Sunday, July 15, 2012

Worth of Wealth

There were complications.

Like with anyone, my history is full of them. It began with my mother. She was born into a small town family in Corinth, MS. She was the last of three kids (the first two, boys) and was the light of her mother’s life.

They were your typical upstanding southern family. Poor, but they loved each other enough to make up for what was missing. That all changed when she turned two years old. Her mother’s life ended suddenly when she developed Cancer, and after a tough battle, lost. My mother’s father found her as a reminder of the partner that he loved so dearly, and since he had no idea what to do with a young girl, he sent her to live with her aunts and grandmother.

As a child, my mother grew up in a home with cracks in the floor so large that you could see the chickens pecking the ground underneath. During the winter, they would layer five or six hand sewn blankets over the beds to keep warm.

Her grandmother would fold the blankets down as she climbed quickly into bed. The draft from the floor was cold on her child sized feet, and she didn’t have extra socks to wear. When her grandmother tucked her in, the blankets settled around her like a mold. Her body stayed in one position the entire night through, unable to move from the weight of the covers.

When she would awaken the next morning, there would be a thin layer of snow across her blanket and the floor, carried in from a flurry the night before. She would wiggle her body back and forth until she managed to break free from the heavy restraint.

Around the age of seven my mother went back to live with her father. He remarried, and it was about that age that most young women in the south began to help take care of the household. She would help his new wife with the cleaning and cooking. They also picked cotton for local farmers to put food on the table. She would pick from 5 a.m until noon, and then her step-mother would let her take a nap on the rough burlap bag full of cotton that she drug along behind her in the fields for an hour or so. Whe she awoke she would help pick until nearly dark.

His new wife was a sweet woman, however his angst and sadness kept him from letting her get close with his children. Although my mother longed for the love and adoration of a female figure, what she got was relief from the full weight of household chores.

As a young girl, she had to wear clothes that her step-mother made out of large flour sacks. They were cloth, and often had prints of stripes or flowers on them. People often used them for their Sunday’s best.
During her teenage years she began to feel restless, so when she graduated early from high school she sprinted for the county line. She considered college, but got a wild hair and ran off to Myrtle Beach where she tasted freedom for the first time. She was a woman born under a wandering star and that is exactly how she acted. Traveling place to place, paycheck to paycheck she experienced a life that she never knew existed.

She worked as a desk clerk at a hotel, and on her lunch hour she would run across the street to the beach, her bikini on underneath her uniform just to watch the waves crash onto the sand. That same hotel is where she met Patrick Swayze. That same town is where she danced with the lead singer of Alabama.

In her early twenties her father became sick. Although she had a passion for adventure and travel, she also had a calling for care giving and a dedication to family. As a child when she would find stray animals with wounds and injuries, she would bring them home to her grandmother who would help her patch them up and nurse them back to health. They did this despite the fact they could barely afford to support themselves.

Her father told her constantly that she should become a nurse, but she had other plans. Those plans were disrupted when she received the call to come home. He might not make it. When she returned, the town was as small as ever before. She was wild and restless. Although she took care of her father, she also made her rounds through the few local bars, enjoying herself along the way. I always saw my mother growing up as a saint, one who cared for everyone and always knew the right things to say. I knew nothing of the woman, who bar hopped until 2 am before she landed herself at a local diner for a sobering cup of coffee. This woman was foreign to me, but there she was. At age twenty-two my mother sat in a small booth, her high heels on the table yelling back at the cook.

“Carol, make me two eggs and some bacon.” She would say, with her feet kicked up in the seat beside her, flexing her toes that had been stuffed into make-shift dancing shoes minutes before.

Two county officers walked into the diner and sat a few feet away from her. After a few minutes of listening to my mother recap her evening of betting the local football players she could out-drink them, and winning, one of the officers approached her.

“Evening ma’am.”

“Morning.” She replied.

“That your car outside?”

“Sure is.”

“And you’re driving it?”

At this point most people would be sweating profusely, certain of their mistake and soon to be doom. Not my mother.

“That’s usually what I do with a car. Yes.”

