My friend Gina shared her story with you a couple months ago and encouraged me to share mine. She feels I have a story that may help and/or empower women. What are my thoughts on that? Maybe... who knows! I say maybe because to me, a lot of what has shaped me, and my story was “normal”. Normal would mean most people go through it so how could my story help others? I don’t think it was until very recently that I started to realize that maybe all I’ve been through is not “normal” for most people; so let’s just dive in.
Who am I? I am a New Yorker. I was born and raised in NYC (mainly in Ridgewood, Queens, which any New Yorker knows is basically Brooklyn). I would definitely never change that. I do believe if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. There’s just no other place like it. I love to travel but am always ready to come back home.
To get into my story, a lot of why it always seemed “normal” was because growing up, whether it was friends or other family, most of the people I knew had similar upbringings. My parents were both drug addicts. One way my parents were different was they weren’t so much your “typical” drug addicts. When you hear drug addict I’m sure you picture a variation of stereotypes that drug addicts fall into. My parents weren’t exactly like that. My parents originally did things “the right way”. They were both college educated and had good careers before even having my older sister and I. My mother didn’t have my sister till she was 26 years old and had me when she was 30. I grew up middle class, which meant a lot more back in the 80’s and 90’s than it does now.
I do not have much memory of the first time my parents went to rehab, but I was about 4 years old and my sister and I moved in with my grandmother in Chelsea, Manhattan. My grandmother lived in a one-bedroom apartment so my sister and I would sleep on the sofa bed together. I’d say the most influential and constant person in my life was my grandmother. Thanks to her, I learned how to be a strong independent woman, to never need a man to take care of me and to know that I can achieve everything on my own. Anyone who has met her knows she was one-of-a-kind and to always be ready for what could wind up being an interesting meal at times, if you were ever in her house for dinner. Although she could see, she was legally blind and there were times she made farina with orange juice instead of milk, fried fish with baking powder instead of flour and so on. These are actually very fun and happy memories! She sadly passed away about 3 years ago, but will NEVER be forgotten.
So my sister and I are living with my grandmother. During this time my parents also got divorced. As I said, I do not have many memories; sometimes I think I honestly blocked a lot of my childhood out. Once my mother completed rehab she came and lived with us in my grandmother’s apartment for about a year while she got herself back on her feet. The summer before I started 2nd grade was when we moved to Ridgewood and she got us our own place. My mother was quite a good mother when she was clean and sober. That lasted about 6 years. During those 6 years my mother met my now ex-stepfather and remarried. He was a decent man in some ways but had a temper and finally wound up leaving the house when he gave me a black eye when I was in the 7th grade.
After that everything changed again. My mother fell into her depression, which lead her back to drugs and she ended up losing her career. To this day that is where she remains. My father just so happened to get back into drugs during this time and lost his career also. He did eventually get himself back on track and remains sober to this day and is doing well overall. He grew up pretty spoiled and is one of those men who do not know how to do much for himself; he can be like having a child at times but he’s at least always there when we need him. My mother and I, we have as much of a relationship as her lifestyle allows. I can’t trust her alone in my house for fear of stealing. She’s not exactly the grandmother you’d call to babysit, but we all still invite her to family functions. Sometimes she shows up, most times she doesn’t. When I don’t hear from her for 2-3 months at a time I don’t worry, that’s the life she’s made and I can’t be dragged into it anymore.
Now, back to MY story. Back then I did not see the next events as me acting out because of all I was dealing with at home, but I can see it now. I basically started looking for love in all the wrong places. Like all teenagers, I thought I was grown, especially since I barely had supervision. I met and dated a 21 year old man soon after I turned 13. I thought it was cool to have an older boyfriend who had a car, I was even pretty close to losing my virginity to him, and thankfully I did not. I can now see how that man was actually my molester; no 21 year old should be dating a 13 year old. We eventually ended things.
Months later I met a man who is now my son’s father. When we met, I was 13 and he was 17. At that time I fell deeply in love. We both lost our virginity to each other and had what I would call a great 2 year relationship. I got pregnant at 13 and basically was told by everyone that I was having an abortion. I don’t think I ever truly sat and thought about it myself. At 14 I got pregnant again and this time I said I would not have an abortion and had my son when I was 15 years old, his father turned 19 about 2 weeks after our son’s birth. We had good times while together. We also spent a lot of time with someone who I will call “Nancy” in this story. Nancy was originally my older sister’s childhood best friend. Nancy grew up in my house as if she was my sister or close cousin. She and I formed our own relationship, to the extent that she was designated to be my son’s godmother. She helped plan my baby shower, she was at doctor’s appointments with us, even knew the sex of my son before us at the sonogram! You see, we didn’t want to know at first and were supposed to find out by her decorations at my baby shower but then I did want to know and had her tell me before the baby shower. During the pregnancy she was with me and my sons’ father a lot.
