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I Grew Up at 14 MAG
A friend once told me a little saying and, if memory serves me, it went like this:
You start your life crying for your parents to hold you.
You make your way through childhood testing things out and trusting that your parents are right behind you.
With adolescence, you begin to say,
”Trust me, guys; I know what I am doing,” and by the time you are a teenager, it’s
”I wish they would leave me alone.”
As 30 rolls around you begin to wonder,
”What would my parents think?”
And at 80 you say,
”I wish I COULD ask my parents.”
Well, if this saying is true, I grew up at 14.
Growing up in any family has its difficulties: siblings snore, parents fight, some members live too far away and many battle disease. As a kid, I felt above all that; my family was going to be one of the lucky few that coasts through life without a problem. But something happened to change that, something I was forced to accept and live with for the rest of my life.
With my birth in 1981, both my mom and dad swore off both drugs and alcohol, relapsing only a few times, but always trying their hardest. My mom got a good job and for my early years, it always seemed to be just me and Daddy. When Mom went to sleep, I always tiptoed in to watch “Saturday Night Live” and eat crackers, cheese and pepperoni with my dad. I wouldn’t have my Froot Loops until Daddy helped choose which color to eat first. We were best friends.
Time flew and the years of 1983 and 1985 brought the arrival of my very own sister and brother. Two younger siblings to boss around, annoy and steal toys from; all things I figured big sisters were supposed to do. But when my parents, once high school sweethearts, began to fight, my perfect family began to fall apart. When I was seven the arguments were finally resolved with one decision: divorce. I began to build a wall around myself so that neither hurt nor love (which seemed to bring hurt) could come in.
One day I was coming home holding my arm in an awkward position. You see, I am a real baby when it comes to having blood drawn, even though I’ve had it done many times since I was five and got hepatitis from my dad. Drinking wore away at his liver until hepatitis became a part of his life – and mine. The day I came home with the little circle bandage on my arm, I wasn’t expecting adjustment time to be over yet. I was 13 and looking forward to starting a high school as a freshman.
As I got home, I was suddenly frustrated to be there. Home meant swearing and fighting, but of course, I felt it was everyone else’s fault. My sister was cooking and gave me what I thought was a hostile glance and I took the chance to pounce. We were at each other’s throats when she said something I will never forget.
”You are so stupid. You don’t even know that Dad has AIDS! Bet you didn’t know that he did heroin for two weeks.”
”What are you talking about? And you’re the stupid one! No one can get AIDS after trying a drug for two weeks!”
”Oh! I’m stupid. I guess you think I am a liar too?”
”You said it ...”
”Well, explain this!!” She ran into the other room and grabbed as many books as her eleven-year-old arms could carry. AIDS Awareness, Surviving With AIDS. “Explain that! Explain the 20 others on the shelf.”
”Stop it! You don’t know what you’re talking about. I would have known first. I’m older!”
”No one wanted to tell you!”
She ran off crying and I didn’t know what to do, or believe. I held onto my hope until it was crushed later that day by my mother. Suddenly I could hardly breathe and the room was spinning. I was thinking about the surgery from which my dad was having a hard time recovering. He had had his spleen removed in an attempt to cure his thin blood due to his years of drinking. Suddenly everything was becoming clear.
Months went by and neither that day nor the virus was mentioned. It didn’t need to be – it never left my mind. My dad was in and out of hospitals and I was faced with the prospect that he wouldn’t “bounce back.” I spent my days pretending everything was fine and my nights thinking back, trying to figure out when it happened. I was feeling betrayed, not just because I was never told, but because my parents gambled away life and my happiness over a quick high.
1995 rolled around and things began to seem hopeless. My dad was spending more time in the hospital than at home. I tried to help. I wanted my perfect life back. I was moodier than ever, my grades were fluctuating and I often didn’t care about anything. My mom tried to get me to go to counseling but that only angered me more. Did she think that I was screwed up?
When the pressure became too severe, I finally began confiding in friends. They were sympathetic but no one could stop the pain. I was so scared of losing the one man I loved and after whom I modeled my every action. The man who had turned his life completely around and become someone any daughter could respect. It seemed impossible to me that he could die so young.
The last time I saw him, he was in the hospital and I was going to a school dance. But if someone had told me that this visit would be our last, I would never have left him. My daddy died on November 29, 1995. At 14, I had lost my 38-year-old father. He was my life and without him I couldn’t breathe. I’ll never be able to eat another bowl of Froot Loops because there is no one to tell me which color to eat first. I’ll only be able to remember how soft his hair was or how much his 5 o’clock shadow tickled my cheek. I would trade almost anything just to hear him say that he loves me again.
It’s been two years, two months, three Christmases, hundreds of sunsets, and thousands of smiles and frowns since my daddy passed away, and I am living proof that life does go on. I have a wonderful boyfriend now who, although he never met one of the world’s most wonderful men, has been there for me. With his help and a great group of friends, I am slowly relearning how to breathe. I try to guide my brother and sister the way my father would have. I visit schools and afterschool programs trying to inspire a struggling generation to keep trying and to survive. It seems so hard for my rebellious generation to understand that drugs and alcohol don’t equal a good time and there are always consequences.
My only advice for both kids and parents alike is never stay mad, never let a moment slip by, never do anything that you’ll regret and never give up on life or love; both are precious and so easily forgotten. To those who have lost a loved one, hug a friend; that’s what they are there for. And to everyone who is reading this article, grab everyone you love and tell them so. You’ll thank me later.