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Miss Memory Lane
Table of Contents
About The Book
A brutally honest and moving memoir of lust, abuse, addiction, stardom, and redemption from Arrow and Teen Wolf actor Colton Haynes.
Four years ago, Colton Haynes woke up in a hospital. He’d had two seizures, lost the sight in one eye, almost ruptured a kidney, and been put on an involuntary psychiatry hold. Not yet thirty, he knew he had to take stock of his life and make some serious changes if he wanted to see his next birthday.
As he worked towards sobriety, Haynes allowed himself to become vulnerable for the first time in years and with that, discovered profound self-awareness. He had millions of social media followers who constantly told him they loved him. But what would they think if they knew his true story? If they knew where he came from and the things he had done?
Now, Colton bravely pulls back the curtain on his life and career, revealing the incredible highs and devastating lows. From his unorthodox childhood in a small Kansas town, to coming to terms with his sexuality, he keeps nothing back.
By sixteen, he had been signed by the world’s top modeling agency and his face appeared on billboards. But he was still a broke, lonely, confused teenager, surrounded by people telling him he could be a star as long as he never let anyone see his true self. As his career in television took off, the stress of wearing so many masks and trying to please so many different people turned his use of drugs and alcohol into full-blown addiction.
A lyrical and intimate confession, apology, and cautionary tale, Miss Memory Lane is an unforgettable story of dreams deferred and dreams fulfilled; of a family torn apart and rebuilt; and of a man stepping into the light as no one but himself.
First, there is a road, a road that takes me away from my house in the San Fernando Valley, the house where I live alone with the picture of a buffalo my mother sketched in pencil on a white canvas hanging above the fireplace. That road takes me east of there and south, past the shake shop on Hollywood Boulevard where I would sit and eat fries and drink a chocolate malt and study the black-and-white faces of the old movie stars plastered on the walls. Just south of there is Cherokee Park, where my mother told me she did drugs for the first time when she was a seventeen-year-old runaway and a bad shot made her wrist blow up like a balloon. A little bit west of there is the convenience store where I bought my first legal beer, twenty-one and on a tear, and a few blocks farther is the tower on Sunset where I saw my face on the side of a building for the first time, my chin tilted toward the camera and my eyes looking down, all of me plastered twenty stories high and gazing out over the city. I keep driving. There’s a trance beat playing from the stereo, cigarette ash on the dashboard, crushed fast-food bags on the passenger side, a banana peel on the back seat like an unfinished joke. I let the beat drive me as the buildings whip past.
In the trunk of my car are shoeboxes and duffel bags and plastic containers stuffed to the brim with photographs and notebooks and letters, everything I could find about who I’d been. I spent all night combing through pictures, reading old diaries, searching long-abandoned email accounts. I do this most nights. I’m trying to find something in my past—the way a detective in the movies might search when they’re just about to crack the case—a bloodhound sniffing the air, evidence tacked to a corkboard with pushpins that you study, waiting for the shape to reveal itself. To anyone else, all those pieces of myself I shoved into my car would look like a bunch of old junk. To me they are clues, a scavenger hunt with an unknowable prize, mile markers that, if followed correctly, will lead me somewhere important. I keep driving. East and out of the city, on the widening freeway, past strip malls and drive-thrus, pawn shops and liquor stores, that same beat playing, frenetic as my heart. Red and blue flashing lights in the rearview, but not for me, and for an instant I can remember the heavy weight of a police badge I once held in my teenage hand, the metallic chill of a gun. When I pass the exit for Hemet, I can smell my mother’s perfume.
The road—it takes me farther into the desert, past the fields of wind turbines outside Palm Springs, past the hotel where I kissed my husband’s face in front of a hundred guests, past the facility where I was wheeled in for twenty-eight days, wearing Jackie O sunglasses, and still I drive, faster now, pumping the accelerator under my foot, willing the car to fly. There were so many roads, and when I look back at them, I can visualize it all like a map: a path cut through the sun-bleached Kansas fields, Canal Street teeming with activity, a trail that led from a white-sand beach on the Florida Panhandle back to the highway, and this—this road, the one that I am on now, taking me away from where I was. I tell myself that this is my one last trip down memory lane.
