The streets were dirty, and we had nothing except the clothes on our back. I had three of my siblings with me, the other being with my grandmother since birth and at that time, there was nothing I could have done to stop what happened from happening. I couldn’t pay the bills; I was only 10. I was already doing my best to make sure that they were fed, to make sure they were going to school even when I could not because I was taking care of my baby brother, to make sure that they had clean clothes on their back and offer as much help as I could. But I could not control the response of bills being unpaid by a mother who was never home. I could not drive her away from her addictions and hedonistic lifestyle. I could not fix all the things I had continuously blamed myself for. When we were evicted, everything was tossed out. There was no care that they saw children's clothes or shoes. We had absolutely nothing except for what I could salvage, and I remember heading to the neighbors to pick up my baby brother after that.
We were sleeping on the streets with nowhere to go. My mother not there the first night until she found us on a bench in downtown Tampa after a friend of hers spotted us. One thing led to another and after around a week, we were in the system. I felt like I had nothing at that point. I was separated from my siblings, had a parent who hardly showed up for visiting days, and when we finally got out and moved in with my grandma, I struggled with trying to learn who I was outside of taking care of my siblings.
No one teaches you how to move on from experiences like those. No one teaches you how to get up on your feet every day and continue with life when you feel lost and are struggling. Although I was back with them, the fact that my grandmother was now taking care of us and providing for us was something I couldn't wrap my head around because for years I was the one who was taking care of my siblings. I didn't know myself outside of them. I grew up faster than I should've and as a result, I struggled with knowing how to be a child. By the age of 13, I was severely depressed and had been diagnosed with severe depression. I may have been doing well academically and trying to appear happy, but at that age, all the emotions I was experiencing coinciding with previous experiences was one of the hardest things I had to deal with because I didn't know how to distract myself from those emotions. I wasn't taking care of the kids and had to face the reality that my feelings were there and affecting me. Sometimes they still affect me. Like I said, no one teaches you how to move on from experiences like those. It's something you learn on your own as time passes by.
It wasn’t until near the end of my sophomore year of high school when I was going through another rough patch of struggling with my identity that my director and AVID teacher had both said the same statement: “If you want to help your siblings you need to help yourself.” And now I’m a senior, writing this, and it’s what I’ve been remembering in times of adversity. It was something that resonated within me that I have not forgotten since the day I heard it. It broadened my perspective on life and I started practicing mindfulness and working on getting myself together.
Don't get me wrong, I had always been working hard throughout high school. When I say the phrase "getting myself together," I mean mentally. I may have always been present physically, but mentally half the time I wasn't and that year I realized there was a lot I needed to fix in myself. All of a sudden I no longer had a fear of not being there for my siblings in the present, I developed a fear of not being successful in life for both them and myself.
My fear of not being successful and being able to be there for them if they need once they get older will randomly sneak up on me and it drives me, even if I’m lacking in certain areas, even if I'm not doing as academically great as the people surrounding me, and even if I’m struggling to handle things as well as others. It is what reminds me that I know I can get through things, not only for them at this point, but also for myself.
When you go through abandonment, homelessness, and see the things I saw at such a young age when I should have never had to, nor should any child ever have to, it changes your way of thinking and your maturity level from child-like to survival mode. It is something that leaves you feeling lost, in a headspace no child should have to reach at the age of 10, but it is something I have overcome that has helped me blossom.
I went from being a poverty struck child, feeling as if my only purpose was to take care of my siblings, to a now passionate, driven young adult chasing after her dreams and checking off goals one by one. I hadn’t only learned how to survive, I learned how to become adaptable, how to push myself through circumstances, and what to do to get me to reach my goals of success and I will not stop until I reach where I aim to be. I am proud of who I’ve become so far and even if some days are rougher than others, I know there is a rainbow at the end.