Defining moments How my premature induction to motherhood earned me a college education.
I was in denial until the 8th month, until there was no way I could continue to cover up the rounded bump under my baggy shirt. I was afraid to tell them, I was only 15 years old. While they pretended not to notice the swelling bulge, I refused to acknowledge the agonizing morning sickness and the silvery streaks on my belly.
My heart sinks when I think of the tears rolling down my mom’s face. It was a hot day in August when my parents found and read a letter I had written to a friend. I don’t know if they were more upset because I was pregnant or because I didn’t tell them. My parents all but gave up hope that I would earn a high school diploma, let-alone a college degree. After all, I had only finished my sophomore year. Back then, there were no programs for teen parents, no on-site day care, no web-based alternative schools. The best I could do was attend night classes and test for the GED at the nearby community college.
“What about college?” The words my parents cried the day they learned I was pregnant burned into my memory, “We thought you were going to college.” THOUGHT; past tense. Their disappointment motivated me to defy the predication that I would join other teen parents on welfare row that I would be a burden to society. I wonder today if I would have made it this far had it not been for that single moment. Would I have pushed myself so hard to achieve if it had not been for the challenge to prove everyone wrong?
It would have been easy to give up with all the excuses I had. I didn’t have to worry about disappointing anyone because no one had any expectations of me. Why try? As long as I continued to fit the stereotype, I met all that was expected of me. This would have been an easy way out, but I expected more from myself.
When I took ownership of my future I rejected the excuses and started looking for my own solutions
Becoming a mother at 16 is not ideal, but it’s not the end of life either. Like so many of life’s curve balls, you can take a swing or just sit back and hope to walk. The messages all around me were of despair and pity. I don’t recall a single person telling me that I could still make something of my life. That’s not to say that my parents were unsupportive, quite the contrary. They were there for my daughter and me; they accepted us unconditionally. Nevertheless, it was up to me to if I wanted more out of life for my daughter and me.
With the support of my family, I studied for my GED and earned my certificate when I was 16. The following year I started college, right on schedule. That first year of college didn’t go so well. I was barely 18 years old with a toddler and I had moved 30 miles from my family; not a good formula for success. I completed five quarters with less than a 2.0 grade point average and decided it probably wasn’t a good time for me to be in college.
I returned to college about three years later, after I was married and had a second child. My first husband was an extremely abusive drug addict. I remember the shock and horror of one of my new class mates when I told her my husband ripped up all of my clothes so that I couldn’t come to school. “He doesn’t sound very nice” was all she could say. She doesn’t know how right she was, the clothes were the least of my worries.
He left on our third anniversary. I was jobless, without transportation or money. Needless to say, I was not able to complete that school year. Instead, I got a job 200 miles away, commuting back and forth every weekend. I took my kids with me and we lived in a 2-bedroom apartment with 10 other people. Fortunately, it was a temporary arrangement and I earned enough money to pay my rent and buy a car.
I returned to school the following term and finished with my associates degree a year later. I was 24, six years after I originally started college.
Fast-forward five years, I remarried and had another child (my third). I decided it was time for me to go back to school to earn my bachelor’s degree, and my (second) husband supported my decision. He earned enough money to support our family so I quit my job to attend school full-time and take care of the kids. Three months later, he was gone.
Again, I was unemployed, but this time I had a mortgage and car payment to make. Fortunately, my mortgage was backed by a subsidized first-time homebuyer program and I was able to pay reduced payments based on my income. It was a tremendous relief that I wouldn’t lose my house; I needed the stability and security for my kids, at the time 5, 10 and 14 years old.
I remember attending new student orientation before fall classes began. I thought to myself, “I don’t even know why I’m here; I can’t do this on my own.” Deep down, I hoped that my husband would come back and take care of everything so I could go back to school. I decided that if he came home, I would go back to school, and if he didn’t, I would get a job. When I realized that I was letting him dictate the path I would take, I once again took matters into my own hands; I would go back to school whether he came home or not.
Fall term started two months later. I was still jobless and still alone. I questioned how I would make it work. The only answer I could come up with was “one term at a time”. I could make a commitment to one term. I could not predict where I would be in a year, or even 6 months, but I knew I could make it one term. I figured that if it were too hard, I would not sign up for a second term. I reminded myself… ‘Put one-foot-in-front-of-the-other’, no need to leap ahead into the unknown. In the end, my one-term-at-a-time attitude saw me all the way through to my graduation. I was 34years old, but I earned my bachelor’s degree! I didn’t take the traditional path, but I kept moving forward and I never felt as though I was a quitter.
