Sometimes we would stop at my aunt's work so that my dad could go in and talk to her. I wasn't allowed in because I was a kid, and it was an "adult" place. The only other things that ever got the descriptor "adult" were "adult films", which were not for kids. So I happily assumed that my aunt worked someplace where all sorts of dirty stuff was happening.
Years later, I was driving by and noticed that it was a retirement home.
When I was 12, my divorced mother and I lived in a nice duplex in my hometown. She would go to the city after I fell asleep, and party downtown with my aunt almost every night. I didn't know this until I was older.
One night in particular, I fell asleep on the couch, and halfway woke up to the sound of the front door opening and closing. I saw my mom walk in with a creepy, hooded, shadowy figure close behind her. I fell back asleep. The next morning, I asked my mom who was with her when she came home last night. She looked terribly confused. I told her about the figure behind her, and the color drained out of her face and she shook her head and told me to stop playing games. She said that if I kept telling ghost stories, I would invite malevolent spirits into the house.
I found out a year ago that she brought a guy home and made me believe it was a ghost so I wouldn't tell my grandparents.
I was 6 or 7. My mom woke my brother and I up and told us to get in the car. It seemed strange, but she was totally calm. I remember hearing loud noises and yelling, which was not unusual, but it always scared me. I went into the garage and got in the backseat, brother in front. Mom walks out and gets in the car, and tells us we're going to McDonald's for ice cream. As we back out, my dad staggers into the garage and throws a bottle at the car; it breaks against the ground. I found out many years later my dad got fired that night from a job he had worked at for ten years.
When I was little, our town was hit by a tornado. It was the only cloud in the sky, and it took seemingly forever to get through town. My grandparents came and got us (mom, me, little sis, and my little cousin), and we drove out of town away from the storm. My grandpa didn't want us kids to even hear the storm, let alone be caught in it. We watched it from a nearby safe location, and I still remember feeling my heart stop when a landmark near our house disappeared in the storm. My dad hadn't made it home from work before we left (we had waited for him until we couldn't wait any longer). My mom and sister and I cried all the way home, thinking my dad was gone.
When we pulled up to the house and it was still there, my dad came running out. Honestly, it was the best feeling ever, followed by the second best feeling to a 7-year old when my best friend and her family came running through the backyard, safe as well.
Anyway, this was the actual "what the heck" moment...
My dad was still at work (mechanic, tow-truck driver, and a volunteer fireman) when it started, and he booked it home and proceeded to take a shower in the basement bathroom.
For years, we gave him a hard time about how he took a shower during a tornado. We couldn't understand why the heck he took a shower instead of taking cover. It became one of those stories we told whenever the topic of the tornado came up. "Did you know my dad watched the whole thing with a towel around his waist?"
Finally, many years later, on the anniversary of this tornado, we were sitting around the table, and the subject came up again. Remember, we had been teasing him about this for 20 years.
"You want to know why I was taking a shower? I'll tell you why. You don't remember this, because the tornado happened and everyone forgot everything else. This kid, Bob, was running late on the way to his wedding, and he got hit by a semi at the corner of [Name] Street and Highway [Number]. He didn't make it. I was taking a shower because I was covered in fuel and this kid's blood. I knew the water could be shut off after the tornado, and if I didn't get that off, I would be stuck with that smell in my hair and on my skin. That's why I took a shower in the middle of a tornado. And I was watching it in my towel because I was washing a bit, running up to see how much time I had, and running back to the shower to rinse."
All of a sudden, we realized what a bunch of jerks we'd been for 20 years. We never teased him a bit about that again. He hadn't even told my mom. My dad never talked much about the bad stuff he saw as a volunteer fireman, or a tow-truck driver when we were growing up. He wasn't one to brag, just do the job, do it well, and move on. As he gets older, he's been sharing more details. It's fascinating and heartbreaking to know what he's been through, and that he carried all of this alone for so long.
My dad is full of these moments where he shielded us from the bad parts of his jobs. I'm sure I'll hear more as the years go by. I'm not sure I want to know all of what he's done, but darn, that guy is one tough cookie.
I think I was four or five. My parents were fighting, which was a pretty common occurrence, but I remember this time my dad yelling for someone to get him a knife so he could harm himself. Not understanding what that meant at the time and wanting the yelling to stop, I started towards the kitchen to get a knife until my older brother stopped me.