Wow, mom. Wow.

“Little Lady, It just so happens I have a place for you to spend the night.”

I would have been in tears.

“No Sir. I’m not going to jail.”

Let’s take a second to recap. My mother, check. Police Officer, check. Driving after drinking, check.
The Police Officer looked at her, and patted the gun on his hip.

“As long as I have this, you’ll go wherever I tell you to.”

His partner was sitting in the booth behind him amused at my mother’s sassy attitude. I’m sure they didn’t run into many young women like her. She was a free spirit with a Devil-May-Care attitude. Like a flash my mother reached out and snatched the officer’s gun from his holster. In one swift motion she had it in her hand, dangling it in front of his face. His eyes huge.

“But officer, you don’t have it. I do.”

In this day and age the officers would have tackled her to the ground. Arrested her, and probably charged her with a felony if not beat her with everything in sight. The consequences have to be pretty heavy for taking an officer’s gun. Instead, his partner busted out laughing. The Officer’s cheeks grew a deep shade of red, as he took the gun back from her grasp.

“I’ll tell you what, young lady. I’ll follow you out of town, and if you swerve even once, I’m taking you in.”

Her response?

“I’ll tell YOU what. I’ll follow YOU out of town, and if you don’t swerve, I won’t.”

The Police escorted her to the county line. She made it safely home, and while she is the first to tell you that driving that night was the worst mistake she could have made (because she, nor I condone drinking and driving) it has helped her understand that we don’t always make the best decisions.

I think that’s one of the reasons that she is so open to my wandering heart. I’m a little wild. A little reckless. In college I didn’t always make the best decisions, but my mother loved me unconditionally. She knew that I was young, and over time I would learn my own lessons.

After her father died, my mother entered nursing school. Ironic isn’t it? She waited until he was gone to do the thing he told her to all along. By that time she had been married once and divorced, and it was also around that time that she met my father. She clung to him during her emotional instability. She had a very difficult time with her father’s death, and found comfort in the arms of my dad. Unfortunately he was probably the last man her father would want her to be with.

He was young and wild as well. A skinny man with long dark hair. A crooked smile, and charm for days. They loved hard, and fought harder. Not just petty arguments, but with anger so strong that it hurt. They were a terrible pair, but the passion was intense. At this point he already had my sister by another woman, and was fighting for custody. My mother married him to help facilitate that battle.
Long story short she became pregnant. She was still in nursing school, and now preparing for her first born child as well. The fights became worse. My father was a wanderer, and stepped out a time or twelve. They fought day in and day out. He even often picked fights before big test days, just to watch her fail.

Three months before graduation, she went into labor.

Since she had been doing her clinicals and such at the local hospital, she knew all of the staff. They opened up two delivery rooms, just so they could hold all of the people who came to my grand entrance to this world. In my first few moments of life, I would be a local celebrity.

The only person who wasn’t there, was the one who ought to be. My father walked out of the delivery room hours before I was born leaving my mother to go through labor alone. According to my mother he ran off to Alabama with another woman. He got a job down there in construction “to support the family” leaving my sister and I behind.

 My “grandmother” (the one who now has Alzheimer’s) and her husband were there. My mother’s friends . All of the hospital staff. Someone even videotaped the whole thing (but the tape burned years later in a fire). As it came closer to time for her to give birth, the doctor noticed that there was… a complication. As I said. My life has been full of them. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck cutting off the circulation to my brain. The doctor would have to do an emergency C-section. After 36 hours of labor, my mother’s life was at risk as well.

During the C-section, the doctors knife slipped, cutting to deep. It went into the back of my skull, leaving an inch long scar for me to remember him by. Within my first few seconds of life on earth, I was in critical care getting stitches. It was just a preview of many years to come.
We both survived. My mother carried me every day to class (she was back in school three days after labor). My first three months alive, I spent going to school. My mother thinks this is why I have such a passion for learning. I think that I just get bored.

