“It was Halloween of 2000, and I was 5 years old. My mother and father were higher than a kite, and needed someone to take us trick or treating.”
The above is from one of the winning essays of the Willy the Plumber scholarship, a scholarship that helps children with parents who are currently incarcerated or have been incarcerated repeatedly. City Weekly first wrote about the scholarship in 2011, started by ex-con Karl “Willy” Winsness (pictured), who decided to create a scholarship to help out the children who have suffered because of the mistakes of their parents.
Administered through partner organization the Community Foundation of Utah, the scholarship awarded $3,500 in scholarships to several deserving Utah high school students preparing for college. To donate to the scholarship online, click here, or call the Community Foundation of Utah at 801-559-3005, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is the full text of Pleasant Grove student Maycie Nielsen’s essay “Defying Addiction.” Nielsen agreed to have her name published, but the piece has been lightly edited to change the names of other individuals named in the story to protect their privacy.
The essay below is a long and oftentimes heartbreaking read, but worth your time. I can also honestly say the conclusion of this essay is one of the most courageous things I’ve ever read.
Drug addiction doesn’t only affect the people doing drugs, it affects so many more. I grew up with parents who were addicted to drugs. To keep up with their addictions, they stole peoples’ credit cards, made false social security numbers, stole birthday money from me, and pawned everything. But the stuff they did not only changed their lives, but it made a huge impact on my life. My parents started doing drugs when I was 4 years old, but nothing really happened with it until I was 5. My grandparents slowly started to realize what they were doing, my sister who was just 9 at the time started playing the mother figure over my younger brother, who was 2 at the time, and me, and we basically were just there to fend for ourselves. My grandparents took us in, and it has been an on-and-off battle for about 12 years now.
It was Halloween of 2000, and I was 5 years old. My mother and father were higher than a kite, and needed someone to take us trick or treating. My mom called my grandparents and so they came and picked us up and brought us to their house. My grandparents kept us for a few days, and decided they wouldn’t give us back until things straightened out. A few days later, my grandma received a call from my dad, saying my mom had mixed some pills and drugs and was starting to overdose. So my grandpa stayed at home with us kids and my grandma rushed my mom to the emergency room. When they finished her treatment, my mom said she would be over Sunday night to pick us up, but my grandma said that they were not giving us back and that my parents were to check into a rehabilitation center.
Within a couple of weeks, my grandma helped my mom check into a place called Foothill, which was located in Provo, Utah. My dad lied and told us that he had signed up to get treatment, but just continued to drink and do drugs the whole time. So my grandparents transferred us schools, and we had to change our entire lifestyle.
I started to become withdrawn: I shut everybody out, I wouldn’t talk to anybody, I wouldn’t sleep at night because I would just cry, I had major trust issues, and my grandparents took me to counseling but I refused to talk because I hated it. My parents had continually lied to me, forgot about me, put me under the priority of drugs, and would just leave us for days at a time and it took a huge toll on my life, and still to this day I have trust issues because of all of this.
It was June of 2002, and I was 7 years old, and we lived in American Fork. My parents got really addicted to drugs again, and they fought a lot. One day, my parents got into a really big fight and started hitting each other. My dad hit my mom really hard and it made her upset, so she picked up her cell phone and threw it at my dad’s head. It hit him so hard in just the right spot, and it knocked him unconscious. She was so terrified it had killed him that she got us kids in the car and sped off! She drove around nervously for about a half an hour, and decided to return to make sure he was okay but called my grandparents to meet us there just in case something happened.
When we got back we had to wait outside and play, but the adults went inside and my dad was awake, and madder than ever. He had called the police to file abuse but since they had both hit each other and were both high, the cops arrested both of them, and we once again had to move back in with my grandparents. This was so hard because we had just gotten settled into our new house, finally started to make new friends and starting to trust my parents again. But this was all ripped away in an instant.
It was September of 2003, on a warm autumn day. The flowers were gleaming, and the sun rising bright and early. I hadn’t slept at all the night before because it was my big day. I had been waiting for this day for what felt like forever. My family was all there, my favorite treats in the oven, and I got to wear my new pretty dress and everything seemed perfect. But something was missing. It was July 12, 2003. I was 8 years old and got to be baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had been waiting for what felt like an eternity. But at this time, both of my parents were in jail, and I really wanted them to be there for my special day. But I wasn’t sure how much longer I could wait to finally have this done, because I wanted to be just like my big sister. But I decided they should be there so I waited for them to get out.
