Not Broken, Just Prepared

Sometimes it’s hard to keep trudging through life when so many things have gone wrong. A lot of people don’t have this kind of life experience, but a lot of us do. Things happen and while there are so many who will look down on anyone for feeling ‘victimised,’ I think it’s important to call a spade a spade and say yes, I was victimised by this person or that event. It was not my fault. That way we don’t internalise it and feel like we’re bad people for ‘letting’ something happen (and if anyone tells you that unjustifiably, that’s insanity), or that we’re whiners for saying it was wrong.

Another difficulty is that the lasting effects of whatever trauma we’ve experienced can be so challenging we often feel ‘broken.’ We wonder why we can’t just enjoy things anymore, why we cry at television adverts, why we’re scared of things that other people find trivial, or why our load feels so much heavier than the next person’s.

My mom was struggling with some of these feelings after I became pregnant with my firstborn. (For those of you who haven’t read it, the back story is here.)

She and I were at a camp in Hungry Horse, Montana, for our traditional weekend away. We used to go every year if we could help it, it was the only thing you could call a “vacation” or “holiday” that we ever really took. It was a church-based retreat, and to this day, that campground remains my favourite place on Earth.

This particular summer, I had just turned fifteen, and, being pregnant with my firstborn, my mom and I both had a lot to process. The incident and the uncertainty of the future were weighing heavily on our minds. We were not wealthy by any means, and never owned new vehicles or anything like that. Choosing to keep my son was my immediate choice and I stuck by my guns, but it was not going to be easy. My mom was supportive of my choice, and was willing to help, but was no doubt under pressure about the situation.

One night at the camp, I was already deeply asleep in the cabin. Mom was in Teakettle lodge, the mess hall, playing board games with others until probably midnight when it was time to lock up. Most other campers were also asleep. There are no lights on the campground after a certain time, so with her flashlight lighting her path she made her way back to the cabin.

When she got to our door, she realised she had forgotten to bring a key. Up in the mountains, in the dark, no shelter, no blanket, and everyone fast asleep. She tried waking me up, but I sleep like a rock and I’m not sure an earthquake could wake me. Bears have been known to come wandering through the camp, the end of May is not summery enough to keep the ground from freezing overnight, and it rains there a lot. I’m pretty sure sleeping on the ground was not going to work out very well.

She didn’t know what to do.

We may not have had much but we did have an old Ford Explorer. Being old and second-hand, the door was broken and wouldn’t lock. Thankfully it was so beaten down no one would steal it, and on this night my mom was able to get into it and out of the cold, much to her relief.

As she reclined her seat to get comfortable, she was thinking about my situation and how sorry she felt for me and what I was going through. She had been praying about it, asking what to do about it all. It was, after all, a retreat where prayer was one of the main focuses. It was then she heard a voice from the back seat say, “It isn’t broken, it was prepared.” She turned to see where the voice came from, but there was no one there.

I realise that this will sound bonkers to many and immediately at the mention of “prayer” about half of you or more will roll your eyes. And that’s fine. I’m not pressing any beliefs onto anyone or indeed, reflecting any of my own. But I know my mom was really shaken by this experience in a good way, and it has had its impact on my life as well.

Sometimes when things really get on top of me, I think of this. Yes, I have been victimised in the past by many things. No, I will not be ashamed of that. I do feel like I was given an extraordinary load to carry, and I also feel it’s important to tell people about it, no matter how personal. I am a survivor, and a fighter. Yes, I have felt ‘broken’ so, so many times. But I choose to believe that for whatever reason I was not ‘broken,’ I was prepared.

I especially believe this because my son, despite the circumstances of his conception, is an awesome little (big) boy. He’s going to be twelve soon, which is really strange to think about. Throughout the years he has been an excellent motivation to keep being a better, stronger, more resilient person despite the many times it has been so incredibly difficult I have seriously wanted to quit.

In no way do I view his entering into my life a ‘breakage’ of anything. His existence has opened my eyes to many things and given me a perspective of the world that I would never shun. I don’t yet know what my purpose truly is, but I know it isn’t to sit still feeling broken and helpless.

Since the day my mom first told me this story, I’ve never looked at anything the same.