When I was about 14, a guy who I went to school with had Leukemia. He'd disappeared from school for a while while he had chemo, and then came back when he recovered a little. We weren't particularly close, in fact there'd been a little bit of animosity between us (for no particular reason, just petty kid's stuff). But on the last day of term, as I was walking towards the school gate, he caught up with me and walked with me. He told me he was sorry there'd been tension between us and that he liked me and hoped we could be friends.
He died during the summer break and I realized some time later that maybe he had known he wasn't going to make it, and was trying to make his peace with the world before he went.
I was in our front yard playing. This guy pulled up across the street, and yelled my name, and said my mom told him to pick me up. I thought, why would she do that, she's just inside the house?
So I asked, "Do you have the phrase?" My mom told me if she sends someone to pick me up from school, she'll give them a secret phrase ("Catch ya later, alligator," for those curious.)
He just looked at me, and told me to get in again. I told him I was sorry, but I wasn't allowed to go unless he knew the secret phrase.
Then my mom swoops out of the house, picks me up, and he takes off.
I was super excited because I got to meet a police officer a short while later, and he let me look at his police car.
"When I was about 4 or 5, we got two very important life changing pieces of medical news. The first was my baby brother was on the way. The second was that my father was diagnosed with acute lymphoma and had about two weeks to live. When I was little, I had no grasp of how serious cancer was. My mom told me my dad was sick, but that was about it.
I remember my mom kept insisting that I spend time with him, but I would always get angry when he got too tired to play or kicked me out so he could vomit from the chemo. I remember one night in particular where my school had my first back-to-school night/carnival. They had all sorts of rides and stuff. My dad had just had extensive surgery and had staples across his entire neck. I used to joke that he looked like Frankenstein.
My dad managed to make it through the big presentation the teacher made to the whole class and their parents, but barely. I thought this was boring, but would be worth sitting through because I would get to go on carnival rides afterwards. But my dad had to leave. He couldn't even stand up. I could not understand how my strong 6'4" father could be so selfish. If he could sit through the boring part why not the good part.
I, to this day, feel tremendously guilty over how I treated him and the tantrum I threw when my mom was struggling to hold my dad up and my dad was struggling just to stay conscious.
Fortunately the doctors were wrong. He made it well past the two weeks and eventually beat cancer five years later. It took years before I understood how seriously sick he really was. He had gotten down to 90 lbs, but to me he was still a Superman.
When I was 9, someone had broken into my house. They didn't steal anything, and left after a little while on their own. I remember having a bad dream that night, as if someone was watching me sleep, but I convinced myself it was just the shadows on my furniture like usual.
My parents sent me to a neighbor's for a sleepover and all I thought was, "Yay! Sleepover with my friends!"
I didn't find out until later that he had broken in again and messed up my room, looking for me. My dad chased him out and he managed to escape. Apparently the first time he really did just break in, watched me sleep, then leave.
That was creepy enough. But then my mother told me years later that he had made several phone calls to the house threatening to kidnap me. My parents probably saved my life by sending me to my neighbor's. In their minds, they didn't think he would try to break in again the night after.
A year after the incident, I found out that it was the 15-year-old boy who lived in the house behind me.
When I was younger, my house was messy and my mum only ever cleaned on special occasions and that was only certain rooms people were allowed in. I always thought this was completely normal.
We had wine boxes holding up our couch and shoved right up our chimney which was covered by a fire screen. Our kitchen smelled of mould and rotting food. The benches and floors were covered in the source of the smell and other unidentifiable objects. My clothes used to sit in a washing basket so long after they were washed that they would start to grow fuzz. There was one room beside mine which was so over-packed with rubbish and toys that I could barely crack the door open. It was just filthy overall. No one ever saw this, though, and if they did, I can only imagine that my mum would have lost custody of me immediately and I think she knew that.
I lived like that until I was 12 and I didn't really understand what was happening until recently when watching an episode of Hoarders.
It's kind of messed me up. I can't sleep unless my house is spotless and I constantly have panic attacks if I forget to clean something before leaving the house.
We had this gym teacher in elementary school who would bring a bag of apples to class and give the girls one if they'd give him a massage.
I was annoyed because I absolutely loved apples and still do. I thought it was unfair that only the girls got apples, so I told my teacher how "Mr. Soandso" would only let the girls massage him for apples while we had to do sports.
I had to go to the principal's office to tell them my story which was basically, "This is unfair. Everyone should be getting apples, or no one should be getting apples." Other students corroborated my story and soon enough, "Soandso" was gone.
