A quality about myself that I love, appreciate and wouldn't trade is mydetermination. I've used it to survive my childhood. Oh, I've always had food,clothes and a roof over my head, but that's only part of what a kid needs. Therest is love. My parents were very young when when I was born and they were notprepared to take care of a baby. They thought more about themselves and how theycould scrape up enough money for diapers and a 12-pack of beer. My determinationhelped me through their bloody battles, agonizing tears, degrading drinkingbuddies, and blaring music at all hours of every night.
I remember lyingin bed one night, scared and sweaty. I had awakened from a bad dream and neededcomfort. I yelled for my mom as the cigarette smoke from the living room filteredinto my room; it was stifling. I screamed for her. All I could hear was SteveMiller blasting, and everybody's laughs as they stumbled along with the lyrics. Istarted to cry in frustration. I got out of bed, scared to step onto the floor,thinking, What if a monster hauls me under the bed? I was only five, but finallyfound the courage to leap from my bed to the door. I walked down the hall,dodging swaying bodies. I reached the living room where everyone held beer cans.Someone picked me up. I was kicking and screaming, I wanted my mom. Where wasshe? He carried me roughly back to my bed and said: "It's way past your bedtime,you little s--t. Go to sleep."
My determination got me past thatnightmare, and the monsters under the bed, without comfort. When I awoke the nextmorning, eager to go to school and escape the house, I realized something: thiswouldn't be the last time I wouldn't be cared for. And it wasn't. My mom oftenmissed teacher conferences, field trips, ball games and shopping trips she'dpromised. She was too busy when I wanted to talk. Too lazy to go for a walk. Tootired to shop. Too drunk or stoned to care. But my determination allowed me toforgive her when she was weak, because at least I cared.
I remember onemorning, just before dawn, when my parents were in the driveway, drunk andfighting. I stood at the window watching, worried he'd hurt her. I heard tiressquealing and opened the door; Mom was sitting on the steps, bleeding on theforehead from where he'd hit her with a broken beer bottle. I felt guilty - whycouldn't I have taken the hit for her? I sat next to her in my nightgown. Iremember I was shivering, even though it wasn't cold. She told me she was leavinghim, that he was useless. She wanted something different. I sat there wishing herwords were true, but she jumped up, got in her car and chased after him. I heardmy baby brother crying; my mom and dad weren't there to feed or change him, so Idid.
I built wall upon wall of stubborn determination. Each layer kept mefrom something, like believing my dad's false promises. He was always going totake us here or there, and we'd get excited, but we'd never go. A layer protectedme from guilt. I stopped being afraid when I saw his punches. It stopped scaringme. Her slapping and pulling, taking her frustration out on me, doing to me whatshe couldn't to him, stopped hurting. I stopped crying.
My determinationallowed me to be someone they couldn't hurt, and I always stood in front of mybrother. Their punches lost feeling. Their words lost meaning. Determination was,is, my coping mechanism.
Now I'm older, and have already accomplishedmore than they ever will. I went on a canoe trip, and got more than I bargainedfor. At the start, I was overwhelmed. I thought I was too lazy to canoe 211miles, and too scared to be in the wilderness for three weeks with ten strangers.My determination pushed me through. The ten I called strangers I now call bestfriends. I learned more than how to paddle on my trip. I learned ten differentways of living, different from the ones I was taught. It wasn't the world thatwas wrong like I'd heard my parents say - it was them.
During my 17years, I've come to hate my father, and gone from having love and hope for my momto just tolerance. I've tried to change my parents but I can't. So instead, Ifocus on changing someone I can - me.
My determination will let me breakthe cycle. I study, they drink. I play sports, they smoke pot. I get an award,they get a hangover. I fall, I get up; they fall, they stay down. I thank them,and you know why? Because they've shown me everything I don't want to be, andthey forced me to find the most important thing to me - my determination!
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.