Surviving, learning to live

A stuffed animal of Grover from Sesame Street sits in front of blue and silver pinwheels at Whiteman air Force Base, Mo., April 14, 2015. Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, received Grover from a police officer on the night she was taken out of an abusive home.  April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and the pinwheel is a symbol for healthy starts for all children. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow/Released)

A stuffed animal of Grover from Sesame Street sits in front of blue and silver pinwheels at Whiteman air Force Base, Mo., April 14, 2015. Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, received Grover from a police officer on the night she was taken out of an abusive home. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and the pinwheel is a symbol for healthy starts for all children. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow/Released)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Red and blue lights surround my house. My biological mother is in tears and her boyfriend is yelling at the men with shiny badges and guns on their hips. My siblings and I are sitting on the couch, quietly.

My life was about to change dramatically.

My mother was at a young age when she found out she was pregnant with me - just 18 years old.
We lived in a Section 8 housing unit.  It was a two-bedroom, one bath house that had very little furnishings. It smelled like booze and cigarette smoke. 

My room was barely a bedroom. There were a few blankets and a pillow against the wall of the room to resemble my bed, and there were always dirty clothes in the corner.  Although I had no toys to play with, I did have a clear box full of Crayola crayons and two coloring books, Clifford the Big Red Dog and a Disney princess coloring book.

When I was finally old enough to start school, teachers quickly began noticing the signs of various abuses I had been suffering through for years.  It was only a few short months before the authorities were contacted about what was happening in my house.

The night I saw those blue and red lights pour into the living room, a police officer came up to me and handed me two things, a coloring book with crayons, and a stuffed animal of Grover from Sesame Street.  I grabbed Grover and held on to him during the long ride in the police car to my next destination.

For the next four years, I was moved from one foster home to another, every six months until I was placed with my adopted parents.  They decided to keep me and care for me.  With them, I finally had a bed to myself and awesome clothes to choose from in my own closet.

That said, I still faced problems in the beginning of this new chapter of my life.  I acted out a lot. Looking back, I realize I was just waiting for the day the State of West Virginia would take me back and put me with another family.

I was depressed and had very little hope things would ever get better, even at such a young age.

I put a good face on at school. School was my sanctuary.  There, I was able to smile, laugh and forget how I was going to feel when I stepped through the doors at the end of the day to go home.

My senior year of high school, my dad came storming in the house from a doctor's appointment with my mom. He came straight to me and blamed me for my mom getting brain cancer.  I was basically shut in my room for the remainder of my senior year. 

Three weeks after I graduated from high school, I left for Air Force Basic Military Training. 

Since then, my adopted mother and father have both passed away.  I am a single mother of two and have been divorced twice.  I'm the first to admit that my past has carried over into my personal life but I also believe in new beginnings.  I have decided to not allow my past to continue to affect who I am today. 

I could have become a statistic -- but I chose not to.

Having the goal of enlisting in the Air Force when I was in eighth grade kept everything in perspective.  I had an objective -- something to work towards and to help me remember the end game.  I wanted to show everyone I could get through BMT and become who I wanted to be. 

And I did.  

My whole life I had been surviving, but now I am living.

I know there are others out there with similar stories.  With April being Child Abuse Prevention Month, it is important that we all be mindful of what too many young kids have to go through each day.  It is also important for those kids to know that life gets better - that if you are resilient you can make what you want of your own life. 

Trust me, I did.