When I was a kid, maybe 7 or 8, I was watching TV in my parents' bedroom. I dropped the remote between the wall and the bed and when I reached to grab it, there it was. I was shocked. A severed private part was on the ground! I immediately ran to my father to inform him of my horrifying discovery. "Father! A cut off pee pee part is on the floor in your room," I told him. He seemed confused and somewhat concerned. I lead him to the scene. He picked up the flesh-colored adult toy and told me that it was just a lotion bottle. I was very relieved that it wasn't what I initially postulated, but also very confused as to why they would make a lotion bottle look exactly like a private part.
A few years later, I realized what I had actually discovered. My dad played it out very well. He had me convinced. I can only imagine the conversation my parents had that night.
When I was about 11 and my sister was 14, she came home from a sleepover with a large red welt on her neck. When my mother questioned her about it, she wove an epic tale of a fight amongst friends, culminating in the use of tootsie rolls as projectiles. Though she had remained neutral, she was sadly struck in the neck during the crossfire.
My mom apparently decided to see how far my sister was willing to take this story. She feigned indignation and said she wanted the phone numbers for the girl that threw the tootsie roll and the girl that hosted the party, to inform their mothers of the incident. There was talk of cutting those friends out of my sister's life.
At the time, I was horrified that that had happened to her. Years later, I realized my mother decided to troll instead of addressing the fact that her daughter came home from a "girls-only," "supervised" sleepover with a hickey.
My brother and I used to go hunting together when I was between about 9 and 11. He taught me all about gun safety, how you should never point a firearm at anything but the ground or sky unless you intend to fire it, and above all never ever point it at a person, not even as a joke.
One day we were out hunting and I was standing a little way away from him. I looked up to see him pointing it at me. I moved to one side just as he pulled the trigger and I felt something pluck at the sleeve of my sweater. There was a small hole in the material. I was so confused and asked him why he had shot at me. He laughed it off and said of course he hadn't, he hadn't been shooting anywhere near me. I didn't question it anymore at the time. Now I think: Why was my brother trying to shoot me?!
It was a couple years after that when his mental health problems started showing themselves.
We had alligator snapping turtles in our pond when I was growing up, and my dad once remarked on how he had seen a huge one in there and was always looking for it in order to get rid of it. One day, I was hunting frogs on the bank and I see him...enormous. So I jumped in the water, grabbed him by the tail and dragged him up to the house and put him in a water tub outside the back door.
I had no idea he could have easily bitten off my hand.
I grew up poor. Really poor, but I was young and never had an indication of how bad things were until this happened. I thought everyone lived like we did.
In third grade, I had a pair of boots from Payless that I'd worn for so long, the heel had dislodged from the rest of the boot. It flopped while I walked and I often tried to glue it back on with Elmer's at school, or tape it on, which never lasted long.
One day I came to class and two girls handed me two new boxes of shoes, saying they bought them for me. One was a pair of dressy shoes with a buckle and the other was a pair of pink moccasins with rhinestones on the toe. I was delighted, but didn't think much of it, not even in the days afterward when some other kids starting calling me poor. I don't even know if anyone in my family noticed the shoes, but I know my mother never asked me about them. Then again, she was always working, or claimed to be working, so I never saw her more than once a day.
Many, many years later I realized the teacher had bought those shoes and asked the other kids to pretend they had. Thank you Mrs. Benjamin.
When I was a little kid, we had a kid in our class named George who didn't speak very much. People thought he was a little weird.
As you might imagine, this lead to a lot of the kids excluding him or making fun of him. My friends and I decided to be his friend.
Years later, in telling the story to someone else, I remembered my teacher explaining that he was "Greek," which I didn't understand at the time. George wasn't weird. He was just a recent immigrant from Greece who didn't speak English very well.
I was in LA at the age of 10, and ended up with sunburn as I am English and not used to the heat. My dad took me to the restroom where we shared a stall, and he helped me take my t-shirt off so that he could reapply sunscreen. This was pretty painful.
I was screaming inside a locked stall, saying that it hurt. To my surprise, a burly guy forced open the door, looking quite annoyed at my dad, who explained correctly what was happening. I grimaced through the pain and agreed as best as possible.
Only years later that I realized that burly guy was quite the hero, and that the pain he was trying to save me from wasn't a sunburn.
When I was in elementary school, we had a parents night where all the students had to read a poem for everyone. Much to my parents' dismay and repeated attempts to dissuade me, I insisted on performing my piece on learning the trumpet, "Do You Know How to Blow?"
Wasn't until many years later that I realized why my folks were so mortified that night...
