I teach a class about forestry and logging. It is a part of an overall strategy to replace an aging workforce in one of Alabama’s largest and most important industries.
The class requires that I set-up shop for a few weeks in rural areas. Places where jobs are scarce as hen’s teeth and logging is one of the few options left if you want to work where you grew up. My students are mostly young (under 30) and without the means or inclination to go college.
Hillary is one of those people.
I was intrigued when she called to apply for the class. I have worked in forestry for over 25 years now, and I have never seen a female logger. She had missed the deadline, but I told her to go online and complete an application. She said she “wasn’t good on computers,” so I took her information by phone. Everything was fine until I got to the last question: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”
There was a pause.
“Charged or convicted?”
I liked that answer. No pretense. No guile. I liked it so much that I didn’t ask for details.
I had my suspicions. They were confirmed day-one.
Hillary is a recovered meth addict.
The details of her struggle were volunteered over the course of the next five weeks. They were non-linear, a picture puzzle of a life story that I could only assemble as she put the next piece in place. Her memories were triggered by a classroom concept, a person we encountered, or the roads we traveled.
“You see that spot over there? I wrecked my momma’s car there one night when I was sixteen. I’d been partying hard, and I think I must have went to sleep. I was all banged-up from the steering wheel when I woke up, but I remember thinking the cops would be coming soon and I needed to get my story straight. ‘Was I headed home, or was I coming from home?””
“That’s the Girl’s Home. I spent a year there when my daddy got high and beat-up me and momma.”
“When me and my first old man split-up, he told me that I wouldn’t make it, that I’d never have a pot to piss in, but I showed him. I worked two jobs and saved most of what I made and bought a nice house. You can work fine when your using, ’cause you really don’t need much sleep.”
“They took my fist girl away when I got busted. I knew I didn’t have enough on me for felony possession, so I kept my mouth shut. They put me in jail for a month. Told me I was headed to prison, but they’d let me go if I’d just tell them where I got it. No way I was going to do that. Better in jail than dead.”
“I won’t take so much as a sinus pill, now. I get drug-tested once a month, and I ain’t taking any chances. It’s part of my probation.”
“I was seven when I started using. My aunt gave it to me.”
I listened to all these things without question, until one day when I just had to ask.
“How did you quit?”
“When I found out I was pregnant, I prayed and prayed. I told Jesus that if he’d just let my baby be born alright that I’d never touch it again. I haven’t used since.”
Hillary finished the class, and as we say down here she can ‘flat-out run’ logging machines.
I met that little girl at graduation. She’s four years old. Blonde and pretty.
Hillary kept her end of the bargain.
Looks like Jesus did too.