Surviving has been something I have done my entire life. Like most people. I am not unique in this quest. The quest for happiness and well being. The search and desire for a happy family, healthy children. The continued fight for good health and a strong body. Regardless of what our goals we all want to survive. The level of survival is key to me, particularly at this point in my life.
At 15 our family home caught fire. My parents and my sister and I were out of town. The furnace ignited and eventually blew up. The entire inside of the house was in flames, only the outside shell was left. We lost all of our possessions except for the close we had with us, and saddest of all, we lost the family dog.
My father was a proud man. He dropped out of high school to work to help the family with finances. He left West Virginia to move to Washington, DC. Living with his sister she noticed things that gave her some concern. After a trip to the doctor, he was diagnosed with Diabetes. To my father, this was a death sentence. We know a lot more now about diabetes than we did then.
Dad didn’t care much about eating right and exercise because to him, he was never going to survive.
He was quoted as saying he would never marry and never have kids because he wouldn’t live long enough to see his children grown and happy. He went on to marry my Mom (she must have been irresistible) and have two daughters and see two of his three grandchildren be born. Dad was a survivor no matter how hard he insisted the end was near.
When the fire happened, I heard Dad say, “Everything we have worked for, scraped for, and built is gone. Why bother trying”. And that was it. The drinking got worse and necessary for him to get through the day. These days we would call it depression. Back then, well, we just didn’t talk about it. He wasn’t a mean drunk, he was a sad drunk. If you wanted to see dad you had to go into the family room and sit with him. Sometimes there were conversations. If there was a Redskin football game on he was happier.
I sat with Dad a lot. I didn’t care for the drinking but when he drank he would talk more, tell more stories, and tell me how proud of me he was. Dad was a music lover. We would sit and listen to all kinds of music and sing together. He had an amazing voice. He sounded like Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash. I loved hearing him sing and singing with him. I learned a lot about surviving from him.
Mom was a survivor from the birth
Mom was the definition of poor growing up. Raised on top of a mountain in Sinks Grove, WVA she worked the farm from the day could walk. When my Mom talks about her childhood, huge pieces are missing from her memory. She admits she blocked it out and doesn’t care to remember what has been forgotten. She has very few good memories of the ones she has retained.
When my Mom told stories of how hard it was back in her day, we believed her. She walked half a mile to the bus stop, such as it was, rode four miles on the bus until they reached the Trellace bridge. All the kids got off the bus and the bus went across with just the driver. This was in case the bridge collapsed or the bus slide off due to snow or ice. He the bus made it across the kids followed on foot. Loaded the bus and went the next 15 miles on the bus, no heat, no air condition.
Christmas they got an orange in their stocking if it had been a good year. Nothing else, just an orange. She got new shoes twice a year. New to her, normally hand me downs from the neighboring farms. Her Mom, my grandmother, made her clothes from potato sacks. If you know the song my Dolly Pardon, Coat of Many Colors, this was Mom’s life. She still tears up when she hears or I sing it.
Mom is an amazing human.
Her life has been hard. Leaving home at 17, she moved to move to DC. She worked three jobs and sent money home to her Mom and Dad, taught herself to type and got a civilian position for a military order and retired with honors from there. Surviving both of my fathers with grace and strength. Mom walks 6 miles a day (over 12,000 steps), goes to the gym three days a week and practices yoga twice a week. Survive? Mom personifies the definition of the word.
She knows that I have written biographies for people and we were talking one day and I said I’d like to write her biography. Mom said yes as long as she didn’t have to go on television and talk about it. That is the kind of faith Mom has in me. She is my hero
I come from a long line of survivors. To survive to me means a lot of things. On both sides of my family, I could tell long stories of the strength and endurance and determination that my family had and has to survive. My sister and have taken all we could and incorporated into our lives. Neither of us has had easy lives but we know where we are from and never forget those lessons.
I survive because I do not know any other way
Honestly, I can’t explain it. Mostly I am afraid of disappointing my ancestors. My life hasn’t been easy but compared to others I shouldn’t complain. I have happy times growing up even with the struggles with money we had. Reading Kayla Lords I related to so much of what she said about her childhood and how they had to handle their finances. Mom made sure we never felt like we were missing out. We never had Jordache jeans (dating myself) or name brand things, but we had things and clothes. Christmas was always overdone. We definitely got more than an orange in our stockings.
When you have strong role models it makes it hard to be a slacker. I allow myself a day or two of self-pity but then I get on to the surviving part. It isn’t easy and it rarely feels like surviving but that is what I am told I do. I look back at some of the things that have startled me, become obstacles, or flat out crippled me and even I am surprised that I have come through on the other side.
Of all things, and there were many, my daughter’s addiction has been the most difficult.
There is something so raw about realizing you can’t help the ones closest to you but when you can’t help your children, it is the worst feeling ever. I wasn’t sure I would survive, but I was determined that she would. Much like my Mom, there are things I don’t remember about that time. The things I do remember are difficult enough. We struggled for 8 months after she told me about it to get her clean and keep her clean. Her life was turned upside down and five years later she is just now climbing back up.
Of all the things I have survived, I am most proud that she and I and our relationship survived. I never doubted that we would. Not true, there were times I wasn’t sure but I always had hope. I look at her now, full of life, smiling, laughing, and enjoying her life. This kid of mine, she died three times. I wish I could say I was there to see her through it, to save her. I wasn’t though. She was with people but they weren’t friends or family, she wasn’t with me. That is one realization I am not sure I will ever survive.
I look at this beautiful girl that I gave birth to, my best friend, my proudest accomplishment, and my heart swells. Thirty years younger than me she has taught me so much about how to survive. She kicked heroin’s ass. Knocked down and sometimes knocked out but she got up, literally rose from the dead, and stands strong. Admitting her choices were stupid and naive, denying all the excuses that were available to her, owning her part in the hell she has lived through, she survived.
This kid is the best person I know. She has taught me more than most what it means to survive!