Trauma. This is a word I know all too well. From the time I was a small child, trauma followed me around. A few days before I turned six, my dad died. I was already down one parent when most people have decades more to learn who they came from, and what traits came from which parent. I had to rely on what my mother told me about him. Nothing that came out of her mouth about him was kind. She hated him, and that’s an understatement, which meant she hated half of me.
My mother and I had a few amazing moments that I cherish, but I am able to count on one hand the times she told me she was proud of me. We were not close; she didn’t braid my hair, hug me when a boy broke my heart, or teach me how to love myself. Our relationship was damaged, to say that least, but the moment it was shattered was the day she told me to pack my stuff and get out of her house by my 18th birthday.
I was in the middle of my senior year of high school. I was working part-time at Burger King, and had a car but no license. This was not the ideal situation to be in and I was scared to death, but part of me was also relieved. I didn't have to live with the abuse that I became so accustomed to in the seventeen years living as her daughter. I had to make a plan to survive.
THIS WAS NOT THE IDEAL SITUATION TO BE IN AND I WAS SCARED TO DEATH, BUT PART OF ME WAS ALSO RELIEVED. I DIDN'T HAVE TO LIVE WITH THE ABUSE THAT I BECAME SO ACCUSTOMED TO IN THE SEVENTEEN YEARS LIVING AS HER DAUGHTER. I HAD TO MAKE A PLAN TO SURVIVE.
Luckily, a neighbor asked me to housesit for a few weeks while she was on vacation. That became my first temporary home. It was quiet and lonely, but also safe and warm during the unusually cold Spokane, Washington winter.
My mother had turned off service to my cell phone and wouldn't let me have my car. I still didn't have my license, so I talked my bus driver into dropping me off at work after softball practice, and then I would walk to the house when my shift was done later that night. There was no food in the fridge and the grocery store was too far to walk to, so I had my one meal for the day on my break at work. The Burger King where I worked was just a few miles from the house, but in a few feet of snow, it felt like the longest walk of my life.
When my weeks of house-sitting were finished, my best friend and her family allowed me to stay in their home. This became my second temporary home. I loved living there with her family. They made me feel safe and like I was a part of the family. They baked me a birthday cake, and included me as one of their own on Christmas, presents and all. I was added to the chore list, which I didn't mind one bit. Her mom made lunch for us every day. She even took me to get my driver's license and would let me borrow the car on days that I worked. I was happy and safe and so unbelievably thankful.
After a few weeks, we started looking for an apartment for me to rent. I quickly found out that it would be impossible at my age without a co-signer. I didn't have anyone who would do that for me, so I stayed with my best friend's family a little bit longer. Little did I know, my stay had was about to have an abrupt expiration date: my best friend's boyfriend had caught the kitchen of the apartment he where he was staying on fire, and her parents decided to help him out and pay for it. That added stress in the household and another financial burden meant I needed to be out, and was asked to leave that night.
THIS BECAME A FAMILIAR FEELING THAT HAS STUCK WITH ME: I AM NOT A PERMANENT PART OF A FAMILY, AND IF I AM STAYING IN SOMEONE ELSE’S HOME, I CAN BE ASKED TO LEAVE AT ANY TIME.
This became a familiar feeling that has stuck with me: I am not a permanent part of a family, and if I am staying in someone else’s home, I can be asked to leave at any time.
A guy I knew in high school who was a grade above me and in college lived in a house with a roommate, and had one room to rent out. Against what my gut was telling me, I took them up on the room, but had to wait a little while before I could move in. I was couch surfing in the meantime, staying with one friend after another for however long their parents would let me. I even stayed in the Air Force dorms with a guy I knew through a friend. These were my third, fourth, fifth, sixth, temporary homes. Around that time my mother let me come and get my car, but only if I could dig it out of the snow and ice it was buried under. Luckily the airman helped me out.
