Letter to...

Dear Robbie at 17

You were a smart girl with a strong will. I just wish there was one adult who could've steered you away from a lot of trouble and pain.

Dear Robbie at 17,

Forgive me! I know we haven't talked in quite some time. I need to tell you a few things, ask you a few questions and mainly check in to see if you're OK. Because if I don't, who will?

First of all, I wanted to say that I understand why you left home when you were a teenager; why you had to get away. I think survival is one of your great strengths, although you were so strong in so many ways. The fact that you told your mother sexual things about your grandfather when you were 4, and then again at 11, that your stepfather was molesting you. Wow! That's truly amazing, that you were so young and even though you were threatened about tattling, you were always one for pointing out the elephant in the room. That takes a helluva lot of bravery, and I admire you for that. Always. You did the right thing, my girl, even though it made people angry at you.

It was also about survival when a few months after your parents had you committed at 17, you escaped from the mental hospital, carefully planned like a jail break, to bust through an emergency exit into Denise's waiting car.

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You were a smart girl with an incredibly strong will. You had so much potential. But you kept running. Teenagers don't often stop to reflect on things, to decide what to do next. They rely on parents and school guidance counselors for that. In the absence of any reliable authority figure to help you make decisions, you just forged ahead into the unknown, and it was always in the wrong direction. That's not your fault.

One thing I'm still trying to come to terms with, all these years later, is the kind of thief you were. It's not being a thief, in itself, that bothers me; a lot of teenagers steal. They do it because of peer pressure, attention-getting, or maybe a thrill. But you did it for none of those reasons. You just didn't care.

I don't mean the records you stole, or the office supplies, or the underwear, books, or groceries—and the bullshit stories you made up when you got caught by store detectives, such as your mother having a heart condition and calling her would kill her. (It worked! They never called!) Those were all from big, impersonal stores, and the detectives were, well, dicks.

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It was the heartless way you stole from individual people. Like the time you extorted $60 (a lot of money back then) out of a very old man because he backed into your car. It was just the bumper and yours was a cheap, crummy car anyway, but you flew into a rage, got out of your car and demanded to know how much money he had on him, and to give it to you. People were not used to a girl being so fierce and such a bully.

And then the time you went to a dinner party, your very first, with Danny who was 33 years old to your 17. Everyone there was around his age. You had nothing to talk about, so you went in the bedroom where all the purses and coats were, and stole the money out of the wallets. The next day Danny called and you lied, saying that of course they'd think it was you.

But what really breaks my heart and stays with me is when you stole the Christmas presents. That's something I never understood. You walked through a parking garage looking in cars for something to steal, like maybe loose change in an ashtray. Then you saw a pile of beautifully wrapped Christmas presents sitting on a front seat and the car was unlocked, so you took them and went to a remote corner of the garage. You sat down on that filthy floor, surrounded by oil stains and pigeon droppings, and you opened the presents. Without a thought about the kids they were intended for. Without a thought about anything.

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Why did you take the presents? Why didn't you feel bad? I know that no one gave you presents for Channukah that year. You were still a child. You wanted a family to take care of you and embrace you and love you. Though you would never admit that. And yet the whole thing still troubles me to this day.

I wish there was just one adult, just one, who took you by the shoulders and said, "Stop this. You're running in the wrong direction!" Someone who would guide you. Someone who would have saved you from a lot of pain and trouble.

Back then you were like a feral animal who was rejected by the people who were supposed to care for you. Your mother didn't listen to you when you told the truth. The most important person to you in the world made you a stranger. You were too dangerous to her illusions. So you became a loner—wild, impervious, angry and desperate for your mother. You wanted what you thought normal people had, even if it meant sitting on a dirty car garage floor and opening their gifts.

But what you didn't know is that your intelligence and perseverance would eventually save you and slow you down so that you could love and feel loved. You became a person who is honest and not covetous, except that you're still jealous of families. You became a person who can forgive and most importantly, you became a parent who loves her children more than anything else in the world.

I love you, dear Robbie.

Tags: memoirs