One long month passed, and my grandparents sat me down to have a talk. But I still wanted to wait. So it came September, and they told me that my parents might be gone for a long time still. I couldn’t wait anymore so I went on without them. This day felt like the most special day in my life, and my parents were both missing it. It tore me apart.
But this won’t be the only time this happens.
I learned to accept disappointment, I learned to accept the fact that I was a second priority in my parents lives because drugs took their first pick, and I was starting to accept the fact that things weren’t changing. It was payday in June of 2004, and my mom said she was going to cash her check and she would be right back. But three days passed and still no sign of mom. My grandparents were a little bit worried about her, but had no way to get a hold of her, and we were safe so that was what they needed to focus on.
Turns ou,t my mom cashed her paycheck, drove up to Salt Lake to buy drugs, and then rented a hotel room in Provo. My grandma was at work when she received a phone call from the Orem police, saying that they had been notified that we had been kidnapped. My grandma reassured them that we were at her house with my grandpa, safe. But the cops said that they had my mom there, saying that her kids were missing. So my grandma went to the University Mall to meet the cops and my mother. My mom had gotten so high in her hotel room and gone shopping, but she passed out in the bushes at the mall and started hallucinating. Well, my grandma brought my mom home and showed us that we were safe with grandpa and checked my mom into another rehab.
It was starting to happen yet again; my parents were lying, stealing, and disappearing for days on end. We didn’t know where they were, who they were with, what they were doing, if they were dead. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, I couldn’t focus in school; it tore me apart and I was a disaster.
When my mom was in jail, in September of 2004, we got to go visit her the first Thursday of every month. But it was hard on us because my grandparents raised us very differently than my mom did so seeing her turned us into those little brats we were when we lived with her. So going to see her was a reward, not a privilege. We had to be good all month long, or no visit. But visiting wasn’t a normal visit. You had to sit on a bench, with a glass window in between you and the inmate and talk through telephones. The visits were timed and monitored by police officers.
The visits were one hour long and there was five of us to talk to her. So we each got 20 minutes to tell her everything that had happened in an entire month. We never got to visit my dad, because my grandparents don’t like my dad so it wasn’t their responsibility to take us. It was so upsetting because at school, kid’s moms and dads would come and watch their Halloween parade, their Christmas sing, and just everything, but I only got to see my mom once a month through glass.
I never got to give my parents a hug, or have them tuck me in, or even tell them how my day was. It was so hard as a fourth grader to just be myself all the time. My parents both got out of jail in March of 2005, and we moved back in with them. They felt bad for being gone, so they wanted to give us everything we wanted. But they had no money because they were spending it all on drugs.
They decided to steal my grandparent’s credit cards and take us on a shopping spree. We went to Dillard’s and they bought us everything. The spent almost $1,000 at just Dillard’s, then they took us to Toys "R" Us and bought us all the toys we wanted. They just kept on spending and spending, because it wasn’t their money so they didn't care. This made us think that we could just get whatever we wanted, and so we turned into spoiled brats, and started acting really rude.
This made it hard, because when we moved in with my grandparents we kept getting in trouble because we were brats. I was 10, almost 11, and it was June of 2005. I had just finished fourth grade, and my dad had just gotten in trouble for drugs again. I lived with my mom, my brother and my sister and we lived just a block away from my grandparents. My best friend lived two houses away, and it felt like things were finally getting good. But my mom and dad weren’t aloud to communicate or they would both go back to jail. To make sure of this, my dad had a mentor who was with him almost 24/7 in Salt Lake, where my dad lived. This made it really hard to talk to him, though, because he wasn’t even allowed to call our house.
The only time we got to visit my dad was if we had a chaperoned visit. So once a month, my dad;s mom would come pick us upand take us to a park down the street, where my dad and his mentor would meet us. We weren’t allowed to even mention my mom during our visits, and we only got to see him for an hour. I couldn't just call my dad, we couldn’t go on daddy daughter dates, and it was hard. I was definitely a daddy’s girl, and I hated not being able to just cuddle up with him and watch a movie, I couldn't ask him to come comfort me when I had nightmares, I had to grow up without him.
My dad was released and got to move in with us in July of 2005. My siblings and I shared a VHS collection that included every Disney movie that had been created at the time. But my parents go caught doing drugs only a week after my dad had moved back in with us; my grandparents took us away again. But this time on the move, our entire VHS collection had gone missing, along with the $50 I had received for my birthday on one week prior to this.
