I grew up long before I was grown, I was forced to. My parents worked odd hours so my nana and papa took on a major parental role. My papa favored my brother and so my nana favored me. She had muscular dystrophy and I never knew her outside of her wheelchair and eventually hospital bed. While my papa took my brother shopping for new shoes or to his baseball games I stayed at home helping my nana with things she couldn’t do, watching the Reds on TV, reading, or doing cross-word puzzles. It was all I knew and I loved her so I didn’t mind. As I got older, she got worse, and more responsibility fell onto my plate. I helped lift her out of bed and into her wheelchair, I would push her around when we went out in public, I even helped her on and off the commode, and eventually on and off the bed pan. I have a cousin that’s the same age as I am and his mom, my aunt, would pick us up from school. That is until one day I told my mom that my aunt would always drink beer when driving us home. I was told she’s an alcoholic, I didn’t know what that meant, I just knew I had to start riding the bus. We would have family dinner every Sunday at my nana and papa’s, one Sunday my mom said we had to keep an eye on her purse the whole time. My older cousin was a drug addict and would steal money any chance he got, I didn’t know what that meant, I just knew I had a new responsibility.
Helping others was ingrained into my identity at a young age. So when I was eleven and my papa died of cancer and six months later I was twelve and my uncle died in a car accident I didn’t bat an eye when my own mother turned to me for help. I remember crying in private because I didn’t want her to know I was sad too, I had to be strong for her, she needed my help. To this day she still talks about how I was her rock through all of that, I didn’t know I had a choice, I wish I had. Shortly after their deaths my nana got breast cancer and wanted to die at home, my mom helped take care of her but when she wasn’t around that fell to me because my alcoholic aunt was no help. I was a freshman in high school, trying to navigate that new chapter was the least of my worries. When she died I was extremely sad but in the same breath it was a great deal of responsibility lifted off my shoulders. I wasn’t sure how to cope with those emotions, luckily I didn’t have to, my mom needed me. I took on the role I knew all too well, being her rock.
I started drinking at a young age, I was nearly expelled my eighth grade year for drinking vodka at a school function. That did not scare me straight and I did not slow down in high school. My brother is two years my senior so I spent a lot of my time around people older than me. I quickly learned the spots that would sell to minors and found people old enough to supply it for us. My group of friends used to text this homeless man and we would pick him up, take him somewhere to buy us the alcohol, and then drop him back off. We weren’t worried about our safety we were worried about getting drunk. I spent many nights locked in a room in a strangers house sleeping on the floor with my friends because we went wherever the party was. I had a lot of mornings not remembering how I got to where I was waking up. This wasn’t a problem, we were young and having fun. I started going out on a college campus when I was junior in high school. We would wander sketchy streets looking for the address we were given by a friend of a friend. We would drink whatever we were handed and we would drive after one too many, we were young and having fun.
I remember playing cops and robbers with the kids in my neighborhood, playing with rain water in a wheelbarrow under a neighbors deck and calling ourselves witches, that was our potion, we would ride our bikes to this girls house and swim in her pool, I had a trampoline in my backyard we would all jump on. But those memories are fleeting and not the forefront of my childhood. Instead I remember none of my peers being able to understand what I was going through when all of those deaths happened, no one knowing what it meant that my aunt was an alcoholic, and being embarrassed that my cousin was in and out of jail for drugs. I remember being there for others but no one being there for me. Instead of enjoying my time as a kid I learned what it felt like to be an adult. While it did give me a lot of good qualities it sure gave me a lot more trauma.