When asked about childhood, most people conjure up memories of holiday celebrations, family vacations, new homes, and the occasional heartache, such as the death of a grandparent. I conjure up memories nowhere near as pleasant, but are instead full of pain, uncertainty, and embarrassment. I can divide the story of my life into four distinct phases, which have shaped me into the woman I am today.
In the first phase of my life, I learned that our parents’ choices when faced with impossible situations set the foundation for the paths we are given. My parents became pregnant with me at the age of 14 and quickly married to “save face” in the community and had a family of five children by the age of 21. My father became an alcoholic who regularly abused my mother in our presence. I remember huddling together in the upstairs bedroom of my aunt’s part of the family triplex, listening to my mother beat on the door for help because my father went into a tirade and his family only thought to rescue the kids from the devastation. Only months after the birth of my youngest brother, my mother left my father thinking divorce would save us from his insanity. Unfortunately, raising five children on an uneducated woman’s salary with zero help from their father is nearly impossible and we were left homeless and hungry quite often I can remember “playing” in the park all day before heading to the shelter for (a) bologna sandwich and a warm bed for the night.
When our life’s situation reached its inevitable implosion, we were placed in the foster care system and separated into different homes so my mother could get herself in a better situation. Her solution to providing a home for us was to marry a man willing to father five children so we had several stepfathers in the course of our lives. Stepfather one was cruel to us. As a punishment, one time he made everyone stand in the corner for eight hours with nothing to drink or eat. My mother’s marriage to this man didn’t last very long and so began the next phase of my life…adolescence.
Shortly after the divorce, my mother married stepfather two, her high school sweetheart prior to getting pregnant by my father. Stepfather two was an alcoholic and drug addict, who used our house as party central. He rarely worked steadily so our houses were usually too small for us all and I shared a room with all four of my brothers. As I entered puberty, I blossomed into a shapely, young woman and was targeted by the boys in my grade for sexual bullying. These boys would drop pencils in the floor so they could grab at my crotch, push me into storage closets to fondle me, and call me terrible names. Speaking up only made my peers shun me so I learned to simply keep my mouth shut.
My father re-entered our lives when I was 13 and he struck a deal with my mother to write-off some of his child support debt for a lump sum payment that made it possible to move into a larger, nicer house owned by a friend of my mother’s. Not long after we moved into this house, my mother made stepfather two move out and we survived on her income plus welfare, including the disability checks received for the mental illness of one of my brothers. My father became a regular in our lives, visiting us whenever he needed a break from his parents’ house. Because of him, I had my first car accident before I was licensed to drive when I took out a pole in the Dairy Queen drive-thru driving him around town while he was severely intoxicated. At this point, our lives began spiraling out of control. My mother attempted to regain her youth or something and began partying, allowing us kids to run amuck. Again, our house became party central.
My parents planned a "sweet 16" birthday bash for me at a hotel, but 11 days before I was raped by a friend whom I’d known since I was eight. It happened at my house, in my own bed, with several of my friends and my mother in the next room listening to music too loud to hear me scream for help. My rapist was never formally charged for his crime because nothing could be proven. We moved forward with plans for my birthday party because so many people had been invited, but I don’t really remember any of the festivities because I was intoxicated before I even made it to the hotel.
My mother met a new boyfriend that night and he moved into our house shortly after my party. I stopped going to school the day I was raped and the partying intensified at home and eventually one of my friends ended up in juvenile jail. He and I communicated by telephone while he was incarcerated, which led to my mother meeting his cellmate, an old school mate of mine. By now the boyfriend was history and my mother began writing letters to, accepting collect phones from, and regularly visiting this young man. They were infatuated with one another even though he was only 17! When he was released from the jail, his mother allowed him to move in with us because she, herself was struggling to raise two younger boys.
We were forced to move from our house into a small, two bedroom apartment in a terrible neighborhood where our partying continued. During this time, I was promiscuous, drinking daily, smoking pot, and not enrolled in school so the juvenile court system was soon clued into our lives. We were hauled into family court and removed from my mother’s custody once again. We were placed in foster care, which sent me and two of my brothers to a local children’s shelter. Unable to adjust, I ran away with my boyfriend, my mother, and her new husband to California. While on the run, we rarely ate, slept in our car most often, and begged for money whenever we could. We only made it to Arizona before I called my father and begged him to pay for me to come back.
Custody of all five of us was given to my father and his sister and we all moved out of state to live in their parent’s mansion. I was allowed to homeschool and work a full-time job, but I reached a point where I was tired of living under the same roof as a bunch of strangers with rules so I ran away right before my 17th birthday. I landed back in Arizona with my mother until she decided to move back home and try to start life over again. When we came back, we lived on a small farm operated by stepfather three’s family, while he was sent to jail for an old conviction. Mom landed a job as a convenience store manager where I became friends with many of her employees. In fact, I eventually moved in with one of them where I met the man who kicked off the next phase of my life…"young adulthood".
