Welcome to the world! You just graced Mountain Home, Arkansas with your presence a whopping two weeks earlier than planned. Your mommy probably really appreciated this, considering you were over nine pounds when you were born. You have two older brothers. Daniel is three and William is seven. They are a little disappointed that you are a girl. Daniel and William really wanted another brother to be able to play three ninjas with and they just do not think it’ll be the same with a girl.
But they will get over it. Your brothers are really going to love you for your whole life. Sometimes, they have a really weird way of showing it, but they do love you. When you leave the brightly lit hospital, you’ll move into a big, victorian house, four stories tall. Your family was spending their first few nights in this newly-built house when you decided to come into the world. You join them and they become a family of five. You are all safe. You are all whole.
You are one! You love your mommy, daddy, and brothers. You love everyone. Your daddy sings Leaving on a Jetplane to you as a lullaby every night and plays you his James Taylor’s greatest hits CD. You love hearing stories from daddy and cuddling with mommy. Mommy likes to dress you up in fancy clothes. You have a big family that loves you so much! You don’t worry about anything. You have food, you have shelter, and you have love. You have everything you’d ever need and more. You are safe. You are sweet. You are whole.
You are two! You wear your daddy’s big t-shirts to sleep in, though they almost reach down to your toes. You love your big house that feels like a castle. You sleep soundly knowing that you are loved. Knowing that if you have a bad dream, you can scurry down to the end of the hallway and climb into your parent’s big, king-sized bed. You can wiggle in between them and feel their warmth. You are safe. You are protected. You are whole.
You are three! Your brothers run wild and you try to keep up with them. You all play in creeks, jump on the trampoline, and explore the acres of land you live on. At night, mommy and daddy sit on the side of your bed and they read you Peter Rabbit. When you ask daddy for One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss, you read it out to him because you have it memorized. You all carve pumpkins together at halloween and open presents together on Christmas. You are surrounded with books, with toys, with love. You are safe. You are always having fun. You are whole.
You are four! You carry your baby dolls everywhere, push them around in strollers, and tuck them in to their beds each night with a kiss. Daddy lets you sit on his lap while he plays solitaire and minesweeper and you try to help him win the games. Sometimes he will type out the stories you tell him and print them out so you can draw your own pictures, make your own books. You go to pre-school and it is hard to leave mommy and daddy. But it is fun and you learn to write your name. You meet a lot of friends. You love to color pictures of your family and your dog, Sasha. Your preschool teachers tell mommy and daddy how good of an artist you are already! You always have someone to pick you up from preschool, to go home with. You are safe even here in this new place. You are kind and thoughtful. You are whole.
You are five! You love going to tap, ballet, and jazz dancing classes. Your mommy wants to keep you at home one more year so you stay in preschool instead of going to kindergarten.
Around this time, there are a lot of big changes. Mommy and daddy are going to really start to fight. A lot. At breakfast, in the car, and right in front of you. They will yell and argue and scream. It will feel scary, it will make you worry. You’ll want it to stop and you’ll want to make everyone happy. You will struggle to find peace at home like you used to. This is a lot to deal with when you’re so little. You believe it is your responsibility to make everyone happy. That is too much for someone so little. It’s okay to be anxious and scared. Those are normal emotions, you don’t have to run from them.
You start to get really anxious so Mommy and Daddy will send you to a counselor. You’ll color and paint with her, finding a little more peace. You will find solace in your mind, in your imagination and creativity. You make your own safety here for yourself. Things are changing, but you are still safe, I promise. You are so brave. Though it may feel like your family is breaking, you are still whole.
You are six! Momma moved into a new house, away from dad. The first night there, you feel scared and have a nightmare, but mom is there to comfort you. You aren’t alone. This house feels foreign but it will become a home too, just give it time. You travel back and forth each week and sleep in two different beds. You have two different bathrooms, two closets, two homes. You miss mommy. Then you miss daddy. It constantly feels like a piece is missing.
