My warrior story starts at age 4, with the unexpected death of my biological father.
I only have one other memory that occurred before this day, which is me playing in one of those cheap blue kiddie pools with the slide, the ones we all thought were awesome at the age of toddlerhood, but in actuality are just a tiny mosquito breeding puddle. I remember it so vividly, my mom walked out of the front door, and my dad got up from playing with me, picked her up and dunked her into the water.
They were so happy, laughing and screaming and splashing each other. This is the only memory I have of my dad alive. Then nothing but a flash to him lying in a casket, after having been shot to death in our house by the man my mom was dating shortly after my parents split up.
Did I mention I don’t go to funerals? Well I don’t. And I’m confident this memory is why.
Fast forward to age 12, I’d been bouncing back and forth between living with my drug abusing, alcoholic mother and her slew of abusive boyfriends and husbands and my maternal grandparents, who for all intents and purposes were saints. My grandfather was a Navy vet who worked in the cafeteria at the hospital after retiring until he died of poisoning from Agent Orange. My grandmother was the most caring, selfless person I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, but a real spit fire! Neither of them were educated beyond middle school.
I can only assume it was because of the lifestyle my mother lived that I made the choices I did. Great role models at that age lead to great accomplishments; poor parenting leads to mistakes that affect you for a lifetime.
I remember waking up one morning in the living room, and my mom walking in with a man I’d never seen before. I was probably 8 – this was not an uncommon occurrence. But this time was different in that she said – “Katie this is Clayton- we got married last night”- this one event pretty much sums up my childhood or at least sets the tone of it.
Around the time I turned 12 my mother was finally growing up, she would have been 31, and looking back I understand, of course I do. I was 31 not so long ago, and I wanted to be selfish too. But when you have kids at home that are depending on you to be the adult, counting on you to take care of them and put them first, you can’t act selfishly. She was growing up but it was too late for us to have a relationship or for her to influence me in a positive way. She married a wonderful man that year that really stepped in as a dad to me, he adopted me. He is my dad.
At 12, I also met Tom; we were together for the next 6 years. I started drinking and smoking… which escalated to later doing drugs. By the time I was 15, I smoked pot, used cocaine and meth on a regular basis, and basically I have no idea how I survived any of it. Except that Tom didn’t do those things, he was a goodie-two-shoes and he would always come to my rescue.
When I was 15, Tom and I split up for the first time, we were kids and just figuring things out, but then a few months later he was in a pretty ugly car accident in which he ended up with a broken neck, in a coma for three weeks, with 35 percent of his body burned to the 4th degree. So I went back, what else could I do? I took care of him and sat by his bed at the hospital every waking moment. This is ultimately why we ended up back together.
He was never quite right again after that accident. He never finished school; it happened his junior year. He started getting a lot of tattoos to cover the burn scars; he started smoking and drinking every day, which he never did before. He was a completely different person; I really believe this is all because he ended up addicted to pain killers from months of being in the hospital. But I loved him, or the thought of him becoming who he used to be. The guy that would berate me for doing the things I was doing before, was doing the same now. That guy was gone, but I just couldn’t let go. I couldn’t let go of the most stable, reliable person I’d had in my life to that point. He was my whole world.
In the winter of 1997, I found out I was pregnant. I was 17. I wasn’t incredibly surprised. Besides in my family that’s pretty much the normal thing to do. You have a kid and then work in a shit job or go into the military, until you are 40 with grandkids and working a shit job until you die while raising your grandkids.
This was what I expected of my life. This is absolutely all I knew existed.
I dropped out of school my senior year. I had my daughter on my 18th birthday and a little under year later was when I finally became strong enough mentally to leave Tom. I had nowhere to go. So I moved my daughter and myself in with a friend. Who I then started dating, who then got me pregnant.
Nineteen, pregnant, and sick, with a toddler. We had no electricity because we couldn’t pay our bills, and in a living situation that had escalated from friends to lovers to a very abusive relationship in a matter of a few months. Needless to say, I was at an all-time low. He went from being “my savior” to beating me, doing drugs nonstop, not working, and sometimes not coming home for literally weeks at a time. We were together for just over a year total. Embarrassingly in this short time, we not only got married but also divorced.
The moment that changed my life, the pivotal moment for me was during one of our fights. I was sitting in the front seat of the car, and said something that was so insignificant that I can’t to this day remember what it was, and he ripped the rear view mirror off and beat the hell out of me with it, all with my toddler daughters in the back seat watching.
THIS was the moment that I finally gave up, not only on him but the life I was living. This was the moment that I decided I had to do something different. Something better, I knew that my kids deserved so much better than what I’d had, than what I was giving them. If I could take all the hurt and pain and suffering that has ever touched my kids in any way and just absorb it all, feel it for them, I would.
Three days later I packed everything up that I could and went to my grandma’s house. My grandma never finished high school. But for some reason her advice was for me to go get my GED.
I was nearly 20 and terrified to walk into a college that felt so big. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there, like I was a joke. But I did it. I walked in and talked to a gal named Becky, someone to whom I will forever be grateful. She explained the process, tested me, and a week later I had my GED. Becky explained that I was too smart not to go to college, I argued telling her I had nothing. I had no money… I couldn’t even buy diapers. So she paid for my first class, my books, and took me to financial aid.
