When I was a toddler, life was happy. My family was all under one roof. We were always laughing about something or arguing about something, but the love was always there. We used to stay up late to watch movies together, which usually just ended in me and my brother falling asleep, but I can still remember my parents carrying us back to our room. Moments like that are the ones that made me truly feel loved. I was young and blind to the world around me.
When I turned 4, everything changed. Just like any other weekend, me and my brother went to our grandma’s house. I didn’t even think about going home because we always had fun there. Later that day my mom picked us up. We said bye to our grandma and started driving home. My mom seemed upset, like she was just in a heated argument. She got on the phone, then hung up quickly and said, “I accidentally called 911 again.” At this moment, I knew something wasn’t right because my parents didn’t like cops. I asked her why she called them and she told me to sit back and shut up, so I did.
When we got to our house there were cops waiting in the front, with the ﬁre department and an ambulance. At this point there was no doubt something was wrong. We went inside the house and no one was downstairs. I wondered where my dad went. I noticed my mom walking upstairs so I started to follow her. When she reached the top, she screamed and ran back downstairs. She grabbed my siblings and I and took us outside. She had found my father hanging from the ceiling.
After my father passed, my brother and I went to live with our grandma for a bit while my mom ﬁgured things out. My uncles lived there, so my brother and I would always play games with them. My grandma would cook fried chicken and we would watch a movie on the big TV. I liked staying with my grandma, but I still wanted to go home. It was hard not seeing my dad, but for some reason I felt like he was still alive. I just didn’t want to accept the fact that he was actually gone. My whole family seemed to be broken to pieces after he passed, but we all were together and that’s what kept us strong.
A couple months later, my mom felt a lot of pain in her body. At ﬁrst, she ignored the pain so it wouldn’t interrupt her work, but the more she did this, the worse her pain got. She went to the doctor to see what was wrong. There, she was told she had cancer. At the time, I didn’t understand the seriousness of that, so I didn’t think too much of it. I thought she was just sick, like she had a cold. I did anything she needed me to. I would bring her food and water when she asked because she never really left the bed. Although at the time I didn’t understand how serious it was, I could see her growing weaker by the month.
It was Christmas, and my whole family was at my house. I loved seeing my family all together. It made me happy. We were all having fun, even my mom. That night I wanted to sleep with my mom, so they let me stay in the bed with her. I woke up to my cousin carrying me upstairs. My mother passed away while she was sleeping.
After my mom died, everybody wanted to take care of us. My uncle’s ex-wife told me she wanted us to come stay with her and my cousins. She said it’s what my mom would have wanted. My other aunt tried to persuade us to come live with her, too. She said she would put us on the right track. She also said it’s what my parents would have wanted. I was getting surrounded by family members I only saw on rare occasions, telling me and my brother they loved us and they wanted to take us in with them. The only thing I could think about was, “How would they know what my parents wanted for us?” I didn’t realize yet that it was all fake love.
Before my mother passed, she told my grandma, her mother, to take us, so we went to live with her. I was excited about the idea. I loved my grandma, but even there, something felt missing. I wanted to go home, but I knew this was where I had to stay.
As I got older, I started realizing things about my family that makes almost every event I went through more clear. But one thing I will say is that money can change people either for better or for worse. It really depends on the person. A few years later, I learned that my father had life insurance that my brother and I received after his death, which explained why everybody was jumping up to take us. When I found that out, my mindset changed. The ones I loved and thought wanted the best for me only wanted me for money. It broke my heart. Money can turn good people into demons, and I was seeing it happen with my own eyes.
Even today, my situation isn’t really stable. I’m still waiting to be adopted, and every day I worry that I might be taken in by the state. [Shortly after submitting this essay, Gabe was taken into the foster care system and is now in extended foster care.] But at least I’ve grown stronger and realized these things before it was too late. I’ve grown to learn not to depend on anybody to help you in pursuing ambition, not even blood.
I have also learned that family can bring both love and disappointment. And out of all the family I have, my brother and sister are the only ones who never changed, no matter our circumstances. Although I still have a long way to go, I know I can always depend on their loyalty. Because I had a rough childhood, when I have my own family I don’t want my kids to have to experience what I went through. I want them to know that love is a powerful emotion. But I also want them to know that before you try to love everyone else, you have to love yourself.
Gabriel Harding submitted this story as part of Fostering Media Connections’ 2018 Youth Voice writing contest. Gabriel is 18 years old and enjoys writing music and short stories.