She graduated, and a week later was in her first nursing position. My father sent home twenty-five dollars a week. That was supposed to care for both my sister and I, my mom, and provide gas as well as pay the bills. One hundred dollars a month…

I didn’t find this out until I was nearly grown. I had no idea why my mother hated him so much. Why they weren’t together. I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t all be a happy family. My mother couldn’t afford to take care of us. She made the hardest decision of her life. I still cry when I think about it.

She took my sister to live with her grandmother on her birth-mother’s side. My mother says to this day that it’s the worst decision she ever made. She relives that moment over and over trying to think of other ways that she could have kept us both and survived. She’s still trying to figure it out.
Friends and family members would drop off old cans of vegetables that they weren’t using, so my mother’s dinner usually consisted of half a can of beans. She would save the other half for the next day. Living off of one meal a day, and still trying to feed me was nearly impossible. There is no way she could have fed my sister as well.

I feel guilty sometimes. I feel as if it’s my fault. If I hadn’t come along my mother could have kept my sister. She could have had a different life. Instead she was dropped off; much like my mother had been, at an early age.

It took me a long time to realize the struggles that my mother faced. The hardships that she endured. I am amazed at what an incredibly strong woman she is, and blessed to have her in my life. I still don’t know everything that she went through. How could I? I wasn’t there. I’m sure that there is a lot that she still hasn’t told me to protect me from the guilt and pain. It’s something you might want to think about before you assume that your parents or family don’t “understand” what you’re going through. You might not really understand what they went through either.

I’m certain that there isn’t a person on this planet whose mother loved them more than mine does. We obviously survived. My parent’s separated. My father stayed gone for the first two years. It was my mother and I against the world. Maybe that’s why she is so supportive now. It’s always been the two of us, and we faced whatever came our way. I wish I could say I’ve helped her as much as she’s helped me, but I’ll never be able to repay her.

My father came to my first birthday party. He was there long enough to rub cake in my face, which caused a severe allergic reaction. Apparently I was allergic to eggs. Great start right? We didn’t really see him again until I was around two years old.

Now my father isn’t a bad guy. So far everything you’ve heard has been from my mother’s perspective, and while I’m sure it’s all true to some extent, again I wasn’t there (well I was for part of it, but an 11 month old has a limited perspective). I know that both of my parents were stubborn and very, very proud. My mother says that my father didn’t want the responsibility, and my father and I have never really talked about it. I haven’t been able to face that conversation. I suppose I’m afraid of the answer I’ll find. It became so easy to hate him. It made sense. My mother was my rock, and he hurt her. He hurt me. However, the older I get, the more I learn and the less black and white I see it as. As far as the opinions f others, this is one of those things that I can be as angry with him as I want, but if anyone else says anything bad about him I become very defensive. I know that he loves me. And he and I have even begun to work on our relationship.

My sister told me recently that my father tried to see me occasionally, but my mother wouldn’t let him since he left us. When I was two, he began seeing another woman. Usually most people see this new lady as a bad thing, however she was the best thing that ever happened to my father. She encouraged him to take care of my sister, and to make me a part of his life. She would make him pick me up every other weekend to spend time with me. If he was working, then she would pick me up so I could spend time with my sister. I don’t remember much about that time in my life, but I do remember this.

My father had an apartment in Corinth. I was there with my sister. She didn’t really like his new girlfriend yet, so she gave her a hard time. I did everything my sister did because she was my idol, so I was sort of a brat myself.

We wanted to skate in our new roller blades, but it was raining outside so we were sitting in the apartment complaining about nothing to do. During that time we didn’t have I-Pads, Facebook, Angry Birds or Twitter to consume our time. We had to do things the old-fashioned way. Playing in dirt, rough housing with the dog or drawing was about the extent of our possible activities.
 My dad’s girlfriend (we can call her Kim) wanted what every woman in her position wanted; which was for the kids to like her. She did the unmentionable. She broke our fathers rule of “No skating in the house” so she could be the “fun girlfriend”.

