I don’t watch the Today show very often, or ever, really, but somehow I happened to be watching it one morning in 2007 when 15-year-old Hiccup Girl was featured. For more than 5 weeks, she hiccuped 50 times per minute. I tried to imagine how horrible that might have been, a kind of torture. I was happy she found a cure, and I didn’t think about her again until a few days ago. A Facebook friend posted that Hiccup Girl, aka Jennifer Mee, now 22, was convicted this week of 1st degree murder. She was charged at 19. I can’t explain what made me so sad about this story.
Last night, my teenage niece moved in with us, at least temporarily. Her sister just moved back home and is in the early stages of rehabbing from a speed addiction. I had the pleasure of witnessing my brother, my niece’s father, through various bouts of withdrawal from addiction to the same drug when I was in high school. Once, I took a boyfriend home after a date and was greeted by my brother on the couch in the stinking, sweating, shaking throes of withdrawals. I was 17. My niece is 16. Her family lives in a small space. She is trying to do well in school and go to college and secure a different life for herself. I offered for her to stay with us for a week, just until things settle down, because I know how difficult it can be to focus on school and normal teenage life with a sibling unraveling on your living room couch. Her mother exploded with anger and kicked her out when my niece asked to stay with us. “Family first,” she said. “Your sister needs you.” “You always run away.”
Her mother is not a bad person. In fact, I like her a lot. But she is perpetuating a cycle, and it is difficult to break free from this cycle or even see it for what it is when you are in the middle of it, when that is all you know as normal. You are the crazy one if you see it. You are selfish. You are elitist, especially when you use words like “cycle” and “dysfunction.” You think you are better. You push and you struggle and you work hard to break free and, eventually, you do. But you break yourself a little in the process. The people you leave behind will never love you the same. You say, well, fuck them. You convince yourself you don’t need them. Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. In any case, to survive, you stop waiting for the people you love to change, to accept you for who you are, to stop hurting you. You shut down the soft, vulnerable parts of yourself. They harden and ossify. And they stay that way. The cost of breaking free is high, but the cost of staying is higher.
What does this have to do with Jennifer Mee, Hiccup Girl? Probably not very much. I want her to remain a funny story I caught in passing one time on tv, maybe in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, or in my in-laws’ living room. I look at that broken girl in the mugshot, who is guilty of breaking someone else. She had schizophrenia, Tourette’s, and “low normal” intelligence. She admitted to setting up the murder. I don’t feel sorry for her, not exactly. I look at my own broken self and the people around me who are breaking. Like I said, I guess it all just makes me sad. Sometimes I wish things were different than they are.