I got married six days after my 18th birthday against the wishes of my entire family because we’d only met three months prior. Our wedding started off as a disaster, which should’ve been a sign to what life would be like, but ended with me being married to a virtual stranger. Like my mother, I married an alcoholic with prior drug addiction problems. We moved into his sister’s house in south Arkansas where I learned I was pregnant at age 19. Pregnancy was a nightmare experience for me because I vomited so much that I could barely function. For months, I lived on a couch eating popsicles and became homesick for my family so we moved back just before my son was born.
By this time, my mother divorced stepfather three and was dating an amazing man, who eventually became stepfather four. My son was our only child for five years, Andy continued drinking and not holding a steady job, I worked hard to keep us afloat. We lived with family members the majority of the time and separated multiple times. We did eventually move into our own apartment because I landed a great job and Andy found a job he actually enjoyed meaning he wouldn’t quit soon. Sadly, we were not great parents and partied with my two youngest brothers and their high school friends until that lifestyle triggered the loss of both incomes.
My husband and I moved in with my mother to get control of my life and soon learned that I was pregnant again. Toward the end of my pregnancy, I found a job at an in-home child care, earning cash each week. We moved into a new apartment that rented for my weekly earnings, which is where we lived when my daughter was born. About a year later, I found a better paying job at a preschool teaching, but quickly got promoted to become the facility director. Naturally, my husband lost his job, but went to work for the daycare owners as a construction manager for new facilities. This led to his increased abuse of alcohol and methamphetamines. He would be away from home all the time, partying and…I know now…sleeping around. In the middle of all this chaos, I found out I was pregnant with my third child and quickly sank into a depression, triggered by the fact that I didn’t want to bring any more children into our messy lives. His actions eventually led to his termination, which led to mine as well.
During my pregnancy, my husband began an affair with my best friend, who was living with us because she had nowhere to go with her young son. Shortly after I gave birth to my youngest daughter, he asked me to move out so he could try to have a relationship with her. I moved my three children and myself into a single bedroom in my mother’s house with stepfather four. It took several months to find a new job so I could save money to move out, but as soon as I did, My husband came running back to me, begging for a final chance to live as a family so I allowed him to come home once again. We lived together as a family for several months before I received the news that would launch the next phase of my life.
My best friend informed me that she and my husband never stopped seeing each other and she was actually planning a wedding so they could be married. When I confronted him, he responded with, “why can’t we all just live together?’ I told him he had to choose and he claimed to choose me and our kids, but in the back of my mind, it no longer mattered. I was going to figure out what I needed to do to get rid of this monster. Within the month, I enrolled in college to attend class one night per week and found a better paying job. A couple months later, I cracked the passcode of his cell phone so that I could show him that I knew he was still in a relationship with her and that I wanted to separate.
So here I am…going to school one night each week, keeping up with homework, working full-time, and now facing life as a single mother. I was miserable but when I reached my ultimate low point, I met a handsome man in my office. Our simple conversation eventually led me down the best path of my existence. Kevin and I dated while I went through divorce and custody proceedings and started looking for a home to move into together after about a year seeing each other. We found a perfect place but were not allowed by the courts to live together until we were married, so we signed our lease, moved in our things, notified our families, and got married on the back patio of our new home three days later, surrounded by those we loved the most. Looking back at the pictures of this day, it is obvious that the kids and I were so very happy. Life rolled along quite smoothly while I worked and attended night classes and our motto became “Life is Good.” I am not about to pronounce that our lives have been perfect since because that is not even close. I’ve made some poor decisions that nearly ruined our entire lives, but Kevin refused to give up on the woman he knew I could be. Our lives together have been, and continue to be an uphill battle, but we face each new day as a team with a fresh start.
I am proud to say that that I now have an MBA and landed my dream job with a great company that relocated us to a whole new town with no bad memories. It was difficult to leave “home,” but the opportunity was just too great. Even today, I am amazed at all that I have overcome to be a successful business executive, living in a nice home, providing a stellar income for my family, and sharing my life with such a wonderful, loving man. My relationship with my parents is good, even with my father and ex sister-in-law, who realized that it was my ex who was the monster in our marriage. My ex is still trying hard to bring me down and constantly terrorizes us, including using my pubescent daughters as weapons against us. My son has moved in with my father to finish high school with my little brother…I think the weight of his dad’s harassment was just too much for him to handle. My youngest daughter is in therapy to overcome some mental issues she picked up during all the strife she’s dealt with in her short life. Our life is a daily challenge and we are often battling some kind of war, but we still stick to our motto that, “Life is Good” because we truly have so much to be thankful for.
I cannot truly say that my life has made anything better exactly, but my experiences shaped me into the person that I am today...a strong, capable, resilient, and powerful woman. Childhood isn’t meant to be something that stops you from a future. True love is real and can be obtained by anyone. Goals can be achieved. Hardships can be overcome. Mistakes can be rectified and forgiven. A positive attitude is possible if you want it. There is hope and ANYTHING can be achieved. Someone asked me once if I would ever change my life if I could and I responded, “Not a single moment because all the terrible things I’ve endured made me into the person I am today, which led me to the life I always dreamed of!” Most importantly, my experiences help me know in my heart that I...yes, I CAN overcome anything thrown my way!
This story was written and submitted solely by Jennifer in her personal capacity. The content expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 7 Billion Ones, Randy Bacon Photography and/or any members or associates of these organizations