One day, my father was drunk and fighting with my mom, and all of us kids were there, watching, as usual. My father saw us watching and became angry. He demanded that we choose, right then, whether to live with him or our mother. I had never stood up to my father before because that usually led to a beating, but this time was different. I told him that I wanted to live with my mom, so he ordered me to leave. After years of abuse, at that moment, I was strong enough to know that I did not want to live the life my parents had chosen. At the age of nine, I understood that I had the ability to make better choices. Although I did not know these words at that time, I now realize that hope, along with persistence, hard work, and dedication are the qualities I need to achieve my dreams.
I’m 24-years-old now. By the time I was 16, I had found security and stability again in my life. It was actually offered to me much earlier, but it took me a while to understand that. My third set of foster parents, who took in my two sisters and me “for the weekend” when I was 11-years-old, stayed with all of us through all our tough teen years and eventually became our legal guardians. I even left them for a few years and lived in group homes, thinking I could do better. But they just waited on me to come back. And I did. I’m grown up and independent now, but I need them as much as ever. They love me, and I know that now.
But the memories are still there…
As I child, I dreamed of doing what other people would consider “normal things.” I imagined regularly attending church, like the kids I saw when I occasionally went to church with my grandmother. There, I saw kids going to Sunday School, learning about Jesus, making things, and playing on the playground. Normal things, but things I did not get to do. One day a pastor came to our house to convince my parents to go to his church. My father refused, but agreed to allow the pastor to take my siblings and me to church. I achieved my childhood dream of being a normal kid in Sunday School, and every week, I was able to rest my head on the lap of a woman named Ruth during the church service. Even now, it makes me cry to remember the hope that those little things gave me for my future.
Sometimes, the traumatic memories flood in unexpectedly….
I am walking home from the school bus stop. Mom had told me to go to our friend’s trailer right across from ours. I think it was my aunt’s daughter’s place. I walk on the dirt and rocks, and while I'm walking I see police officers everywhere! I am only 10-years-old, and I’m trying to figure out what is going on.
My mother told me that my sister told her boyfriend what had been going on at home. I was appalled! I thought I was the only one that this happened to. I thought he did that to me by accident! But now I know it wasn’t an accident!
I see my older sister walking back with her boyfriend holding her. As she comes closer, I see that she is crying. She never used to cry. I know something really bad is going on. My brothers aren't home yet.
I'm really confused. But become bold and tell the policemen what happened to me. They stare and my mom says, “Are you serious?”
I turn to my mamma and say, "Yes, mommy! That's why I was underneath the bed when you woke daddy up this morning. I pretended to fall off the bed onto the floor and under the bed so you wouldn't think anything."
We all walk back to our trailer to gather some clothes for the week. Suddenly, my mom tells us to hurry and go back to the other trailer because our father is coming home. We all race back to my cousin’s trailer and lock the doors.
When he walks in, he's furious when he sees our trailer a complete and total mess. In our rush to gather stuff; our clothes are everywhere. There is no room to see the ground. He bangs on the door of my cousin’s home.
"What the hell is going on?" He tries to get in, but can't.
Then... I'm not sure exactly what happened.
All I know is my sister’s boyfriend, only a teenager, both destroyed and saved my family. He is the one who reported our family secrets to the police. Who knows where we'd be if my sister didn't trust him enough to tell him what was going on.
It’s funny. Not all my memories are bad. Sometimes, the flashbacks remind me that not every moment of my childhood was destructive ....
I’m a young adult and I am walking to my apartment after I get off work. The rain calms. I notice a pink bucket and puddle of water that surrounds it along with a few other things that my neighbors have out for their children to play with. There is a pink and white playhouse, a kid’s red and yellow picnic table, a small brown trampoline, and a few other random toys. Anyway it reminded me of a rainy day when I was 10, and I still lived with my biological family in that same trailer park where the police were that day our lives changed.
The rain. The toys. They suddenly remind me of a particular day when all of my family seems so incredibly happy. My brothers and sisters and the neighbor’s kids all get out some random toys to play with in the rain. There is this huge mud puddle that you could almost swim in. We all love to play in it!
Even my father was outside playing with us. And he wasn't even drunk. My mother was there too.
It’s a random happy memory. Sometimes the smallest things remind me of my past.
I had two more big dreams as a child. I wanted to play soccer and help take care of babies. Once I moved in with my current guardians, I was able to play soccer on a community team and eventually played varsity soccer for my high school, so I have achieved that dream. I have always been attracted to babies and played with dolls until I was almost fourteen. I only stopped then because my niece was born, and I had a real baby to nurture. Before I knew what career I might choose, I knew that I wanted to work with babies. I began searching for a career that would allow me to work with them and decided I wanted to become a neonatal nurse.
My sister and I were the first in our biological family to graduate from high school and attend college; something we could never have dreamed of in our early life.
Some of my dreams haven’t yet come true. College was tougher than I expected because I had lost so many opportunities to learn when I was younger. There was a huge gap. I survived through a few years, but that dream is on hold now. I’m still persevering, but in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. I have been involved in intensive therapy to help me overcome my losses. I’m about to marry a loving man. I also take care of my fiance's son.
And I followed in my guardian’s footsteps and have adopted a beautiful baby girl. I brought her home from the hospital and I adore her.
No matter how difficult my life was, I now have to stop and think about all I have and how far I’ve come. I have a great support system. I am eternally grateful to God and my legal guardians, who were there through every aspect of my life, for the opportunities they gave me. Without them I honestly don’t know where I would be.
You can’t ever erase everything. No matter how good your life may be right now, there will always be some memories that you can never forget, no matter how hard you try. But now, I have the freedom to choose the course my life will take. And I choose to view my traumatic past as part of my history. I will not let it determine my future.
Tabitha Watts is a real life hero. She's a stay-at-home mama and resides in Birmingham, Alabama.