don't need your smartass interjections, got it?
...I'm sorry, honey. The point of this letter isn't to bitch at you, it's to try and save you, and someone who I can only assume you care a lot about. So what I was saying was, you were giggling so hard your curls were bobbing up and down in the dusky air, your baby blues closed, your unwashed cheeks turning pink. I had just had a shitty day at work, though now I don't remember why. But I pulled the Junk Bucket up in front of the house, got out ready to storm inside and take it out on Bud, and I saw you laughing like you hadn't laughed in years. Even the hardest mother would have to smile. You didn't notice me, you were so amused, but I stood there for a good five minutes just watching you wind down, gasping for breath. It was only when I heard another boy's voice demanding your assistance in getting something off him that I discovered the cause of your mirth. That stupid Kelso boy had his fingers caught in a Chinese finger trap, and one of the beams of our porch stood between him and the finger cuffs. He whined at your to help him, and you just shook your head and crossed your arms, smirking at the dumb boy.
What do parents want out of their kids really? I never wanted 'em, so I can't be disappointed by the fact that you lack all desired qualities in breeding. But I think the people who plan it out want pretty children, children who are good at sports, children who get good grades, children who like winning trophies. You – not these things. I don't care, because that Kelso boy was all of those things. There are few points in my life when I have been completely flabbergasted, but the time when you told me that the Kelso boy, who at one time was convinced by you and the Forman boy to climb inside of our OVEN, pulled better grades than you, I was amazed. Despite his complete and total lack of common sense, apparently he was book smart. Go figure. And, of course, pretty, and athletic, and competitive. The perfect child! The American Dream!
And you, my mangy, dirty, resistant, lazy son, you were the one laughing at his being stuck in the trap. You outsmarted the Dream. I watched you cave and help him get loose in one easy movement, and I couldn't help but go and ruffle your hair. Maybe I never dreamed the Dream, but I was still damn proud to be your mother at that moment.
The Kelso boy ran off to go injure himself at his own home, and I lit a cigarette as I stood on the porch with you, watching you examine closely your new instrument of torture. Me and Bud sure as hell didn't give you the money to buy it, so I had the inkling that you'd stolen it, either from some unwitting Dream, or the store itself. In our family, we do what we have to to get what we need, or what we want in this case. You were coming along quite nicely. I ruffled your hair again.
"Cut it out, Ma," you said, or something along those lines. You still called me 'Ma' then, as you did until Bud left. I miss the familiarity of that term, but I know I brought it upon myself. You played with the finger cuffs, but didn't actually insert any digits into them. I think I inquired, and I think you told me it was because you'd have to be dumb like Kelso to stick your finger into a trap.
So much has changed since that night, hasn't it? I've been living with my friend Debbie for about a month now. You remember Aunt Debbie, she used to babysit you when you were four, possibly five, perhaps three. Heavy-set woman, too much lipstick, married to the guy from the sanitation plant? Well, Al left her some years ago, she's slimmed down, and we're just bunking together to keep her rent paid. Point is, I'm back in Point Place. And I couldn't help but notice that you're about to stick your finger into the trap you'll spend years trying to shake.
Some things just don't go together. Dark and light liquor, cranberries and milk, oil and water. They're wrong in combination, complete and utter opposites. Like the thought of you with a ring on your finger. A wedding band for Steven Hyde! The mere image in my head makes me grit my teeth, it's so wrong. I know I used to always tell you you were just like your father. I think that was my way of trying to make him the bad guy. You're not at all like Bud, Steven, though I know from seeing you at work that you've figured out that Bud's not quite your daddy. You're just like me. You wouldn't believe how much you and I are alike. And that's why, even though I didn't want to see you, to bring up past grievances when I'm doing so well, I had to tell you that you can't get trapped, you can't put your finger in that ring. I know your life from this point out if you marry that girl, because I've lived it.