After 3 semesters at that junior college, I graduated with my associates, transferred to a four year university where 5 years later I graduated with a double Bachelors, and two years after that my Masters. These are all things I never thought I would do, and it was hard. I worked at a donut shop from 4 am until class every day. I made almost no money. I never signed up for food stamps or any type of government assistance because I was too proud. Sometimes I couldn’t pay my bills; sometimes I didn’t have water in my house, or electricity. But I made it, and looking back its crazy to think about the money I make now, and realize that ten years ago, I was in a donut shop, filling the coffee cups of old men who would slap my ass, all so that I could feed my kids. I think I made around 150 dollars a week.
In 2003, my ex had gone pretty much completely insane. He was constantly in and out of jail, and consistently trying to break into my house. There are so many stories, but I don’t like to remember them and I won’t share them here. It was for these reasons I decided that the girls and I needed a break. So I packed up the car – a 1995 firebird with 205k miles on it and bald tires– I kid you not — and we drove to Mexico.
I had a couple of family members there, and they said we could stay as long as we liked. So we did. It was so incredibly dangerous; I drove all the way from Kansas to Guanajuato with a paper map, which according to Google is about 1427 miles. I had 3,200 dollars to my name. It’s what I had saved from my last Pell Grant. It was not a great trip. I was alone and it was scary and I had only completed Spanish one at that time which proved to be a huge challenge.
Even though I had planned on rediscovering myself while there, I couldn’t focus and ended up dating a man who was 6 years older than me. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly he turned out to be a really terrible person. I really do know how to pick them! I was basically just trying to fill my voids with love, but instead accepting much less than love.
We have a daughter together, because, as I’ve established, I learn everything the hard way. She’s never met him, and she won’t. The big girls remember him but don’t talk about him. Yes. It was that bad. Just hearing his name causes a near panic attack for me, even 12 years later.
After a year in Mexico, I returned to the US, finished school, and started teaching full time. I have moved a few times, but eventually I ended up near Kansas City. This is absolutely my home and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
I know that I won’t ever be able to make up to my kids everything that I had to learn the hard way. I took 2013 to 2015 to really focus on family and myself, after another failed attempt at marriage that lasted less than a year. I really believe I was able to discover who I am. I’ve worked so hard for so long to get what I want, to get to where I need to be, that I felt like I had sort of forgotten who I WANT to be, what I am. What I am is aggressive and I am a fighter for things just and fair, but life isn’t fair, or just. Life is scary and messy and every decision has a great impact on not only your own life, or the life of those around you, but on the world as a whole.
I work as a technologist now, I’ll spare you the details but it’s a good job, that pay more money than I ever thought I’d make in my whole life. I remember making 32k my first year teaching, and thinking that I was really making it. I was so excited to have that contract, to have that money. So funny once you get some perspective on life outside of my Po-dunk hometown you realize that 32k isn’t much.
My big girls have mentioned before that they didn’t realize how poor we were. I never told them. They wore clothes from yard sales, they didn’t have TV, and sometimes I had to blame the electric company for accidentally turning our lights out… but we would just get out some candles and have a camp out.
I know it’s cliché but if life gives you lemons, you really can just break out the water, borrow some sugar from a neighbor, and make lemonade.
It breaks my heart when people focus on the negative things in life. Life really is too short. This is why when I was asked to write my “Warrior Story” I struggled. I am not a story; I’m not only the pieces of information in this story. I am so much more complex than this. Condensing 36 years of life into a blog-sized article is tough! If someone had asked me to write about any one aspect of my life it would have been challenging. I am all of those things, so when you read this please keep in mind that these are just small memories, not the whole story of what made me the person I am today.
The definition of a “warrior” is “a brave or experienced fighter” – and as much as I want to be one of those people that stays humble, and says –“I wouldn’t really consider myself a warrior,”
I just can’t. I can’t be that person, because I have to remind myself every day that every single decision, every hard thing I do or neglect to do, will affect me in some way. I have to remind myself to do hard things, to fight and be brave and that life is not easy but you carry on anyway.
So many people I know have had things given to them; they didn’t have to work hard. They don’t have a warrior story; they may have a story, a boring story maybe even. But mine, mine is a story of learning, life experiences, of growing, and coming from nothing. And I’m not finished yet!
There were many important people; there were friends that helped, people who pushed me, people who I looked up to, people who tried to stop me, people who tried to drag me back into poverty, tried to tell me that everything I was doing was wrong, and that it wasn’t good for my girls. But my daughters have watched me struggle and succeed, they’ve seen what you can do if you focus, have determination and I truly believe they have something that not many women have anymore, grit. Grit is courage and strength of character. I never worry that my girls will end up ordinary. Sure, they are human, they’ll make mistakes, and I’ll be here to help them, push them and wait for them to do extraordinary things. Every child deserves to have someone catch them when they fall, because we all fall. My goal is to be the mother to them that I needed when I was little.
So am I a warrior? Hell Yes! I most definitely am, but more than that, I am a woman who just wouldn’t give up. Love yourself ladies, love yourself, find yourself and decide who you want to be instead of focusing on what you have to do. When it feels like the whole world is against you remember that anytime you are attempting to do something great, people will notice AND they will have an opinion. Know what you are, know what you have to do and do it anyway, even if it’s hard, even when you want to quit. Do it anyway, do hard things.
I love you all.