By Jose Garcia
When I was a kid, my mother was my hero. Without a father in my life, she was all I had. My mother left me with a nanny most nights after school. She’d come home, kiss me goodnight in my bed and go to sleep. But I wished she’d be home waiting for me after school, with arms wide open or me to jump in for a hug.
I noticed things — things other six-year-olds probably would not notice. I noticed that when she was home, there was a smell of smoke and beer, and another odd smell I didn’t recognize. I noticed she wouldn’t look me in the eye when she talked to me; she would tell me to go to my room more often than my friends’ parents; and she would move her mouth like she had something in it. I also noticed she wasn’t sleeping well and was looking more tired, anxious and angry.
One day, some police officers came to my school and started explaining the symptoms and names of certain drugs. Suddenly, I realized my mom was doing drugs. When they told us the consequences of using drugs and that they could kill, I started to cry. That same day, I went home, woke my mom up and started questioning her. Like a lot of addicts, she was in denial, but I didn’t understand that at the time. When she denied it, I believed her because I thought my lovely mother would never lie to me.
I let it go for weeks. But over time I’d pay attention when people would get caught in a lie, and I noticed how the person’s face, gestures, tone and speed of voice would change as they lied. I confronted my mother again, and suddenly noticed all those same signs that she was lying to me. I told her what I knew about the consequences of drugs, and confessed that I was worried that she might die and leave me.
She started to cry with me, but it was all for nothing. After that night, she still acted the same way. I confronted her a couple of times until I got tired and decided to run away — thinking it would make her want to change. Every time, she searched for me and found me.
A year later, my brother was born. My mother was hardly ever there, so I changed his diapers, fed him, bathed him, and taught him things. I was 7 years old and taking care of a newborn. I was deprived of my own childhood because I couldn’t play, think or act like a regular kid. I had to be dad to my little brother because no one else would. Running away wasn’t an option anymore because I couldn’t leave him alone. I had to be strong for him.
Years passed and we went from aunt to aunt, uncle to uncle and they couldn’t stand us. We would argue and they couldn’t take it. When the time came that my brother and I were old enough to know what we wanted to do, I made the decision to run away from home, but this time I brought my brother along. I decided I wanted to get into foster care because I felt like it was the only way out of the life we were living. I left my brother with an aunt I trusted and entered foster care alone. It took a lot out of me to leave my brother behind.
I didn’t know how it was going to be in foster care. I went in scared, worried, with low self-esteem, and feeling weak. After all those years of lies, arguments, beatings, put-downs, and disappointments, I decided to put up some walls – from now on I wouldn’t allow anyone to lie to me, beat me, or make me feel bad.
I started to act tough, which led to me getting in trouble. I started to smoke, get in fights, tag in restrooms, argue with adults, and skip classes. I realized I was heading toward the same life my mother was living — I felt like past was following me. I was letting her control me even though she was no longer around. I decided I would not let my mother, my once hero, manipulate me anymore.
I decided that I would begin to live the life I wanted to live. I wanted to be that person that looks good in others’ eyes; I wanted to be that person who is not afraid to speak out for what he believes; I wanted to be someone. I wanted to have a life.
So I made a list of life goals and wishes. They were: get in sports, build my self-esteem, find out what I’m good at and master it, make close friends, find that one special girl, finish high school and graduate from college. I also wanted a career that’d help me save money to buy a car, a house where my brother and I could live, rehab for my mother to quit drugs, and a house where my mother could live and expect to receive us with open arms.
No one can block me from what I want because I have set my mind to it — that’s my wish and no one will ever make it change. I am a kid who never gave up on his dream; a kid who was bullied and yelled at; a kid who stood up for his brother no matter how many times he got beat up. I am a kid who sticks to his word and will never lie to you, never bully you, never put you down, and never tell you that you can’t do it. I thank God for giving me strength and knowledge, the power to keep my word, and the chance to live and help people.
I have been abused in every way you can imagine, but that will never stop me from standing up for myself, for what’s right, and for the people I love. I won’t let abuse, mean words, sadness, weakness, or lack of confidence take me down. Instead, I will stand up and rise. I will make the people around me stand up for themselves and help make them better people than they think they can be.