At a very young age, it was obvious to me that I was different from other children. Girls came to school in pretty dresses with ribbons in their hair. I came to school in the same two outfits my mom made for me on the sewing machine. My looks made me feel uncomfortable because I wanted to be like the other boys and girls. Conversely, in high school, I did everything I could to be different from my peers. At the age of 52, I’m somewhere in between.
My father was bipolar and alcoholic. In my memoir, Bullets: Growing Up In The Crossfire, I describe the effects of being raised with domestic violence in the home. As a result of my father’s condition, we lived in poverty. There have only been a handful of times in my life where I was not scraping pennies to pay for bills or food.
To this day, I still shy away from the truth that I may always struggle to make my monthly bills. There is hope but I know breaking out takes constant perseverance along with some luck.
Because of the violence in my home along with lack of parental involvement, I dropped out of high school at age 15. My full-time job in retail sales became my classroom. Without a diploma, my job options were slim so I was again surviving at the poverty level.
Later in life when I knew I was going to have children of my own, I passed the GED and went to college for a teaching certificate. Disaster struck again when I was faced with difficulty in my own marriage and was back on my own again with limited income and two children to care for.
For nine years, I wore the same few outfits, ate plenty of meals which included rice or any other affordable staple. All the while, watching the world, my life and opportunities pass me by. Now my children were also living with only the basics. I wanted to give them so much more than I had but we were in survival mode.
By working four jobs, I was able to raise my income to a level where I could qualify for loans to send my children to college. This decision is one I tell people I would make over and over again. Because my monthly budget is still stressed, I will be paying these loans, literally, for the rest of my life.
My full-time job, my part-time job, my freelance jobs and my publishing efforts pay for what I need. Being in a domestic partnership allows me to live in a nice home in a nice neighborhood. My only possessions, however, include a four-year old MacBook Air and a Fitbit. I have no savings, no investments and plenty of debt.
Breaking free from poverty is one of the hardest cycles to break. This message, while seemingly gloomy is meant to be motivational. I never saw any royalties for profit from publishing Bullets but I was able to visit schools and talk with students about surviving domestic violence. I have learned breaking free in actuality means more about rising above your limits rather than winning the lottery.
As a child who should have had no chance to make it in the world, I have plenty to sing about. I have published four books, I have held a variety of jobs in public service that help other children in need, my children both have college degrees and also make valuable contributions to society. I am in a loving relationship and have access to healthcare.
I’m human so I get jealous of what others have at times. I would like to dress in pretty clothes and travel the world. There is something, however, to be said for satisfaction in trying. In creating hope for others, I create hope for myself. If we make getting a piece of the pie more about creating our own dreams rather than trying to live the dreams of others, we can step out and break free from the labels that have been handed down to us.