My earliest memories are from when I was five. I loved my parents very much. I always wanted to make them proud and tried to be a good kid. I did not complain much and would do anything that was asked of me. I have memories that make me feel nothing but happiness of my dad because he was very much a child himself and would make things fun (when he was in a good mood). Unfortunately, those moments were few and far between. My dad was an alcoholic with a huge temper.
He would get so mad at little things. I remember him throwing me on the ground because I broke a crayon, but I was most scared for my mom. I would see him yelling at her, throwing her against the wall. One time he hit her head repeatedly against a toilet bowl. My mom would try to keep me from seeing it, but I wanted to protect her and would run screaming at my dad to stop. The insults that he would yell at me made me feel like I would never amount to anything. I wanted his love so badly, but as a child, I never received it.
My dad worked a lot and made good money. Unfortunately the money went to his addictions – to filling his stomach and buying the latest and greatest electronics – not feeding his family. He would have big parties where he would make me do shots of whiskey so he could show his friends how cool his kid was. I wanted my dad’s approval so bad and would do anything that he asked. When he would smile down at me during these parties, the hole in my heart would close for a moment, and I felt like I belonged.
Do you know what it is like to feel hunger? You feel tired, irritable and have a hard time focusing on anything. Your stomach growls and hurts a little. The term “hangry” came from this uncomfortable need to eat. What many people do not know is the difference between these hunger pains and true starvation. I can remember going to bed at night, the growling of my stomach long gone, replaced by what I can only describe as my body trying to eat itself. I would lay in bed trying to sleep, crying quietly from the pain, for fear of waking my parents. My dad had no tolerance for crying. Eventually, the exhaustion would take over and I would sleep.
When I woke, everything would seem to be in slow motion. It was hard to get dressed. I walked to school, shuffling my feet down the road, trying to muster the strength just to get there. School was my release; it was a safe place for me to go. In the 80’s free lunch was different than it is now. Everyone knew that you were poor because they would give you a sack lunch with a sandwich, apple and milk. As embarrassed as I was from kids teasing me about my free lunch, I was so grateful for the food. These lunches were sometimes the only food I would get during the week. I usually would eat so fast that I would feel sick, but it felt so good to chew.
Social services would do welfare checks when called, but nothing they observed caused them to open a formal case. It was the 1980’s and times were different then.
Even with all the things I went through as a child, I was lucky to have that one person who made a difference. I know this seems cliché, but I can tell you it is 100% true. My grandpa (Papa) was my hero. The only person who could calm me as an infant was my papa. We shared a bond that was the strongest I have ever felt. I spent as many weekends with my grandparents as I could. Papa would tell me stories about his childhood. He would tell me how his parents made him drop out of school when he was 8 so he could deliver ice to people’s homes and help support the family. He told me these stories because he wanted me to know how important an education is.
When I was with my grandparents, I did not have to worry about going to bed hungry, feeling alone or being scared. I did not have to walk on eggshells or be careful not to anger anyone. Instead I had support, I had unconditional love and a feeling of safety. My papa is the reason I worked so hard in school, got involved in clubs, activities and volunteering. He made me believe that anything was possible. He was the person I went to for comfort and advice, always careful not to tell me what to do, but to help me figure it out by myself. Josh Groban sings a song that describes what my papa was to me; You Raise Me Up. It talks about being raised to be strong and able to make it through any storm.
A child who has experienced trauma similar to mine only needs one person who will listen and give support. Many kids do not know what it feels like to have someone believe in them. I would not be the person I am today without the trials I went through as a child, but I do not know if I would have made it without my Papa. Even though he has been gone for 13 years now, I can still hear his voice. Everything he taught me is still with me. I strive to live the life he wanted for me, and I’m working to be the best version of myself. Giving a child your time will change their life for the better.