If you have a story of something being ‘broken’ but turning out to be ‘prepared,’ I’d love to hear it.

Feel free to comment below or blog it and link to this post to get my attention.

Being Poor

I was that girl in school.
The poor girl.
The one whose uniforms weren’t like everyone else’s. The one whose clothes were only new if the store was closing down and had an 80% off sale.
The one who, when all the kids had their names called on the day school portrait orders were delivered, never had her name called.
The one who never got to go on the school trip unless it was subsidized.
The one who always took seconds in the lunch line if there were any extras.
The one who was ridiculed for having greasy hair because her family could only afford enough water to bathe once a week.
The one whose experiences in life were exclusively limited to which ones had a special funding program for people who couldn’t afford them.
The one who stole food stamps from her mother’s pocket when she was asleep so she could buy a candy bar every once in a while because her mom always told her “no.”
The one who, knowing how much it sucked to be poor, sometimes gave those food stamp dollars to the vagrants on the street that looked more hungry than her.
I was that girl, who has never quite understood or got over how anyone could take the backpack she carried on the first day of fourth grade and rip it to shreds along with the expensive floppy disks and school supplies inside, which would mean a sacrifice to replace.
I was that girl who, while everyone labelled her an “over-achiever,” was taking the most advanced mathematics and science classes she could in the hopes that if she tried hard enough, she would get a degree one day and have a job that would mean that when she had a family of her own, they wouldn’t have to know what it meant to be “poor.”
And who, when she fell pregnant at age fourteen, didn’t press charges against her rapist for what he had done to her, but because she didn’t want him to do it to anyone else; Because she had already been shown for so many years that she wasn’t worth much anyway.

Being poor is so much more than how much money you don’t have in your bank.

Whatever

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching…

View original post 790 more words

The Bird and the Birdwatcher (A Cautionary Tale)

20150614_153932_Richtone(HDR)

Once, there was a bird.

She had the most gorgeous feathers of many colours, unlike anything seen before. And when she would open her beak to sing, all the creatures in the forest where she lived would stop to listen to her beautiful voice.

At dawn she would sing to welcome in the morning. Her friends often joined in her song, feeling every bit as beautiful as she. She filled their days with happiness and joy as her heart was just as wonderful as her feathers and voice. She was loyal and kind and very wise, and dearly loved by those who knew her.

At night she would sing a lullaby and all the creatures of the forest would feel safe as they drifted off to sleep. They all knew they were free, and life was good.

Soon, a birdwatcher came through the forest. He was seemingly very appreciative of birds. He complimented them all on their feathers and fed them from his hands. He brought the tastiest treats for them and they began to look forward to his visits. His touch was gentle, his words sweet, and his smile pleasing.

One day when he was visiting, he saw the beautiful bird. As she sang he fixed his gaze upon her, and as he did so, she couldn’t help but blush a little. He was smiling in a way that made her feel not just beautiful, but perfect. As she finished her song, he beckoned her to come near.

“What a magnificent creature you are, just look at how gracefully you flew.” he swooned.

“Why thank you,” she replied, feeling her cheeks grow red again.

“And that voice! Will you sing for me another?”

She performed for him one more tune and he praised her in such a way that she had never been before. He made her feel so special.

“Can I tell you a secret?” he whispered quietly. She leaned her head in a bit closer with an inquisitive look, and he began, “These other birds here, they have told me how they’ve grown tired of your songs. But I don’t see what they’re talking about, because that was exquisite. They don’t see what I see in you.”

“Oh,” she said, taken aback, “I didn’t realise they felt that way! If only they’d have said…”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” he continued, “of course they wouldn’t say so. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. Say, would you be so kind as to grant me your company while I eat a meal this evening? I’m very lonely in my home all by myself and I can think of nothing better than to hear your melody while I dine.”

“Is-is it safe?” she asked.

“Of course!” he reassured her. “Such a treasure like you, I’d protect with my very last breath. I know how much the forest adores you. You have nothing to worry about.”

“Well I suppose so,” she began, “after all I’d hate for such a nice man like you to be lonely. Nobody should be lonely.”

“You go on ahead, my cottage is over there,” the man continued, “I’ll just gather some wood for the fire and will be right behind you.”

“Alright,” she agreed, “See you there.”