As we skated room to room, she chased after us with a wet washcloth scrubbing up the black marks we left behind on the tile. After having babysat many times, and knowing the effort that goes into an activity like that, I now realize what a saint she was. There’s no way I would do that for my little brothers, and I’m the “fun sister” who breaks rules that my parents won’t. I do it because of Kim. I do it because I know that when they’re older, there is a possibility that it’s something they just might remember. That they might have a fond memory of me.

She really was the “fun girlfriend.” In fact she was also the “long term girlfriend.” She was with my father until I was sixteen. I still refer to her as my step-mom, because that’s what she was to me, even though they never married.

He never really grew up while they were together and made a series of mistakes. She finally left him, which I can understand. I actually wanted her to… But that’s a story for another day.
I was born partially deaf in my left ear. I have hearing loss in my right ear from numerous earaches as well, but the right ear isn’t nearly as bad. It actually comes and goes, depending on whether or not I have fluid built up behind my eardrum. I have had tubes in my ears since I was around the age of two. I am also legally blind in my left eye. I can see large sections of color, but can’t register definition. I can’t read with it or tell you how many fingers you are holding up. When my right eye is closed, the world is a big colorful blur. Despite those hindrances (they are not disabilities, I have managed just fine) I was smart for a child. I held adult conversations. I was very creative, and imaginative. I was also very sensitive. My heart was bigger than my body. Everything affected me. I “felt” emotions that most adults couldn’t grasp. I understood things well beyond my years. I loved unconditionally. This would get me in a lot of trouble as I got older.

I have had a lot of close calls… One of those came around the age of five. I was riding my bicycle, complete with training wheels through the apartment parking lot with my sister. Since she was so much older, she raced ahead on a ten-speed. We turned the corner behind our house and I got off balance. We weren’t exactly in the prime living area of Corinth, and there was trash and litter on the side of the road. Despite my training wheel assistance, I tipped over. When my tender wrists connected with a large beer bottle it slit it open, gashing them nearly to the bone. It took my sister a few minutes to realize where the screams were coming from. They were coming from me.

She ran to me. Barely fifty pounds, she drug me to our doorstep, banging on the door for Kim to open up. I laid there in a pool of my own blood. The entrance was stained for years.

When Kim came to the door, she nearly fainted. She carried me to the bathroom and laid me in the bathtub. I can actually still remember brief seconds, like photographs stamped into my brain of her hovering over me. Tears streaming down her face she called 911. When she called my father, he was closer than the ambulance, so he came home and lifted me in to the back seat. It’s a miracle I survived. There was so much blood.

I made it to the hospital, and they stitched me up. I was back to normal in a matter of days, but to this day when people see the scars across my wrist they stare…

I’m sure many people assume that I tried to kill myself. They sit in the perfect spot and reflect each other, but the truth is I have never felt that hopeless. At least not hopeless enough to try. It has crossed my mind… But again, a story for another day. I love life far to much to end my own. My heart aches for those who consider suicide a realistic possibility.

When my mother remarried, I longed for a father who loved me as much as I loved him. Someone who was proud of me. Who wanted me. Instead, I got Jake. He is a good man, but a had a lot of growing to do.

Understand that as I write this all, it is difficult. I know that it is possible that at some point the people I write about will see the words I’ve written. My biggest concern is that I will hurt them with what I’ve said. That is never my intention. My intention is to relate to someone else hoping I can help. Not only am I putting these words in print, but I’m sharing them with the world. On one hand it makes me feel a little nauseous. Absolutely vulnerable.

 The only thing that helps me put them on paper is that I feel like once I do, it will help me move on. That, and if even one person relates and finds comfort in feeling a little less alone, it will be worth whatever I face in the future.

 I’ll admit that I’m still angry. I’m no saint. The things that I have been through hurt like hell, and I often found them to be unfair. I’ve also made my share of mistakes that I plan to share. The truth is though, that everyone, everywhere is going through something, and maybe the reason I’ve dealt with so much, is because “God” is preparing me for something much bigger. He is making me tough. I can only appreciate his preparation, and trust that there is a reason.

