Lengthy Story About Kellie Pickler’s Abandonment

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Anybody who has wondered what the person Kellie Pickler is talking about in her song “I Wonder” has to say about it should read this. Kellie's mom talks about her shame and abandonment of Kellie, who was just 2 years old. I'm sorry, the whole spousal abuse thing is an odd topic for me. If a man is abusing you, why would you run and leave your child behind? Why would you risk their life to save your own? I don't get it. Well, anyway, here's the story:

Choking back tears on the stage at Walnut Creek Amphitheater on Friday night, former “American Idol” sweetheart Kellie Pickler sang a song of questions to the mother who abandoned her.
In a church sanctuary not five miles away, Pickler's mother, Cynthia Malone, prayed once more for the strength to fully forgive herself for deserting Pickler as a toddler.

What was once a mother's private shame has become national intrigue as Pickler, 21, a budding country music vocalist, penned a song about a little girl's longing for a vanished mother. “I Wonder” is climbing the Billboard Hot Country Songs list, hitting No. 15 this month.

Malone, who lives in the Triangle, said it was hard to hear the first words her daughter had spoken to her in a decade uttered in a song on the radio. The lyrics are more mournful than angry, more pitiful than judging, but Pickler poses painful questions:

“Did you think I didn't need you here/ To hold my hand/ To dry my tears/ Did you even miss me through the years at all?”

The song — and Pickler's discussions about her tough childhood — unleashed a range of emotions for Malone. Embarrassment faded to anger, which turned to hurt. Now, Malone is using the conversation that Pickler started in a song to speak to strangers about her struggles.

Malone, 38, spoke last week about leaving her daughter and her efforts to escape abusive relationships. She said she is finally free and healthy and wants to help other victims of domestic violence. She has joined with Interact, Wake County's domestic violence support center, to assist victims and hopes her unwelcome fame as Pickler's estranged mom will make them listen.

“I can't change anybody's mind or their perception of me,” said Malone, widening dark eyes that match her daughter's. “But, if I had a dream, it would be to help one girl. To let her know that you don't have to do it by yourself.”

Pickler declined through her publicist, Wes Vause, to comment for this story. Vause said Pickler's song captures her thoughts best.

Pickler sings in part: “Forgiveness is such a simple word/ But it's so hard to do when you've been hurt.”

Pickler's father, Clyde “Bo” Pickler Jr., 42, whom Kellie has described as an alcoholic often jailed during her childhood, is behind bars again in Stanly County. He was convicted last week of stealing cars and pawning them for scrap metal, a Stanly County Sheriff's Office official said. Clyde Pickler is also on probation for assaulting his current wife with a steak knife. His attorney did not return calls.

Malone was 16 and a country girl living in Stanly County when she fell for Clyde Pickler. He pulled up to her window at a local McDonald's drive-thru. She was smitten, and quickly they became a pair.

“He told me everything I wanted to hear,” Malone said. “He told me he loved me, that I was pretty, that he wanted to be there and protect me from my dad. I wholeheartedly believed him.”

Soon, Malone got pregnant with Kellie. She said she resisted family pressure to have an abortion and married Clyde Pickler instead. That was when the trouble started.

The beatings came fast and furious, Malone said. She tried to shield her bulging belly and had to take medicine to temper premature contractions.

“I knew God had to have a purpose for [Kellie] because there was too many times I would have miscarried because of all the hitting and beating on my stomach,” Malone said.

Eight months pregnant, Malone went to a baby shower with a black eye and busted lip. She told family members she had run into a wall. No one questioned her, Malone said.
Kellie's birth in 1986 seemed to unleash even more violence in their home. Malone said she called police so many times that officers knew her by name. Once, she said, her husband threw her through a glass shower door and choked her before vanishing. For three days, Malone said, she wrapped Kellie in blankets and hid her behind their bed, in case her husband returned in a rage.

Court and police records from these years are scattered and incomplete. Clyde Pickler was convicted of assault by pointing a gun in 1986; the victim was a family member of Malone's. Malone described the abuse as far back as 1988 in custody and divorce records.