As she flew toward the cottage, the man approached the others. They asked why their friend had gone. “Oh it’s nothing,” he answered, “She was only a little tired of sharing her songs for today. She said she would rather sing alone. I’m sure she’ll be back in the morning. But I, on the other hand, would love to hear a harmony by such a good looking bunch. Sing for me, won’t you?”

When they finished the birdwatcher praised them, and made his apologies that his dinner would go cold if he stayed any longer. He said his goodbyes and turned to walk away, and as he did, the other birds were confused. They thought surely their friend loved them and was happy to share her songs, but she did fly off alone, and they knew the man to be trustworthy, so they believed him.

When the man arrived at the cottage, he looked so pleased to see the bird. “Thank you so much for offering your company tonight, my evening would have been so dull otherwise.” In his hand he held some branches. He placed them in the hearth and fanned the flames.

“It’s nothing, really,” the bird assured, and, seeing there was already a pile of sticks stacked nearby she chirped, “Oh, didn’t you know you already had sticks over there?”

“Silly bird, don’t you see those are not fit for a fire?” he laughed, “You had better leave such things to me. Now… I have been so looking forward to another of your songs, won’t you let me hear one?” He sat and poised himself with his hands under his chin, smiling intently, and motioned her to the windowsill, admiring, “What a beauty.”

She took her place by the window and began to sing as she tilted her beak upward and closed her eyes, trying hard to produce the best sound. When she opened her eyes, she noticed the pile of sticks was smaller. She looked all around the room and as she looked behind her, she saw there were a few sticks now standing upright against the window pane. Puzzled, she asked, “Weren’t these sticks just over there?”

“What are you talking about?” the birdwatcher replied innocently.

“These sticks, here, are now behind me. They used to be over there. I’m sure they weren’t here before. Why did they move?” she asked.

“No,” he maintained, “there were always sticks there. You’re imagining things. Perhaps you’re tired, you need some sleep. Silly bird.”

“I don’t think so,” the bird insisted, “I’m sure that pile of sticks was higher and there were no sticks here.”

The man’s fingers began tapping on the table. “I think I would know what was in my own home,” he said, and stood up quickly. He raised his voice, “Are you calling me a liar?”

“No! Of course not!” she conceded. “I wouldn’t–”

“I’d like to be alone now,” interrupted the man. “I think it’s time you left.”

“Oh please, I’m so sorry to offend, I really didn’t mean to.” The bird pleaded with the man, and he accepted her apology. When he then asked for more of her songs, she quickly obliged and serenaded the man until he appeared to be asleep.

“Don’t… leave… me,” he mumbled in between snores, and feeling guilty, and sorry for the man, she stayed. She ruffled her feathers to make herself comfortable for the night, as one of her colourful feathers dropped, leaving a dull grey one underneath. She then drifted off to sleep thinking about how rude she had been in exchange for his kindness, and how sad she was to have upset him.

When she awoke she saw he had made her a lovely breakfast of berries and seeds, and also that there were more sticks surrounding her, this time gathered and tied at the top. For a second she thought to ask if there were now more there than the previous night, but decided against it. She remembered how angry he had been and she didn’t want to upset him once more. Suddenly she noticed a few more of her feathers had dropped, but was immediately distracted by the man wishing her a good morning.

They had a wonderful chat as he told her how much he enjoyed her staying to sing him to sleep, and how she should feel free to come and go as she pleased. As a token of his gratitude, he placed a bracelet around her ankle.

“Our little secret,” the man said lovingly, and with that she returned to the forest feeling more special than ever.

When she arrived there, her friends started chatting amongst themselves. They didn’t seem too pleased to see her. She approached a group of them as she began a song, but none of them joined in.

“What’s that on your ankle?” one of them heckled.

“Why– it’s a secret, actually,” the bird replied sheepishly.

“I knew it,” another started, “she thinks she’s too good for us now.”

“No, that’s not it at all… if you must know, the man gave it to me,” she defended.

“What nonsense.” they all echoed at once, and flew away from the beautiful bird.

Leaving her alone on the branch, she watched as they all gathered together and sang a harmony without her. They looked happy. But the bird was not. Saddened, she flew back to the cottage, dropping a few more feathers along the way.

