Maycie Nielsen’s gaze is resolute as she says, “I don’t have any sympathy for drug addicts. Only their children. I judge people more than I should. If they do drugs, it’s hard for me to accept them as a person. Drugs literally ruined my life.”
The 18-year-old will start college at UVU in September. She might appear as just one more fresh-faced high school graduate. But, read the story she wrote as an essay when applying for the Willy the Plumber scholarship for children of incarcerated parents and you learn the depths of the painful, even heart-rending education she had at the hands of her mother and father in the destructiveness of drug addiction.
Nielsen doesn’t know how her parents’ addiction began, but she saw the results every day. Her parents funded their meth, heroin and pill habits by stealing credit cards, using fake Social Security numbers, pawning their children’s Disney video collection and taking Nielsen’s birthday money.
In a state where 88,000 people need substance-abuse treatment, Nielsen brings an unadorned honesty to the voice of the victims of drug addicts who are largely forgotten by society: their children.
While Nielsen says she keeps her feelings to herself, she is very direct about who her true parents are. “It is hard for me to forgive my parents,” she says. “They had so many second chances. They blew them all.” Her maternal grandparents, the couple who raised her and her siblings, are the ones she calls her parents.
Nielsen is clear about what she wants from the publication of her story. “I hope [addicted] parents realize what their children are going through. Mine didn’t realize how it was affecting us, that it was tearing us apart. I hope it snaps them into doing good.” —Stephen Dark
My parents started doing drugs when I was 4 years old. My sister, who was just 9 at the time, started playing the mother figure for my younger brother, who was 2 at the time, and me.
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.
Within a couple of weeks, my grandma helped my mom check into a rehabilitation center in Provo. My dad told us that he had signed up to get treatment, but he hadn’t. He just continued to drink and do drugs.
My grandparents transferred us to new schools, and we had to change our entire lifestyle. I started to become withdrawn and shut everybody out. I wouldn’t talk to anybody, and I couldn’t sleep at night because I would just cry. My grandparents took me to counseling, but I refused to talk because I hated it.
Two years later, we had moved back in with my parents. They got addicted to drugs again and fought a lot.
One day in June 2002, my parents got into a big fight and started hitting each other. My dad hit my mom, so she picked up her cell phone and threw it at my dad’s head. It hit him hard in just the right spot and knocked him unconscious.
She was so terrified it had killed him that she put us kids in the car and sped off. She drove around nervously for about a half an hour before deciding to return to make sure he was OK, 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. My dad was awake and madder than ever. He had called the police, but since they had 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.
We had just gotten settled into our new house and were finally starting to make new friends and trust my parents again. But it had all been ripped away in an instant.
In July 2003, I turned 8 years old. I was old enough to be baptized and confirmed as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But both of my parents were in jail, and I really wanted them to be there for my special day, so I waited for them to get out. One long month passed, but I still wanted to wait.
September came, and my grandparents told me that my parents might be gone for a long time. I couldn’t wait anymore, so I went on without them.
But this wouldn’t be the only time this would happen. I was a second priority in my parents’ lives because drugs were their first pick.
It was a payday in June 2004. My mom said she was going to cash her check and that she would be right back. But three days passed and there was still no sign of Mom.
It turned out that she had cashed her paycheck, driven up to Salt Lake City 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 assured them that we were safe at her house. 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 high in her hotel room and gone shopping, but she passed out in the bushes at the mall and started hallucinating.
My grandma brought my mom home and showed her that we were safe with Grandpa, and then checked my mom into another rehab.
It was starting to happen 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. I was a disaster.
When my mom was in jail that fall, we got to visit her the first Thursday of every month. Going to see her was a reward—we had to be good all month long, or no visit.
And visiting wasn’t a normal visit. You had to sit on a bench, with a glass window between you and the inmate, and talk through telephones. The visits were monitored by police officers and were timed—just one hour, and there were five of us to talk to her. We each got 20 minutes to tell her everything that had happened in an entire month.
At school, kids’ moms and dads would come and watch their Halloween parade, their Christmas concerts, everything, but I only got to see my mom once a month through glass.
My parents both got out of jail in March 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 grandparents’ credit cards and take us on a shopping spree. We went to Dillard’s, and they spent almost $1,000. Then they took us to Toys R Us and bought us all the toys we wanted. They just kept on spending and spending—it wasn’t their money so they didn’t care.
This made us think that we could just get whatever we wanted. We started acting really rude, which made it hard when we moved in with my grandparents—we kept getting in trouble because we were brats.
The summer after fourth grade, I lived with my mom, my brother and my sister, just a block away from my grandparents. My best friend lived two houses away, and it felt like things were finally getting good.
My mom and dad weren’t allowed to communicate or they would both go back to jail. He wasn’t even allowed to call our house. My dad had a mentor who was with him almost 24/7 in Salt Lake City, where he lived. 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 pick us up and take us to a park down the street, where my dad and his mentor would meet us. We weren’t allowed to mention my mom during our visits, and we only got to see him for an hour.
I was definitely a daddy’s girl, but I couldn’t just call my dad anytime I wanted. 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. But my parents got caught doing drugs only a week after my dad moved back in with us, and my grandparents took us away again.
My siblings and I shared a VHS collection that included every Disney movie that had been released at the time. That collection went missing during the move, along with the $50 I had received for my 10th birthday a week prior. I was devastated, but believed it was an accident, so I forgot about it.