I was devastated, but believed it was an accident so I forgot about it. I overheard my mom and grandma talking about it and heard that my mom had pawned them for drug money. I asked what that meant and they explained it to me. I then asked my mom what happened to my birthday money and my mom explained that they needed drugs and that was the only money that they could lay their hands on. I was so upset I walked outside and didn’t come back inside until my mom and dad had left. I said I was never talking to them again. How could they do this to me? They took all of my stuff to get money for drugs. Didn’t they know how bad this hurt me? Could they not see that they were tearing me apart? How strong did they think this little 11-year-old could be, and how much more could I handle?
It was June of 2007; I was 11 years old and so glad that my parents were finally starting to be good. They had gotten an apartment, and finally started being in our lives more. I really thought that things were beginning to change, but I was definitely wrong. My parents had one more month of being clean and stable until we could move in with them.
My mom had to work, and then she was supposed to come over to our house after and come to my little brother’s baseball game. But my mom lied about going to work; she really went up to Salt Lake and got high. She was driving home on the freeway and she hit a car. She knew if the cops were called she would go to jail for being high so she just sped off. So, she kept on driving all the way to Provo, and pulled into a park and took a nap under a tree.
When she woke up, she came to our house and my grandparents knew she was high. But my grandparents made my mom come to the baseball game anyways because she had promised my little brother she would be there, no matter what. When we got home from my brother's baseball game, there was seven police cars in our cul-de-sac and a tow truck with my mom’s car on it. So my grandma took us kids inside and went back outside to see what was going on. Well, we were curious, so we watched out the window to see what was happening.
The cops had been called and they had gotten my mom's license plate. My grandma came in and told us to come outside really quick; we needed to talk to my mom. So, we all ran outside and my mom told us that she loved us and that she would be back soon and to be good in school the next year. The cops then arrested my mom and we saw the entire thing. I went into a really bad depression again after this. I thought things were changing and I was so excited to be able to move in with my parents soon again. But they were lying to us again and the mess continued; 2008 was supposed to be a great year!
It was April and my grandparents took us to California for the 10th time. At the time, my mom lived with my great grandma in Provo, and my dad was in jail again. It was our second day in California, and we were at Magic Mountain. My grandma’s phone rang and it was my uncle that lived at my great grandma’s also. He told us that my mom had gotten in a very serious accident, and that she was on her way to the emergency room, but not to worry about it because he was on his way there and he would let us know everything that happened. So, of course, this ruined our vacation because we were so worried about her. A couple of hours later, my uncle called us and told us that my mom had broken her neck but that she would be okay; she had to stay in the hospital for a couple of days and then she would be okay. He said that she was so high when she got in her accident, she didn’t even feel it happening. My mom wasn’t even in the same state as us and she still managed to ruin our vacation.
When was she going to get the hint and grow up? My parents had ruined my life and I was only 12 years old. I was about to start the eighth grade, it was 2008 and I had just turned 13! I lived with my grandparents, but my parents only live a couple of miles away so we got to visit them a lot, and stayed there almost every weekend.
But my parents were still doing bad things, especially my dad. My dad would get so drunk on the weekends that he couldn't even get out of bed. So, he would depend on me to do things. I had to make dinner, I had to get my brother ready for bed, and I had to stay up all night to make sure that he didn’t pass out or throw up, or even just need anything at all. He would wake me up at 3 a.m. because he wanted a cheese crisp.
This made me realize that no matter how much they said they would change, they never did. They acted like the children and I acted like the parents. In 2008, my parents got a divorce. They were both in jail the entire time so I don’t really remember anything about it. The only thing I remember is that I was at Walmart with my best friend, and my grandma called me and told me that my parent's divorce was final. I was so happy that I started doing cartwheels down the aisle. Not the reaction most teenage girls have when they get news like this.
But my parents were no good for each other; they were like fire and gasoline, nothing but trouble. I thought this would change them.
Shortly after my parent's divorce, my dad got engaged to Heather, and I hated her. She had two kids, who I loved endlessly and would still to this day do anything for. Heather went to jail and so my dad took care of her children until Heather got out. She got out and four months later announced that she was pregnant. I was furious. What were they doing, they couldn’t even take care of the kids they had?! So, they decided to go with adoption and found a little family that lives in Seattle, Washington, to adopt my soon-to-be little brother. We were in Disneyland the day he was born, but came home the next day to meet him.
My dad had named him Chance because they wanted to give him a better chance in life. But his new parents decided to name him Michael. I got to visit him everyday for a week until his parents took him back to Washington with them. It was so heartbreaking. Knowing that I would never get to see this little boy who looked just like me, even had red hair like me, I would never see him walk, or talk, he wouldn’t know I existed, I didn’t even get to know his last name. No matter how upset I am at my dad and Heather for doing something that they couldn’t handle, I am so grateful for Michael’s new family that will be able to give him a better life then he could have here.