Your mommy and your daddy love you so much, but they are going through a lot right now. They want to give you everything you need, but divorce is hard. Your brothers are sad and angry sometimes. William yells a lot and throws fits. You stay quiet and good and try to make everyone happy. All you want is for them to be happy. You play pretend with your friends, you color, and take care of your baby dolls. You make it through this year that feels hard and sad.
Things don’t feel whole right now, but that does not mean that you are not whole. Things feel out of control, but you are still the same you. You are the same little Olivia that lived in one house with one bed and one family. You are still safe. You are strong. You don’t have to work and work and work to be good enough.
You are seven! You love rollerblading out in the driveway at dad’s, riding your bike around the neighborhood at mom’s. Your favorite things are playing with Polly Pockets and hanging out with your best friend Rachel. You start playing on a soccer team and going to tumbling classes. You somehow fit in violin lessons too. You stay very busy and love having friends over to play.
Dad works hard for weeks building you a big treehouse with a wrap around staircase and a bunk bed inside. If there is ever stress or problems at home, with your parents or your brothers, you try not to worry about it. You stay positive and sweet. You stay safe in your imagination, play, color, and think about happy things. William yells sometimes, but you stay quiet in your room so you don’t upset him, make it worse. You stay completely silent when he tries to bother you and he leaves you alone. You are the one that no one worries about, you believe that is your only job.
Mom and dad still fight a lot and you just want to make them both happy. But, little Olivia, you are still whole. Sometimes you’re put in the middle, feeling like you’re being pulled apart, pulled to either side, but you won’t be broken. You have a light in you that stays bright no matter what.
You are eight! You’re still staying very busy with all of your extra activities and playing with your friends. You love to read and write. You are very smart and you are placed into the gifted and talented class at school. You win a big contest at school during Dr. Seuss week for a story you wrote. You get to read it on the tv.
Your creativity continues to grow. You and Rachel make funny videos and sing karaoke. You spend weeks with Maw Maw and your cousins in Louisiana and she always has a new craft book for you to do. You spend weekends with Nanna and Poppy and they have a lot of dress up clothes and tea parties.
You are getting used to your two different houses. Daddy makes Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes in the morning and drives you to school. He brings you Dairy Queen star kisses every Wednesday to lunch. Sometimes if he has to work later, one of his nurses will pick you up and you get to go into the doctor’s lounge at the hospital. This may seem lonely, but there are tv’s here and endless snacks. You can watch Disney and eat cookies and wait for daddy to finish up work. You kind of worry about him being alone when you’re not at the big house with him. You worry about a lot for such a little person.
When you’re at mommy’s you take long walks around the neighborhood with her. She gets you a tea set and big, pretty white furniture for your new bedroom. She takes you and your brothers on float trips and hiking adventures. She has a boyfriend named “B” and you tell mommy you don’t really like him, but you don’t have a reason. You just have a bad feeling about him. They stay together for a long while and mom travels to see him every other weekend.
There are still more changes happening and you don’t even realize how strong you are already. You always make it through with a smile on your face. You are safe in all of these changes. You are creative and happy. You are still whole.
You are nine! You still love to read and draw. There is a race for field day with your whole class. You run the fastest, even beating all the boys. You take the bus to the racket club after school each day, play with friends and stay active. You take tumbling classes and learn how to do cartwheels and handstands.
Mom takes the whole family on a trip to Mexico and it is so much fun. Mom’s friends come over and they love you like you are their own baby. Mom makes sure you have everything that you want and need when you’re with her. When she plays dolls with you, she gives them all Scottish accents and makes up magical stories.
Daddy brings a woman to your upward basketball game and introduces her to you. She starts to come over a lot for dinner. She starts picking you up from school and she goes on vacations and trips with you. You love her and beg her to have sleepovers. You watch movies with her and do artwork. After a year, daddy tells you that he is going to get married to her! A full-time sleepover! You are so happy that dad will have someone so fun and nice. You are safe. Everyone seems happy! You are whole.
