Despite life obstacles that make Mt. Everest look like a speed bump, I found my way and continue to use a checks-and-balances approach to life. Even with the focus that takes, which I slip up on sometimes, I seem to have fashioned a career of sorts for myself, thanks to my laptop. The fact that it involves words and writing is absolute heaven to me.
I ran away and never went back, when I was in Grade ten, so only I motivated myself to stay in school, which provided a necessary structure for me. My wish to learn never fizzled; I was the first in my family to finish high school and go on to university. I’ll get my degree even if, by graduation, I’m ninety and suddenly ‘wake up’ wondering why I’m at a strange party with people wearing dark robes and flat square hats.
I am sad that I do not have children. However, when it came to my uncertainty about motherhood, I am proud I let three issues guide me. One, as a teenager, I believed it was a given that I, as an abused child, would be an abuser; it terrified me to think of visiting my anger and pain upon an innocent, continuing the family legacy. Two, I grew up in such poverty, I couldn’t do the same to a child–especially when I know the ache of having a fine mind and unlimited potential but, due to a lack of resources, having to let much of it fade away, unexplored. Three, one day my Mom said to me, “When you have a baby, you’ll have all the love you need.” The weight of those words struck a blow to me. Having a child for what I’d get out of it, was the wrong reason for me to parent, as was having only one child, who would have absolutely no family upon my death. I knew only too well how utter loneliness can eat away at a person’s gut and soul; I didn’t want my child living all alone in the world.
My Mom and stepfather shamed, humiliated, and stigmatized me for many years. This meant that the odds of my trusting anyone were not good. However, thanks to Joan who was my first social worker, I began that long journey, by degrees. I kept going too. This is, in no small part, due to how I see life. My doctor recently pointed out that my tendency to watch people and their activities, could be what ultimately saved my life. I think it is also because of the compassion and love that somehow sprouted within me, as if through thick glass, with each new and outrageous abuse I endured. Even if I couldn’t feel empathy for myself for decades, I could feel it for my sister, who was going through most of what I was.
In 1993, after I learned how, I took on the criminal justice system on behalf of my siblings and myself; I had their okay so we all shared our perspectives on and experiences of living at home. This rush of activity helped us all. We were grieving the loss of our oldest brother, at only 35, who had just died of alcohol poisoning. When the province awarded us criminal injuries compensation, there was a small sum of money for counselling, physiotherapy (for my long-term back injury after an assault), dentistry, and other services. Trust me, the state did not put a high value on our ravaged lives. I am still glad I did what I did.
I also kept my promise of continued support to my brother, Steve–especially after his doctor diagnosed him as HIV+. I’m proud that I flew three thousand miles repeatedly and was with him through life-or-death brain surgeries, his spreading paralysis, loss of speech, a premature stint in palliative care, and some of his last days; other family members were within five miles and didn’t bother showing up to comfort him. Emotionally, I could not handle my beloved Steve’s illness, caring for an elderly neighbour and friend, as well as full-time school. What I lost in that juggling act was my second attempt to finish my degree. I won’t give up on that goal, however, nor will I stop affording myself every chance to grow, heal, inspire, and tend to this journey of mine.