My Way Here

My Way Here

by JaMeisha Morgan 

Growing up in Flint, Michigan, contrary to popular belief, was really good for me. It was my mom, me, and my siblings, and we were living a happy and comfortable life surrounded by extended family. All that changed when I turned seven years old. My mom started dating a guy she knew from high school. In the beginning of their relationship everything was fine. He was nice to us, even bought us snacks after my mom would tell him not to. Then completely out of the blue, my mom marries him. None of us even knew she was even engaged. After the wedding that no one knew about my mom hits everyone with another bombshell—we were moving to Ohio.

”What!?” was all I could get out of my mouth.

In less than a week we packed up everything and started our journey to the city of Columbus. When we got to Ohio, however, there was just one big problem–we didn’t have anywhere to go. I can’t even begin to explain how traumatizing it was to stay in shelters. Every night we were in a different place. Some shelters had no beds so we would sleep on the floor. There were even times the seven of us had to sleep in one bed. During the day, I would go to school, but nobody knew that when I woke up I didn’t know where I would be sleeping or if I was going to get a hot meal that night. My family stayed in shelters for a whole year before my mom finally found us a small two- bedroom apartment.

From the time we moved from Flint to the age of fifteen, my life was filled with physical, mental, and verbal abuse from by mother’s husband. My siblings and I weren’t allowed any freedom. We could only eat when he told us to. We weren’t allowed to hang out with friends outside of school. I can remember multiple times when I would go to school so sad but I would never tell anyone why. The hard part was that my mother allowed this. Throughout my childhood she never bought us new clothes or shoes. She would say it was because she didn’t have the money, but as I got older I figured out that it was because her husband would take the money and spend it on himself. And she didn’t stop him.

When I tell people about the kinds of abuse I had coming up most of them think I’m lying, but it’s true. My mother’s husband would hit us for anything. If someone left the TV on at night we got hit. If you ate food without him telling you that you could eat, you got hit. He threatened my life on plenty occasions. He’s pointed a loaded gun at my head and told me he would shoot me. He’s tried to stab me. There were even times when we would fist fight. He would tell my mother that none of her kids would ever amount to anything. He would call me and my siblings horrible names–names that you shouldn’t call anyone, but especially not a child. He would come in the room and say stuff like, “your mothers a hoe and you gone be just like her.” He would tell me I was stupid and I should just stop going to school because I couldn’t learn. He made it clear that we were not his children and that he didn’t like us. The hardest part was my mother never came to my rescue. She sat there on the sideline and watched everything happen.

My stepfather kicked me out of the house at fifteen. Life after that was hard. For a while I just bounced around from one friend’s house to another. After a year I found a family that was willing to take me in. I didn’t really know them all that well, which sounds crazy, but when you’re homeless you don’t turn down a place to sleep and eat. I stayed with this family for about a year. I’m not going to say that while living with them everything was good. There were days when I wouldn’t eat anything except the lunch I got at school because there was no food in their house. After a year the family got evicted and I was back to being homeless.

Luckily after a few weeks I ended up moving in with a cousin. My living situation there was the best one I had had in years. Everyone welcomed me with open arms and cared about my feelings. Having that kind of love and compassion was something new, and at first, it scared the crap out of me. I was expecting them to turn on me any second. Things changed even more dramatically a few months later. After opening up to a friend at school about my situation, she told her grandmother, who was a social worker, about me. My friend’s grandmother took me to the Huckleberry House in Columbus, a homeless shelter for teens, and little did I know my life was about to change even more for the better. At the shelter, I received counseling for the first time and I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder. My counselor told me about a program they had for homeless teens that would allow me to move into an apartment they paid for, and all I really had to do was go to school. I applied and was accepted.

School has always good for me. From the third-grade year on my teachers placed me in gifted and talented programs and I loved them. My stepfather couldn’t hurt me in school. School is where I always felt I was doing something right. I didn’t get in trouble for asking questions or wanting to speak up. My teachers were always nice to me. I always suspected they had an idea that my home life wasn’t the best and they didn’t want it to hold me back. School became the one thing I had to look forward to. As I got further along and my teachers constantly told me that I was special, I knew that school was my way out.

At Briggs High School I joined Upward Bound, a program that allows economically disadvantaged students the chance to be in a college environment. While in this program I was taken to see many colleges in Ohio, and I received tutoring on Saturdays at the Ohio State University. Joining those programs showed me all the things I could do in college. I could reinvent myself. No one had to know about my past situations and struggles. My senior year of high school I began filling out college applications and, because I received free lunch, some of my application fees were waivered, and the Huckleberry House helped me with other fees. Despite our past difficulties, I applied to the University of Iowa as a way to pay homage to my mother, and they were the first to send me an acceptance letter. I felt I was supposed to come here. Growing up, one of the rare times I bonded with my mother was when she told me that she wanted to attend the University of Iowa but became pregnant with my older sister before the fall semester started. Getting here was hard but the Huckleberry House paid for my transportation and gave me additional money for clothing, bedding, and food. I started classes in the fall of 2013. It hasn’t been easy.

 

I got here but I’m still there. The hardest part about dealing with my past has been forgiving my mother. How do you forgive someone that was supposed to cherish you, nurture you, put you first, and love you unconditionally, but instead they did the complete opposite? There is no simple answer to this question. Going through something traumatic and hearing about something traumatic are very different. My past constantly haunts me.  Somedays It feels like there’s this dark raining cloud following me, and no matter what I do the cloud doesn’t move. People have told me that I should just get over these things and move on, but what is moving on? Pretending that what I’ve been through never happened? Forgiving every one and riding off into the sunset? It took me a long time to figure out that I don’t have to do either. Some people say if you don’t forgive you can’t move on but I don’t believe that. Moving on is knowing I’ve done nothing wrong. Telling my story is moving on.

Now the only person I’m going to forgive is myself.  Healing means allowing myself to make mistakes in life. For so long I felt like I had to be perfect. Now I know that there’s no such thing. I have no clue what the future holds for me, whether that be in school or in life. All I know is that I am going to do everything in my power to continue pushing forward. There’s no right way to heal, and the more I remind myself of this the easier it is for me to live. “Live” as in being present and aware every moment. “Aware” as in taking in the smells, sights, and sensations. My new life here.

 

JaMeisha Morgan is an undergraduate student at the University of Iowa majoring in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. She enjoys reading and writing about intersectional topics such as race, class, gender, and mental health. JaMeisha hopes to get involved soon in social activism in her community and to carry this activism with her on to graduate school.