You are ten! This year dad gets married to Christy and she becomes your stepmom. You are ecstatic. She moves into the big house and brings all of her artwork. She does art projects with you and lets you dress up in her feather boas. You watch Miss Congeniality and she picks you up from school in her little Miata convertible. But mommy is not very ecstatic. Mom and Christy do not get along, which is very difficult for you because you love them both so much. You wonder a lot how to make them both happy when they are so very different. Sometimes if you make one of them happy, the other is upset. It will always feel like you have to pick a side.
Your brothers are not taking the changes so well. William keeps getting angrier and angrier. He comes home in yelling fits and screams scary things to mom, dad, and Christy. He kicked Bella, your puppy, across the room. He never listens to what they say and it makes your parents very upset. You really don’t like hearing him scream at them or at you. You don’t like seeing your parents sad, worried, and hurt. You stay silent and quiet, keeping yourself safe. You just hope he will stop yelling. You try to be good and quiet to make up for his wild outbursts, but that isn’t your responsibility. You don’t have to be good to make up for his actions. These moments can be very scary, but you are still surrounded by so much love and light. You make yourself feel safe in the best way you know how. Your family loves you no matter how good you are. You are still whole.
You are eleven! You start middle school this year. Your favorite classes are art and music. Dad comes to your science classes and teaches everyone about what he does at work, being a doctor. You love when he comes to class and you get to see him. You are proud he’s your dad. You love baking and talking to Christy all day after school. You start to watch American Idol with her and talk about the boy you have a crush on.
Mom lets you have a lot of friends over for sleepovers. She drives you and your friends to the movie store and lets you pick out four or five movies. She lets you buy jones sodas and lots of candy for everyone. She treats all of your friends like they’re her own kids and they love coming to your house.
But sometimes you can see mom’s struggles. She tries a lot of diets and she says mean things about her body. She is very hard on herself. Everyone tells you that you look like mommy so you wonder if these mean things are true about your body too. She wants you to stay healthy but it doesn’t seem very fun. She tells you that sugar and carbs are bad but this is hard when you’re a kid. It only makes you want to eat “unhealthy” even more when you feel like you aren’t allowed to. All your friends eat whatever they want and they are small. You start to become very aware of your size, that you are bigger than mommy. You begin to think, if mom thinks she is too big, then what does that make you? You become aware of what you eat. You start to wonder if there’s something wrong with you.
You start to notice that you are bigger than your friends and start saying the mean things to yourself. You notice that your stomach isn’t flat and your thighs are bigger than your friends’. You worry about these things. You start to try and compensate for eating bad foods. You will join cross country to lose weight, but fortunately realize you love running regardless of its effect on your appearance, regardless of how slow you are. You will have people to constantly remind you that you are loved the way you are.
This is hard, but don’t be too mad at yourself. You are trying to find control. You want to do something with all of this pressure, all of your guilt. You just want to feel like you are good enough. I promise you that it will get better. There will be so many days it doesn’t feel this hard.
There are so many great things about you. You are fun and creative and kind. You make a new best friend, Nicole, and she always reminds you that you are beautiful and fun. You start to spend a lot of time at her house and her parents love you as their own. You never think these mean things about yourself when you are with them. Momma Rita feels like another mom. Mr. Dave calls you daughter number two. You have another safe place. You are safe. There is nothing wrong with you. You are loved. You are whole just the way you are. You don’t need to shrink or change to be these things.
You are twelve! William graduates from high school this year and it makes you sad. He yells a lot and makes mom and dad mad and upset, but he is still your brother and you don’t want to say goodbye. You have always and will always hate goodbyes.
You also say goodbye to the big house. Daddy and Christy move everyone into a different, smaller house near the hospital so dad can walk to work. You feel very sad to say goodbye to the big house. It has so many happy memories. It has been the one consistent part of your life. It is familiar and comforting. It is your home.
You talk to Maw Maw on the phone a few days after moving and you cry to her because you’re overwhelmed and you miss her. You wish you could live closer to her. You love your grandma so much and wish you could play cards with her every day and eat her gumbo.
