I think a lot about how lucky I’ve been. My mother was a teenager in shock and recovering from her father’s suicide when I was born. My dad wasn’t around. There was no money when I was growing up. I had my grandma, I had her best friend, I had my best friends and their parents.
The daycare I went to for awhile was run by a woman who used her charges as free labor. Once a week, we cleaned her apartment. I learned to vacuum and wash dishes there.
My mother didn’t believe me until one day she happened to come early to pick me up, and there we were, scrubbing and tidying away. I never went back.
The summer before I turned 10, my mom met a man who left his wife and three kids for the two of us and proceeded to mosey us on across the country, away from everyone we knew, to somewhere no one knew us from Adam. There was still no money.
What’s worse, there were so many more rules, and a ton of oversight. Then there was another baby, and even less money. I made a few friends. Their parents became watched over me to the extent they could. But I also gained two lovely uncles with whom I’ve cultivated an enduring relationship through the years. They have been my biggest champions, and have been pillars in my life and my education.
School was my refuge. I was good at it, and I was in advanced classes as soon as they had some in which to put me. Sixth grade was the worst year, because my teachers placed a higher degree of importance on their legacy students than on the new kid who wore the same clothes to school every day, but seventh grade was better and in eighth I found teachers who gave a damn.
Teachers who went out of their way to protect me from my stepdad and to provide options where they could, for instance. Or coworkers of my stepdad’s, who gave me babysitting jobs and paid pretty well.
My best friends’ parents were crucial during this time; I’ve mentioned that before. They fed me, sheltered me, parented me, and sometimes clothed me. They picked me up from practices and school activities, and ferried me around. They worried about my whereabouts, and bought foods that I liked to eat.
When I was in college, my mother’s ex-boyfriend sent money every birthday and Christmas. A professor asked if I’d considered grad school, effectively the first time I’d ever even been in the same headspace as the idea.
This list could go on, and I know I’m leaving people off. I was talking with my uncles this evening, and in relaying some drama from their side of the family, it occurred to me how lucky I was. Yeah, things were bad for awhile, and I had to grow up quickly and learn to survive. Yes, this has in some ways made me kind of hard. Cold. But there was always someone around who loved me, who cared about where I was and whether I was eating and whether the clothes I had were warm enough. To have had that in the face of everything, when at any time things could have taken another turn, I have been so completely lucky.
And I am ever awestruck, and thankful.