I'm still not sure what you see in her. I never saw her hanging around our house like that Forman boy and the Kelso boy and the redhead girl. I actually thought you liked the redhead girl, but that was a long time ago. The only thing I recognize about her is her last name – Burkhart. You're going to fucking marry into the Burkharts? I remember the heyday of council member Burkhart's reign, and you could not have picked a worse future father-in-law if you tried. He's everything I've ever heard you declare to hate, personified. But she's rich, clearly. And popular, if the talk I've heard around town about the former winner of every title with the word "Queen" in it. And pretty – I didn't realize you worked at the record store when I stopped in that day, the first day I'd seen you in years. Neither of you saw me, but I saw the tiny little dark-haired girl sitting on the counter, pouting, using her skin-deep looks to pursuade you to do something or other. Rich, popular, handsome...Steven, she's Bud.
I don't know how you and her got together, but I know how Bud and I did. And you're me. And she's him. So how different can the situations be?
In high school, I was the unwashed slut who skipped class and milked the free lunch program. Bud was the Homecoming King. See the similarities yet? My sister Hester, the one whose husband strangled her when you were nine, possibly ten, perhaps eight, was also an unwashed slut who skipped class and milked the free lunch program, but she had a little more style than I did. Plus, she was the swan. Regardless of clique, all the boys wanted a piece of her ass, and she happily spread her gorgeous legs for all of them, including one Bud Hyde. They dated for a while. He was shallow, she was a twit. They went so well together. And he was so often in our house, complaining about our lack of television, making faces at the mystery programs I used to love to listen to on the radio.
Hester wound up in Flordia the summer before her senior year. I don't remember why. Oh wait, it's coming back, he wanted her to marry him, and she was on the next bus to the sunny state. The bastard had been spending so much time at our house that even though Hester was gone, he still came. Bud and I hated each other. He was petty, I was bitter. We'd somehow wound up going to a dance together a few years earlier, when he wanted to make Hester jealous after one of their many breakups, and I was always up for pissing the bitch off. And surprisingly we had an okay time, though we didn't like each other. Never had, until that summer. Hell, I don't even think we liked each other that summer. But we were bored. Dad was in jail and mom was working, so no one was home. Through a series of circumstances I can't even remember, Bud and I wound up together. I think we just started kissing on the ratty couch while listening to some quiz program.
Hester came back, Bud and I stuck together, we spent the next few years ensconced in the problems that follow two people of such different backgrounds when they're together. Or at least, we spent the next few years ignoring them. I lost some of the attitude they tell me, he came down to earth and became less annoying.
Of course, shit had to hit the fan at some point, and Bud remained the guy he'd been with my sister, still wanting to get married. I said no, I left, I came back, he was with Hester, I was off to Atlantic City. Don't know why; it just seemed like a good place to go. I'd heard great things about the music scene there.
I met this guy. William Barnette. I know you've heard of him...and I'm sorry for never telling you. We had a fling, and it was great while it lasted. He was so talented, and optimistic. I'm not surprised about his businesses now. Music was his thing. He played trumpet back when I met him at the clubs at night. But I missed Bud, so I said goodbye to Bill and went back home. He was important enough to me to agree to stick my finger in that metal circle, and there it stayed, powerless to my trying to get rid of it. The ultimate trap. True, it can be broken, but it takes so much out of you, Steven. I tell you this so you can avoid the trap all together.
I found out I was pregnant a few days before Bud and I got married, and made what was probably a bad decision, though I'm not one to reflect on my choices. I slept with him (stop making faces, you son of a bitch), told him Bill's baby was his, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Bud's family lost their money in the months after our marriage, though they had never been much of a financial help at all. They hated me, as I'm sure the Burkharts hate you, so Bud and I were on our own, with a freaking baby to raise. Bud Hyde could have made something of himself, but instead I got to him. I pulled him down from his two-story house to the dump we lived in, I took away his stylish clothes and gave him dirty, patched things, I effectively destroyed his life. And he realized it pretty early on. You were two-and-a-half. I don't have to approximate and say possibly and perhaps, I know the date of this one. And Bud would have left, got a job to support only him instead of a family, and secured a better life for himself. He only stayed because of you, you know. He thought he had a son, he knew he had to take care of you. I never told him, you know. I couldn't lose him. How important is your fiancée to you? That's how important Bud was to me. The idea of that bastard, frustrating though he was, not being in my world constricted my throat, burned my eyes. I needed him, and our family always does what they have to in order to get what they need, and what they want. I both needed and wanted him, so I let him believe you were his son. He still doesn't know.
