My post last week prompted a few commenter’s to tell me to stop being so hard on myself and give myself some credit. And while I think it’s natural to be harder on yourself than you are on other people, I also want to take a moment and think back on where I’ve been and how much I’ve accomplished in spite of my circumstances.
You see, my life has never been an easy one. I grew up in what many would think was a normal home. My parents were married. I had an older brother. We lived in an apartment where I got dirty daily, playing outside with friends from the neighborhood. My mom was a preschool teacher. My dad worked nights at a paper company. I attended public school, had sleepovers with girlfriends, and bickered with my brother over the smallest issues. My dad woke us up in the morning, every single morning, with “It’s that time of the day again!” We would grumble, high-tail to the kitchen, eat cereal with our eyes glued to the back of the cereal box, and then get ready for school. My dad would walk us to the bus stop and be there when it returned to walk us back home. I always had a group of friends at school, never the popular girls but girls who totally understood me, even if it was only for the second grade. The next year, I’d have a brand-new set of friends. We had family dinners, Little Debbies snacks for dessert, and those joyous occasions of going out to eat. (My favorite being Pizza Hut.) My brother was into Power Rangers and action figures. I was into Barbies and baby dolls.
But things weren’t perfect. We had a secret. It was a secret that was tearing apart my parents’ marriage and causing my brother and I to always have that feeling of fear in the pit of our bellies. The secret started with my dad and Derby Lane. My dad was a gambler. (And not a very good one.) He would use his entire paycheck to go to the dog track, waste all his money, and end up with maybe ten bucks to his name. Once he had blown all his money, he would go to my mom and force her to give her money. I was all of six when I saw him pull a knife to her throat. I was maybe seven when I came home from church with my mom and brother to see my dad had punched a hole in the wall in anger. I cannot even tell you how many nights I sat in the farthest corner of my room, or sometimes under my bed, with a pillow over my ears to drown out the sounds of my parents fighting. The sounds of my dad threatening my mom. The sounds of him hitting her. The sounds of her fighting back. I was scared to death for my mom, because my dad not only had a gambling addiction, he also had an anger problem. He wasted no time turning his anger on me or my brother. I will say that he never lifted a hand to us, but the emotional beatings we received sometimes felt worse when you’re eight years old. We were evicted from apartments when my dad failed to pay the rent. We struggled financially, even though that should never have been the case, because we were surviving on my mom’s piddly day care teacher’s pay.
When I was eleven years old, my mom sat me down one night and told me that she was leaving my father and we were going to move in with my grandparents for the time being. The elation and exuberance I felt from this announcement was unmatched. I was never one who thought my parents should stay together or stick it out. She tried. Man, did she try. She wasted thirteen years with him before enough was enough. We moved into my grandma’s house. We lived in their office and it was cramped surroundings before my mom found a condo a few weeks before I started sixth grade.
From then on, it was hard. It was just as hard when my parents were together. My brother still thought my dad was the best thing since sliced bread and didn’t enjoy rooming with two females. He had a bit of an attitude problem, taunted my mother with curse-filled rock and rap music, and fought with me more than ever. My mom slipped into depression as she envisioned life as a single parent to two teenagers and trying to support us on barely anything. I suffered with horrible insomnia in sixth grade, the same year my mom was suffering from depression, which meant I didn’t have her to lean on. It pains me to say that because she has been a rock star mama for most of my life but that was one year where she just wasn’t there for me.
My first three months of eighth grade, my dad was sent to jail for stealing money from his mom. To gamble. It wasn’t the first time he’s done that, but it’s the first time his mom finally pressed charges. My last two years of high school, my dad was sent to prison for grand theft auto, attempted battery, and stealing money from his brother. I didn’t speak to him for the first of those two years until he sent me a letter, which seemed to make everything better.
My life wasn’t perfect. I’m probably the poster child for daddy issues. But yet, somehow, I’ve managed to come out of it all on top. Sure, I have some major trust issues and I think it’s going to take a very special man to break through the walls of my heart, but things could be a lot worse. There are two people I know of who are dealing with some tough times and are doing things that I could totally have imagined myself doing to make the pain feel better.
How is it possible that my brother is in a loving, committed relationship with his girlfriend of almost 8 years? How is it possible that he’s never touched a cigarette or a drug? How is it possible that the first drink he had was on his 21st birthday, and he’s had maybe 2 or 3 since then? How is it possible that he is an amazing, amazing father to his son? How is it possible that he’s held down a job since he was 15? How is it possible that he’s so responsible with his money that he has a brand-new truck and has never missed a payment? He was 16 when he started buying his own clothes and paying cable for our house. He bought his own TV with his own money. He bought his own car with his own money. He didn’t have any sort of father figure in his life to teach him the right way to do things. He’s been shown the wrong way. By all intents and purposes, he should be a gambler, beating on Jenny, and a distant father. But he’s not. He’s so far from those things that it makes me laugh. He’s the biggest male role model in my life and I always think to myself, if only I could find a man who is half as good as him, I’ll be happy.
Then there’s me. At 22, I’m still a virgin and looking to remain so until my wedding night. It shouldn’t be this way. Shouldn’t I be looking for other guys to satisfy this craving for a father figure? That’s the way it works, right? At 22, I’ve never been drunk one night in my life. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, as long as you do it responsibly, but there were many chances in high school to wind up on the wrong side of the tracks. At 22, I’ve never had a cigarette touch my lips or a drug touch my fingers. I’ve been asked, propositioned, but in the end, it’s always a big, fat no. At 22, I’m still in college and will keep fighting until I graduate. And I’m going to make something of my life. Something big. Something amazing. Something wonderful.
I’m living proof that you can come from pretty awful circumstances and make something better of your life. You can’t control circumstances and bad things happening sometimes, but you can always control your reaction to it. You can always stand up for what’s right. My brother and I have come a long way. Our past is something we’ll never forget but it’s the present and future that our eyes are fully aware of. It helps that we have a mother who loves us with every fiber of her being. Who would give up anything to make us happy. Who has supported us every step of the way.
We’ve turned into two people who take responsibility for their actions. We’ve never even thought to use our past or lack of a father figure to make excuses to do bad things. My past is a huge part of me. Would I have enjoyed an easier life, with two parents who loved each other and me? A father who held down a full-time job, went to all my sporting events, and supported me the way a father should? Heck yes! I’m not going to sit here and say that I don’t long for that kind of past. But that’s not the past I was given. The past I was given has given me trust issues and heartbreak. It has given me strength, passion, and purpose. It has formed me into the woman I am today. A woman who knows what she believes in and stands up for what’s right. A woman who can’t wear her heart on her sleeve for fear of what people will think. A woman who has risen above her circumstances and is ready to make something amazing of her life.