Adversity. What does it even mean?
Webster’s defines adversity as “an unfavorable fortune or fate.”
But that’s so clinical — a diagnosis by a hurried, unaffected doctor.
That definition leaves no room for emotional pain, no room for the hundreds of hours of therapy. Webster’s knows nothing of the innumerable hearings in the Cook County Circuit Court, the shouting, the sobbing, the rescinding of my inheritance; how I took the silver spoon out of my mouth and shoved it right up my parents’ asses. No, Webster’s knows very little of such “adversity.” But what Webster’s doesn’t know you could just about squeeze into Lake Fucking Michigan.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Apologies. Old habits die hard; staying one step ahead is the only reason I’m alive.
My name is Kevin McCallister. Perhaps you’ve heard of me. I’m the kid whose parents left him behind, on Christmas, that fateful winter of 1990. Since then, I’ve become like an urban legend — a hook hanging on a car-door handle, a call coming from inside the house.
I was eight at the time, the youngest in a sprawling clan in suburban Chicago. An ideal upbringing, one would think; but trouble was lurking beneath the surface. We were to celebrate Christmas in Paris that year. But the night before our flight a wind-storm knocked out the power in the area. The next morning, realizing they overslept, my family engaged in a reckless, montage-like mad-dash to the airport, barely making their flight. Only one small problem: they forgot me entirely. Banished as I was to sleep in the attic the previous evening — a draconian measure that was not my first such castigation — I awoke to an empty house. At first I was elated. My family had tried my last nerve, and, if I’m being honest, in my darker moments I had wished them wiped from the face of the earth. But as hours turned into days, fear crept in. Had they disappeared completely?
Would I forever be home, alone?
Compounding my fear was the realization that thieves were casing my house. The taller of the two had an incredibly familiar voice, as if he had somehow narrated my childhood, while the shorter of the pair seemed too good for the part, too high-caliber. What desperate turn in his career, I wondered, had forced him to take on this role? Whatever it was, he was great at his job, and in no time the thieves were able to determine that there was no one else in the house but me. I, however, was able to cunningly deduce the exact hour they would strike – terrified as I was, no doubt, into some fugue-state of high-functioning paranoia.
I could elaborate on what happened next, spin bold tales of my ingenious heroism for free drinks at a shithole bar as I have many times before; indeed, it was how I defended my home that most people delight in recalling. But the bottom line is I did what any kid in my situation would do: made mac and cheese, befriended my old-man neighbor, then set up a series of intricately comical booby traps, the sum total of which ultimately put the Wet Bandits behind bars.
And then my family returned! On December 25th! An actual Christmas miracle! They seemed so genuinely sorry that I decided not to tell them what happened. Why compound their guilt? The important thing was that I had survived, and that the family was back together. Right?
I spent the next chapter of my life bedwetting my way through night-terrors. I would awaken screaming at the slightest disturbance, trembling in nocturnal certainty that the Wet Bandits had returned to exact their revenge. When I was finally able to calm myself, always, just before nodding off, I would be seized by the same disquieting notion: what if that paint can had missed?
Devastatingly, my fear of a reunion with the Wet Bandits was actually a premonition. A mere two years later, my parents oversaw yet another mix-up that landed me in New York for Christmas, once again — you guessed it — alone.
If leaving your eight-year-old child behind is forgivable, what is allowing that same child to take the wrong flight? Indifference? Solipsism? Abuse?
All of the above?
True to my worst fears, I encountered the Wet Bandits on that very trip. I was once again able to thwart the Bandits’ criminal efforts through a series of conveniently similar events, but I was, needless to say, shaken. I started to fear their presence around every corner. I couldn’t eat or sleep, I would sob randomly and uncontrollably. Later I learned I was exhibiting many of the tell-tale symptoms of PTSD. At the time, I had no idea. I just felt broken. And yet, unfathomably, other similar mishaps continued to ensue over the years — or so I’m told. I can’t remember them. I suppose I’ve blocked them out. Probably because none of them are canon.
It was a slam-dunk suing my parents for early emancipation. The judge was appalled. Publicly humiliated, my parents showed their true colors by rescinding my rightful inheritance. They gave it to Buzz for Christ’s sake. Good riddance. Keep the change, ya filthy animal.
I was forced to subsist on the paltry sum awarded to me by the courts. I shot it all into my arm within six months. I spent the remainder of my adolescence tricking beneath the L tracks chasing that next fix, desperate to feel nothing, desperate to feel anything at all. My twenties were a blur.
Eventually, I got arrested, got sent to rehab, got sober, found my fucked-up version of peace — the classic junkie’s tale. Now I’m trying to make something of myself. I want to be a social worker; I want to help neglected children, get them out of abusive homes before they go through what I did. No one deserves that.
To that end, I’d love it if you’d let me into your school. I checked out your pamphlet, you seem great — the curriculum rigorous, the quad ever so leafy. It looks like the perfect place to begin a new chapter. I know I lack the test scores, the extracurriculars — every other part of the traditional admissions package. I mean, I’m pushing forty. I’m going to be that weird old guy in the campus center. But I don’t care. And I’m hoping this essay can convince you not to care either. Because I’m finally ready to make something of myself, and I hope we can do it together.
But even if you don’t admit me, you know what? I’ll be okay. I know that now. The path ahead is frightening — sobriety is as terrifying as anything the Wet Bandits ever threw at me — but I’ll come out on top. I’ve stared into the abyss and I didn’t blink. That fate wasn’t for me. Not then, not now, not ever. Because unlike Webster’s Dictionary, I know a thing or two about adversity.
My name is Kevin McCallister and I’m a survivor.
This is it. Don’t get scared now.