Living Without

January 20, 2009
By Anonymous

You can't always tell when you're looking at a hero. In "The Scarlet Ibis", no one thought Doodle would ever walk or run because he was premature and very weak as a child, but he showed amazing courage when he defied the odds and did much more. As a 26-year-old, unrefined, newly-crowned king, Henry V showed stunning self-discipline and a sense of justice by keeping his temper and being merciful to the people of the captured French town, Harfleur.

My personal hero, my mom, has all of these traits even though she faced many difficulties when she had me at the age of sixteen and was forced to find a way to survive without my dad, without school, and without work.

"...Tommy used to work on the docks
Union's been on strike, he's down on his luck
It's tough, so tough
Gina works the diner all day
Working for her man, she brings home her pay
For love, for love..."

The first thing I hear when I wake up is my mom's voice. She's saying goodbye, she'll see me later. It's the same voice that sighs good-nights and helps my sister with homework from another room and tells me she has to work late again. Sometimes, if I'm strong enough, I'll reach out for a semi-awake half-hug. The hands that hold mine used to braid my hair for hours when I was younger. They pass presents around the tree and don't expect any back. They cook for the family, impossibly, every night.

"...She says, 'We've got to hold on to what we've got
'Cause it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot
For love, we'll give it a shot...'"

My thirteen-year-old sister and I were watching TV late one night before Mom came home when she whispered to me, "Madason?"


"I just realized I'm a bastard child."

I told her not to talk about that kind of thing around me ever again, but I didn't let it go. I thought for a long time--for the first time--about the unlucky circumstances Mom had gotten through to keep me, and then again with my sister. I realized how lucky I was that she'd had me in the first place. I remember all the times she told me about having to quit school to take care of me, about how hard it was to survive when my dad didn't leave us anything to eat. I remember when she told me about shoplifting to feed me and herself, about leaving my dad and getting a job when she couldn't take it anymore.

I didn't just think about the past. I also thought about how many times she demanded that I not make the same mistakes she did. She didn't want that for me.

"...Tommy's got his six-string in hock
Now he's holding in what he used to make it talk
So tough, it's tough
Gina dreams of running away
When she cries in the night, Tommy whispers, 'Baby, it's okay,

Somewhere along the line, my mom's memories turned into mine. I didn't have to listen to her retell stories anymore. I remember when Dad got arrested. I remember Mom, my sister, and me living in Nana's house when Mom decided she needed help. I remember other things, too, after Mom married my step-dad. After they separated.

Moving away from the city quickly made life more difficult for Mom. She made the move for us, so we could ride our bikes around without being shot at. To make up for gas mileage to work and the new rent she would pay by herself, Mom took another job doing what she already did: stocking shelves for Kroger stores. Not finishing high school doesn't leave you with many choices.

Mom gave me money for my leather jacket. Mom gave me money for the mall and for my friends' Christmas presents. She gave me money for clothes, money for food, money to pay back other people that had loaned me money.

I remember when she stopped having work from November to February. Every winter, just around my sister's birthday, then Christmas, then my birthday, Mom would sit at home, calling for jobs and getting little. She started online classes for a degree. All winter, she wrote essays that took two weeks each and then let me help her type them.

That was three years ago, and Mom still has the same job. There's no longer time for a whole semester of college, but somehow the extra work hasn't made better pay. We've been renting the same house for four-and-a-half years. Mom say's we're moving somewhere better in the spring, when she can afford it. She says that every year, for us.

"...We've got to hold on to what we've got
'Cause it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot
For love, we'll give it a shot..."

A year ago, my mom told me that she didn't expect to live past 60 or 65, and I wondered what kind of person says that to their child. I realized recently that that person is the mother with the courage to face anything with an unshaken voice and the steady, loving hands of a fighter. She is my hero.

"...Whoa, we're halfway there
Whoa, livin' on a prayer
Take my hand and we'll make it, I swear
Whoa, livin' on a prayer..."

Excerpts from the song "Livin' On A Prayer" by Bon Jovi.

The author's comments:
A couple weeks ago my English teacher gave the class an assignment called "My Personal Hero." She told us to write about our hero and to weave an appropriate song or poem into our essay.
This is mine.

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