With my car, I no longer needed to find places to stay before my move into the room at the little yellow house. My car became another temporary home. I slept there until I could move in. School was still a priority, but I was missing a lot of softball practices. I needed to pick up shifts in order to pay for the things I needed, and part-time pay was not cutting it. Especially when the clutch in my car went out—just my luck. Thankfully, I had saved money before my mother kicked me out, and was able to fix my form of transportation and what had become, at that point, my seventh or eighth temporary home.
I finally moved into the damp basement in the little yellow house, 40 minutes from work and even longer from school. I felt awkward, like it wasn't my home. There was always a party going on, dishes piled up in the sink, and random people sleeping over. School was getting harder to get to and shifts at work kept piling up. I would always pick work over school, even when my mother would show up unannounced at my job to yell at me about what a terrible daughter I was. This happened more often than you would think, but I needed money to survive and I was already struggling to pay bills and eat on a regular basis.
When I did go to school, girls who were once my friends became bullies. I caught up on my sleep during class because I was so exhausted, and avoided my counselor at all costs. He wasn’t trying to help me. Instead, he blamed me and asked me what I did that caused my mother to kick me out. He told me to “go back home” and obviously had no idea that the McKinney-Vento Act for homeless assistance was a thing. So, I stopped going to school and worked as much as I could.
If I wasn’t at work or upstairs during one of the parties, I was lying in bed, worried my roommate would come down and force his way into my room. He was drunk most of the time I lived there, and never took responsibility for his actions. But he had a best friend who was the exact opposite of him. He was kind and protective. We became close and he would stay in my room most nights, like a guard to keep me safe from the evil prowling outside my bedroom door. I was living in hell and I had no idea how to get out.
I LATER FOUND OUT WHAT ACTUALLY QUALIFIES SOMEONE AS HOMELESS. SOME EXAMPLES INCLUDE LIVING OUT OF YOUR CAR, COUCH SURFING, ‘DOUBLING-UP’, AND LIVING IN A MOTEL. BASICALLY, NOT HAVING A STABLE AND PERMANENT HOME.
Asking for help was my way out. I ended up moving to Florida with family I didn’t have a close relationship with. I redid my senior year, and I graduated from college. It wasn’t until I moved to Florida that I realized I was homeless in Washington. When you think about someone who is experiencing homelessness, you imagine someone who is sleeping on the street corner asking for money. I later found out what actually qualifies someone as homeless. Some examples include living out of your car, couch surfing, “doubling-up”, and living in a motel. Basically, not having a stable and permanent home.
Experiencing homelessness has changed me. It caused so much pain during it and for years after. I don’t think that pain will ever go away completely but it has dulled. It also opened up a few doors for me. I have a wonderful support system through a non-profit, SchoolHouse Connection, that helps homeless youth continue their higher education. The pain of knowing that my mother allowed me to be homeless still sets my heart on fire. And the trauma I experienced while homeless, not just the homelessness itself, was life-shattering. I couldn’t imagine doing something so cruel and damaging to anyone, let alone my own children.
I HAVE FORGIVEN MY MOTHER. THE ONLY THING THAT NOT FORGIVING HER WOULD DO IS HURT ME MORE.
I have worked hard at fixing what my mother broke in me. I was in an extremely abusive relationship in college that almost ended my life. I was taught through the abuse in my childhood, that being treated this way was normal from someone who loves you. I still have so much healing to do, and I work on it every day. I have forgiven my mother. The only thing that not forgiving her would do is hurt me more. That doesn’t mean I have forgotten everything she has done, and I don’t think I ever will, but I can’t be angry anymore. It takes up too much time and energy I could be spending on making good memories with the people I have in my life now. I have made a wonderful family with the people who bring positivity and love into my life.
It still hurts I don’t have a mom who will help me out when I have my first child, or who I can call when I’m having a bad day. I don’t have a mother figure at all in my life, and that hurts more than people who have one can understand. I want so badly to have that relationship, but the people I do have in my life love me and care about me. I lost one relationship but I have built so many more. I won’t ever stop grieving the relationship my mother and I don’t have, but I will not allow myself to be in any other toxic relationships.
Trauma. A word I know all too well and follows me around.
Resilient. This is a word I know even better.