We got back together a few years ago, not for very long before we realized we'd destroy each other's lives again. The addiction to a substance can rob your of your feelings, but the addiction to a person can rob you of all but your feelings, and those feelings can drive you to the brink of harmful insanity. But before we separated again, a painful day too private to describe to you, he told me he'd reconnected with you, and even lived with you for a time. He seemed to regret leaving you for me, and I know he was proud of how well you were doing. Nice, old-fashioned fatherly pride. I couldn't kill it. I told him you were just like your father. Really, you're just like your deadbeat, drunk, struggling mother. And I hope you're starting to see that.
I finally became too much for Bud when you were nine, and he left. He promised he'd come visit you, but even that was broken, because of me. Later in your life, when you lived with him, he left his "son" for me. It's rare that two people like me and Bud, or you and the Burkhart girl find each other. And when they do, their lives are ruined. You'd give up anything for this person, whether what you're giving up guarantees your being together or your being apart. I can't imagine a life where I'd never had Bud. It's too late for me, it's been too late for years. But you can still get out of it.
So you love her, huh? You must if you're about to trap yourself. But if you really love her, you'll leave. Spare the both of you the pain of realizing you can't live with out each other, then the pain of knowing you'll die if you don't, then the pain of actually living without each other, which really isn't living at all. Spare the kids, little babies with dark, curly hair, who have yet to come; spare them lies and spare them betrayal. There's a thin line between love and hate, and when Bud finally left, he crossed that line. I hated him, and I took it out on you, probably with the intention of making you hate everything that you were being put through in his name. I don't want you to feel the love turn to hate. I know you're grown, and you can live your life the way you want to, but looking back everyday at what you missed out on is only a fraction of the suffering you'll live in if you don't run.
Run, Steven, run!
I know I'm the worst person in the world to give relationship advice, but this is more than relationships, this is more than life, this is advice on whatever it is that makes a person a person. That essence, that chemical, that soul, whatever it is, you're going to slaughter it if you marry this girl.
And then you will truly be just like your mother.
Wow, so much to say, so little paper and ink in the world. I could go on for pages about how I felt when you left, how you should have told me about WB, how I'm both amazed and somewhat disappointed that you're still alive...but like I said, it's impossible. I'm going to focus solely on your letter, the letter that actually made me question marrying Jackie, the letter that Jackie found and read, the letter that prompted one of the worst fights we've ever had, and we've had some doozies, and the letter that in the end led to her and I talking for hours about our upcoming life together, and settling all sorts of issues we hadn't even known we had. So thank you, I suppose. I'm pissed that you interfered after your silence for so many years, but in the end, you made me even more sure of my decision to marry Jackie. That's 'the Burkhart girl,' by the way. Jaclyn Beulah Burkhart, soon to be Jaclyn Beulah Hyde.
There are creepy parallels in our lives, Edna. I never knew that stuff you told me about you and Bud, I assumed he'd always been a deadbeat. Your comparing him to Jackie just makes me respect him more though, because Jackie is a truly amazing person, not that you have any right to know that. But you left, Edna. And the comparison ends there, because after I escaped your influence, I became twice the person I ever thought I could be. I have a great job that pays pretty damn nicely, and am saving up for a house for myself and Jackie. I have a decent relationship with WB. I have friends that I'd do almost anything for, I have a family that's not blood related, but are always there for me. I have a high school diploma through some twist of fate. I have a life, and it no longer mirrors your own. It's mine, I made it, and I know Jackie won't destroy it. Why? Because she helped me build it. She's a permanent part of it, and I know I'm likewise a part of hers. We're not like you and Bud. Our beginnings are the same, but our endings will be different. I know what I'm getting myself into; Hell, I've been married before. Bet you didn't know that. Her name was Sam, she was a stripper, and being married to her was what hurt. Or not specifically to her, but to anyone but Jackie. I want to marry her, and I'm going to marry her. I know there will be tough times, but we're ready for them. Just...stay away from us. Don't try to help us with any more of your advice. You made your choice to leave, I've made my choice to stay. And there lies the difference between us. Our choices. I may have been born like you and raised like you and abandoned like you, but I choose not to be you, and I choose for Jackie and I to have a different life than you had with Bud.
Oh, and for the thousandth time, don't call my eyes my "baby blues." You make me sound like a wussy boy.