Later, I overheard my mom and grandma talking and heard that my mom had pawned the movies for drug money. I asked what that meant and they told me. I asked my mom what happened to my birthday money, and she explained that they needed drugs and that was the only money they could lay their hands on.
I was so upset that 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. They took all of my stuff to get money for drugs. Didn’t they know how bad this hurt me? How strong did they think a 10-year-old could be?
It was June 2007. I was 11 and so glad that my parents were finally starting to be good. They had gotten an apartment and 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 was supposed to come over to our house and go to my little brother’s baseball game.
When she got to our house, she was high, but my grandparents made my mom come to the baseball game anyway because she had promised my little brother that she would be there, no matter what.
When we got home from my brother’s baseball game, there were seven police cars in our cul-de-sac and a tow truck with my mom’s car on it.
My grandma took us kids inside and went back outside to see what was going on. Then 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. Then the cops arrested her.
I went into a really bad depression again after this. I had thought things were changing. But they were lying to us again, and the mess continued.
2008 was supposed to be a great year. My grandparents took us to Disneyland in April. On our second day in California, we were at Magic Mountain when my grandma’s phone rang. It was my uncle, who lived in Provo with my great-grandma, where my mom was also living. My dad was in jail again.
My uncle told us that my mom had gotten into a very serious accident and 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.
A couple of hours later, my uncle called us and told us that my mom had broken her neck but that she would be OK. He said that she was so high when she got in her accident that 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. I had just turned 13. I lived with my grandparents, but my parents lived only 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.
My dad would get so drunk on the weekends that he couldn’t even get out of bed, so he depended on me. My sister was away at college, so I had to make dinner, get my brother ready for bed and stay up all night to make sure my dad 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.
My parents got a divorce in 2008. They were both in jail, so I don’t really remember much about it. The only thing I remember is being at Walmart with my best friend when my grandma called me and told me that my parents’ divorce was final. I was so happy that I started doing cartwheels down the aisle. It wasn’t 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.
On the Second Day of spring break in 2010, when I was in ninth grade, we went up to Five Mile Pass to go four-wheeling. But the day before we were supposed to go, my grandpa and my mom, who lived with us at the time, got in a really big fight, so my mom decided to drink some vodka before we left to calm her nerves a little bit.
My mom crashed when she was on a ride with my sister and my grandma. My grandpa took me over to where they were. My grandma had my mom lying on her back, with 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 she was going to die.
An ambulance arrived and the EMTs came and loaded her onto a stretcher. We hadn’t been able to go over and see my mom yet, and I wanted to talk to her, so I sneaked behind the police officers and walked over to her as they were starting to lift her up. I noticed something that looked like mangled hamburger attached to her head. I realized it was her ear—that was where all the blood was coming from. The crash had ripped her ear off.
I told my mom I loved her and walked back over to the car and started bawling.
Mom had broken her neck, severed her ear, and had a stroke in her main artery from her heart to her brain. She was in the hospital for three weeks. We went to visit her twice a week, but my grandma stayed there the entire time.
When my mom finally got to come home, she was on oxygen, had a neck brace, was deaf on her right side where her ear had been, and had lost all of her reflexes on her left side. After she was home for one week, she started having serious complications and had to be rushed back to the emergency room. She stayed there for another 2 1/2 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. She had many complications for the next six months, and it was very hard to take care of her because she was always uncomfortable and always wanted more pills. 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 my mom and me so close.
Dec. 2, 2010. My mom was high and being clingy. I told my mom that 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 than you will ever understand.”
“Yeah, yeah, Mom, goodnight.”
“Maycie, I LOVE YOU.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
Dec. 3, 2010. I woke up for school just like any other day, but today felt different for some reason. I wasn’t quite sure why. My mom usually woke me up, but today, my grandma did. I was upset that my mom hadn’t woken me up. 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 class. At 8:57 a.m., I received a text message from my grandpa that said “CALL ME NOW,” but class ended at 9:03, so I figured it could wait.
After the bell rang, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach as I dialed my grandpa’s number. Nobody answered, and I was starting to get worried as I walked to class. My phone rang at 9:06. It was my grandma, who said I needed to walk down to the office because she needed to talk to the front-office lady.
I handed my phone to the lady 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 were probably five other kids in the office, so I picked the last empty chair. The lady brought me lemonade and a Snickers bar and said, “Eat these to make your wait a little easier.” I was confused because she didn’t give them to anyone else.
I instantly dropped to the ground. I 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. 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. I was supposed to take a test during fourth period, 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 OK. 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 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 I wasn’t going to tell them it was OK, 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. I hadn’t talked to him in a little while, and he showed up high. I was furious—we thought that my mom had died of a drug overdose, and he had the nerve to show up high.
I tried not to let this stop me. 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. 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, and my dad started doing bad things again.
On my 16th birthday, I waited all day for a text, a call—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 him, saying, “happy bday hun hope u had a good day.” Shortly after that, my dad ended up in prison.
I had had it. My dad 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.
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 it is to live my life without both parents.
Because of all of this, I am the person I am today. I am an orphan and a constant burden to my grandparents. I will never get to experience my dad walking me down the aisle, or my mom helping me to get ready for my senior prom, and I will never be the same as I used to be.