There are many problems with being the orphan of parents who are very much alive. None of my siblings has ever had the luxury of a safety net in the way that people who have supportive parents do.
For a long time, my hero was my 8th grade English teacher to whom I owe about $4K. For a long time, he kept me afloat with much needed checks. If I counted up how much he spent on me during the really tough years, I would be too ashamed to get out of bed. It wasn’t until I had a steady gig and needed cash that he considered “loaning” me money.
I owe another friend couple $1200 from when I was 21, they loaned me money to pay the rent. My aunt who had been paying half the rent at the time had just told me that she no longer could do that. There I was, 21 and supporting a teenager and I not only could not afford the rent anymore, I had to figure out how to move out.
Thankfully, my friends hunkered down for the move: paying for the UHaul and organizing themselves (about 6 guy friends and some ex-boyfriends) to get everything packed up and moved. My girlfriends pitched in to pack everything, dropping by on their free time to pack boxes with my little sister. I was already suffering from such bad carpal tunnel that I couldn’t wash my own dishes anymore.
One of the most difficult things about working part-time and dealing with fibromyalgia is that my biggest dream in life, which I never dared speak aloud, was that I wanted to give my sisters a safety net. I wanted to be the safety net. I didn’t consider having children or getting married. I had children: my sisters. I didn’t have space to love anyone else so much, so marriage wasn’t an option.
My younger sister is only 20. She’s my hero because at 18 years old, when I got married and abandoned her, she moved out on her own. She paid her own rent and all her bills herself with very little help from me. She now works 2 jobs and manages to keep a steady 4.0 average which only dipped lower once because she had to help me out with wedding plans.
My other younger sister hasn’t been to college but she has been homeless. She’s dealt with domestic violence issues far beyond anyone’s maturity level. She’s the only one who can stomach talking to my mother to this day, despite the fact that she received more abuse than the rest of us combined. And just when I thought I had her figured out, she picked up and moved to Ohio where she’s restarting her life. There, without the two sisters she thinks are smarter than her, she’s making a life for herself.
My husband and I were discussing what we would do if we won the lottery. He expected me to respond that I’d buy something materialistic. I didn’t hestitate though. If I suddenly won the lottery, the first thing I would do is invest in real estate. I would make sure that even if I couldn’t offer them the safety net I had always silently promised, I would make sure that my sisters would always have a place to call their home.
At my cousin-in-law’s bar mitzvah, my husband was reminiscing about his childhood and the amazing self-esteem and security that it has given him. Without thinking (and of course, in front of other family), I blurted out:
“Sometimes, I just want to slap you because you were just too loved as a child.”
There are friends who don’t realize how cruel they are being when they ask me, why I haven’t gotten over:
1. Being physically abused until I was 17.
2. Running away 2 months before my 18th birthday.
3. Bouncing around from apartment to apartment until I was 26.
4. Helping two siblings run away, illegally kidnapping one of them.
5. Fighting my mother for custody of my sister for three years from age 21-24.
There are things that you never get over. They just hurt less and less over the years. The holes get filled up by something else. And I don’t think any of my little family can say, “I’m over not having parents,” until we stop feeling the loss and the unimaginable void they left in our lives.