“Why are you crying?” the man questioned as he drew her near.

“I don’t know what I did wrong,” she whimpered, and looked down, seeing the bracelet. She thought maybe they had been upset that she had been given such a pretty thing. She would rather have her friends than a bracelet. “Oh, maybe it was because I told them you had given me this,” she began, but instantly found herself hitting the wall and in screaming pain. She didn’t know what had just happened.

“I wish you wouldn’t have made me do that,” sighed the birdwatcher, “but it angers me so when you tell our secrets. Hurts my feelings. Don’t you know how much I trusted you to keep that between us? And you betrayed me. I can’t think of anything worse than a friend who betrays another. That’s why I was so upset, I couldn’t help it.”

“I– I’m… sorry,” stammered the bird, “my wing… my wing is broken.”

“You should not have told our secret,” said the man, “if you hadn’t betrayed me you wouldn’t have got hurt. I hope you’ve learned your lesson now.”

He picked her up gently off the floor, where remained a pile of her feathers. He tended to her wing. And then, he placed her by the window. “Why don’t you climb in there,” he suggested, motioning to the sticks which were now attached to a base and completed by a door, “it will be much safer for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were in danger now your friends are so jealous. That’s why you should never have told. Would you like me to secure it with a lock?”

“Yes, please,” said the bird sadly, as she cradled her bandaged wing, while a few more of her feathers dropped.

For the rest of the day, the man brought her everything she needed. She began to forget the pain in her wing as he told her stories, made jokes, gave her some of his special treats. He really was a good man, she thought, and she had been so wrong to betray him.

The man asked for some of her songs, and although she didn’t feel much like singing, she obliged to make him happy. She didn’t want to upset him anymore. She sang so much her voice began to crack, and by the end of the evening all her beautiful feathers had fallen into a pile at the bottom of her locked cage. She stared at them, and knew it was because she had been silly and betrayed her friend the birdwatcher that she no longer deserved to be beautiful.

The following day she awoke to a clean cage, but this time there was no breakfast. She asked for something to eat, as she could not go get any food for herself. The man demanded that she sing in exchange for his hospitality. She tried, but her voice cracked again.

“Look at you,” the man sneered, “not only are you so ugly, but you can’t even carry a tune. What good are you to anyone now? It’s a good thing I took you in when I did, or you’d never have survived out there in the forest.”

The man denied her breakfast and left the cottage. Through the window the bird could see him going to visit all her friends. She heard them singing to him, and felt ashamed, believing she would never be able to sing again.

Upon returning, the man brought her a small bit of food. It wasn’t a treat like he used to give her, but she was so hungry that she felt thankful he’d given her anything at all. He then offered her a gift, which was a little jacket made from her beautiful, colourful feathers. Delighted, she put it on and felt pretty for a second. He complimented her and she smiled, when she heard her friends outside the window. Excitedly, she waved to them with her good wing.

“He’s right, she does look happier there,” the bird heard her friends say as they turned and flew away.

The bird looked at the man. He had a smug grin on his face. She lowered her eyes to avert his, and saw once more the bracelet on her ankle. At that moment, she was sure she wanted it off. She no longer wanted to live with the man. She took off the jacket and thanked the man for the food, nodding her head to his following criticisms and trying to be as pleasing to him as possible.

Weeks later when one day the man went out, she seized the opportunity and tugged with her beak at the bracelet. She tried with all her might, but with a weak wing, and an overwhelming fear of what might happen when the man saw it was no longer on her, she stopped, and cried. Letting out a wail while thinking of how she used to sing and be loved and safe and free, and happy, but now she was surely going to die in this cage, she was surprised by the sudden sound of her own soft, melodic voice she had thought was lost. Shocked, she tried to sing a few notes. It worked! She sang a bit longer, repeatedly looking out the window and toward the door, worried the man would return at any second. Gathering a bit of courage, and remembering he would surely be gone for some time longer, she sang as loud and as high as she could, when one of the sticks of her cage began to crack. She stopped, contemplating what she had just done.