All of this may sound hard, but you join band this year and you absolutely love it. You pick the french horn and practice every day. You audition for All-Region band and you are the only seventh grader from your class that makes it! Your name is put up on a plaque that holds all of the names of the few seventh graders that have made it in the past. You go to band camp, play concerts, and start to throw yourself into it completely. It makes you feel good, sometimes like you’re enough.
You work really hard to be good. All the time. Good at band, good in school, good with church, good at art, good behavior, a good daughter. You want to be good enough to make your parents happy when William throws a fit. But, little Olivia, they love you no matter what you do, how good you are. You will always be good enough for them. They love you regardless, they love William and Daniel regardless. They take you all as you are, good or bad, they love you unconditionally.
More change, more chaos. More busyness and trying to work to be good enough. But you still find the light in everything. You still live in your imagination and creativity, make your own peace. You create music, laughter, friendship, artwork. You still feel like you are missing something, you aren’t enough, that you need to do or achieve or deserve to be whole. But you don’t. You are still whole, just as you are.
You are thirteen! You absolutely love band. You make All-Region again this year. You start marching band at football games and continue running cross country, going to meets. You still play soccer and become really good at defense. You still do art projects with Christy and draw a lot. You love attending your youth groups, going to bible study, having discipleship weekends, and hanging out with your friends inside and outside of church.
However, the relationship between mom and Christy is getting even more strained. You hear bad things about them both when you switch from house to house. You wish everyone would just get along. You love them both and don’t want to pick sides. You will feel always conflicted, always trying to be a version of yourself that each of them will love. It is really hard to be good all the time when there are two completely different sets of standards to live up to.
Around this time you won’t get along with mom much. She is different than all of your friend’s moms. She has traveled all over the world and has different viewpoints than your friend’s moms, different than Christy. You compare her a lot and you are embarrassed when she does things differently. Sometimes you wish she was like all of the other mom’s. You are frustrated with her spontaneous way of living, with no plan and no scheduling. You enjoy control and planning. You enjoy stability and predictability, but she has a big soul, a big mind, and a yearning for adventure. She does not belong in this tiny town, with its close-minded people. For years you will find mom incredibly difficult to live with. You will clash a lot. But I promise that when you grow up, you’ll realize that it’s a good thing mom is different. You’ll learn to accept and feel grateful for your mom’s sense of adventure. You’ll realize that you were able to grow up learning more about culture, about flexibility and independence. You will find that you inherited a bit of her free spirit. You will cherish your mom and she will be there for you in many difficult situations. Right now it may seem like you are nothing alike, but you gain many strengths that you will share with her. She will love you unconditionally.
This is a really great year for you. You have so many great friends, you are involved in activities, and you feel really in touch with your faith. Of course things are still a little hard and there’s some change, but you are safe. You are whole.
You are fourteen! You are now in the junior high. You have an art teacher that you absolutely love and you frequently are recognized as artist of the week. She hangs your paintings outside in the hallway. You are constantly playing your french horn and you will make All-Region band again. This year more of your friends make it too so it becomes a fun trip that continues every year.
You read the entire Harry Potter series this year. Nicole lets you borrow each book. Each time you start a new book, you read the last chapter first. You want to know the ending. You want to know what happens and that everything ends happily. Nicole laughs at you for this.
You love taking photographs. You will get a nice digital camera for Christmas this year and you’ll take it everywhere with you. You love taking photos of your friends and of the sunflowers in the backyard. You try to capture photos of your puppy, Bella, but she does not like to be a model. So you’ll cuddle with her instead.
You will begin to learn a lot about money – how much is given and how much is received. How much is wasted and how much is saved. You learn about child support. You learn about financial agreements decided in mom and dad’s divorce. I wish you didn’t have to learn about all of this. You are stressed, you feel all of the tension. Again, you feel like a middle man. It is not something that you should be stressed about at fourteen.
Mommy still travels, William still yells. Daniel avoids being home a lot and practically lives out of his car.
