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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Anderson

No Photo Available-My Graduation

My father was not at my graduation. Many years later he apologized to me. He said he was too drunk and he did not want to ruin it for me. Someone said that my mother was there, but I did not see her. I did not look for her. I did not care. And honestly, I did not think that either one of them deserved to share in my success of the day anyway. I know it sounds bitter, but I was the one who got me off to school every day. I was the one who stayed in school when they left me by myself. They did not raise me, my sisters raised me, and then I raised me.

I would love to add a photo of me at my graduation, beaming with pride with my diploma. But I cannot because there are no photos of me during this time. School picture cost money. I did not have money, I did not have a camera, or film, or money to get it developed. There was no one who would have taken a picture anyway.

After graduation, I would love to say that I left home and did not look back. It was finally over, I was free. But, alas, that was never to be my story. I then experienced a very good example of what I am calling “little t trauma.” It is a mental, emotional, or spiritual wound. And this one I would carry with me for the entirety of my life so far. As you will see, the big T trauma of my father, I only carried for a short while. The little t trauma, that is the stuff the sticks to you. It gets into your head; it changes how you see yourself in the world.

Every summer I would go live with my sister in the Salt Lake City (SLC) area. I could get a job at a fast-food restaurant or convenience store and have money for the next school year. I deeply appreciate this sister for being willing to give me this opportunity every year. But this year was special, this year I was saving money to go to college. Nothing special, just a state junior college, but it was all the way across the state away from my family. I was excited.

I remember the day that I came home from SLC. Looked through the mail. “Hey mom, where are all my checks?” I was having my checks sent home from SLC. Her reply knocked the wind out of me. She casually replied, “I spent them.” “What do you mean you spent them? I would have had to sign them.” Apparently, she had just forged my name on them. My mind was swimming with the implications, but my next question was what came out of my mouth “What did you spend it on?” And as she replied, my heart dropped. “Oh, just stuff.”

I felt like I just watched all my hopes and dreams come crashing down, all those years I worked to get my High School Diploma, wasted. I would not be going to college. I was not going to get out of this hell-hole. My mom seeing the look on my face, said the absolute worst thing that she could have said to me, “You are a pretty girl. You do not need to go to college. Just find a man to marry. Remember, it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man, as a poor man.” And she smiled at me, and walked away.

This was the moment that I truly understood that my mother just did not care about me. I guess that I always knew it, on some level. She left me with the wound that I was so awful, so deeply flawed, that even my own mother could not love me.  It is a thought that I will return to over and over again throughout my life, in the depths of soul crushing depression. I wonder what I could have possibly done to be so unlovable. My mother was capable of love, she loved my brothers, and a few of my sisters. What was so wrong with me, that she could not love me.?  I could no longer fool myself into believing that she was just mentally messed up and could not take care of me, but deep down she really cared. She was actively sabotaging me. I was beyond hurt; I was beyond crying. I was absolutely defeated.

Later that day, as I was sitting alone, my dad walked up to me. He asked me to tell him what happened. I told him. He looked deeply saddened. He sighed, and the next words out of his mouth redeemed him to me for any wrong that he may have done in the past. He showed me true compassion. He said, “I understand how you feel. I am sorry that she did that to you. I can’t do much, but I will try to help you.” It was like a spark lit inside of me, Hope. Someone was going to try to help me, my dad was going to help me. He continued, “I don’t have any money, but I will write you a check. It will bounce, but you will already have the money to get you started. I will work it out later. Will $200 be enough do you think?”

It was not about the money. It was a fraction of what I had made. It was about hope. $200 was a whole lot of money to a street kid. I could go a long way on that. But the real gift was that my father cared. He made mistakes. He was sorry. He wanted to do something to make amends. I accept!! I accept your apology!! I was so full of gratitude that I could not see straight. I had an escape. I was going to college!!! 

But I must pause here to point out that my hope in this moment was due to this moment alone. Absolutely not, it was only due to those with charitable hearts, and honestly those “evil liberal handouts.” If I did not have free education, where would I be? If I did not have free school lunches, where would I be? If I did not have kind and caring teachers, paid for by the government, where would I be? If I did not have Bell Sanders, and all the other people in the community who cared, where would I be? If there was ever a poster child for all those “feel good, goodie-two-shoes” programs, I am it. If there was ever a great example of “it takes a village to raise a child,” I am it. If you want to end generational trauma, here it is. It is as simple as acts of kindness, of acts of love, of compassion, of giving, of going out of your way to see another person’s value, show someone that you care. If you really care about the children, you put real money into public schools, into quality teachers. You give teachers the pay they deserve. This is just a fact, they are doing two jobs, teacher, and social worker. They are picking up the slack of poor parenting, they are in the trenches every day with those kids, fighting for them. Help keep those kids “off the streets,” not by a war on drugs, but by making it so kids don’t have to turn to drugs as an escape. Act like they matter, be Jerry Patrick, be Bell Sanders. Give them hope that they can have a better life. Be my father in that moment. See my pain, and be willing to help. Give a spark of hope.

This is where my story about the endless trauma of living in poverty ends. From this point on in my life, my best friend, and eventually my husband and life-partner made sure that I never wanted for anything again. This is the point in the story in which Cinderella moves into the castle and lives happily ever after. Unfortunately, fairy tails are not real, and no one ever lives happily ever after. Embattled, each one of us left with scars from old wounds, generations of trauma are carried in our hearts, in our minds, in our souls, and in our bodies. Physical illness, mental health issues, heartbreak and pain is just part of the human condition. The first Noble Truth, life is suffering.

Unfortunately, my story is not unique, thousands of children in this country, in the good old USA are right now living out this same story, with different characters. The statistics are there, we know this. Every day children go to bed hungry, abused and neglected, and that is just a fact. In this country, every day children are beaten, humiliated, neglected almost to death. Not to mention the millions of children worldwide are living my story, and much worse. Slavery, child trafficking, sex trafficking, war, starvation, abuse…the list goes on and on. But even in our own wealthy country, we have generation after generation of poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, social rejection, and lack of hope. You can find it on our farms and ranches and in the mid-west. You find it in the native reservations, all over this country. You can find it in the homeless, the city streets and ghettos on the coasts, You can find it in the “mountain folk” of the Appalachian mountain states, and “bog people” in the swaps of Louseana, it is all the same, and endless fight for survival. Kids fighting for survival, families fighting for survival, entire communities fighting to stay alive. And little children who could fly, if they just got a little bit of help, and a little bit of hope.

And my story goes on…

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Nov 14, 2023

Your writing keeps getting better. Your honesty... heartbreaking


Generational Trauma

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