I don’t know where I’m going, but I am beginning to see where I’ve been.
Chapter 1 1 HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS 1992
I was four, and we were in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a town where the debutantes dined on chicken-fried steak at the Arlington Hotel, a town where it was better to be seen than heard, and I would have just about died for somebody to pay attention to me. I would have set the Arlington Hotel on fire if I’d thought it would make my mom turn to me and smile.
But I never would have done that, because my mom and I both loved the Arlington Hotel more than anywhere else in the world. It towered over a wide green lawn like a castle from Candyland, a proud American flag whipping in the wind above the tall stone steps leading up to the ornate entrance. Inside, past a grand piano, you followed the black-and-white-checkered linoleum tiles, gripping tightly onto the black banister that spiraled two times down to the basement, which led to a video arcade that was always empty, the Galaga and Pac-Man boxes lit up like Christmas trees, and a machine containing brightly colored spheres of bubble gum the size of golf balls you could buy for a quarter. My mom knew a secret trick—jiggling the mouth of the machine and shaking it from the base—to get the machine to deliver two, sometimes even three, gumballs at once. I knew you weren’t supposed to swallow gum. It stayed in your stomach for seven years. That’s what my mom had told me. But the taste of it was so sweet, I couldn’t resist. As soon as it cracked open in my mouth, I wanted it to be a part of me.
Across the street from the hotel was a hot spring where people gathered to throw coins into the warm, dark water and make a wish. Beneath its rippling surface, you could see the cemetery of coins, the gleam of metal. All those wishes. I wondered how many of them had come true. My mom would take me to that hot spring to throw a coin in when she got off work some afternoons. She worked there, at the Arlington, as the banquet manager, setting up luncheons and parties for companies from Little Rock to Fort Smith. Leaving home in the morning, she looked the part of a working woman: flowing black slacks and a white blouse with buttons and an enormous collar, and her hair tied up in a chignon, held tight with hair spray.
I went back there once, as a grown-up, and the piano looked weathered and tuneless, the arcade games gone dim from neglect. But in my memory, it is all perfect. The way my mom and I wanted it to be.
My grandparents lived in Hot Springs, and so my mother, brother, and I had come there, from Kansas, where I was born, to be a family again. That’s what my mom said, anyway. And maybe we were, for a little while. On Saturday mornings my grandpa would pick me and my brother, Clinton, up in his two-door truck and we would go for long drives through the hills to look for turtles, and if we found one, we would bring her back and put her in the little pond in the front yard of my grandparents’ house. The house was on the top of the hill, big and brick, three stories high, and in the mists of the morning the pond had fog billowing above it that made it look like something from a fairy tale.
I wasn’t allowed to go down to the pond by myself, because there were water moccasins that slithered on its shores—big, venomous cottonmouth snakes—which, of course, made it more exciting. I wanted to shoot a water moccasin with my slingshot, to watch it squirm and wriggle away. Maybe all little boys see danger and want, desperately, to be a part of it, or maybe I just wanted it more than other kids; I don’t know. But in the back of my grandfather’s truck, Clinton’s arm wrapped around me, the stoic face of the turtle we’d found retreating under her shell in defeat, the long dirt road dipping and twisting to the horizon before us, I felt certain that I was going somewhere. That life was going to be an adventure.
My dad had come back to Arkansas not long after we’d arrived there, showing up like a ghost at the front door of the house we were renting a few miles away from my grandparents. It was always like this when they got back together. We’d be in the living room, playing, and my mom would suddenly be in the doorway, her eyes glinting from his familiar flame. She was terrified, but she was also excited. She yearned for his flames. “Go to the neighbors’ house,” she would say, the sound catching in her throat. “Go out the back before your dad sees you.”