Looking back, I can see that I did not know how to love and be in an adult relationship. I was still dealing with what was going on at home with my mom. Not long after my son was born, everything started hitting me. I didn’t know how to deal with everything or what to do. I left my sons father because I didn’t feel in love with him anymore and felt trapped by everything. I needed to work on me, who I was and who I was becoming.
A few days after leaving his father, he showed up at my house and left me an envelope. When I looked in it, among other things, there was a 10 page letter to me and his family basically saying goodbye; he was going to commit suicide. After informing his mother, we found him and managed to make sure he did not commit suicide. Unfortunately, to him and his family all this was my fault and wouldn’t have happened if I was either, never with him or didn’t leave him. After ending our relationship he claimed he was heartbroken over me, but in the blink of an eye he and Nancy were dating.
At this point, I have 2 parents who although I know love me are addicts, I knew I could never truly trust and count on them. I have a sister who at the time remained best friends with Nancy, she would even tell her things to use against me in court. I have a man I did love at one point dating someone who I deemed my sister more than my actual sister. Talk about having trust issues!
During this time was the height of my mother getting back into drugs. My son’s father and I ended up in court for custody. The truth of the matter was, at the time I had no parents to fall back on, I had no job at just 15 years old and I was still in high school. By my son’s first birthday Nancy and his father were married and she was about 5 months pregnant with their baby. They also had all the support anyone could ask for. During the court proceedings, before we would have wound up in trial, I made the toughest decision of my life. I made the choice to allow my son to have some chances that I didn’t get to have and to not have to go through everything I was going through. I decided to let his father have primary custody. Meaning we would share joint custody but my son would primarily live with his father. I was in no way giving up rights to my son or planning to no longer be in his life, but I would basically be the “father” in most custody issues where my son would live with his father and I would get weekend visitation rights. It really was the best thing to do for him at the time. It’s a choice I have learned to live with for many reasons and at times regret it because of how things have worked out since then, but I also know I have to let these feelings go because I at least did the one thing all parents are supposed to do, think of your child before yourself.
Once my son’s father was married and moved on and court started, he became exceptionally hateful towards me. The words ‘joint custody” meant nothing to him. I was treated as the babysitter he had no choice but to comply with. I had to fight for the littlest of things and had no say in pretty much everything. To this day my son’s father cannot even look me in the eye and simply say “hello” to me like any person may do to a stranger. I even had to fight to spend Mother’s Day with my son. In my son’s father’s words to me “just because it’s Mother’s Day, you think you’re a mother”. Yeah that stung pretty badly. I had to learn that when people are hurt they may try to hurt you more, and he knew the only way to do so was through my son. He would tell me things like I was going to be just like my mother. This is when I decided it was time to make a change.
Eventually my mother was starting to get evicted and I was going to have nowhere to live soon. I had to wake up and be an adult! Between being pregnant by my freshman year of high school and just going through so much and not knowing how to handle it, I finally decided I needed to move on and do better on my own. I left high school and worked towards my GED. I did try to go right into college but I had some setbacks with being able to get financial aid and I definitely didn’t have the money to pay for school when I was 17 years old, so I started working.
When my mother got evicted, one of my best friends till this day, Bonnie, allowed me to live with her. She didn’t ask me for rent or bill money, she simply told me to save and do what I had to do. I lived with her for about 4 months and then was able to get my own apartment with my boyfriend at the time. He and I didn’t work out, but those things happen. When we broke up I went into my first apartment on my own; no boyfriend, no parents, just me, my son on my weekends and my dog who I consider like my daughter. I luckily wound up in a building with the best landlord you could ask for, all the neighbors are like family, and I have been there for 12 years now.
By the time I was 19 I was working in a law office as a receptionist and an attorney took a notice in me that I had more brains than just answering phones and started giving me legal secretarial work. When the firm split I went with this attorney to his new firm and commuted to New Jersey for over 2 years because he offered me a secretarial position. From there, I kept working and moved up and on to different firms. At 24 I decided to take a paralegal certification program to help boost my resume and career. It’s a profession I really just fell into but have had much success in. After a couple bad firms and good firms, I have finally landed in a fabulous one. If all goes as it has been I believe I may retire here.
I say all the time that my son is my angel. I like to think I would have still turned out ok even if I didn’t have him, but the truth is, he was/is my reason to do better and achieve more. My family situations tried to tear me down. My son’s father surely has tried to make me feel low and like I am nothing in my son’s life. But from simply growing and learning that’s not true and most definitely with some help from my therapist, I’ve learned those who feel the need to try and put you down are the ones with the problems.
My son is now 18 years old and has turned into an amazing young man. Just started his freshman year of college here in the City, he is as tall as can be, and I love how he is my twin! I also have a great boyfriend now. He was actually my close friend in high school but then we lost touch and about 7 years ago got reacquainted through MySpace and have been together ever since. We are total opposites when it comes to showing emotions and love, but I think we help balance each other out most times.
How do I hope my story will empower other women? Just know that although you may start off not having much, it really is up to you to make things happen and no one says you have to stay in any situation you don’t want to be in. Get up, get moving and make and be the change you want in life!
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Sending love, luck & calm vibes.