I never understood that not everyone had people drop bags of groceries on their steps, where the people would just ring the bell, drop the bags, then drive away. It dawned on me as an adult that we were poor. Then I looked back at old pictures and noticed all the signs. A tiny Christmas tree in the background, disappointed faces on Christmas pictures, no vacation pictures. I'm going try to avoid having my kids live that way. The other part of that is, I didn't realize how stressed my mom always was until I got older and realized not everyone's parents freaked out weekly and slammed doors and peeled off in their car leaving their kids alone and scared.
I specifically remember one incident where my mom, brother and I went to the grocery store and while we were walking to the car my mom dropped the gallon of milk and it exploded all over the ground. My mom started crying and my brother said, "Don't cry over spilled milk mom," kinda chuckling. I didn't understand at all. Now looking back, it hurts me to think how hard my mom was trying to keep everything together. She passed away at age 51, when I was 18. She had a rough adulthood. I live my life now hoping to become what she wanted me to be.
She made tons of mistakes, but she was there for me on her own and she tried so hard. All you teens, take notice of how your parents act when they think you're not looking. You might be surprised to find they are very stressed and working super hard to make you happy, often times with only frustration to show for it.
When I was seven, we had this pet cat that we named Lucky. He was this adorable black and white stray kitten we had found in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, he had run away when we got our new pool built. My mom called up the pool company and they said that he had snuck in their truck and one of the guys took him home. She said he was happy there, so they could keep him.
I was twenty when I brought up the story of Lucky and my Mom started laughing. Turns out, Lucky got underneath the liner of the pool before they vacuum sealed it. There was this lump sitting there underneath the liner that my parents said was just dirt. Instead, my sister and I were stepping on the remains of poor, unlucky, Lucky.
When I was about 6, my mom would try to use code words to her friends when I was around, so that way I wouldn't repeat it. She would talk about how one of her friends had the "Heebie Jeebies" and gave a girl the "Heebie Jeebies" and now she's really thin and really sick in the hospital. I had NO idea what she was talking about. The only time I heard that word from anywhere else was from Scooby-Doo, and that meant the creeps. So, I thought that the guy gave the girl the creeps and then she got really sick. Didn't make sense to me.
In lower school, I remember asking my parents for "wife-beaters", also known as sleeveless undershirts because I thought they'd make me look cool. My dad pulled me aside and explained to me that I shouldn't say that because, "There are women out there who have been abused and using that term could make them uncomfortable.'
I looked at mom and said, "Really? It's just a name for a shirt." I was met with an uncomfortable stare from her.
It wasn't until a few years later that I was made aware that my dad was not my biological father, but a great man my mother met when I was a toddler. My biological father was an extremely abusive alcoholic, and my mother had to escape with me before I was even a year old.
When I was about 6 years old, I was looking for bugs in my backyard when I came across a super rare praying mantis. Naturally, I scooped it up and put it in my bug container. Later on, I was looking for more bugs when I found yet another praying mantis, lucky day! I was super excited and put it in the container with the other praying mantis. Both of them stood in there, dead still, and just kind of bobbed around like praying mantis' do.
I came back a few hours later and was appalled by what I found. The bigger mantis standing there as still as ever right on top of the other praying mantis' head and legs. I was super spooked. What happened? It really weirded me out for a while.
I'd say about 10 or so years later, I found out that the female mantis eats the male after doing the deed. I still don't know if I'm an accomplice to a murderer or a world class wingman.
When I was in third grade, my family moved across the country. As a young child, I was already experiencing stages of depression to begin with, and the move certainly didn't help things so I ended up seeing the guidance counselor on a regular basis at my new school.
This same counselor also ran a sort of chess program. During lunch breaks, you could go play chess instead. I would often go and play, and actually got pretty good at the game...at least compared to the other kids. I'm terrible at chess now. I recall getting to the finals in a student tournament, though.
The guidance counselor noticed that I was getting pretty good and one day sat me down, and said that I was going to play him. He was basically a chess god to me at this point, so going up against the "master" was incredible. As an added bonus, he told me we were going to play "for real," and put a chess clock on the table.
This was super exciting for me.
I remember the game going down to the last second, and I also remember his downfall was leaving his queen open, and him saying, "Oh, shoot!" when I took it, and then soon after won the game. This was a huge confidence boost for me. I remember bragging to other kids that I had beaten him in chess.
I thought about this pretty recently and realized: he totally let me win that game. He knew I had confidence issues and was not happy, so he let me win a game so that I would feel better about myself. Such a bro.