You continue to strive for perfection in everything you do. You strive for positivity and light. You are safe. You are capable of so many great things. Your dreams are so big. You have so much support and love. You are strong. You grow stronger. You are whole.
You are fifteen! You are a freshman in high school. You practice french horn harder than ever and receive first chair in the first band at All-Region – the best junior high horn player in the region! You have solos and concerts and more band camps. You invest all your time and energy into music. It helps distract you and keep you happy. You don’t think about your parents arguing or your brothers making chaos. When you see the pride and love on your parents faces when you get first chair, you feel like maybe for a moment you’re good enough. You’ve been good enough to erase the bad they’ve been experiencing, the stress.
But this feeling is fleeting. It never feels like enough, does it? This year things are a little more difficult at home. Daniel moves away to go to college. William will move back to Mountain Home and live downstairs at mom’s house. He is angry a lot. He is aggressive a lot. He yells and screams at mom. Sometimes she looks scared, he’s so much bigger than her. He punches things, holes in walls. He threatens and calls names. It is so hard to watch. Sometimes you will come home and William is drunk. He comes into your room and asks you to do a painting for him, slurring his speech while describing a scene straight out of a science fiction novel. He pushes and begs you for a piece of your artwork and you feel uncomfortable. You don’t want to say yes, but you don’t want to make him mad or upset. So you don’t say anything at all. You learn that silence and passivity will protect you. You use this often throughout the years with him. Sometimes it seems like it makes things worse but it is just your brain protecting you the best way it knows how. You go to Nicoles, you text your friends to please come pick you up. You run to escape and find peace. You are never physically hurt. You stay safe.
You spend hours at Nicole’s house. You make silly videos, you play her mom’s piano. On Saturdays you two lay in bed and watch The Office, Grey’s Anatomy, and Gilmore Girls. You walk around her neighborhood, make gummy sushi and fresh baked cookies. You feel so safe here. So safe with Nicole, Rita, Dave, and her three older brothers. You feel like part of the family. You come over on Sundays to family dinners, you go on beach vacations with them.
There is a lot of fear in this year, a lot of anxiety. Fortunately what you will mostly remember and hold close are these fun times with Nicole and her family. You will remember the silliness, the laughing until you cried. You remember the innocent laughter you’d both share, oblivious to anything bad beyond the doorstep. You’ll take a forever friend into the future and Nicole will always be there for you.
It feels like you have to be extra good these days, work extra hard. Sometimes you don’t feel safe and you feel scared. But you find your safety, you make your safe places. You are safe. You are whole no matter where you are, who you’re with, or what you’ve accomplished.
You are sixteen! You pass your driver’s test and wonder what kind of car you’ll drive. But things are a little complicated. You’ll hear more about money, more about divorce agreements, more arguments, negative comments, and frustration. You parents argue about who will get you a car. They will put you in the middle. In this situation you feel the worst. You feel torn in half, put in the middle, and it feels like your parents don’t even care how it effects you. At this point you don’t even care if you get a car or not, you just want them to stop tearing you in half.
You work to feel whole and good in band and art. You practice obsessively, every second of the day. You wake up at 5am to practice, you go into the band hall during lunch, after school. You listen to a CD over and over with the audition music on it. It occupies every moment of your thoughts and time. It distracts you from the arguing at home, the screams from William, the pressure you put on yourself. You work hard to be enough, you obsess. And you get first chair at All-State, top french horn in the entire state as a sophomore. But it still won’t feel like enough. You will feel even more pressure.
Your parents care about you, they always will. This situation is complicated and it is unfortunate that you are put into the middle. They absolutely do not want to hurt you in any way. They’re human. We all are. They love you so much.
I promise it gets better, I promise there will be a compromise. You’ll make it through. Music and painting and spending the night at Nicole’s bring you safety. You are safe. That message that you’re broken, you’re torn in half will seem so loud. But you are whole. You are still the same Olivia. Your circumstances do not define you.