In her excitement she fluttered her wings. As she did so she noticed the broken wing had mended and did not hurt anymore. She fluttered again and a grey feather fell out. Surprised, she inspected her wings, to see that on the inside of one of them was a colourful feather. She beat her wings as fast as she could and as she did so, her cage rattled. She smiled as tears streamed from her eyes with this small glimpse of hope. She wiped them away and prepared herself, for the birdwatcher would soon be home.

When the man was around she pretended her voice and wing were still broken. He called her names and told her of all the more beautiful birds he had seen on his walks. She endured his speeches with a silent grace, nodding when he asked if she knew how good he was to her, and how she was lucky he provided for her, as she would no doubt struggle to survive on her own.

Despite becoming wise to his deceptive ways, part of her still wondered if she would indeed be better off staying with the man. Her friends no longer loved her, she doubted she was missed. She could hear their lullabies in the evenings, and their songs and laughter in the days. He would bring her food when she most needed it, and he told her how glad he was she’d chosen to stay with him. Despite the bad things he had done, he’d done equally good things. And she’d deserved her punishments, she thought.

One day when it was sunny, the bird said to the man before he left, “Please, just open this window a tiny bit, just for some fresh air? I am so glad to be safe in this cage and know it could do no harm, but the sun is a little extra warm today.”

Pausing to think about whether she could escape, but knowing her wing was useless and the cage locked, he relented and lifted the window. “Silly bird,” he muttered, and walked out the door.

Shaking, she gathered her courage and started to sing and beat her wings simultaneously. But thinking the man might hear her and be angry, she became terrified and stopped. She sat stunned the whole day until the man returned, feeling angry with herself for not taking what might have been her only opportunity to escape. She really was a ‘silly bird.’

A few days later she caught a glimpse of her colourful feather. She sighed, and knew she must act. She told the man how grateful she was that he’d opened the window the time before, and how much cooler it would be for him when he returned from his outings if he opened it again. As nothing had previously gone wrong, he agreed and opened the window, and left.

Giving him time to walk far enough away that he wouldn’t hear her, she began to beat her wings. The cage rattled. She beat them faster and harder, and tilted her beak upward, closed her eyes, and sang as loudly as she could. The sticks were cracking, and rattling more furiously. Thinking of how much she wanted to be free from her cage and away from the man, suddenly with a burst of what felt like insanity she pushed off and began to fly. Upon making contact with her beak, the cage shattered into thousands of pieces. Her grey feathers were moulting with every beat and her colourful ones re-growing at a fantastic pace. She squeezed out of the window and flapped her wings with fervour in the direction of the forest.

She was flying, and singing the best song she had ever heard coming out of her own mouth.

Being careful to make sure the man was not in the forest with her friends, she settled amongst them. They looked at her with surprise. “Please,” she said, “I have missed you all so much. Please will you help me get this bracelet off my ankle?” She sobbed with relief as they hurriedly rallied together to pull the bracelet off her ankle. “The birdwatcher,” she wailed, “he broke my wing. He caged me. It was awful. He’ll come for me. Please, we need to protect ourselves from him.”

“But you looked so happy when we saw you,” one of the birds commented, “why didn’t you leave sooner? You’ve been there a long time… if anyone treated me like that I’d have been out of there ages before now. How could someone as wise and as beautiful as you allow yourself to be caged?”

“I know,” the bird replied with shame, “I wish I had left much sooner. But I was so scared, and I thought it would have been impossible, so I stayed. But there’s no time to explain. Listen up!” They gathered all the creatures of the forest around and discussed what should be done about the man.

Now walking home to his cottage, the birdwatcher saw something glinting in his path, appearing to float in the air. He approached it, curious. Reaching out his hand, he saw it was the bracelet he had put on the bird, suspended in a spider’s web. After another step he found himself falling into a hole, which had been dug by the underground-dwellers. The birds had disguised it with twigs and leaves. It was so deep, he could not climb back out. After much trying he gave up, feeling sorry for only himself.

The bird, now back in the forest with her friends she had once loved so dearly, began a song. All the creatures chimed in with her, making the whole forest resonate with their harmonies. The last of the grey feathers began to fall out as she sang, except for one feather where her wing had been broken. It was never going to be colourful again. But, accepting it as a token of her strength and courage, she looked upon it proudly.
She would never forget what the birdwatcher had done, though she still felt sorry for him… just not too sorry.

