Five years ago, I wasn’t sure what hope was. If you would have told me there was more to life than the tiny town I grew up in, I would have believed you… but I wouldn’t have been able to grasp that. If you had been amongst the people who told me I was “worthy,” I would have blinked back at you. I never fathomed having a heart open to giving and receiving love; but five years later, here I am. I am a woman living a life rich with hope, love, and joy. This is part of my journey.
I was sixteen when I became pregnant with my daughter. Her father is someone I did not love, someone I barely knew, and who did not want her. My pregnancy wasn’t an easy one. I missed weeks of school; I was sick for months. I was alone and depressed and I was my own worst enemy. I was a senior in high school when I had her at seventeen. She is my saving grace.
During my pregnancy, my father was dying from AIDS. The last communication from him was a text that read, “this is the price you pay for making yourself so available.” The next time I saw him, months later, I did not recognize him. He was lying on his bed, contorted, facing the mirror, and looking into my eyes. He did not know who I was, and it was devastating. On October 2nd, 2011, he passed away.
The night before my younger sisters, Daniella and Gabi, and I were to fly out to California for his funeral, we had a “normal” family dinner. What we didn’t know was that it was the last “normal” family dinner we would have. My sisters and I had fought all day, making each other cry and spitting hateful words back and forth. The air was thick with tension as we packed away my dad’s things into boxes and fought over who would get what.
My sisters had pleaded with my uncle to stay the night at their friend Lexi’s after dinner. He agreed to them staying that night as long as their bags were packed for the next day. All three girls came in, kissed me on the cheek and told me they loved me. That was the last time I saw my sisters and their friend.
Shortly after the girls left the duplex, they met up with some boys their age. The girls hopped into one of the boys’ vehicles and made their way out into the country. I called the police and I called their phones to no avail. I still remember the newspeople and newspaper referring to it as “joyriding.” After driving through town to search for them, I remember making it back to my dad’s duplex and seeing my mother sobbing. Hearing my uncle on the phone with the police department saying, “They ran into a building, they ran into a building! They can’t identify them. There was a fire.”
I remember thinking, “Okay, great. We can live with burn scars. We can live with marred up faces. Just bring them home.”
The next visit we got was from the pastor. Then the State Trooper to tell us my sisters and their friend lay in the same morgue my father laid in. Then the coroner. And then the funeral home. I remember my screams as if I were hearing them from someone else’s ears, watching everything unfold from someone else’s eyes. My “normal” would never be normal again.
Months passed as I attempted to fill the gaping holes inside my heart with men and alcohol, which only added insult to injury. All the while I felt no hope. And joy? No such thing. I got up each day and did what I had to do, making an art of going through the motions. I finished my senior year early. I went to prom and I walked at graduation with my friends.
I’m not sure when it hit me; when I realized this was not what I wanted. Was it the endless nights bringing my daughter home to our little apartment just to get up the next morning and leave her with a babysitter for the majority of the day? Was it looking into her big brown eyes and realizing, “I want so much more for you”?
I knew then that I could choose one of three options. I could stay in Missouri and make do, miserable at best. I had family in California and an aunt and uncle in Virginia.
I never once thought I would get the response I did from my aunt in a little town in Virginia. I had had little to no contact with her for years. I asked her, “When can my daughter and I come live with you?” She immediately responded with “Call me and we will talk details!”
It took me almost three years, but with help, I packed up the messy life we knew and drove from Missouri to Virginia. I wanted to learn to love the way my aunt and uncle loved each other and their children. I wanted my daughter to experience what it was like to have siblings – to have a family. We had survived for so long. I wanted us to thrive.
Moving to Virginia to be closer to my family and learn from them was the best decision I have ever made. It has allowed me a joy and peace I had not known was an option until now. The suffering I endured which brought me to my knees led me straight to the feet of Jesus; aided by the unconditional acts of love and kindness my family showered me with. It was in my weakest and most vulnerable moments that I learned there is no hope, no peace, no joy… without love.