You are seventeen! This year you will have your first boyfriend. You have always been pretty shy, quiet and stuck in your head. But you’ll start dating a boy who texts you and says nice things. Things that you’ve never really thought about yourself. He gives you a lot of attention and you say yes when he asks to be your boyfriend.
You tell him that you want to wait until marriage to have sex. You have a purity ring and went through a ceremony at church where you promised God you would stay pure until you get married. He will say he wants to wait too.
You’ll have your first kiss. And your first of a lot of things. He will push you and you just want to make him happy. You think you love him. But you really don’t. You like the attention he gives you and the things he says about your body. You try to get smaller to make him happy. You’ll skip lunch. You’ll start to run a lot more.
And one night, after a final few pushes, you break this promise you made to God and to your parents that day at church. You take off the purity ring. You don’t feel pure or good any more. You really wish it wouldn’t have happened. You tell Nicole and she cries for you.
You start to put music and art and creativity on the back burner. You’re not in art classes any more. You don’t get first chair at all state again. He starts to treat you worse and worse. Less and less like a human being, like the loving and compassionate and creative person that you are. You will do anything to try and be a person he will love, after giving him all of these things he wanted. You believe this is how you are supposed to be treated. He’s your first boyfriend, you don’t know any better.
Little Olivia, it is okay. The way he treats you does not change who you are. The things that he pushes you to do, do not ruin you. You will start to feel ruined, broken, and a bad person. You will feel disgusted with yourself. You will start to really feel like you are and never will be good enough. You will start to keep secrets, try to lose more weight, try to gain more control over your body. You will feel like you gave everything to him, things you can never get back.
It feels like he is safety, but he is not. You are still safe on your own and in your mind. With your friends and family. You are not broken. You are not ruined. You are not a bad person. You are not disgusting. These are things that can never be taken away from you. You are still whole.
You are eighteen! You are a senior in high school. You have a new boyfriend that treats you better but you only know one way to have a relationship. Again you try to earn love by shrinking, becoming smaller, obsessing over your body.
You make All-State band for the third year in a row. You win awards and scholarships for your music. You play solos and concertos and everyone tells you that you are going to be a professional musician. You decide to major in music next year in college.
You graduate in the top ten percent of your class. You have great friends and lose a lot of weight. You start to feel a little better about yourself. Maybe almost good enough.
Summer arrives and there’s trouble in your relationship. He likes another girl, smaller, blonde, more beautiful. You feel again like you can’t be enough. I wish that I could personally tell you that you do not need another human being to complete you. To make you feel safe. You do not need to earn love. You can be yourself. You are whole, still, after all that has happened.
This is a really big year of transition, which is never easy for anyone. You are stronger than you think you are. You have incredible things in front of you. You spend this summer traveling with mom and enjoying time with family. You try and make a well-structured plan for your life. You are safe through every transition. You are constantly surrounded by your team. You are really not believing it right now, but I wish I could tell you over and over, you are whole. You are complete. Just the way you are, right now.
You are nineteen! You are a new freshman in college. You live with your three best friends that you’ve known since the fifth grade in a dorm. You celebrate your one year anniversary with your boyfriend. You are in marching band, concert band, private lessons, music classes, and decide to get a job at the recreation facility on campus on top of it all.
You love staying busy. You want to do everything. But, just to warn you, you’ll begin to feel pretty lost. Nineteen is too young to try and plan out your entire life. It’s okay. You won’t know what to major in, who to hang out with, what to do, who to be.
The same things remain consistent. You are safe. You are whole. You are not defined by a college major, grades on a transcript, attention from a boy, or circumstances of your life. You are doing the best you can.
Next you’ll turn twenty. Then twenty-one. Twenty-two will come quickly and pass on to twenty-three in the blink of an eye. I don’t want to tell you all the things that will happen in this time, little Olivia. I want to protect you and shield you from all of the pain and grief coming. But I can’t.
So little Olivia, it will be okay. There will be so so many times when it feels like it will never be okay, like you are a disgusting, broken, and empty vessel. But those are lies. I promise. Those are feelings, not truths. You are loved. You are enough. You are whole.