Artwork by my eldest son, age 11

Artwork by my eldest son, age 11

This is a story about domestic violence. It was written to challenge questions like, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
And statements like, “I’d never let that happen to me.”
And perceptions like, “She’s too pretty/wise/educated/etc. for that to happen to her.”
Domestic Violence can happen to anyone, by anyone. The damage isn’t always physical, and the solution not always simple.

It is also worth noting that while this story has a relatively happy ending, that is not always the case in real life.

(This story and all posts contained in this blog are the intellectual property of Kirsten Young and are copyrighted as such, unless expressly stated otherwise e.g.: “reblogged”.)

Finally He Claimed Me

I always wondered where most of my looks came from, because I don’t look that much like my mom.

I’d heard all kinds of stories about him, and used to imagine what it would be like if he were around. His head was so big they had to special order his hat at the mine, my mother would tell me, they used to call him ‘buffalo head’ and he was a black belt in karate.

He never remembered my birthday, except once when I turned eight and got a card in the mail from him. Well, he almost remembered. The date he’d written in the card was three days late. His memory must’ve been really bad, because he always forgot to pay the child support, too. Ten long years and not a penny.

The last time I’d seen him I was two years old and eating peach flavoured yogurt. He and my mother were embroiled in a brawl that landed her with two black eyes and a broken ankle. She said she was leaving. He made my sister and I sit on his knee and choose with which parent we wanted to live. I was never able to stomach peach yogurt again.

As the years passed I learned why I was so afraid of Chucky from Child’s Play; he thought it was funny to put my head in the dark attic and tell me “Chucky’s gonna getcha!” I learned my feet looked just like his. I learned he used to work in the mines as an engineer and hated when my mom put a jumpy snake in his lunchbox. He was rumoured to be the best piano player in cowboy boots anybody had ever seen. I learned he always broke his word, that we shouldn’t get our hopes up for those “daddy promises.”

My mom told me stories of the things he used to do to her and how convinced she was that he had once plotted her murder. He was thwarted by a passing hiker. I believed her at first but then wondered if she was just angry because he wasn’t the husband he should’ve been. You were supposed to be a twin, she’d say. None of his brothers pay child support. They all do this. Maybe he wasn’t paying, to punish my sister and I for choosing to live with Mom. He had two new children now, maybe they were more important. What did he need us for, anyway?

At the age of fifteen I finally got to meet this man, the myth, the legend. He really did have a buffalo head. He really did wear cowboy boots. He looked so much like me. I wondered how many of the other things were true.

One of the first things he said to me after thirteen years of being a stranger, was “I should’ve killed your mom when I had the chance.” I was stunned. We ate pancakes at IHOP and went to the mall. He spent money on me. He saw I had a three-month-old baby, yet he pinched my sides and said, “You need to lose that weight.”

After enduring rants about how my mom just wanted to mooch off him and the government, and diatribes of how amazing he was and how much better my life would’ve been if only I’d got to live with him all these years instead, still I agreed to keep in contact with him. He was a smart man, and some of the things he said could be pretty convincing. But so many other things were so critical.

He said he’d pay for a landline phone so he could have a number to reach me. He said he’d call, but after the first week he never did. He emailed me for a while but his emails were like conversing with Jekyll and Hyde. I never knew what to expect.

Finally I said I couldn’t take it anymore, that there were two sides to every story and then the truth. I was sick of being in the middle of the tug-of-war between his accusations and my mother’s defence, and my mother’s accusations and his angry backlash.

He called me a “whore” and a “slut” for having a child so young. I was “going to be a welfare slob just like [my] mom” and he wanted nothing to do with me.

A year passed, I moved to Utah to live with my sister. He promised to help support me and my son, saying how glad he was I was finally getting away from my mom. “I guess you’re kind of my responsibility too,” he’d said. But it was another daddy promise. And after an argument where I’d defended my sister’s boyfriend (who is a good man) he told my sister he wanted her, “but not bozo and not bitch.”

I tried to enrol myself in high school there to finish my junior year. Without a custodial parent to sign papers, I’d be charged $5,000 to be able to finish. “You’re telling me, a teenage mother who is trying to defy the odds against her, that I need to be wealthy just to get a high school diploma? Where do you think I’m going to get five thousand dollars?” The one thing I wanted, to beat the statistics, shot down in one phone call.

