I’m not a dumb guy. When people see East Texas, the school I went to, my country bumpkin accent – they all assume one thing; I’m wearing these fatigues because I’m either too dumb or too poor to do anything else with myself. But, see, I’ve dealt with the hate from these nameless, faceless fools my entire life. And only I know the truth, I’m here for something much bigger.
I’ll admit it, I never had nice things, but that’s not because I didn’t come from a good home – which is what everyone always assumes. I’m the youngest of four and just a few years after I was born, my dad was killed in car accident. You see, my parents, they had a plan. They wanted to live the American Dream. They already had in some ways. At his passing, my daddy was working at the local mining plant. But he wasn’t doing any digging. He wore tie and jacket everyday to work. I’ve heard a million stories about his plans/schemes to move up the company ladder. This way my mom could be home with the four of us. Give us the childhood we deserve, mom would lazily say this years later after a few glasses of box wine.
Daddy’s death – I don’t know why I even call him that, I never did when he was alive. Maybe I’m just taking after my brother and sisters; they had a few more years with him. – took a toll on my family. While dad was doing well at the mine, he was still young and hadn’t saved a nickel. Everything we had at that time was the house they purchased when they found out they were having a fourth kid (me!). And my mom, well, she’ll tell you this too, she was bred to be a mom. She finished high school, but married my daddy within a year and had never worked a day outside of the house in her life.
We don’t give mom any flack for her emotions during that period, but from the stories I’ve been told, it was a tough time to live in that household. My oldest sister Sally vividly remembers hearing mom curse and scream that this is not how her life was supposed to work out. She was supposed to have babies, have supper on the table at 6, clean up the dishes. That, it seems at the time, was the life that she really, truly wanted. But, that wasn’t possible anymore.
After a few weeks of feeling sorry for herself, mom stood up and said enough is enough. I have 4 kids to raise and it’s time I figure out how to do it. From what I remember from over-hearing stories throughout the years (I didn’t have a ton of friends growing up, so hanging near the adults and just listening was kinda my thing) my parents hadn’t paid enough down on the house to make selling it worth it. As kids we viewed it as lucky. We didn’t have to move! But, I don’t think one of us thought about the impact on mom. Thinking back as an adult, there is no way any flimsy life insurance policy through the mine would have gotten a family of 5 very far. Plus, she had never had a job before.
Thankfully, we were a pretty well liked family in our community with some strong sympathy points on top. So, it didn’t take long before mom found a bookkeeping job in town. The family that owns the business understood the situation and even added in additional training time, all paid, so that we didn’t have to go without. She loved that job. She’d still be there if the rheumatoid arthritis hadn’t practically mangled her dominant hand.
So, things were tight growing up. I was always in my brother’s hand-me-downs, which he had already done a number on. Holes, indescribable stains, plus he has always been about 20 pounds heavier than me. Even to this day, we are the same height but he still has that 20 pounds. I would have killed for those pounds in high school. At least then I’d be wearing his disgusting clothes, but they might fit and not drag the ground or require a belt hanging to my knees. I don’t know if it would have changed anything, but I feel like life would have just been easier in different clothes. Maybe making friends would have been easier? Maybe I wouldn’t have been seen as the messed up kid from the wrong side of the tracks?
Thankfully, and I don’t know why this is given the horrific things you read and see in the news, I wasn’t overtly bullied growing up. Sometimes it felt like it; but nothing physical or anything like that. I dealt more with grimaces, glances like you know the person is talking about you, that kind of thing. Honestly, it wasn’t that hard to ignore. I just delved into my books and planned my life.
Even though my parents didn’t have the opportunity to fulfill their lives the way they would talk on lazy Sunday mornings, something about an idea or plan stuck with me all through my life. I want my own life plan. I want to have a future, a direction. This is the part that I show you that I am not stupid – no matter what those lookie-loos might say. Through the tight schedules, 4 kids, busy job, no money – I was lucky and my mom realized I was smart at a young age. Her confidence in me, and the millions of times she helped me with flashcards, going to bat with a teacher for an answer they disagreed on, are a huge part of my story. You wouldn’t be reading this if not for that woman.
Unfortunately, none of my siblings had the opportunity to go to college. The money wasn’t there. None were extremely gifted in sports or music, so there weren’t any scholarships heading their way. Selfishly, this infuriated me. As a teenager I didn’t care if my brother and sisters went to college, but, dammit, I wanted to go. I had worked hard my entire schooling career. Always taking the most challenging courses and maintaining good grades. How is it even possible to live in a world where most of the people that go to college go simply because it is expected of them? “Finish high school go directly to college” in robot speak. It’s a predestined path for so many in this country, just based on money.
Now, we all had times as teenagers that we’re not proud of. I had more than a few myself. And typically a smart person would leave this out, you know, in order to shine the best light on oneself. But, in this instance, that would be doing you a disservice – because it’s such a big part of my story.
I remember it had been a long day, a school day for sure. I was in my room and the house was eerily quiet – I remember because I could just barely hear the hum of the living room tv from my bedroom. If even one other sibling is home, you just can’t hear that tv on whatever baby volume momma likes to use. I was sitting at my desk in the room I shared with my brother and just started going down the rabbit hole. What’s the point of studying AP History if I’m not going to college? Why am I not going to college? Because my stupid mom can’t get anything right. I was in a full on ugly, teenage boy rage.
I grabbed the heavy history textbook and stormed down the stairs. The thought did cross my mind to throw the book right in mom’s face, but I stopped myself from that and instead through it into the wall. You can still see a dent all these years later. Mom just let me scream and scream and scream. She didn’t flinch when I said something about her or dad dying or anything. For a moment, this upset me even more but finally I just gave up and sat down on the rocking chair across from the sofa.
She started quietly, but thoughtfully,“that was quite a show, but very on point. I think I’ve found a way to get you into college”. That is the night that I learned about the G.I. Bill and changed my life. I finally had the beginning pictures of my American Dream.
After high school, I entered the Army. Once the decision was finalized and the paper’s signed, I was a different person. I stood taller and had more confidence. I kept my laser focus during my time in the service, but knew this was not my ultimate life path. But, now I’m living my happy American Dream life. I moved back home after discharge and opened my own store. I get to spend time with my mom regularly and no one looks at me like I’m from the wrong side of the tracks anymore. Plus, I got to sit on top of a helicopter! What’s cooler than that?