She must have been so tired of drinking wine that when that glass of whiskey walked through the door, she couldn’t resist. At the sight of him you could see the car chase playing out in her eyes. She was afraid for us—for our well-being. But she also needed us gone so they could rip the house apart. Not long after he came back to town, he moved in with us.
They’d met in a rehab in Texas, then escaped together, got married, and rode off into the sunset. It was the Bonnie-and-Clyde story she could never stop reliving. He’d been married five times before, and already had three children, one with each of three of those wives—Billy, Joshua, and Julie, all of whom I would meet when I was older.
My mom had never been married but already had two kids of her own, with two different men—my sisters Summer, who was thirteen years older than me, and Meadow, who was seven years older. My sisters resented the way my dad treated my mom so much that after a few months of living with them together, Summer and Meadow went to live with my grandparents, which meant I didn’t see them all that often.
When he was home, my dad would sit in his recliner with a big plastic gas-station jug full of sweet tea and extra ice, made with Sweet & Low that came in the pink packets. I watched the smile on my brother’s face when my dad walked into the room; he’d jump straight into his lap. Clinton was always smiling. I didn’t understand. I thought I should play sports, because I knew dads liked it when their sons were good at sports, and so I did that, all the time, but he never seemed to care. “Daddy loves his boys,” he said, but the whiskey on his breath made it smell like a lie. Through an open window, fireflies glittered in the steamy air.
My life of crime started in broad daylight. The grown-ups would be gone. Clinton was watching Star Trek in the living room. So I would sneak out through the open garage and tiptoe to the neighbors’ house, slipping in through the sliding door, my glasses fogged from the humidity. The excitement I felt was unparalleled—would they catch me coming in? Part of me wanted to get caught so I could get in trouble, which would mean attention.
Not far from the neighbors’ door was the freezer. As I tugged it open, I felt the blast of cold air on my face, evaporating the condensation on my glasses. Did they know I was doing this? Inside was a rainbow sea of shaved-ice popsicles. I didn’t care what color I got. Just the sugar rush, the gluttonous high of peeling the wrappers off with my teeth. Red, purple, blue, green. From start to finish, it was pure satisfaction.
Were they home? Did they pretend not to notice the little boy with dirt on his face and a shirt streaked with melted popsicles, rooting around in their freezer? It was euphoric. My little secret. Just seeing how long I could go until I got caught, which would be its own reward—the attention I was craving. But they never caught me in the act, and they kept replenishing the popsicles, time after time.
Other people’s belongings were just plain better than mine—all the beautiful things other people had. I gravitated toward things tucked away in the darkness of a closet or cabinet, discarding what was mine and collecting what wasn’t. I found a pair of my sister Meadow’s sandals—lime-green and strappy with a chunky, rectangular heel. Plastic and sparkly, the texture of a translucent jump rope shot through with glitter. But my mom’s closet was best of all. It was a secret treasure chest, like it was illuminated from the inside out, and it was as if celestial music started playing when I opened the doors to reveal all those shoes, and all those dresses. I wondered if other boys felt this way about their mothers’ clothes. I wished I were a girl.
One afternoon I was in her closet, tottering around her bedroom in her shoes—worn-in leather boots, coffee brown, with a square toe and a thick three-inch heel—when she found me. She looked momentarily confused, then that expression changed to a kind of satisfaction, like I’d confirmed something she’d already known—and like it was a relief that she had been the one to discover this, and not my father. But instead of reprimanding me, she laughed. “I don’t need another person fighting over my closet, Lou Lou,” she said. “I already have two daughters.”
That night, people were over—my sisters, their friends, and a few neighbors. We were all sprawled out on the burgundy carpet, some of the adults crowded on the lip of the old brick fireplace, above which hung a framed photograph of a Native American woman with long, pin-straight, jet-black hair with a feather in the back. There was a look of fear and lust on her face, like you couldn’t tell if she was about to get fucked, murdered, or both. It was the same look I saw in my mother’s eyes whenever my father came back.