Malone said she has never known her former husband to harm Kellie.

“He wouldn't,” she said. “She's blood. His princess.”

By the summer of 1988, Malone had had enough. She had shut down and could think of little more than survival.

“When you're in that place, you have to make a decision: her life or yours,” Malone said during an emotional five-hour interview. “I'd given her life, but I didn't want to lose mine.”

The morning after an immobilizing beating, Malone said, she dropped 2-year-old Kellie off at her in-laws', stuffed a few items in her car and headed to Jacksonville to hide with family. She grabbed a few baby pictures, Kellie's baby blanket and the outfit she brought her home from the hospital in.

Malone told no one she was leaving.

A year later, Malone showed up at a custody hearing to try to preserve some custody rights to Kellie. Clyde Pickler's parents, Clyde Sr. and the late Faye Pickler, asked a judge for full guardianship. Malone said she disappeared again after her husband threatened her life if she reappeared.

Malone stayed gone for many years. She would drive by her former in-laws', though, and park near the road to catch a glimpse of Kellie playing in the yard. She looked happy, Malone recalled.

In 1995, Malone got herself together enough to reunite with her daughter. A judge granted her custody. Kellie was in the fourth grade.

Malone said it was good for about a day; the two baked cookies and played checkers.

Soon, their relationship unraveled. Malone said Kellie desperately longed for her grandparents. She threw fits and threatened to kill herself, Malone said. Kellie's grandparents alleged in court records that Malone abused Kellie; a judge found her not guilty of child abuse.

Eventually Malone surrendered, heartbroken. She turned Kellie back over to the Picklers and took off again.

“I don't know what was hardest,” Malone said — “watching her from afar or having her wrapped up beside me.”

It has been 10 years since the two have met. Malone said she lived for the glimpses of her daughter on “American Idol” in 2006. She recorded each episode and watched it again and again. She raves about Kellie's voice.

In the years since they have parted, Malone has struggled. She said she survived a series of violent relationships and barely escaped with her life in 2002. An estranged husband lay in wait for her, Malone said, and attacked her. She suffered major brain damage and had to learn to walk and talk again. She has had eight surgeries to rebuild a shattered face and replace her teeth.

She fled to Colorado after that attack and changed her last name to Malone through a protection program for victims of domestic violence. She has kept a low profile since returning to North Carolina a few years ago. She lives in the Triangle and works in financial services but declined to be specific about her whereabouts. Malone is still wary one of her abusers will find her.

Malone doesn't want to address her daughter through the media and won't discuss their current relationship. Pickler's publicist said he doesn't think Malone and Pickler are in contact.

Pickler landed a recording deal with BNA Records and 19 Recordings and left Stanly County to launch her career. She fills her mom in on her adventure in the last verse of “I Wonder.”

“And just in case you're wondering about me/ From now on I won't be in Carolina/ Your little girl is off/ Your little girl is off/ Your little girl is off to Tennessee.”


Sometimes I think about you

Wonder if you're out there somewhere thinking bout me

And would you even recognize

The woman that your little girl has grown up to be

Cause I look in the mirror and all I see

Are your brown eyes looking back at me

They're the only thing you ever gave to me at all

Oh, I hear the weather's nice in California

There's sunny skies as far I can see

If you ever come back home to Carolina

I wonder what you'd say to me

I think about how it ain't fair

That you weren't there to braid my hair

Like mothers do

You weren't around to cheer me on

Help me dress for my high school prom

Like mothers do

Did you think I didn't need you here

To hold my hand

To dry my tears

Did you even miss me through the years at all

Oh, I hear the weather's nice in California

There's sunny skies as far I can see

If you ever come back home to Carolina

I wonder what you'd say to me

Forgiveness is such a simple word

But it's so hard to do when you've been hurt

Oh, I hear the weather's nice in California

And just in case you're wondering about me

From now on I won't be in Carolina

Your little girl is off

Your little girl is off

Your little girl is off to Tennessee

Tags: kellie pickler i wonder, kellie pickler mother