It was spring break 2010, and I was a freshman in high school. We were going up to Five Mile Pass to go four-wheeling the second day of spring break. My mom lived with us at the time and was coming with us. But the day before we were supposed to go my grandpa and my mom got in a really big fight, so my mom decided to drink some vodka before we left to calm her nerves a little bit. We got up there and my mom, my brother and I all went first.
When our turn was over we went back, and my mom, my sister and my grandma all went while we waited with my grandpa and the dog. They were taking forever, it felt like, and we were so bored. All of the sudden, we saw a huge cloud of dust coming towardus so we assumed it was my mom racing back to us. But it was my sister and she was going crazy out of control. She stopped right when she got to us, and was hysterical. She was hyperventilating, bawling, and couldn’t breathe. My grandpa told her to stop mumbling and use her words. So, she finally got the words out, “My mom,” and my grandpa got on her four-wheeler and raced off to find her.
My grandma found someone to call 911, and it just so happened that my best friend’s mom was the dispatcher that answered. She knew that we were out there, so she sent an ambulance, and Life Flight. My sister wanted to walk over there, so we grabbed the dog and started walking to find them. My grandpa was on his way back over to us, so we ended up getting in the car and driving over there. My grandma had my mom lying on her back and had my grandma’s jacket pressed hard against my mom's head. It was full of blood, and my mom was crying. I was terrified that my mom was going to die. The ambulance arrived shortly and the EMTs came and started to nurse my mom and load her on the stretcher.
Life Flight arrived and asked my grandma what hospital they wanted to take her to. My grandma said she didn’t care about price; she wanted the best hospital in all of Utah. So, Life Flight rushed her to the University of Utah hospital. But we hadn’t been able to go over and see my mom, and I wanted to talk to her, so I snuck behind the police officers and walked over to her right as they were starting to lift her up. I noticed something on the side of her head that looked like mangled hamburger attached to her head. I shortly realized that was her ear.
That was where all the blood was coming from. It had ripped her ear off her head. I told my mom I loved her and walked back over to the car and started bawling. I was ill, and nobody would tell me what was going to happen. We got in the car after Life Flight had taken off and headed home to change. My grandparents dropped me and my brother off at my best friend’s house, and my grandparents and my sister went up to the hospital to see my mom. My mom had broken her neck, severed her ear, and had a stroke in her main artery from her heart to her brain. They also found something on her kidney that didn’t look normal. They told my mom that she had cancer on her kidneys and that they needed to do an MRI to find out how severe it was. We were so scared out of our minds.
But the MRI came back negative, and it turns out her kidney is just deformed. She was in the hospital for three weeks straight. We went up twice a week to visit her, but my grandma stayed there the entire time. She finally got to come home, but she was on oxygen, had a neck brace, deaf on her right side where an ear should originally have been, and had lost all of her reflexes on her left side. She was home for one week, and started having very serious complications, and had to be rushed back to the emergency room. She stayed there for another two and a half weeks.
When she finally got to come home, she was not the same person. She was always sick, and started getting addicted to her painkillers. My mom had so many complications for the next six months. It was very hard to take care of her, because she was always uncomfortable, and always wanted more pills. But this made me cherish my moments with my mom, because I never knew when her last day would be. She finally started healing around August. I was starting high school, and she was finally turning back into herself. My mom was my best friend and I told her everything. I was so glad to have this accident in my life, because it brought me and my mom so close, even though I was quickly in for a shock.
December 2, 2010: My mom was high and annoying as ever. I told my mom I hated her, and that she was annoying. I stayed in my room until dinner. When I had cooled off. I went upstairs and was talking to my mom, even though I was still really annoyed at her. I told her I was going to bed, and she said “I love you, Maycie, more the you will ever understand.” “Yeah, yeah, mom, goodnight.” “Maycie, I LOVE YOU.” “I love you too, mom.” December 3, 2010: I woke up for school just like any other day, but today felt different for some reason and I wasn’t quite sure why.
My mom usually woke me up, but today my grandma did. I was really upset that my mom hadn’t woken me up, and her light was on, so I was going to go in her room but I felt like that was a bad idea. So, I just got ready for school and had my grandma drop me off. I was sitting in Child Development with a substitute. At 8:57 a.m., I received a text message from my grandpa saying “CALL ME NOW” but class ended at 9:03, so I figured it could wait. The bell rang and I just got this sinking feeling in my stomach, as I dialed my grandpa’s number. Nobody answered and so I was starting to get worried as I walked to class and my phone rang at 9:06. It was my grandma, saying I needed to walk down to the office because she needed to talk to the front office lady.