One week into the new school year, I tried a new approach. The don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach. I called a different high school. They told me yes, come down today, it’s already started… in fact, you’re a week late. Bring a parent to sign the forms. I told my dad, “You’ve done nothing for me my entire life. If you do nothing else, please just come and pretend you have custody of me and just sign these papers so I can finish school. Please.” He said I didn’t need a diploma, I could just do what he did and get a GED and a scholarship for the mining program at the U of U. I insisted I just wanted to finish high school. He told me I was stupid, but he went with me and signed the papers anyway.

A few weeks into it they called me to the office. They’d found out I was living with my sister and my baby. They knew I didn’t really have a parent there with me. I thought I would be in trouble, but they had nothing but respect for me and wanted to offer some support. This came in the form of a mentor and a few phone calls to my old school. My old school sent revised transcripts to show what grades I would have had when I left three-quarters of the way through my junior year, and together the new counsellor and I calculated how many more credits I needed to graduate. If I failed even one, I’d miss out on that diploma.

In the time I’d been pregnant my freshman year, given birth in my sophomore year, and been a mother my junior year, I’d worked so hard to get the best grades I could. During the second year I taught myself my lessons at home. I had to omit some extra “elective” classes which took out that room for error. Now even with college-level Pre-calculus and Physics on the roster, I had to keep that ball rolling. It wasn’t about just finishing for me, it was about finishing with flying colours. I had something to prove.

The end of the year came. I’d scored 26 out of 36 on the national Aptitude Competency Test. I’d achieved a 3.8 out of 4.0 Grade Point Average. I’d written two essays and won the Accepting the Challenge of Excellence award on the national level from the National Exchange Club. With that scholarship and some founder’s scholarships I earned by my ACT and GPA scores, I was accepted to Westminster College, my college of choice, due to start that fall.

But now it was graduation day. And all I wanted was that picture everyone gets to have at the end of the ceremony, smiling with their family and their diploma in hand, adorned in their cap and gown. My reward to myself for making it to the finish line despite every challenge set before me, a sunny picture of me and my son together with the piece of paper that said YOUR STATISTICS CAN SHOVE IT in my grasp.

My son to came to the ceremony with me; I had asked my friend if she would watch him. I begged my dad to come. He insisted he had more important things to do. I pleaded, I told him it was important to me. He reluctantly agreed. Thinking it would be better than to force my young friend to keep this toddler quiet during the ceremony, I asked my dad to sit with him instead. He did, or at least he said he did.

The ceremony ended and there were all the graduates with their families taking places on the lawn and getting out their cameras. I trekked up one hill and down the next, around the front and then around the back. I couldn’t see my son or my dad anywhere. I called to find out where he was so we could get that picture; He said he’d seen me cross the stage and then he left. I was devastated. I’d worked so hard for several years with this exact moment, this treasure, in mind. I trusted him, and he let me down. I should’ve known better. Just another daddy promise.

A short time after, his mother came to town for a visit. I was invited to dinner to meet this woman for the first time. She was cold and I didn’t like her. He was extra jolly, but maybe that was just another twenty-one ounce glass of straight whiskey taking hold. He bragged about his cooking skills, bragged about his more important kids and their piano lessons, and then put his arm around me.

“Guess what my daughter did? My daughter got into Westminster just like you, Ma. She gets those brains from her dad.”

Finally he claimed me, and it was nothing like I’d ever hoped or imagined. I hated it. I hated him. I hated all the things he’d ever promised and failed to produce, his daddy promises, and all the words he’d ever said, and his arm around me.

This was my accomplishment, and he was using it to pat himself on the back.

I was angry at him for a long time. But instead of being angry, I choose to be thankful; It helped make me who I am and realise how much I don’t need his acceptance…

I claim me. And because of this man, I claim the son of this slut that much more. I am there for every performance. I am there for every graduation. And I’ll take photos of every. damn. one.

At one point I thought his greatest gift to me was signing the papers to get me back into school, but now I think his greatest gift was showing me how not to be a parent person. I have wisdom and resolve and determination far beyond my years. And I don’t have to wonder where I got that, because for this, there is no question.

235