My life changed in the mere minutes it took me to eat a bowl of my favorite cereal.
Munching on sweet Cinnamon Toast Crunch, slurping the cool milk, I heard grandpa begin to use his outside voice.
I’m not really listening. I hear, “Not!”
I had to be told what those words meant — my mother had left.
A barrage of thoughts and questions filled my head. Thoughts no 7-year-old should have to think about.
“What is wrong with me?”
“Why am I not good enough?”
“If my own mom can’t love me, will anyone be able to?”
“I am nothing.”
Putting on my mask
The questions remained in the back of my mind throughout my childhood, subtly there but never forgotten. Ready to resurface with a swiftness so sharp it would take my breath away.
When I could I blocked out the thoughts. I’d put up a front, fake a smile. I would laugh instead of cry. I held it in until the mental dam I built collapsed under the pressure of the resentment I felt. For not only myself but for the life I lived.
Wanting what others have
I didn’t know my father. I was told that he was a drunk who left after I was born. My mother would visit, but that just wasn’t the same. She had left me in a financially stable home with a family that loved and cared for me but I was not grateful.
Every day at school I heard about my friends’ parents and their relationship with them.
Not a mother in the eyes of the law
Eventually, my sister and I sat in the small, gray and stuffy office of a lady whose name never really mattered to me. She posed one big question: Who did we want to live with?
Obviously, we wanted to stay on the family farm with our grandma and grandpa.
But I didn’t want my mom to leave. That’s just not how it was supposed to be.
We didn’t attend the hearing; we were too young. But these were the results:
My mother would have to visit and help around the house but she would live somewhere else with her boyfriend. My father would have visitations once a month when I was ready. He would pay child support that would be used to help buy my school supplies.
My grandparents would have full custody.
A Different Kind of Family
My grandparents grew up working for what they wanted, even as children. They gave me basic chores like feeding the dog and picking up my room. But I also had to get my grandma a glass of water whenever she needed it and give her foot massages because her diabetes caused her so much pain. Bottle feeding the calves and giving the horses hay and grain didn’t feel like chores because they were fun.
I grew up with a work ethic, good manners and a willingness to help others when needed. These are values I hold dear to my heart.
My grandparents raised me well.
The trait I’m most proud of is my passion, but it grew out of anger at my mother’s leaving. I channeled my hurt, and betrayal into punching, kicking and screaming. Each had a purpose: to protect myself and release tension. By the time I was 10, I was a black belt in taekwondo, a four-time Junior Olympics qualifier and a force to be reckoned with.
To this day, I go by the same eight tenets: modesty, integrity, courtesy, etiquette, self-control, perseverance, indomitable spirit and respect.
I will always, no matter what, hold myself to these standards in every aspect of my life. Whether it be personal, educational, or professional, I will always endure.
Happiness is taken as fast as it is given
After years of growing used to and even loving my broken family, it shattered when I was 12 when my grandmother died. She was my rock, my world. She was the mother my mom couldn’t be.
I didn’t appreciate her as much as I should’ve until she was gone. In the months leading up to her death, I had the opportunity to visit her in the hospital. But I didn’t. I couldn’t stand to see her suffer amid the stale and antiseptic stench of the hospital.
I thought she would live forever. There was no possible way she would leave so soon.
Regret and resentment filled my soul. I hated myself for leaving her like that. For failing to be her sunshine and make her happy when her skies were gray.
How could I take for granted all that I had? How dare I not appreciate the sacrifices she made and the love she gave?
Coming to terms with reality
Her hospital bills were expensive. My grandfather had to sell the farm. I lost my home, my dog, my horse and my family. It was as if my grandma was the glue, she kept us all together.
Family brought food and flowers to give their condolences which helped ease the pain. Just knowing family was a constant helped the anger transform into acceptance of change.
Everyone is still there for me, but from afar. It just isn’t the same. Sometimes I feel like I don’t even know them anymore—like I don’t belong.
On the bright side, I’m getting to know my father and have a relationship with him. I’ve grown to love him and his side of my family so much.
Recognizing the importance of self
I have forgiven my mother for what she did and I have forgiven myself. My little sister played a big part in helping me realize that I should not be afraid of existing as I am.
At 19, I have finally let down the mask. I’ve learned that self-love and self-worth is something everyone needs to work on. It’s the most important part of having a meaningful life.
I still struggle at times, as everyone will. In the end, I know that I am worthy. I know that I am everything I put my mind to. I will not let my pain define me. I know who I am and someone else’s opinions or actions will not change that.