Jake was a “Good Ol’ Southern Boy”. Opposite from my father in almost every way. Their size and shape are fairly relative, but the similarities stop there. Jake and my mother met in the E.R. My mom helped care for his mother, who had open heart surgery. As his family sat and waited to hear that she would be ok, my mother said she felt a connection. It wasn’t immediate, but he asked her to share a cigarette with him and they sat outside talking. (Ironic considering smoking is horrible for your heart. We still argue about this dirty habit. They both smoke like a chimney and I hate it.) He was sweet, and kind. He made her smile, and ultimately he was ok with children. In fact he had two of his own.
A family. That is what my mother saw. A chance for me to have a father, and be a part of a real family. What she didn’t know is that the family we were getting into had some serious problems of it’s own.
They married after a few short months. The changes started taking place almost immediately. The man who once helped do the dishes, and cook dinner then became the man who would refuse to eat his dinner if it was on the table a few minutes late.

My mother fried chicken once, and he told her he wouldn’t eat it. He wanted hamburgers instead. After all, his mother made him whatever he wanted. In fact his mother did everything for him, and every other person in the family. That was a woman’s job. (They wondered why she was having heart trouble to begin with.) Well. If you recall the woman that my mother is, she told him that he could kiss her ass and threw the frying pan out the back door. If he wanted dinner he could cook it himself.

In a lot of ways he tamed her, but in others she opened his eyes. After all, he had never eaten at a restaurant by the time she came along, and had never been outside a 75 mile radius. His parents didn’t even have indoor plumbing and that was in 1994. They were what I like to call “The Original Hillbillies”, only there was nothing Beverly about them.

I was different from them. Especially the children.  I consistently had a book in my hands. I loved to learn. I loved school. What I didn’t love was his children. I tried, Lord knows I did.
His daughter Jamie, was a year and a half older than me, and my polar opposite. She was blonde haired and blue eyed. Chubby cheeked, and significantly larger. She liked watching television and eating anything fried with ketchup. From as early as I can remember, she was boy crazy. My step-father made jokes as early as age nine that I was a lesbian, because I didn’t share her obsession. We had a severe love hate relationship. Mainly she loved to hate me.

She and her brother didn’t want me there. For a short time, she lived with her mother (who was known for her addiction and involvement with drugs) and when my mother realized what was going on, she demanded that Jake take her full time. That was one more thing that Jamie resented my mother for. Derek, the boy who was about six years older than me lived with Jake already, and soon our single wide trailer in Olivehill became very crowded.

Like I said. I was different. I spoke differently. I dressed nicely. I hated to be dirty, unless it was on my own accord. I loved being outside, but didn’t like to be incessantly filthy. The two of them often looked like they were afraid of water. Getting them to bathe was like pulling teeth. The boy especially.
He was much larger as well. Three helpings at dinner time was an average, and something he had been accustomed to since an early age. Their lifestyle prior to my mother, would easily be considered as neglect, despite the fact that their father did love them. Like I said, he left the childcare to his mother, and worked at the lumberyard. When he came home he went hunting or toyed around on his tractor. Whatever manly activity he felt like doing at the time. His mother had a lot of responsibility, and frankly they just didn’t understand the importance of hygiene. They had never been taught to. They were also left in the hands of his sister.

She deserves a chapter of her own, but I’ll give you a brief synopsis. Even as I say these words, I flinch. Janice is the type of woman, who would actually consider killing me if she read them. I wish that I was exaggerating, but I’ll try to paint you a realistic picture. She is a very large woman with a fear of bathing as well. She has no teeth, a flattened mullet and a less than cheery disposition. Her activities include sitting on the front porch, eating and playing video games. She has only held one job for as long as I can remember and it lasted for less than a few months. She has two children of her own (both by distant cousins). They did manage to step into the world of technology after my mother encouraged a bathroom into the home, but that was through a check from the state. She still lives with her parents (granny passed away February of last year, rest her soul. She was a good woman. Simple, but good.) And overall, she is considered the head of the household. She cares about no one but herself, but doesn’t even really care for herself or she would strive for a better life.

