Ritchie County Mall

When a mother loses her child every other weekend to the man who abused her

Kelly Sundberg
Gay Mag
Published in
15 min readApr 6, 2020


Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

CCaleb and I are driving from Morgantown to Parkersburg in West Virginia to see his parents. “Can we stop for a bathroom break?” I ask.

He pulls into a 7–Eleven. “Welcome to the Ritchie County Mall,” he says.

“The what?” I asked.

“The Ritchie County Mall. We call it that because there’s nothing else in Ritchie County,” he says. I laugh. No one can make me laugh like Caleb.

I look back at Reed in his car seat. He smiles, his Curious George stuffed toy gripped in his arms. Reed has always been a happy travel companion — rarely fussy or difficult on long drives. He was born on the full moon and is the only child I’ll ever have. My moon baby.

“I’ll be back,” I say to Caleb, as I open the door.

“I know you will,” Caleb says, smiling.

BBreathe deeply in a West Virginia forest, and the thick air has a distinctive taste. Just like it looks. Rich and fertile. Ritchie County is no different. The hardwood forests tight and luscious. Large swaths of dirt roads slice through the greenery and lead to cavernous holes with tall gray injection wells jutting out of them. Light changes around the injection wells — becomes a faint pall that never stops shining, even on the darkest nights.

II pull into the Ritchie County Mall, then park next to the red Toyota that Caleb and I had bought together years earlier. I look down at my phone, at the car on the other side of me, at the ice machine in front of me. Anywhere but at Caleb.

The car door opens behind me. Reed slides into his seat and buckles his seatbelt. “Did you have a good weekend?” I ask.

“It was okay,” Reed says. We pull out of the parking lot behind Caleb, then Caleb turns left, and we turn right.

TThe Ritchie County Mall is the half-way point between Athens, Ohio where I have moved with Reed so I can get my PhD and Morgantown, West Virginia where Caleb stayed after our divorce in the house we once owned together. I think of myself — always driving halfway back to home — but never arriving.



Kelly Sundberg
Gay Mag

Kelly Sundberg’s memoir Goodbye, Sweet Girl was published by HarperCollins in 2018. She is currently working on a collection of lyric essays about PTSD.