Memories in Black

“Life distributes talent equally, but it doesn’t always distribute opportunity equally.”

Yes, I know that’s from a commercial, but it still rings true. Perhaps it rings truer for those whose life chose not to distribute opportunity to. And perhaps, it is extremely difficult for those who have been blessed with opportunity to understand why those of us who have not had such great opportunities to be bitter towards life in general. And maybe, just maybe, those of us who had someone rip our opportunities away have good reason to be the bitterest of them all.

To be successful in life, one needs to either have plenty of money, or plenty of connections. If you have connections, then you do not really have to have money. If you know the right people, rub elbows with those in the right crowd, then you can convince them to take a chance on you, your ideas, and pull those magical strings to open up all sorts of doors. And if you have the money, then doors are naturally going to open for you because, let’s face it, when you toss enough cash at something, great things are bound to happen.

It doesn’t matter how you really get to the top, not really. We’ve all heard the stories of those impoverished people who clawed their way to the top, worked their asses off, took chances. But what all that ultimately boiled down to was those people finally managed to network with just the right people so those magical doors finally opened. Let’s be real for a moment. It does not matter how great of an athlete you are if the right agents and recruiters don’t find you. You can’t become a star making mega bucks without signing a contract, and that contract isn’t going to appear in front of you if you don’t have the right people looking at you. So in essence, it really doesn’t matter how hard you work – it is all still going to boil down to making the right connections, or earning enough money to buy your way into something.

The  are many problems with the “overcomes all odds” type of stories. Perhaps the one which sticks out for me the most are these people generally either do not have families who depend on them to keep a roof over their heads, or they have no real idea of what it means to truly be impoverished. I’ve read stories where people literally wiped out their entire life savings or spent their last dime to bring life to their idea, gambling everything they had on something they believed in. For those of us who have literally been one paycheck from having their children become homeless, doing something so reckless to risk their children’s well-being is truly horrifying. If you have never been in a situation where you literally feared your children would be taken away from you because you lived in substandard housing and had no way of digging your way out of the hole you were in, then you can’t imagine just how precious a few extra bucks can be. When you literally know feeding your children this month means your electricity gets cut off, then doing something like gambling away your last few bucks all because you “believe so strongly in your idea or yourself” seems so damn idiot and reckless. People like that, people like me, do not have the luxury of betting the entire farm on something, no matter how much we believe in our vision.

We read these types of stories, but for every one that ends up in a happy ending, there are literally hundreds of others who have ended up homeless, on the streets, or so far in debt that their previous situation looked like a vacation. We never hear about those people, only the ones who “make it.”

But what about those of us who could have had a chance? What about those of us who literally had everything lined up to finally break free from the never-ending loop of poverty and living paycheck to paycheck – only to have life basically spit on us?

If you are still reading this, then I hope you will stay with me just a little longer. I’ve avoided talking about my past for good reason. I’ve hinted at the hell I grew up in, but have never really went into much detail. I’m still not to the point where I feel comfortable sharing too much about what happened to me, and honestly I’m not sure I ever will. What I’m about to write, to share with you, is something very, very few people know about.

It’s become common knowledge I grew up in an abusive household. I refuse to go into any more detail than that. It was what it was. Truth be told, my father was just as likely to ask me how my day was when I walked through the day as he was to punch me in the face. I lived in constant fear that something I did was going to piss him off, send him into another rage. There were some days I honestly wondered if he was going to end up killing me. I learned to cover up the bruises, to lie to everyone around me, and just pray to whatever God might hear me that I would live long enough to graduate high school so I could finally be free.

Most people know I grew up in extreme poverty. My father had heart disease, and I don’t ever remember a time when he worked. My mom carried the weight of the household bills on her shoulders. She didn’t have a formal education, and thus her career choices were limited, made even more so by the small town we lived in where work of any kind was slim, much less a job which would pay all the bills on a single income.

Looking back, I now realized she shielded me from my father’s rages. He had always been my knight in shining armor as a child. It didn’t matter that I only had 5 pairs of pants to my name and I only ever got short sleeve shirts to wear. It didn’t matter that you could see the door beneath our house through the slats in the floorboards. And as hard as it was going to school with kids who made fun of me because we didn’t have nice things, somehow it didn’t really matter because, once I was home, I was safe – and I was loved.

Then, when I was ten years old, my entire world ended. My mom left, so it just became me and my dad. Without my mom there to witness the rages and shield me from them, my knight in shining armor suddenly became the beast I feared more than anything else. The once happy home became my prison, and all the hiding places which had brought me hours of pretend play in a fabulous fantasy world suddenly became a nightmarish hell I could neither escape nor wake from.

For nearly 9 years I lived in constant fear. I never ate because there was hardly any food in the house, and I stayed so upset all the time I generally puked everything back up on the rare occasions I did decide to consume food. My dad was great about reminding me how much of a burden I was, so I never asked him to cook me anything as this oftentimes sent him into a rage. I was emaciated, and everyone at school just assumed I was purposely starving myself. I lived for years with everyone whispering behind my back that I was anorexic. Having them think I had an eating disorder was much more desirable than the truth.

I’m not going to go into details about the depression, the many suicide attempts, the problems I had with cutting. Anyone who has followed my career knows I still owe my life to Bret Michaels – the one bit of brightness in my dark world. My mentor, my hero, my beacon of hope in the rough seas that was my life, the lifeline I clung to as I slowly drown in despair.

