I was holding his hand when he whispered to me, “I love you, Jason.” His body, yellow from jaundice, looked like a fragment of the man I once knew. This was my last memory with him. He breathed his last breath a few minutes later and life changed forever. That is the memory that defines my childhood. It quickly trumped the joyful ones of holidays and fishing trips. My idol, my innocence, and my naivety died that day.
Before he died he told me I was the man of the house now. I needed to take care of mom, who was chronically ill herself. My childhood was over at age 11. I needed to be an adult. I masked my inner fears and feelings because I thought any sign of vulnerability would be seen as weakness. I lost touch with who I was, chalking it up to just growing up under special circumstances.
2005 felt like a terrible rerun. Mom, my last pillar, slept in a hospital room full of beeping machines and rattled breathing—sounds that still haunt my ears. Her lungs filled with death. I was only 19, what the hell was I supposed to do? I was not prepared to live in a world where I had no parents left. I held her frail hand, her veins bulging as her body wasted away. She reminded me to let the dog out and then she joined dad. I was alone, really alone.
After my dad’s death, I still had tried to maintain a positive outlook on life. My friends loved the happy-go-lucky Jason. The fun guy, who was always there to make them laugh. I was seen as a teenager, who escaped a painful past and kept an optimistic view of the future. Mom’s death changed all of this. Hope died at that cold, rainy cemetery when we laid her next to dad.
My friends were off at college, having fun and created life-long memories. I, on the other hand, faced eviction, arrest, a nasty estate battle, and a few dead-end jobs. I was in a constant state of survival mode, life felt like an impossibly steep incline to an invisible summit. I felt broken and useless. Above all, I hurt.
I sat in a dark apartment with no electricity with an eviction notice on the door. I was barely scraping together enough money to eat. I was a high school honor roll student who seemed to flunk out at adulting. I could not turn to my siblings, they just viewed me as a disappointment. I felt hostage to the pain of my past and anxiety of the future. I was afraid asking for help would make me look like a vulnerable disappointment—proving my siblings right.