The Thing About Bad Childhoods

She's not in the mood to talk, which is unlike her. This girl could chat the bark off a tree. But, not today. She's had a busy afternoon.

You find her hiding in a closet. She’s crying, behind the hanging clothes. She’s still wearing her black velvet dress. A hair ribbon. Shiny shoes.

You don’t blame her for hiding. After all, your house is full of visitors dressed in the same shade of funeral-black. They congregate around food, talking in quiet voices.

Hiding doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

“What’re you doing in the closet?” you ask.


“Are you crying?”


So, you step inside. You sit beside her. Without saying anything, she crawls into your lap and rests her head against your chest.

“Is Daddy really dead?” she asks.

“He is.”

She’s not in the mood to talk, which is unlike her. This girl could chat the bark off a tree. But, not today. She’s had a busy afternoon.

Funeral visitations are endurance sports. She stood beside you while you pumped nine hundred hands. Folks who cried so hard they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

You heard things like, “Your daddy’s in a better place, son.” You got embraces. Kisses. Preachers reminded you that suicide is not an unforgivable sin.

When it’s over, it feels like someone beat you with a rolling pin.

And now your sister is asleep, drooling on your shirt, and you start wondering. You wonder who will braid her hair, tie her shoes, or help her navigate grade-school. You wonder who will teach her to drive.

So, you talk to God. Man to boy. You tell him that even though you’re an inadequate little cuss, you’re volunteering for the job.

You make promises to fix breakfasts, do laundry, tell bedtime stories. You swear to attend swim-meets, to cheer so hard your voice breaks. To treat her friends to ice cream.

And when she gets her first job, it will be you who visits Chick-Fil-A, unannounced, to snap a photo.

It will be you who walks her down the aisle.

And when you hook arms with the bride, she’ll laugh, saying, “Don’t cry, this is a happy day.”

You’ll do your damnedest not to, but you’ll fail.

Life isn’t going to be easy. She’s going to count on you. Sometimes, you’ll lay in bed feeling like you can’t breathe. Sometimes you’ll feel cheated. Overlooked. Insignificant.

Sometimes she’ll dog cuss you. Sometimes she’ll fall asleep in your arms.

Deal with it, kid. This girl deserved someone solid in her life, but she got you instead. And even though you aren’t qualified for the position, even though you’ll make more mistakes than victories, even though life will sometimes feel like one big practical joke…

Just look at her.

Ugly childhoods make beautiful girls.

Happy birthday, Sarah.


  1. Carol DeLater - January 26, 2017 12:32 pm

    Sarah …and you…are very lucky. I’m sure she remembers everything and hardly remembers what you called fails.

    I remember a day when I hid in the closet when my brother made me eat dog food. But I remember the good stuff too. I think Sarah has a lot more good stuff to remember than bad.
    xx, Carol

  2. Lauree - January 26, 2017 12:49 pm

    I think, every day, this is the day I will tell you how much I enjoy your writing. You share such a big part of yourself, and say it in the most beautiful way.
    Sarah is so lucky to have you for a big brother, and I am so grateful you share a little bit of that with us. A heartfelt thank you. (And head scratch to Ellie Mae.). ❤

  3. Christy Jordan Keyton - January 26, 2017 2:12 pm

    No words- just made me cry the ugly cry.

  4. Shawn - January 26, 2017 2:16 pm

    Good morning. That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve read in a very long time. What a wonderful brother you are.

  5. John Miller - January 26, 2017 3:12 pm

    Happy birthday to all the Sarah’s out there. And to all the big brothers and others who stepped up to the plate.

  6. John Miller - January 26, 2017 3:14 pm

    Happy birthday to all the Sarah’s out there. And a special thank you to all the big brothers and others who stepped up to the plate.

  7. Brenda Laurence - January 26, 2017 3:32 pm

    So beautifully written, but first beautifully lived. My brother locked me in the closet, stood outside the door and told me bears in the closest would eat me, the snakes crawl over me and bite me. Somehow, I grew up loving him anyway. Wish he’d been more like you.

  8. Jane - January 26, 2017 5:43 pm

    So beautiful!

  9. Kay Keel - January 26, 2017 5:46 pm

    Thank you for being the boy who put on the yoke of a man and did all the things no boy (or girl) should ever have to do. You are a beautiful soul! Happy Birthday to Sarah too! I hope she knows how blessed she is to have you for a big brother.

  10. Scott & Kimberly Overfelt - January 26, 2017 7:19 pm

    This is, as the Beatles would say, “Real Love”. Truly touches the heart. Thank you Sean.

  11. Mike Fuqua - January 26, 2017 11:02 pm

    Sean, we don’t know each other. We live in different worlds…you in Alabama and me in So. California. A good friend shared your posts on FB and I’ve been hooked ever since. See, my Dad was born in a little cabin somewhere in the woods east of Brewton. His life was tough but full. Shaped by the depression, like so many others he went to war, came home to build a family and a country, and impacted a lot of lives. Your writing reminds me so much of his world, of his stories, of visiting when I was a kid, and really just him. He lived in So. California for 60 years, but really never left Alabama. When I read your writing, I can almost hear his voice. So thank you my friend. And please keep writing!

  12. Mary Ellen Hall - January 27, 2017 1:54 am

    Life can be SO VERY HARD!!!

  13. Erin O'Brien - January 29, 2017 4:17 am

    This made me cry.

  14. Sandra Hamm - February 12, 2017 1:43 pm

    Love to read your writings!

  15. Melanie Faircloth - February 12, 2017 4:45 pm

    Happy Birthday, Sarah!!! I look forward to reading every story you post! So much of what you write about hits home because, well, you are writing about my home. I’m from Marianna, FL. You have a big heart. Like so many people around here, I see myself in you and your words. You never cease to make me smile! Thank you!!

  16. Thomas Harrison - February 12, 2017 6:42 pm

    Your story takes me back so, so many years ago to the time when I, as a 15 year old , tried to understand the meaning of losing my mother at age 44 to cancer. Asthe small living for days. After all of the years now, I still that cancer sher leaving me and the other family me,bears

  17. Thomas Harrison - February 12, 2017 6:46 pm

    Please delete the comments above that I unintentionally submitting before a full editing.

  18. Connie - November 11, 2017 1:00 pm

    Beautiful. Every girl deserves a brother like you. Tears in my eyes again this morning.

  19. Charaleen Wright - March 29, 2019 4:03 am


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