Defining Myself

Defining Myself

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

Defining Myself

Without a struggle, there can be no progress.

~Fredrick Douglass

My dad died when I was four. My brother was two and my sister only one. Soon after, our family grew to five children, as I found myself with a half-sister and then a half-brother. We lived in the poorest part of the city; the projects were only a block away.

My mother, a widow in her twenties with five kids, couldn’t handle it. She became an alcoholic and a drug user. Her expensive drug habit caused her to use all the money she could get her hands on for drugs. Although we were on welfare, she didn’t use the money for the food we needed. Instead, she used the money to help support her drug habit. Her routine became a normal occurrence: she sent each one of us kids to the store with a food stamp. We’d buy something for a quarter or less, then give the change to her. We soon began to rely on the food given out by homeless shelters in order to eat. We would receive a bag and walk through a line as donated food, such as TV dinners or canned green beans, was dropped in our bags.

Not only were we deprived of a proper diet, but our poverty prevented us from experiencing the normal joys that kids look forward to, such as Christmas. Although we swallowed our pride when we had no choice but to seek food donations, it was hardest during the holidays. Each winter, our thin, hand-me-down clothing and holed shoes forced us to accept free clothes and a voucher for new shoes at the local church, which we then exchanged as Christmas gifts. Knowing that our clothes came from this organization made it impossible to believe in Santa, tainting our holiday spirit.

Soon, my mom began disappearing for days at a time. In a way, it was better when she wasn’t around because we didn’t have to live in fear of her mental and physical abuse, like the beatings and heartless name-callings. One night, after my mom threw a lamp at me, nailing me on the side of the head, and a plastic vase at my sister, hitting her in the eye, I made the toughest decision that I ever had to make. I called Child Protective Services, while my sisters cried beside me, begging me not to. Although my mom had been reported before for abuse and neglect, we had always been prepared, cleaning the house beforehand and lying about our situation. Since I was a good student and none of us were troublemakers, we were convincing. We made everyone believe that we had a great life. But while we could lie to everyone else, we could no longer lie to ourselves.

We were put into foster care. My sister and I were placed with an elderly couple in the country, my brother stayed in the city with another family, and my half-sister and half-brother went to live with their dads. We were permitted to visit with my mom once a week, that is if she showed up. When she did come to see us, which averaged about once every two months, she promised us that she was getting an apartment so that we could live together once again.

It’s been four years now since I made that call. No one has heard from my mom in over two and a half years. We don’t even know if she’s dead or alive. Although my brother walked down the wrong path for a while having stolen a car, he was released from detention center early for good behavior and vows to turn his life around. My sister has been adopted by a family who lives in a nice neighborhood. She’s on a swim team and finally getting good grades. My half-sister still lives with her father. Her dad remarried a wonderful woman who treats her like her own daughter. Unfortunately, we lost contact with our little half-brother, and we haven’t had any luck finding him. He’ll be turning six soon.

And me? I’d like to say that I’m doing pretty well. I just turned sixteen, and I have finally found stability in my life, which has helped me excel and succeed in many areas. I’ve been on the honor roll for five years, and I’m involved in way too many school activities. I’m even in a volunteer group that promotes the fight against drugs and alcohol. I’m a good advocate of the anti-drug campaign because I know from firsthand experience what happens when drugs run your life: they ruin not only your own life, but the lives of those around you. I tell my story and amaze people with my positive attitude, despite all that I’ve been through. My adoptive mom says, “You’ve definitely made some sweet lemonade out of all the sour lemons you’ve been handed.”

What I went through, all my hardships and pain, they’re part of who I am. I’ll always feel like I’m different, and I’ll always have to fight the feelings that I wasn’t good enough, not even for my own mom. But I’m not going to let those feelings define me. I will only let them make me stronger. And I know that I’m going to be somebody. Actually, I already am.

~Morgan Mullens-Landis

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