Surviving My Childhood

Delta Winds cover 2011

Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College



Surviving My Childhood

Angelica Lopez

As far back as I can remember, I never quite had the perfect childhood of playing, laughing, riding bikes, and family road trips. Some of my vivid memories as a child are of red and blue police lights flashing in my eyes, but smoke and liquor are the most dominant images I can recall. When I was age seven, my father was murdered. His killers locked him in a shed at gunpoint and set fire to it. He burned to death in the fire. I hardly knew him before he was gone. He was like a stranger in my life.

My mother was always involved with the wrong crowd, including gang members, drug addicts, and alcoholics. Her boyfriends were either in prison or just released. It was common for me to notice a new bruise on my mother's arm before I could even understand how she got it. The boyfriends she had hit her and grabbed whatever objects they could to either swing or throw at her. At times I tried to help her by biting, hitting, scratching them, but I was so small that I easily got thrown against a wall or tossed to the floor. Then all I could do was cry and run to the neighbors for help. Whether the boyfriends were arrested or not, my mother always seemed to take them back. She was the type who put her boyfriends before others.

My whole childhood I raised myself, surviving on the Social Security benefits I got from my father's being deceased. The school supplies and materials I needed all came from monies I received from the government. I can't even remember the last time my mother bought me something with her own money. Without gas money, she wouldn't take me to school half the time, so I often walked at least an hour every day to get there and back. My mother often sent me to live with my grandma for weeks at a time while she partied. She would come home for a day, grab a bag full of clothes, and leave, with no word about when, if ever, she was coming back. I remember crying and shouting, "If you love me, you'll stay." I always got a hand shoving me back and a door slammed in my face.

My grandma was the only one to comfort me, telling me everything would be okay. She became my mother figure, the woman I looked up to for everything, and the woman who told me to "never give up." After everything I had been through, I started to hate my mother for whom she had become. It got to the point where I told everyone I didn't have a mother. My grandma always said, "Blood is blood, no matter what." Because of those words I allowed my mother the opportunity to change, which she never did until she got pregnant again when I was age twelve. As young as I was, I convinced her to keep the baby instead of having the abortion that she wanted to get. For a while she changed by not smoking, drinking, or partying. At that point, I thought to myself resentfully, "Why change now?" I wondered why couldn't she have changed for me when I needed her. However, I realized that her transformation was better late than never. She went back to college and got a certificate to become an administrator. Then, just when she seemed to be getting her life together, my baby sister's dad left my mother. Now, my mother was alone and had to raise a child on her own. She struggled a lot, juggling school and raising a baby, but I helped her as much as I could, quizzing her on upcoming tests, and babysitting frequently. Then she started changing for the worse, drinking in the mornings and constantly smoking cigarettes. She became depressed about being alone without a man in her life.

When I started high school, her regression to these terrible habits changed my attitude toward helping her. We became more distant with each other. Constantly, I threatened to leave her and to go live with my grandma. Her reply would be "You'll have to call the cops on me first before I let you leave." We couldn't have one civil conversation without arguing, no matter how hard I tried. I joined clubs and tried out for almost every sport just to avoid going home. During my senior year, she got another boyfriend, and I hated him. At three in the morning on a school night, I would hear them drunk and shouting. I tried to ignore them and stay out of the way, but her boyfriend always seemed to agitate me. He would say things like, "Hi, angel, hi," "You better talk to me soon," and "I'll tell you right now I'm not going anywhere!" But when I confronted him, my mother would always choose his side. Whenever they fought, he always ran back to his ex-wife, leaving me for mother to blame. She would zone out and cry. No matter how much I told her she deserved better, it just went in one ear and out the other.

Our last argument was the final straw. I heard the words "It's all your fault. You make him leave me and go back to her." Her voice got scratchy as she started to cry. My eyes got watery, and I felt terrible, as if my being there brought her misery. My 18th birthday was around the corner, and all I asked for was a simple dinner with my family, but she couldn't even provide that. I didn't receive a birthday card or greeting from her. After she left for work, I spent the entire day locked in my room, listening to her boyfriend and his family laughing and talking in our house. The next day I left, living with different friends for weeks at a time, not wanting to go back home. Then I officially moved out. I showed up, gathered all my belongings, and told her I was leaving. All she had to say was "Okay, and that's my pillow," and she grabbed it as I walked out. I moved back in with my grandma, and even though I was happier, I still hurt. My grandma understood my anger. "In time, things will change," she said. Once again my grandma became my role model, and anything she said I tried hard to believe. I always regretted leaving my sister behind. I never wanted her to live through the childhood I faced, but it was too late. My sister was convinced that my mother's boyfriend's family was her family, and we were simply nothing without them. In my book my mother ran out of second chances. I was done trying to fix things between us.

When I was age nineteen, my grandma passed away. I felt I lost the one person I had left in my life that I loved very much. I wanted to give up. I felt alone. Then I remembered that my grandma taught me to never give up. Everything I began to do I did for her. I was able to get my own place and a car, go to school, and juggle four jobs: daycare on weekdays, babysitting and house cleaning on weekends, and hostessing on holidays. My grandma always said, "Hard work pays off in the end," and it does. I don't like being pitied because the struggles I faced are what made me who I am today. Having my own responsibilities at a young age made me grow into a mature young woman. Despite the hatred I had toward my mother, I have forgiven her for everything she has put me through. Her neglect turned me into an independent and strong young woman. I don't want to live struggling like my mother has always done. I do what needs to be done to pursue a career because when the time comes and my sister wants to leave the chaos of my mother's home, she'll always be able to live with me, as she grows older.

Although my mother and I still don't get along, we talk occasionally. We don't share secrets or talk about our private lives, but we are civil now. She apologizes often for the trials she has put me through, but I say, "No, it's okay, because it allowed me to grow and learn from others' mistakes." I'm not an emotional person, so sharing my feelings is hard, but that's my mother, and no matter what she'll always be part of my life. My grandma always said, "Never rely on others to do things for you; instead do them yourself." I'll admit it's hard for me to trust people after the way I was treated by my mother, but in a strange way that's also good. I keep to myself a lot, which helps keep me focused on staying on the right path. My grandma was a strong, independent, hardworking, and amazing woman, and I hope to follow in her footsteps, building a successful, responsible life for myself. If and when I have children of my own, I will surely know whose path to follow-and, just as importantly, whose to avoid.