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Alone in This World
Rejected by my mother, I learned to stand on my own

One day when I was about 6, I was playing with my cousin Dahlia when she accidentally hit me in the head with a belt buckle, hard. I started bleeding, so another cousin hurried me downstairs to all of the adults. My mother, who was on the phone, looked over and saw that I had been hurt, but continued her conversation. She wasn’t aware of how I’d gotten hurt and didn’t seem to care.

Meanwhile, the other adults held my head under running water. I felt a sharp pain every time the water hit the deep wound. My grandmother, a trained nurse, was able to stop the bleeding and wrapped my head with bandages. When it was all over my mother—still on the phone—looked up and said, “Good for you.” Although the bandages stayed on for a few weeks, I quickly became invisible, as usual. No one asked me if I was OK or if it still hurt, but I was in pain—both physical and emotional.

‘You’re Stupid’

I spent my childhood feeling alone and unloved. My mother had me at 17, and I thought she hated me because she saw me as a mistake that ruined her life. The only real contact I had with her was when she vented her frustrations. “You’re stupid. You’re never going to amount to anything,” she’d tell me after she failed a test in her GED prep class. “I can’t stand to see your face,” she’d comment as I walked by.

By the time I was 6, I had learned to remain silent. I stayed out of her way, dealing with her only when absolutely necessary. Weeks could go by without me saying anything to her but, “Can you please sign this paper for school?”

My mother moved to the Bronx with her boyfriend when I was 9. She left me in Brooklyn to live at my grandmother’s house, where I had no official guardian. My grandmother worked a live-in job and was only home on the weekends. Although six of my aunts and four cousins also lived there, they followed my mother’s lead and treated me like an unwelcome stranger.

My mother visited every other weekend, but she didn’t help the situation. When I wasn’t in the room, she would tell my aunts and cousins things like, “She just doesn’t listen,” and, “All she wants to do is run the streets with men.” Young as I was, she was jealous of me. Without anyone to defend me, I remained an outsider in my own family.

I felt like I lived alone, even though the house was full of people. I learned to parent myself. I would buy my own dinner and eat alone in my room, then do my homework, study, and occasionally watch TV. Bedtime was a time that I had designated for myself. In the morning, I was responsible for waking and getting myself to school on time. There was no one there to say good morning or goodbye to.

Alone and Ashamed

When I ended elementary school, my mother moved me to the Bronx to live with her and her boyfriend so I could attend middle school there. Living there wasn’t much different from being at my grandmother’s house; I still felt completely alone. The only difference was that I had more responsibilities. I still had to buy my own food every day, but now I had to clean up after my mother and her boyfriend, too. Even though they never offered me any of the food they cooked, I was expected to wash their dishes.

Throughout middle school, my mother only came to school once, on registration day. She never picked up my report cards, so to find out my grades I had to ask each of my teachers what I had earned that semester. Every time a teacher asked me, “Will I be seeing your parent tonight for the parent-teacher meeting?” I was mortified. “No, my mother has to work,” I would say, although it wasn’t always true.

My last year of middle school was the worst, since there were tons of events that parents were supposed to attend. The day I was inducted into the National Honor Society, I walked across the stage to receive my award and realized that there was no one there to take a picture of me. The guest who was presenting the award held on to it, waiting for one of my family members to take a photo.

I was humiliated. All I could think about was how badly I wanted to disappear. When one of my teachers realized that no one was coming, she stood up and snapped a picture. I faked a smile as I walked off the stage.

My friend’s family must have felt sorry for me because they all started to take pictures, too, as I walked back to my seat with my award. It was supposed to be a proud moment in my life, but I was ashamed.

The On-Call Nanny

image by Daniela Ortiz

Despite all the things my mother had done to me, I always wanted to believe there was some good in her. So, when she told me later that year that she was pregnant, I wanted to be happy. I knew she had been too young and impatient to handle parenthood when I was born, but I hoped that this time might be different. I wanted her to be the mother that I never had to her new baby, but I had a very bad feeling about it.

My little sister was born that November and after the excitement of a new baby wore off, my sister became my responsibility. After school every day, I had to pick her up from the baby-sitter’s house. My mother’s husband, who usually got off of work soon after I got out of school, suddenly had to work late all the time. If he needed to pick my mother up from work, the hour drive back and forth became three hours.

So, most nights, I watched my sister until my mother got home at 9 p.m. If the baby was sick, I missed school to stay home with her. I had become the on-call nanny. For years, I had been invisible to my mother, and now she constantly called me. I didn’t like it at all. If it had been a matter of necessity I wouldn’t have minded so much, but even on my mother’s days off, I had to baby-sit.

Homework Interference

I grew very attached to my sister, but it was impossible to get anything done while baby-sitting. It would take me two hours just to get one assignment done, so I started waking up at 5 a.m. to finish my homework. By the middle of my sophomore year, my A’s were turning into B’s. I really wanted my sister’s childhood to have a little more joy than mine, but I wondered what good I would ever be to her if my life amounted to nothing. I wanted to be an example, and succeeding in life was the greatest thing I could do for her.