Let me take a moment and tell you again that this is difficult for me. On one hand, I’m nervous about the reactions that I’ll get from my readers. I’m nervous about the people who will see. I’m nervous. But I’m no longer ashamed. Where I come from is not necessarily who I am. While I have learned from all of my experiences, it has been mostly that I have learned who and how I don’t want to be. There are a lot of very sad people in this world. Sad people of different sorts. There are people like Jakes family who are poor and while they might not be able to afford to live better, they don’t care, and their lives reflect that. They are poor, and uneducated. They don’t try to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty. They choose to spend their money on things like cigarettes and playstations, when they could as easily invest in an associate’s degree.

The truth is they don’t want to. They are content living off of welfare or disability. They are content being poor and lazy, versus actually applying effort towards a better life. Jake is not one of them. He is a very hardworking man. His father worked too, up until the point of his disability and his mother cared for everyone and everything. If anything she died from exhaustion. The others however, are capable of doing better and simply refuse. Jamie is following in the same footsteps. Janice’s daughter, while she is going to school is turning out much like her mother. In a matter of days she will have her first child. She has no intentions of getting out. Life is far to easy when you don’t have to try, despite the outcome. I hope she changes. I hope she offers her child more than that life.

There is also another type of “sad people” that I will cover more about at a later date. These are people who are wealthy, and have everything materialistic that their heart could ever desire, but emotionally they will never be content.

The goal of life isn’t to be wealthy, or to be poor. The goal is to be happy. If you are broke, and suffer daily because you can’t afford the necessities, then you’re not happy. Your route to happiness is likely through a passion. What drives you? What are you good at? What do you love and how do you make it work for you? Does your happiness involve an education or a tech school? Some sort of training or professional guidance? Likely.

Here’s the point. If you want a better life, you have to MAKE ONE. Don’t expect things to happen just because you want them to, or think they should. Good things don’t come to those who wait. Good things come to those who work for them and chase after them persistently.
It isn’t selfish to want a better life than the one that you have if you want it for the right reasons. My mother wanted a better life for me than she had as a child, and despite some of the things I went through, in many ways she gave me that. I never went hungry, I never had to wear a bag to school. I was able to play sports, and go to college. She helped me pursue my dreams. She gave me life. On day, I will do the same for a child of my own.

I hope that this post has a point for you. I hope that you find something in it. I went a little deeper than I expected to honestly. As I sit here quietly at my kitchen table, I read this post and I can see the direction in which my blog is going. I’m scared. This is my life. These are the intimate details of my childhood that I am laying bare for the world to see. I feel that it is only fair to share the bad with the good. It would be wrong of me to tell you all of the wonderful stories about my mothers support without telling you some of her struggle. To tell you about how great everything has gotten, without telling you how bad that it has been. The truth is no one is perfect. We all have flaws. While I am now a confident and empowered young woman, I was once a weak and helpless child, trapped by my own guilt and fear. In many ways I still am. I am trying to correct that now.

I refuse to continue to carry the secrets of others. I refuse to be shamed by my own secrets. I have nothing to hide. I have nothing to be ashamed of, because this is life. We live and we learn. We laugh, we cry, we feel love and pain. We grasp for the acceptance of others, when really all we need is to accept ourselves. You’re the one that has to look at yourself in the mirror each day, and as long as you can do that then you are wealthier than most people will ever know. Sadly there are people in this world who despise themselves. They despise what they feel, who they are and what they’ve done.
It is time to forgive yourself. It’s time to forgive others, and learn to love again. Start with yourself. So many people search for someone to love them, but you will never find a relationship based on secrets that is successful. You will never find someone to love you if you cannot love yourself.

Finally, nothing is ever as it seems. Don’t ever assume. When you can, show compassion. Share love. As badly as you hurt, and as difficult as the pain is that you feel you never know who is going through the same thing, or something far worse. All the days that you long for a kind word, a hug or a friendly smile just remember that someone out there is probably wishing for the exact same thing. Please extend your happiness. Share with them the love that you long to feel. If everyone practiced this method, then you too would be on the receiving end, and one day just might be.

Until then,
Remember Me, I’m Tennessee. <3

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