When I tell my kids that they can do anything they put their mind to, they know I am not just paying lip service. If I’ve taught them anything by my example, it is that perseverance pays off and that you have to work for everything you want out of life.
It took me nearly a decade of therapy to recognize how my faith propped me up when I could have easily just quit. I jumped many hurdles to build the life that I now have. The faith that I held on to, and continue to hold, is that there is a reason for everything, there is a master plan. Regardless of how I might perceive it at the time, ultimately, everything I go through is to my benefit in the long run. I do not have to know all the reasons, I just need to keep my mind (and my eyes) open for when the answers present themselves. In the meantime, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
We all tell ourselves stories about our childhood. Whether they are mostly true and a little embellished, or a little true and mostly embellished, our stories tend to reflect a skewed perception that we adopted in our adolescence. I don’t know about people that grew up in a healthy environment, but for me, my perception of my childhood hasn’t changed all that much from when I lived it. Maybe kids with healthy emotional development outgrow their egocentric thinking and it’s only us misfits that can’t look back at the past and chuckle.
One of my stories, one that I tell myself, is that I had no friends in high school. I hated school. I hated how people looked at me. It sounds so cliche, but I really felt like people could see the filth on me. I sat quitely in class, hardly interacting with anyone. I used to imagine that I could shrink into a tiny person like Fred Flintstone and I would jump out of my seat and scurry under the door and run away. I literally did not want people to see me. I tried to fade into the background. It took me 25 years to realize that I didn’t hate them, nor did they hate me, I HATED MYSELF.
I would look around my classroom and wonder, “what would she think if she knew what I did last night? would she think I was gross? disgusting?” I didn’t have to wait for an answer, I already knew that I was icky and disgusting. And I didn’t know that I deserved to be anything else. My abuser had me convinced that he was all I had. Even my parents hated me, he would say. He was sure to remind me often that although no one else liked me, he did. “I don’t know why, but your mom sure hates you” He simply confirmed what I had believed for so long (of course, I now know that wasn’t true, but at the time I thought it was).
So, back to the title of this post. As I said, I always thought that I had no friends. And then Facebook exploded. Before I knew it, all kinds of old high school “aquaintences” came out of the woodwork. I didn’t think much of it. In fact, it brought back some fond memories of what I will call exceptions to the norm. I wouldn’t say that I really had long-lasting friendships with these people, but they were nice to me and I had forgotten that. I mostly chalked it up to nostalgia.
So I left high school after my sophmore year expecting a baby (at 16). Although I continued to live in the same town, I only stayed in touch with one person from high school (at least for about two years). Back then teen parents were not very common. Having a baby alienated me even farther from my peers, which is exactly what my abuser wanted.
Back to the topic of Facebook. So my husband tells me that a childhood friend of mine had sent him a friend request (we all grew up in the same small community). The two of them were friends in high school, long after I had dropped out. He says, “did she send you one? I wouldn’t be surprised if she did any minute”. I shrugged it off, maybe a tad bit jealous that he had friends and I didn’t. I smirked and shook my head, “I seriously doubt it” He didn’t know what to think of that, after all the two of us had been close friends in elementary school. But I had absolutely convinced myself, for 25 years, that NO ONE liked me and that I was probably the center of a lot of school-girl gossip after I dropped out.
You can see where this is going, a few minutes later I received a friend request from the person we were talking about. I was almost embarrased because it surprised me so much. I accepted the request and checked out her profile. She looked great and I was happy for her. I noticed that she had just joined facebook and my husband and I were among her first friends. Later that evening, she sent me an email. I’ll never forget…. she said out of everyone that she was reconnecting with, she was most happy to find me and that her most fond memories of childhood were of the times we spent together.
Needless to say I was very touched AND enlightened. I told myself for so many years that no one liked me, and in fact, people probably thought that I was disgusting. And here this friend was, telling me that she was most happiest to connect with me and to see that I had a happy life. She may never know how that one email changed my life forever. (Then again, I will probably tell her some day).
That day I realized that if I was so wrong about her, that I might be just as wrong about so many others; that the ick wasn’t visible to the naked eye. They didn’t know how dirty I was. In fact, friends like her were out there wondering, hoping, that my life turned out well.
And it did.