My breaking point came one day after months of non-stop nanny duty. I was baby-sitting while my mother was out getting her hair done. When her husband arrived home, I handed over the baby and went to my room to study for a chemistry test. Less than an hour later he was shouting for me to come get her. When I told him I needed to study, he angrily got on the phone and told my mother that I had refused to watch my sister.

“I can’t deal with you and your child,” he told my mother. “She doesn’t listen. What are you going to do with her?” I felt unloved and unwanted. I was a bad child because I was choosing my education above all things? I went back to my room and continued to study as I tried not to cry. When my mother came home, I expected her to yell at me, but she didn’t say anything.

‘Get Out of My House’

The next day when I got home, she told me I had to move out. She said I wasn’t welcome to stay with her or any of her relatives. I stood there in disbelief as she said it again. “Get out of my house,” she calmly repeated.

Her words didn’t come from anger. This was something she had thought about. It was what she had wanted for a long time and I had known the day was coming.

When I was younger, my mother would tell me how badly she wanted to give me away. She would even pack up everything I owned. She never did give me away or put me out on the streets, but this time was different. She had created a new life with her new husband and child. She was happy and didn’t need a scapegoat for her problems anymore. I had served my purpose.

As I packed my bags, she snatched my key chain out of my hands, took the house keys and threw my key chain back at me. I finished packing my things and walked toward the door. “Bye,” I said. She didn’t answer.

As the night grew darker, so did my fear. I was alone in this world. I always had been. But as I felt the pain of my three heavy bags cutting into my shoulders and the tears rushing to my eyes, loneliness seemed more real than ever. After I’d walked four long blocks, a knifelike pain made its way down my back. I stood there, right where I had stopped on the street, and started to cry. I wanted to give up.

All my life I had been waiting for someone to save me; in that moment, I realized that I would have to rescue myself. I didn’t have any other options; I had no one to call to pick me up. “The only person you have is yourself,” I repeated to myself. I stopped crying, picked up my bags, and continued walking toward the train station without looking back.

Breakfast With Dad

image by Daniela Ortiz

I found myself on the downtown side of the train platform, so to Brooklyn it was. I took a seat on one of the benches and looked at the view in front of me. The dark sky and the lights of the buildings and traffic seemed magical.

I realized that this might be for the best. My life couldn’t have gotten any worse than it had been, and this felt like a turning point for me. Maybe I could finally be free from my mother’s negativity, which had burdened and crippled me for so long.

I took out my cell phone and called my father. I had always known him—he visited several times a year—but we weren’t close. In the past, when things got really bad with my mother I would call and beg him to take me away from her.

One day when I was about 7, my mother told me she was going to give me away to a shelter. I called my dad and he said that he would come get me. I packed my bags, but he never came. I worried this time would be the same.

I asked him if could stay with him and he just gave me the directions without asking what had happened. When I arrived at his apartment, he helped me with my bags, showed me my room, and handed me a set of keys. After dinner at McDonald’s, he took off, leaving me to go back to the apartment on my own.

I was alone again, but this time I felt hopeful.

The next morning, my father made breakfast for me. I rarely ate breakfast and I had never had it made for me. It felt good but weird to be taken care of in this small way. He walked me to the bus stop and I awkwardly said, “Bye, Daddy.”

A New Chance

Now, it has been almost two years since I was kicked out of my mother’s house. In most ways, living with my father is like living with a roommate I never see. While my freedom has its perks, I sometimes wish I had a parent to guide me.

But my father continues to make me breakfast, and while some mornings I’m really not hungry, I refuse to say, “No thank you.” This one simple gesture makes a difference after years of being insulted and ignored.

Even though things may not be perfect, getting away from my mom has given me a new chance at life—one without someone constantly telling me that I am nothing. I used to hate my life and blame myself for my mother’s uncaring attitude. But today, I understand that I was and still am only a child. I didn’t have control over the things that happened to me.

Now that my mother is out of my life, my personality has changed. The girl who never smiled or played around now always has something silly to say.

Ready for the Future

I don’t think that I will ever forget the things that my mother has done to me, but I’d like to learn to forgive her eventually. I have not spoken to or seen her in a while, though I see my sister occasionally when her parents drop her off at my grandmother’s house.

As I get older, the reality that my mom will never be the kind of mother she should be is starting to sink in. I am also learning to forgive my father for not being there to help and protect me when I was younger. He is doing the best that he can now and that’s what counts.

Some days it feels as if my wound from the belt buckle never healed. While I can no longer see the scar, I feel it every time I comb my hair and it reminds me of my past. I can’t make it disappear, but I can live with it and learn from it. After all, the hardships of my past helped to mold me into who I am today, and they’ve prepared me for hardships in the future. After taking care of myself for so long, I know that I am ready to stand alone again if I need to.

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