I was dancing to the sound of TLC’s “Creep” on the radio, twisting and shimmying, when someone yelled, “Colton, you’re such a good dancer!”
“You should see him do it in heels,” my mom said. I looked up at her—trying to figure out if she was angry, or encouraging, or both. But she just nodded at me, her beaded chandelier earrings dipping. So I ran to her room, retrieving the high-heeled boots and a big pendant necklace, slipping it around my neck and tugging the heels on. When I came back into the living room, everyone whooped and hollered as I recreated moves I’d seen in the music video, my heels a few inches higher, my soul lost in the melody. Had I ever been more myself? Will I ever be again?
It could have been that she wanted me to do it before my dad got home—so I could have that moment of disinhibition, without anyone’s judgment. The possibility of getting found out, of getting caught, of getting seen for what I was—the danger of it. The thrill of it.
After everyone had gone home, she called me into her bedroom. “C’mere, Fat Butt,” she said. “Come help me with my curlers.” She called me anything but my actual name: Fat Butt, Lou Lou, Bucket Head, Fibber McGee. She was stupid gorgeous. Frighteningly beautiful. A Texas girl, a California girl, a bombshell. In my memory, her eyeliner is always smudged, a little cakey. As she rolled each ringlet of her long box-dyed brown hair around a curler, I slid a pin through it to hold it in place. I loved her more than the sun in the sky. I loved her more than ranch dressing. I loved her more than thinking about myself.
“You know how angry your dad gets with me when I start to get a little unbuttoned?” she said. I nodded, trying not to burn my fingers on the searing-hot curlers. But I always did. “Well, you’re a boy. And boys aren’t supposed to act that way.” Our eyes met in the mirror above her dresser. “Imagine what he would do to you if he caught you acting like your sisters.”
He had never done to me the things that he did to her. By the time he was ready to leave again, it wasn’t like a movie—where the abused woman has a scrape, or a black eye. When my dad was finished with my mom she was purple and black. By the time we’d wake up, my dad would be long gone, leaving Clinton and me to pick up the mess he’d created. Bruises that became scars on my memory. We’d say we didn’t miss him. But I was the only one who meant it. My mom was lost without him, and when he was gone, she was always searching for him. We all felt it—the way his absence made her rudderless.
I can remember slipping outside through the swinging screen door, into the backyard in Hot Springs, where the night was simmering. Fireflies fizzed around my bowl-cut hair. I caught one in my hand, then tightened my fist until I knew it was dead. Crushed in my palm now was a phosphorescent ooze. I smeared it over my face. I was a boy. I would glow in the dark all night.
- Publisher: Atria Books (May 31, 2022)
- Length: 256 pages
- ISBN13: 9781982176174
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Raves and Reviews
“A vulnerable meditation on gender, desire, and fame, compelling and nuanced, a sensitive self-portrait, woven from fragments of his past.” —Buzzfeed
“Colton Haynes’s memoir is as provocative as it is moving. In searing, honest prose, he tells a coming-of-age story that is utterly his own, yet surprisingly universal.” —Bill Clegg, New York Times bestselling author of Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man
“Impossible to put down…This is a gripping memoir, and what shines through is Haynes’ clear-eyed wish to be honest with himself and with his readers about his actions. “ —Amazon Book Review
“Miss Memory Lane is a brutally honest memoir that socks you in the gut with its candor. Colton Haynes is a true survivor and shows us how conquering our demons in life is a never-ending journey.” —Elton John and David Furnish
“By confronting his own past, Colton Haynes challenges us to reflect upon the brutality seething just under the surface of the Hollywood Dream.” —Saeed Jones, author of How We Fight For Our Lives
“Pairing vulnerability with unflinching prose, actor Haynes debuts with a deeply affecting look at his path to self-acceptance….Fans will be left breathless by the grit and courage on display.” —Publishers Weekly
“Haynes’s moving, open-hearted, courageous memoir is a complex story of familial losses and the loss of innocence, but it is nevertheless written with great simplicity. Readers will find it hard to resist.” —Library Journal (starred review)
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