This week we meet the next person we’ll be following in our Struggle to Stay series. 37-year-old Crystal Snyder is a single mother of two, who says she wants to stay in West Virginia, where her family has lived for several generations. But being a single mom in West Virginia is challenging for her, and sometimes she worries whether raising two kids in this state is good for their health.
15 years ago, Crystal Snyder’s mom was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, which had already spread to the rest of her body. She died a few weeks later when Crystal was just 22 years old.
“When you see a map and it shows you this area of poverty, people die 15-20 years earlier than they do over here in Virginia, and your mother died at 41, it kind of makes you think...is it a good idea for me to leave my children here? Like, part of me wants to take them out so they don’t die 15 years, you know, premature. But…just part of me wants to fight for them because this place is so beautiful.”
Crystal has blonde hair, and her face is tanned from working in the sun. On her back, she has a tattoo of a fiddle; actually the tattoo covers up the name of her second husband, a marriage that was a mistake, she says. She’s made other decisions she isn’t proud of, but being a mom isn’t something she regrets.
“My kids and I, we have a good bond. It’s not been easy.”
Crystal married early, when she was 16. She had her son Aaron a year later, and her daughter Morgan when she was in her 20s.
“I just want to cherish these moments, cause I know it’s not gonna last long, and I am single, and it’s just us, and I’m just trying to relish in these moments. Cause I know I’ll look back and remember, years down the road, this important time that we had together. And I love them.”
Crystal recorded one of her first entries at her home, while she was cooking dinner with her daughter Morgan. While they cook, Morgan tells her mom about an episode of McGiver.
Morgan says she hopes she’ll soon be taller than her mom. At nearly 5 feet, she’s close.
“She’s independent. She’s been independent since she was like four," Crystal said, looking down at her daughter with a smile. "She would never let me brush her hair, or pick out her clothes. She always did it on her own. I wanted to because she has beautiful red hair, you know, and she wouldn’t ever let me brush it, but she just developed like her own style, and I’m glad we did that because she knows a lot.”
“I’m proud I keep a house. Somehow I keep it going. I just somehow always find a way. I don’t give up.”
There were some scary things that happened to Crystal when she was a little girl.
She remembers late night parties, with strangers coming into their house, drug deals at the home, and fights between her parents.
“It was total neglect. But my mom…had been abused as a child, and it was just turmoil. No, she loved us. But…no...they didn’t know how to take care of kids. No, it was neglect, and abuse. And I was an accident and they weren’t going to have me. Then [my mom] decided not to have an abortion, or maybe she saw my heartbeat, I don't know. So I’m really lucky to be here.”
“But I wasn’t two, and my mom and dad were fighting, like they fought constantly, and my mom kicked my dad out of the house and said to take me too.”
As a girl, Crystal moved back and forth between her grandparents’ house, her mom’s, and her dad’s. Her parents broke up and got back together several times. Her dad was in and out of prison for most of her childhood, serving time for selling drugs.
“So I was like a baby before I remember, the first time. I mean I drive by the old Cabell County courthouse and I think, 'that’s where I used to see my dad.'”
And then, Crystal’s mom met a guy at a truck stop, left with him, and never looked back. Crystal was just 15. She only saw her mom a few times after that.
“She’d come back and visit and say, ‘I’ll never live here again.’ And, I don’t know, I thought she was brave for that, but, I wanted her close.”
Around this time, Crystal decided she wanted a family and kids of her own.
“I wanted a stable family. I wanted, I guess, people to care about and who cared about me.”
Hoping her children are safe and healthy is what weighs heaviest on her mind.
“But just as much of me wants to fight for them, because this place is so beautiful! And I just feel so blessed to live here. And I should be able to live here with clean water! And (sighs) I think the part of me that wants to fight is stronger than the mother in me that wants to get my kids out of here.”
But beauty isn’t the only reason Crystal wants to stay in West Virginia.
“I love to travel. I love to see new places, but nothing compares to West Virginia. It’s just not home, like, if you see flat… if you see too far, it’s like, this isn’t right.”
And although Crystal doesn’t have a lot of family here, she does have a sister, who’s a year older. Having that tie is important - especially getting to see their two daughters grow up together.
One evening last summer, they came to Crystal’s house to cook dinner and play.
It had been raining all day. As Crystal and her sister were cooking in the kitchen, the sun peaked through the clouds, and Crystal noticed her niece Olivia and her daughter Morgan dancing and running in the rain. They looked up to see a rainbow peaking out from behind the clouds.
It’s moments like these that make Crystal want to stay, to raise her kids in the mountains. So, she’s going to continue to try to live here, and to make West Virginia better, and safer.
What is Crystal most proud of?
“My tenacity. I’m proud that I shine my light still, maybe more so than if I hadn’t of experienced darkness.”
We first began recording Crystal's story in January of 2016, in the middle of a major life change. She’d recently been laid off from her job at a nearby T-shirt factory.
We’ll hear more on that next week on The Struggle to Stay.