I was born in Charleston, South Carolina in the late eighties. From as early as I could remember I lived in a broken home. I was the youngest of four and the only boy. I was also the only child my father had with my mother. My older three half-sisters were from my mother’s previous marriage. Growing up, my two oldest sisters lived with my maternal grandparents. My grandparents were very fond of my mother’s ex-husband but did not like my father very much. My other sister and I lived with my mother and father. My father was an abusive alcoholic and abused hard drugs. When he would get drunk he would stumble in the house and demand the car keys from my mother. When she would not give them to him, he would beat her.
I remember when I was five years old seeing him on top of her holding her down and hitting her. I jumped on his back to try to pull him off of her and he acted like it was a game and laughed as he smacked her.
I remember him beating her many times over the years, but for some reason that one always stands out in my mind. He would always go to jail for one thing or another: drugs, stealing, or domestic violence. Every time this happened we would move to another trailer park and seem to be getting our lives together. My mother would always vow to not take him back. Then he would get out of jail, find us, and the cycle would continue.
My mother was no saint herself. She smoked marijuana and had a bad habit of credit card fraud. Even though we moved every six to eight months, my mom made sure I always went to the same school all through elementary school. Looking back now, this is the root of why I think education is such a key for a better life, no matter what background you come from (but that is for a later post).
I was always so jealous of my two oldest sisters who lived with my grandparents, a retired middle school science teacher and a retired engineer. They lived in a beautiful two story house in an upper middle-class neighborhood while we were bouncing around from one beat up trailer to another. My two oldest sisters were competitive swimmers, went to church every Sunday and Wednesday night, and had a stable life. They didn’t know the hell that their other sister and I went through. My grandfather passed away when I was five.
My grandmother hated me because she hated my father, and I was a result of their relationship.
The summer between fourth and fifth grade, my oldest sister (who was 18 years old and pregnant at the time) and her boyfriend were spending the night when my father stumbled in the house drunk demanding the keys. When my mother would not give them to him, he went to hit her. My sister’s boyfriend jumped in and they started fighting. My father had just gotten out of jail and I remember watching them fight and thinking how angry I was with him.
“Why did he have to come in and ruin things all the time? Why did he have to drink so much? Why couldn’t he just be a normal dad like my friends’ dads?”
We watched as my sister’s boyfriend put my dad in a headlock and my dad passed out. My sister noticed that my dad was unresponsive and called 911. I remember walking out on the front porch as I heard an ambulance in the distance. My sister’s boyfriend walked out and said he was leaving and would talk to me later. My mom took my sisters and me to my grandmother’s house and told us my dad would be alright and she would see us in the morning. I fell asleep on my grandmother’s couch in the TV room.
I remember waking up to my mom sitting on the couch next to me crying. I asked her what was wrong and she told me my dad didn’t make it through the night. I remember her talking after that, I’m guessing explaining to me what happened, but I zoned out and just started crying.
I hated then and I hate now that my last thoughts of my father during his final minutes of life were how angry I was at him and how much I hated him.
In previous years, when my mother and father were in jail at the same time my grandmother would reluctantly take me in. It was no secret that my grandmother did not like me, she let it be known. She told my mother after my father’s death that if she went to jail again, she would not take me in. After my father passed away my mother began online dating (this was when online dating was just becoming popular) and her online dating quickly turned into prostitution. Right at the end of my fifth grade year my mother was arrested for credit card fraud and true to her word, my grandmother took in two of my sisters but refused to take me in.
My oldest sister had just had her first child and agreed to let me live with her until my mom got out of jail. She lived in a single wide trailer with her boyfriend (the same one who had fought with my father) and her infant child. Her boyfriend did not have a job and my sister worked as a waitress. Money was extremely tight so we ate one meal a day – two things every night off the dollar menu at Wendy’s. I always got the chili and a Frosty.
In the trailer park, I made friends with some of the kids and because I did not know how to grieve my father’s death, I started rebelling. I was fighting with other kids and breaking into cars for loose change to get a bag of chips from the gas station. One of our neighbors went away on vacation and a boy I looked up to in the trailer parked talked me into breaking into their house and stealing video games and DVDs. Another neighbor saw me breaking in and called the cops. A police officer showed up in the neighborhood and it did not take long for them to track me down. When they did, they took me to my sister and asked her what she wanted to do with me.
Through tears, my sister said she could not handle me anymore so I was taken into Emergency Protective Custody (EPC) and placed in foster care.
At the time I was so angry at everyone. I was angry at my mom for going to jail again. I was angry at my dad for being dead. I was angry at my grandmother for hating me for something that wasn’t my fault. And I was angry at my sister for giving me up. I was used to moving around as a child with my parents and I was so focused on being mad at my family that I didn’t focus on the trauma of entering foster care. So, surprisingly the transition into the system was not as hard for me as it can be for many children.