Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing Page 1

Author: Lauren Hough

Genres: Nonfiction

Author’s Note

We used to carry a book of Bible verses to memorize, a new verse every day. Then there were entire prayers and psalms and chapters any good Family kid should know. For a time, when I’d get in trouble, I’d be assigned something like Hebrews 11 to memorize. I got in trouble a lot. I am really good at memorizing. Yet I know, in the jumble of words and lines I’ve gone over again and again to commit them to memory, quoted to myself as a test, and sometimes a prayer, I’ve added, changed, and deleted words. If I were to look up a verse now, a verse I know, it’ll be different from the one in my head. The meaning will be the same. But I’ll have swapped a “thee” and a “thou,” a “shall” and a “will.” I’ll be sure this is a revision, the New International Version maybe, the words on the page can’t be right.

My memories aren’t much different. They’re stories I’ve told myself so many times that I’ve added lines and deleted people. Added weather and deleted a smell. Added a taste and deleted the walls. The meaning hasn’t changed for me. But my memories aren’t a collection of verses. They aren’t even memories of events. They’re memories of memories.

   I have tried to be as accurate and truthful as possible. But the truth I know is the memory of a memory and a story I told myself to make sense of it all.

I’ve changed the names of the guilty and the innocent, and one too many Kyles. I’ve changed small details to provide my loved ones a bit of camouflage. But as anyone with siblings knows, you can experience the same event, and none of you will agree on what happened. Unfortunately for them, I’m the one telling the stories. The best I can tell you is, if your kid ever tells you she wants to be a writer, send her to live with the cousins.



If you ask me where I’m from, I’ll lie to you. I’ll tell you my parents were missionaries. I’ll tell you I’m from Boston. I’ll tell you I’m from Texas. Those lies, people believe. I’m better at lying than I am at telling the truth because the lies don’t make me nervous. It’s the truth, the thought of telling it, that triggers my awkward laugh and my sweaty palms, makes me not want to look you in the eye. I know I won’t like what I’ll see.

* * *

When Sheriff Horton moseyed up to the front porch, past my car smoldering in the driveway, I figured I should stick as close to the truth as possible. I’d been watching him talk to the firemen out on the lawn, but with the rain coming down in sheets, I couldn’t make out but a few words.

I was sitting on the steps drying my hair with a towel. Didn’t take much to dry it. I’d chopped off most of my hair that summer when the South Carolina air hit 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity and walking outside was like opening a dishwasher mid-cycle and climbing in.

   Horton took his hat off, beat it against his thigh to shake off the water. I stood and realized he was shorter than me. I stepped back. I’m six feet tall, and guys don’t like feeling short. I offered him my hand, which he crushed in his own meaty grip.

“Looks like arson,” he said and stared at me like I was supposed to respond with something more than “No shit.”

So I said, “Yeah, I can smell the gas.” I mimicked his accent.

Sometimes the mimicry’s unintentional. The way someone talks is the fastest way to tell someone isn’t like you. Come back from years overseas to a place like Amarillo, Texas, for example, and you’ll learn that accent real fast. South Carolina isn’t much different. If you don’t sound like them, people start asking you questions, like “Where are you from?” After a while, you mimic without even thinking about it. It’s safer when people don’t think you’re different.

I lit a Marlboro, something to do with my hands because I knew better than to put them in my pockets. Southern rules follow military rules. You don’t talk to an authority figure with your hands in your pockets.

I offered him a cigarette. He asked if I thought that was a good idea, nodded over to where my car sat, still steaming. The firemen were packing up their hoses, shouting and joking on the lawn. I said I doubted there was much risk of combusting. He asked if maybe we should go inside. I raised the cigarette like that was the reason we would not be going inside. He raised his eyebrows like that wasn’t a good reason. I told him it wasn’t my house, I couldn’t give permission, because I thought that seemed reasonable. I don’t know what he expected to find.

   He asked me if I knew who’d done it. I said it was probably the same person who’d been leaving me death threats. He pulled out his notepad and asked for names. I told him I didn’t have any. He asked with a smirk on his face why someone would threaten me, but he already knew.

* * *

I should’ve been more concerned when only a month before this night, someone fingered the words “Die Dike” into the dust on my rental car. I should’ve told someone.

I was a twenty-three-year-old senior airman, a combat rescue controller. Sounds like a cool job. Makes you picture me jumping out of a helicopter, returning enemy fire, and saving a pilot. What I really did was read, play a lot of solitaire, and, once a week, sit in the corner of the briefing room, clicking next on PowerPoint slides.