Kids, Squash, and Saving the World, Crystal Snyder's Struggle Reaches Breaking Point - Part Four

Aug 26, 2017

This is the fourth story about 37-year-old Crystal Snyder. It’s part of our series called The Struggle to Stay.
Last time, we found out that Crystal, a non-traditional student, was in her first semester of college, while also working 33 hours a week for a job-training program called Refresh Appalachia. 
Last summer was an especially stressful time for Crystal, and by August, things got worse. 

“We had a little bit of a falling out. I think I was demanding a lot, maybe not approaching things in the right way,” Crystal said. She’d been putting pressure on Aaron to improve his grades in school; he was about to start his senior year of high school. She also wanted him to help more around the house. Remember from an earlier Struggle to Stay episode, we heard that Crystal has been going to school and working full time, so she was having a tough time cooking and cleaning at home. 


“I was under so much pressure. And I was wanting him to help. Just sort of demanding that he do things around the house. And help me with his sister and so he said something really disrespectful, and I told him to leave. And he did,” Crystal said after their fight. Guilt and regret showed on her face, as she stood in the field and fought back tears. 

“It ripped my heart out. Because I don’t feel like he’s at a safe place. And if something happened to him I would just never forgive myself, you know?”

Aaron didn’t answer her calls, and she didn’t hear from him for weeks after he left. She knew he was staying with his dad, her ex-husband, but she was still worried.

“I don’t know what he’s doing and what he’s eating and if he’s around second hand smoke, just all of those things that goes through a mother’s head.” 

Then in mid-June, about 9 weeks after they had their falling out, Aaron’s step brother was killed in a go-cart accident.

Aaron came home after that.  Things got better between Crystal and her son, but she could tell he was having trouble with the death of his stepbrother. He was quiet and she could tell he was hurting.

Also, every time she mentioned school, he changed the subject. She eventually found out that he’d dropped out of high school.

“He had to do really well this year to graduate. And he lost his stepbrother in June, and it just wasn’t possible for him to do perfect, to pass everything to be able to graduate. So here we are and that’s ok,” Crystal said, sighing. 

“But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t gonna ... well no, I’m not gonna say worry. Worry’s not a good thing. I want… I want to live a good life. I want my son to be secure and stable. I want to do that so I can extend that to them, to my children, to my community. I just want to be self-sustainable, self-reliant.” Saying this, Crystal threw up her hands, feeling defeated. Her dreams felt out of reach.  

The Trouble with the Squash Plants 

Crystal planting squash at a farm in Milton, W.Va.
Credit Roxy Todd/ WVPB

Then, things got more stressful at work. Remember those squash plants she was planting in July? Well, the heavy rains washed away most of the seeds that she’d sewn.  For about a week, she had to work dawn to dusk to replant the fields. 

Caught up in Presidential Election

She was half-way through re-planting the seeds when she left for vacation. She’d been planning it for a few weeks now.  Well, it was kind of a working vacation. Here’s something I haven’t told you about Crystal. During the last presidential election, she was head over heels for Bernie Sanders. She felt like he was the first politician who understood her struggle.

“These politicians are on the side of the greedy corporate billionaires, the 1 percent, while people like me can’t pay the rent and buy food.” 

Bernie Sanders rally in Huntington, W.Va. in 2016
Credit courtesy Crystal Snyder

For the first time, Crystal had someone to root for as a leader of her country. And it was important for her to attend the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia and volunteer for the Sanders campaign.

So in July, she was given three days off work on the farm to go to the DNC. 

Trouble at Work

But once she got to Philadelphia, the people she was getting a ride home with said they planned on staying till Friday, the same day she was supposed to be at work. She didn’t call or text her boss, but she did send a message.

“And so I sent an email late Wednesday night, midnight, early Thursday morning. I was due to be back at work Thursday. I said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t make it. I can’t make it in the rest of the week.’”

When she came back, her boss Ben Gilmer asked why she didn’t just call or text. Crystal remembers being frustrated with the question, and it turned into a bit of an argument.  

She recalls saying something like this to her supervisors:

“'You know what? I was in Philadelphia, fighting for our democracy, our freedom. Like cut me some slack. And that’s what I said, and I think they’re upset about my attitude about it than the actual aspect of me emailing instead of calling in. So, yesterday they told me I would be on like a probationary period. And if I was late or didn’t show up for work, which never happens, then I would be terminated.” 

Crystal Snyder, beside a pond at the farm in Milton where she's been helping grow squash for her job with Refresh Appalachia
Credit Kara Lofton/ WVPB

The threat of losing her job, combined with the trouble she was having with her son, her intense disappointment that Bernie Sanders lost the primaries, and the pressure of having to replant the entire squash field in the midst of everything else, was too much.

She was in the squash field, replanting seeds, when she recording this entry, in tears:

“I’m not sleeping at night, and I’m having like chest pain. And just so much [expletive] pressure! I feel so alone.”

The words Crystal's mom wrote to her three weeks before she died of cancer
Credit courtesy Crystal Snyder

She tried to call her sister, her only family who she is close to, but she couldn’t get ahold of her.  

“See these are the times when I just want like, and maybe it’s just like something in me, that is like seeking an outside comfort. But it would just be really nice if there were like a mother or a father or a grandparent or an aunt or an uncle or someone who I could just like hug and would just tell me it’s gonna be ok. But it’s not. Like I’m the one who has to lift everyone else up, and I like doing that for people but sometimes I just need somebody to be that person for me.”

The next morning, Crystal had to go to a special meeting with her bosses, and talk about what would happen next.

We’ll hear more about that on the next Struggle to Stay

Want to catch up what you've missed? You can listen to the full Struggle to Stay series here