My first memories are of living in Philadelphia with my sister, mother and a man, who for a few years, acted as my father. As far as I knew, I was happy. The worst thing that could happen on any given day, was my mother punishing me for having bad handwriting by making me write, “I will write neat,” repeatedly. When my mother sent my sister and me to California to visit our biological father for the summer, I had no idea a summer could last 10 years.
Ten years I spent with my father and stepmother, moving from place to place. I honestly believe my father loved me, but my stepmother took pleasure in breaking my spirit on a daily basis. When a child hears things like, “you have no common sense,” “Do you think you are normal?” or “Do you think you are masculine?” everyday, it makes them feel worthless and that’s how I felt.
I grew up thinking I mattered to no one. I was a burden that people just endured and that I was pretty much a slave. I had so many chores as I child, I honestly felt like Cinderella, living with a woman who hates me and the memory of my birth mother. I remember things like, “I don’t like people who talk more than me, and you talk more than me,” when I was 7 years old. I remembered feeling displaced, people would ask her about her son and she would quickly correct them, “Oh, he’s not mine. He’s from my husbands previous marriage.”
I remember being left alone in an empty house when I was 8, with nothing but bleach, ammonia and comet and being told to clean. After a few hours I remember feeling sick from all the fumes. I remember around the age of 12, I got teased in school for being gay. “Gay,” I didn’t even know what “gay” was. But, I was pushed, shoved and mocked everyday. I hated being at school and I hated being at home. I would walk to school instead of taking the bus because I was teased so much. It took over an hour both ways, but I couldn’t bare being trapped in a space like that with those kids. Because I didn’t take the bus, it gave me less time to do my chores. I would get yelled at and punished, but I was still too afraid to tell my parents about the kids at school for fear they would punish me for allowing myself to be bullied.
I remember being forced to play sports. I didn’t hate sports, I just hated when my dad was involved. If I did something wrong I would get yelled at and called stupid, or a punk. If when my dad threw a football to me, I dropped it, he would continue to throw it harder and harder, aiming for my chest. I was 8 years old and it hurt and I hated it, because he was so mean and he wouldn’t let me stop playing. He would often compare me to my sister, who was 2 and a half years older than me and laugh about how she threw the ball better than I did.
I remember being in the second grade and finishing a homework assignment. I answered all the questions correctly, except for one. The critical thinking question. I didn’t understand it, so I asked my father for help. He talked me through the problem, but I still didn’t understand, so he resorted to beating me with a belt and asking the question again. When I still got the answer wrong, he would beat me again. This process continued for some time. He then sent me to the living room and asked my sister to answer the question. She was 3 grades ahead of me in school, so she of course got the answer right. He brought me back in and said, “How come your sister can get it right and you can’t?” And the beatings continued. Between beatings and crying, I was sent to the living room to think over my stupidity. My sister came to me and told me the correct answer, she told me not to get it right immediately or my father would realize she had given me the answer. I did as she said and it ended.
After this, I hated asking for help for fear that it would turn into another beating. I was 7 years old. I hated asking for anything. But, my parents checked my homework every night, so that could not be avoided. I remember being in 4th grade and my dad reviewing words for my spelling test with me. I studied very hard, but every time I spelled a word, my dad would say I was wrong. It lasted for hours. He would send me away and call me back and tell me I was wrong. I would get extremely nervous in these situations, nervous that it would turn into a beating. Finally, a family member who happened to be there at the time pulled me to the side and told me my father would continue to say I was spelling the words wrong, until I sounded more confident. It was not that I was spelling the words wrong, but that I didn’t sound confident enough. As a child I was riddled with fear and anxiety. I never knew what my father was actually aiming at in any given situation, so I was afraid to speak. Afraid that I was missing something or not understanding and that I would get slapped upside the head for it.
I remember getting slapped across the head so hard, all i could hear was ringing in my left ear and my vision was blurred for a moment and when my vision cleared, I could see my dad talking to me, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying because the ringing was so loud. But, I knew if I didn’t answer him, I was going to get hit again. Situations like these made me terrified of everything. If someone called my name, my stomach would ball up in knots and even if the question was something simple like, “did you have cereal for breakfast?” I would get so nervous thinking, “Why are they asking me this? Is this rhetorical? How do I say yes, while still sounding confident, but not sounding like I have an attitude? What did I do wrong?” Everyday. I didn’t get hit everyday, but when parents start using physical force on a child that barely knows them, when he is 6 years old and taken away from his mother…. this is what happens.