To love means loving
To forgive means
Faith means believing
Hope means hoping
– Gilbert K. Chesterton
I try not to make this blog all about pain and suffering, but then stuff like this lands on my paper and I have no where else to put it…
I had him wrapped around my finger.
When I called, he came running
he snapped, and I ran to hide
I would sneak around to be with him,
I had to sneak away from him.
He put me on a pedastal,
He chained me in shackles
It hurt so bad to go
it hurt too bad to stay.
I had him wrapped around my finger
Today is much better. My hubs and I spent a lot of time talking and reminding ourselves (and each other) why we decided to stay together in the first place. I am feeling good about our commitment to stay the course. I never really intended to cover this in my blog. I originally thought I would be writing about the past, but then, shit happens and here I am. I am reminded that we are complex human beings and that we don’t fit nicely into one box. My life is many things, I play many roles and I am not defined by any single one of them alone. If I allowed myself to be defined in singular terms like that, I would have forever been the victim. One of the things I think that set us (women) apart is our ability to be so many different things to so many different people all at the same time. Anyway, I am wandering, so back to the topic at hand.
We’ve been in counseling and although we haven’t abandoned it all together, the person we chose wasn’t a good fit. We”re back to the drawing board there. I’ve also been thinking about joining a church. We’ve talked about it for years and years, but it’s hard starting when everyone else there is already established. It’s like being the new kid in class, everyone wondering about you and you don’t know who is who. Who are the friendly ones, who are the snobby ones, who are the gossipers? I’m talking myself out of it before I’ve even given it a try.
It’s been 2 and 1/2 years. I went away, emotionally and, yes, physically. I will never go there again, but that was one extreme and now I find myself at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Then I felt like I was starting to figure me out, and then things went terribly wrong, so I recoiled. But now i feel so out of touch with myself. I have a history of trying too hard to please my partner to the exclusion of my own needs. He can’t be blamed for that, I do it to myself. I guess I figure if I love him enough he will love me enough.
He said that he DOES love me, he just isn’t IN love with me. I can’t blame him, but I just thought that we would be past this by now. He wasn’t being mean when he said it, that makes it even harder to hear. He doesn’t want to end it, he wants to keep trying and so do I, but he wasn’t very hopeful that he will ever move forward. My own hope is starting to wane. One day I thought things were good and the next, it all came tumbling down again. “I want to be in love with you again, I want to feel the way I felt before but I just don’t know if I can ever open my heart like that again, for anyone.” Is want going to be enough to make it true? Can we “fake it til we make it?”
I thought about what my life would be like without him. How would it be worse? Better? Would I be lonely(er)?
This is my third marriage, I don’t want to divorce again. We’ve been together for 10 years. We’ve raised our kids together (we have none together). Our grandkids are OUR grandkids, that is, as long as we are together. If we part, what’s mine is mine and what’s his is his.
I didn’t do it because I stopped loving him. I didn’t do it to hurt him or to spite him or just for fun. I did it because I was desperate. I gave up on him. By the time I realized the mistake I was making, I had already crossed the line. From that moment on, I have never looked back, never regretted staying with my husband. If I could turn back the hands of time I would never do it over. But none of that matters, what’s done is done.
My best friend is not a friend at all, it’s a bottle that I turn to for comfort. My sister used to be my best friend, all my life in fact. How does a person replace someone that’s been there for 40 years? She didn’t die, she just isn’t that person to me anymore. She is my sister. I don’t hate her, I’m not angry at her. She just isn’t that person anymore.
She sent me an email a few weeks ago, simply, “I wish you could be here today.” She didn’t need to say any more than that. Last month was my birthday and two months before it was hers. It was probably the hardest day I spent without her ever.
I tried to tell her that things would never be the same again. Birthdays, holidays, celebrations, they will never be the same. We used to tie the family together, we were the glue and now it feels like everyone is spinning out of control without us there to reign everyone in. But now, there is no order, no heirarchy, no influence. With the two of us divided, there is no force within the family that speaks loud enough to be heard.
I know very well what we used to be. We were the sisters that could finish each other’s sentences. We were the Pictionary parters that could read each other’s minds. We were the friends that would drop everything to offer a shoulder to cry on. She was the one that loved and accepted me, ALL of me, the good and the not-so-good. The one that understood my need for control, my fears and insecurities. She let me be the boss, or at least let me think that I was.
But I don’t know who we are anymore. I can’t construct an image of what our relationship is, I only know what it isn’t. And that leaves a huge whole in the image that used to be my family.