Here’s what a lot of people don’t know, though. Not even my family knows this. And this is why I tend to be so damn bitter and withdrawn.

My father pissed away my six-figure college fund. How’s that for a grand screwing?

As I mentioned, my dad never worked. He had been trying to get on disability pretty much my entire life. He had been on it once, right around the time I was born, but had been cut off. After years of fighting with the courts, it was finally determined he should have been on full disability. More importantly, it was determined he should have been drawing this disability for more than a decade. That meant back-pay for all those years. And not just on him – on me, and my mom.

My dad had initially refused to sign the divorce papers after my mom filed them. He was intent upon punishing her, and was going to force her to wait the whole 5 years before the courts granted the divorce. But as soon as he found out he was going to be getting back-pay for his disability, he signed those papers quicker than you can say what the fuck.

When those checks came in, my dad didn’t tell anyone. He was recovering from surgery, and it was my cousin who took him to the bank to deposit the checks. She told me, many, many years later, that he had received 3 checks – one for him, one for me, and one for my mom. Nearly twelve years in back pay, at over $2500 a month. You do the math.

It sounds like a dream come true, right? We would never have to worry about money again. We could finally get a decent house, I wouldn’t have to wear clothes from rummage sales, and we could afford an actual car and groceries for once.

Except none of that ever happened, because no one knew the money existed but my dad, and my cousin who happened to get a glance at one of the checks. She wasn’t supposed to have seen them, and she was smart enough to keep her mouth shut while he was still alive.

My dad ended up with a bad gambling problem. He liked to pretend he had money, liked to go the casinos as a ‘high roller’ where he finally got the attention and devotion he craved. There’s nothing like going from being a big nobody to suddenly having money. It makes everyone want to be your friend, to be by your side.

And then there was the endless stream of gold-digging whores he spent thousands of dollars on. I remember one Christmas he bought his girlfriend at the time a full length mink coat and a one-carrot diamond ring. Me? If memory serves that was the year he spent a whole $30 on a porcelain doll I had been eyeing for months. That was the only thing he got me, but at the time I felt so damn grateful, because you don’t spend money on someone you don’t love, right?

For nine years I walked on eggshells. I lived in fear of his temper and his fists. I cooked for him, I cleaned the shack we lived in while he laid up in bed, I excelled in school. I did everything I could to make my dad proud of me, subconsciously hoping I’d eventually be good enough for him to love like he used to.

My mom eventually found out about the money, although I’m not sure she knew exactly how much he had received. Legally, she was entitled to half of the settlement. She was entitled to half of the 6 acres of land he owned, could have forced him to sell the house and the land and the mobile home which was still in both their names and give her half of it. But she didn’t. She agreed to not take anything, not a single dime, under one condition – the money he received in her name was to be put into a trust fund for me to go to college.

He agreed, of course. And just like she had done before, she took him at his word. As far as I know, there was no formal paperwork involved, just her trusting he would take care of me, do right by me. She was still blissfully unaware that I was now standing in the same place she had been, with no one to shield me from the monster that no one else knew existed.

Despite everything, I still managed to graduate as one of the top 4 students in my class, with a 3-way tie for salutatorian. I managed to make a 29 on my ACT on my first and only try. Despite my 3.8 GPA and test scores, I was not offered any scholarships save for 4 semesters paid tuition at a local junior college. Just another small town nobody who wasn’t going to amount to much of anything.

And there was no trust fund.

Not that it mattered, because I didn’t even know there was supposed to have been one.

You see, I actually did have opportunity. My story would have been one of those you read about, where I would have overcome so much adversity to finally reach my goals. I could have gone to any college in the country. Between my grades and the money which my father promised to keep aside for my college, I would have been able to get my PhD. I could have started my own business. I could have done anything with my life.

Except my father pissed away my college fund.

And I didn’t even know just how bad he had screwed me over until years after he had passed away.

So you probably know the ending to this story. I did not go to college until I was 33  years old, and even now I’m up to my eyeballs in student loans for a degree that has not made me one single penny more money than what I could have made without it. I’m still struggling in a dead-end job, writing on the side, and always fighting with myself to just keep going when all I really want to do is toss in the damn towel and say fuck it.

Because life has done nothing but beat me down every fucking step of the way.

The harder I fight, the harder life fights back.

Every step I take trying to claw my way to some sort of life where we don’t live paycheck to paycheck, I end up with hundreds of people kicking me in the face as they step on me to obtain their own goals. The harder I work at writing, the more society rewards those who game the system. The harder I work at my regular day job, the more work they pile on me, and the more promotions I get passed over for. The more I try, the more life is determined to keep me beaten down to the point where I’m once again suicidal, depressed, fighting those constant inner demons which have been my companions for more decades than I can count.

I was one of those who should have had a rags-to-riches story, a ‘overcomes all odds’ type of story.

But I’m not.

I’m just a 43-year-old woman who still gets triggered on a regular basis by something someone says to me, who fights depression every single day of her life. But somehow, despite everything, I still manage to put one foot in front of the other even though I know I will NEVER have anything more than what I have right now. I’m a mom who tries to shield her kids from the horrors of this world, who wishes I could give them more and knowing I will not ever have the means to make their lives easier.

It seems that no matter what, I’m always going to be that scared little girl clinging to a porcelain doll in a pretty lavender dress, hoping that some day, somehow she will finally be good enough for her daddy to love her again –  even when she knows that will never be possible.

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