So, I handed the lady my phone and waited. The lady hung up my phone and said your grandma will be here in just a minute, just go ahead and take a seat to wait. There was probably five other kids in the office so I picked the last empty chair. The lady brought me lemonade and Snickers and said, “Eat these, make your wait a little easier.” I was a little bit confused because she didn’t give them to anyone else. My phone went off and it was my neighbor, asking me why there were cops and ambulances outside my house. I didn’t think anything of it, until I saw my grandma pull up in a car I had never seen before. My grandma and my neighbor got out of the car and walked into the office, where my grandma was kind of a frazzled mess. “Honey, your momma is dead.” I instantly dropped to the ground and was a heartbroken mess.
My grandma helped me up, and my neighbor helped me walk out to my car. We drove to pick up my little brother, and my neighbor waited in the car with me while my grandma got him. When he got back in the car it was silent, and nobody said a word the entire drive home. When we got home, my little brother got out of the car and walked away. I walked inside and there were all of my aunts and uncles. My grandpa had left to drive up to Ogden to pick up my older sister from Weber State University. I walked in my bedroom, shut my door and just started crying. I thought that my world was over. I didn’t know how I would go on. My mom was my best friend, what was I going to do? I missed third period, which I had with my best friend. She texted me and asked me where I was. I wasn’t sure how to reply, and all I could say was, “My mom is dead.” Within 15 minutes, the doorbell rang and my friend was at my house to comfort me.
We weren’t allowed to go in the basement until they had officially pronounced her dead. When they did, they asked if we wanted to come see her. She was already in the body bag, it was just unzipped. So, I asked my friend if she would come with me and I walked downstairs to see my mom for the last time. My mom was blue and didn’t look like herself. I lost control and couldn’t handle it anymore. My friend grabbed me and took me upstairs to comfort me. I was supposed to take a test during fourth period, and so I talked my grandma into letting me go back to school. My friend and I got dropped off and she walked me to class to make sure I was okay. She told me she would keep her phone with her and if I needed to leave to call her and she would leave class. I made it to the end of the class period and walked outside to find my grandma.
People were treating me so differently, telling me that they were sorry for my loss, and telling me that they loved me. People I didn’t even know were telling me they were sorry. But it wasn’t okay; I wasn’t going to tell them it was okay, because it wasn’t.
People tried to tell me that they knew how I felt, but they didn’t. They still had their mom, and I didn’t.
When I got home from school, my dad was at my house, and I hadn’t talked to him in a little while, and he showed up high. I was furious, because we thought that my mom had died of a drug overdose, and he had the nerve to show up high. We planned the funeral, and I asked my grandma if I could do my mom’s makeup, because I knew just how she liked it and I wanted her to go to heaven happy and looking like herself. The mortician said that I could, so the next day, my grandma picked me up from dance and we headed to the mortuary. My sister was doing my mom’s hair while I did her makeup. The funeral came, and all of my friends came to support me.
I tried not to let this stop me, though. I went to school and tried so hard. I danced to take out my anger and emotions; I loved my family because I never knew how much time I had with them. My dad promised me that he would change because I didn’t want to lose him, either. He really did start to change, and I was so happy, but, of course, things turned around again, and my dad started doing bad things again.
On my 16th birthday, I waited all day for a text, a call or anything from my dad, but I didn’t get one. The day after my birthday, at 11:57 p.m. I received a text from my dad, saying, “Happy bday hun hope u had a good day”. Shortly after that, my dad ended up in prison and I had it. I was mad at my dad, and hurt, and he had broken a promise to me. I wasn’t going to get hurt anymore so I cut him out completely. I didn’t write him back, I didn’t talk to him when he called, and I didn’t visit him. I had already lost my mom completely, and now he was slowly pushing himself away. I was done being the second option in his life. He could have drugs, or he could have me. He chose drugs, and I am not giving in.
Until my dad changes, I will continue to keep him out of my life. But I don’t think anyone understands how hard that is on me. Living my life without both parents. Being picked after drugs. Well ,I had enough, and because of all of this I am the person I am today. I am an orphan, and a constant burden in my grandparent's lives. I will never get to experience my dad walking me down the aisle, or my mom helping me get ready for my senior prom, and I will never be the same as I used to be.
I have constant trust issues, I have anxiety, and most of all, I am alone. I was innocent. I was naive. I was confused. I was taken. I was withdrawn. I was trusting. I was hurt. I was promised. I was broken. I was alone. I was done. I became strong. I became Maycie.