Chantel

I still vividly remember the first time I saw her.

It was 2 weeks before my wedding. I was moonlighting on third shift, helping to cover a coworker out on FMLA. I got off shift that morning and hopped into the car with my fiance: we were driving to Virginia to meet his sister, her husband, and my oldest soon-to-be nephew and 2 nieces.

I tried to sleep in the car, but it was a fitful, unrested sleep. I was an overtired, grumpy, frazzled, dehydrated, stressed out bride who was about to meet extended family for the first time. And I was a hot mess.

I managed to pull myself together by the time we arrived in their driveway, and that’s when I saw her from the passenger side of the car: a cute little 9 year old with light brown hair and big expressive brown eyes was playing in the yard. This had to be Chantel. We locked eyes. I had never been an aunt before. We started quizzicaly at each other, unsure of what all this meant. I remember she gave me a big hug, as we got out of the car, and were ushered into the house, welcomed with open arms.

Through the years, I’d watch her blossom into a teenager. What began as her watching me put on make up in the morning morphed into me asking her for make up advice. Her make up game was on fleek, as the kids say nowadays.

The teenage years became fraught with angst and rebellion, accentuated with drugs and sex, probably steaming from the abuse she had suffered and never treated. I’d call her out and try my best to show her I would always be there and love her despite her many lapses in judgment. Her parents kicked her out of the house several times for having drugs and basically threw up their arms with frustration in terms of helping her professionally and emotionally. She’s currently living with a friend’s family at age 19, in between jobs again.

She needs someone to show her the love of the Father. And so I remain, checking on her through text messages and sending birthday gifts.

I was in town, visiting her family without my husband, a few weeks ago. While she was invited over for dinner, her lack of communication skills kept her from stopping by. It was no matter: I had already arranged a lunch date with her before I arrived.

* * * * *

Almost to the day, 10 years after we met in a driveway, I picked Chantel up in a stranger’s driveway. She was at another friend’s house, in the middle of absolute nowhere. She looked like she had dropped some excess weight, as her belly ring was clearly on display, and wore the light aroma of of marijuana as she slid into the passenger seat. Both of us were nursing a hangover: I sipped too much wine the night before and had a splitting headache. She had done shots (“Only like 6 or 7” – I kindly informed her 4 was binge drinking – she had no clue) and spent part of the night throwing up. She had been arrested again last month, this time for petit larceny, after failing to say no to a friend’s suggestion of putting unpaid merchandise in her purse. She was on probation, of course.

I swear, her communication skills and insecurity will be the end of her.

This was demonstrated again in her failing to pick a spot for lunch. “I don’t know, what do you want?” I pushed her to make a decision and she finally chose Red Robin, a fine choice, even though my Lenten fast meant I wouldn’t get my favorite bottomless root beer float.

Our conversation was surface level, but by the time food arrived we were in a deep talk about her insecurities, her inability to express her desires, and how that was making her life very difficult. She knew that stealing was wrong, but she lacked the fortitude to say no, blaming it on being tired after a long day, wanting to go home, and the “Sure, whatever” mindset she has when making decisions that directly affect her.

She acknowledged what I already knew to be true, but she has a streak of lip service behind her. Chantel’s words and actions are light years apart.

After lunch, I drove her back to her current home and I felt that tug from the Holy Spirit to pray with her. I struggle to say Grace before meals in a group setting, but I obliged.

“Can I pray with you?” I asked as she was about to leave the car.
“Sure,” she replied.

I held her hands and spoke His words over her. They flowed out, like a poem. I asked for her protection and that Chantel would know how beautiful, strong, and loved she was. There were tears in her eyes at the end.

Before she left, I told her not to spend dwindling money on weed, as I could smell it on her. I hugged her tight, told her I loved her, and to call me if she needed anything.

And before I knew it, I was flying south on the interstate, heading for home.

I hope Chantel’s future is brighter than her past. But only she can make that happen.

Open Prose Letter to my Niece Chantel

Dear Chantel,

And so, it happened again. You got caught – this time by the police – with drugs. As tears welled up in my eyes, as we again had a conversation about making better choices and moving forward out of the fray, you are back to where you were a year ago. I don’t understand how someone like you, with their whole future ahead of them, continues to make these choices that do nothing but keep you down.

I keep asking myself why. As I thought about it, I think I nailed down your life motto, which seems to fit all the trouble you find yourself in as of late:

I do what I want. The rules do not apply to me if it conflicts with what I want.

I wrote this prose – more for me, than you – to get all of things feelings off my chest.

****language warning****

Late to high school
Skipping class
Maybe not show up
Truancy and tardies
Notes home for skipping
Your message to others
Has been the same
Since high school
I do what I want
Fuck them

Smoking pot in the house
Carrying at school for friends
There are rules and consequences of this
Your response
:
Fuck that
I do what I want
I am in charge
Not you
Fuck you
And get out of my way
Before I fuck you up

Stealing a car
And narcotics
May be against the laws of this state
But it didn’t matter right now
In the moment
Because you’d say
I do what I want
I needed the high
You have no idea
What’s going on in my head
Only way to get there was to drive
I do what I want
Fuck you for not understanding

Breaking the rules
Of the state or of your parents
Don’t mean shit
You’re only sorry you got caught
Sorry you’re going to get chewed out
And stonewalled at home
Showing up for a court date
Is a minor inconvenience
But it will happen again
Because you simply do what you want
Getting drunk
And getting home
Were top priority
What you wanted in that moment
Not your safety
Or the safety of others
The rules of the road don’t apply in these situations
You do what you want
Fuck them for getting in your way

If you’re prosecuted for intent to distribute
It won’t stop you from doing it again
If you want to do it
You fly under the radar to evade capture
You will still drive
You will still smoke
You will still do hits
You will still sell
You will still do what you want
When you want
Because you always have
Fuck them if they try and stop you
You are in charge
You do what you want
The rules serve as only boundaries
To remain undetected

If you kill someone in a car accident
Driving home from a party cuz you were legally drunk
But the least drunk of your friends in the car
It won’t change nothing
You do what you want
Someone dying won’t change your wants
Unless your wants change
History tells us it won’t
But I hear you loud and clear:
I wanna get high
I wanna get fucked up tonight
I wanna get laid right now
I wanna take nude selfies for likes
I wanna forget my pain
I wanna take hits til I can’t feel
Cuz that’s what I love to do
It’s what I want
I’m gonna do what I want
Fuck you if you get in my way

A trail of destruction
Strained relationships
Fines
Legal woes
Maybe even jail time
Will follow you
Until you decide
To want different things
Like abiding by laws
And taking care of yourself
Right now it’s all noise
It’s all a stalling tactic
Because in the end
You’ll do what you want
Over and over
And over and over again
That is your narrative:
I do want I want
The rules do not apply to me
If it conflicts with what I want
And fuck anybody
Who tries to stop me
From getting what I want

And with everything that’s happened
Everything is right on track for you
You’re getting what you want

But I am always here
Watching
And praying
For you
That you will seek help
From a therapist
From the Lord
From me
So we can help silence
The demons
The drugs cannot do

Bons baisers,
Aunt Simonne