Everyday we come across dozens of people. Some of those people we see regularly while others may be complete strangers. Yet, we never really take the time to think about what makes them who they are. What we’re really looking at when we see a person at the stoplight, or the dude in the HR department at work, is how they recovered/ are recovering from something in their life. We are experiencing the person they are choosing to be despite their problems.
To you I might be the gym girl. To someone else I’m the nanny. To my coworkers I’m the board op. To my neighbors I’m the annoying chick who leaves at 5:30 am and shines car lights in their window. Some days I’m the mess. Some days I’m the broom. And this is the story of who I am.
Nobody ever taught me “How to be a lady.” Nobody ever taught me how to fold clothes, do my hair, or properly cut vegetables. Nobody to keep me in check, and nobody to set the example. In fact, when it came to basic life skills, nobody taught me much of anything. The person I’ve had to learn the most from – is myself.
I grew up about 30 minutes from Downtown Detroit in the city of Clinton Township, Michigan. There’s not a whole lot to do besides play sports or go to the mall. But we had all 4 seasons, lived in a cute neighborhood, and the food around town was great, so I can’t complain too much.
I have two older brothers and a little sister in which all of our ages are pretty spaced out. 31-29-23-16. As you could imagine the age gaps seemed much larger when we were younger. Johnny (31) was always involved in his friends and football, Jason (29) was busy with his own things, and Celia (16) was… well… a baby. Then there I was, little Jessica Rose. I had a good relationship with my brothers despite our age gap, but we weren’t “friends” yet so to speak. I mean, when I was 8, Johnny was 17. But no doubt I was a hit among his friends and thought they were all super cute.
Life was pretty simple in those days. I went to school, had soccer practice, mom cooked dinner every night (except for Fridays, that was pizza night) and we went to church on Sundays. I remember Sundays being the WORST. My parents were in a music group together in church, and they never were on time in the morning. Every single Sunday without fail they were bickering about something and rushing everyone out. Lol.
I was a tom-boy and always very athletic. I could keep up with the boys, if not beat them. In fact, most of my friends were boys. I would set up the hockey net in front of my house and play in the street with the kid a few houses down. I never really fit in with the girls. I was always the odd one out when it came to any of that sort of stuff. I didn’t want to play with barbies, I wanted to watch WWF with my brother.
Cecelia was the baby of the family. At such an young age, she had a personality that made people literally stop in their tracks just to watch her be herself. We have this video of her as a toddler at Disney’s main street electrical parade just shootin her little finger guns at people acting like she was the man. She had an undeniable charm to her that was nothing short of hilarious.
It’s funny how you can miss those little things. At the time, it’s just normal life. You don’t realize it’s the good ol’ days until it can’t happen anymore.
I was around 13 when my mother began to get sick. She got this shortness of breath that doctors could only describe as asthma. Inhaler after inhaler, prescription after prescription, nothing seemed to be working. I remember walking from the parking lot into the grocery store one day with her when she said “Jessica, stop, I need to catch my breath. I hate this asthma.” “Mom, I don’t think this is asthma.” I replied. A few months later, we began getting serious tests done, and eventually, a biopsy.
One night shortly after her biopsy, I was laying in bed and I could hear my parents talking quietly from down the stairs. All I heard come out of my dad’s mouth was “Well, I guess we’re going to have to spend as much time with you as we can then.” The next day, I went to school completely terrified. We had a show and tell in my freshman english class, and I brought in my bible. Unsure of what I overheard the night before, I stood wearily in front of the room, held my bible up and said “Well, I think we got really bad news last night and I guess this is all I have.” and proceeded to break down in tears in front of my entire class. Later that day I went home and my mom told me she had 4 years to live. Little did we know, she would only make it 4 months. And just like that my world turned completely upside down.
The day she died was poetry of sorts. I was lucky enough to speak to her before she passed and promised to make her proud. She died holding my hand. I’ll never forget falling to my knees in the middle of this big, empty, white hospital hallway and my best friend along with my cousins rushed over to hold and cry with me as I wept.
My mom passed away of a disease called Pulmonary Fibrosis which causes severe scarring of the lungs. There was no explanation for her illness and there is no cure other than a lung transplant. The fundraiser for her new lungs was being held at our church the day she died. The volume of the silence and blank stares we got when we walked into the fundraiser could shatter glass. Nobody knew what to say to us. Yet somehow we held it together as a family and greeted and thanked those who came.
Within the first few months after her passing, my family had plenty of help. People brought us food and offered assistance any way they could. But as time passed, the help was fewer and I gradually understood what would be regular life. I didn’t realize how un-fatherly my dad was until after those first few months of my mom’s passing. Throughout my life, he was the fun one. He took me to soccer, showed up for my games and said yes to hanging out with friends. However, when I really thought about it— he had no idea how to actually raise a child.
Johnny was moved out, Jason was busy with college, and dad didn’t know how to dad. So where did that leave Celia? I worried about her. Suddenly, I had to think about being a mother at 14 years old. But how? It hit me that my mom didn’t teach me much either. It’s not to say my mom wasn’t a good mother. However, she kinda just threw me into things. I was doing my own laundry in the 3rd grade. She never actually showed me how to turn the shower on and most days I made my own lunch. I’ll never forget when I switched from private school to public school in the 5th grade. I had NO idea how to dress myself. So I went in my dad’s closet, grabbed an oversized t shirt, tied it in the back and went to school. That kind of thing.
Although seemingly alone and under guided, I tried to keep it together the best that I could throughout my high school career. I knew I had to be a role model for my sister and be strong for my dad. I made great grades, involved myself in every club possible, was a varsity athlete and somehow won homecoming queen. Yet behind that outward facade was a depressed young woman despite my accomplishments.
At home, my house was slowly falling apart. There was never enough food, it was extremely dirty and I was blamed for everything. This is when I started to question who I was. I lost the image of who I was supposed to be. All that, and my dad was emotionally absent. This caused an identity issue.
When college came, things only seemed to get worse. Although my gut told me to stay true to myself- I was starved for attention and love. I wore clothes that clung to my body. I allowed an upper classmen to take advantage of me because I had zero self esteem and I let my school work slip. I started to dislike myself and others disliked me, too. Certainly, I was not favored among a few girls on my soccer team. One day, I thought I wanted to end it all so I locked myself in my dorm room, laid out a bunch of Advil and began to take it. I don’t think I would have fully gone through with it. But thankfully, my boyfriend at the time knocked on my door after pill number 2. And if comic relief would have it, it wasn’t Advil. They were laxatives (lol). I grabbed the wrong bottle. Thank goodness I only took 2 for all sorts of reasons. It’s like God was saying “1. I’m not done with you yet. and 2. That’s what you get.”
It wasn’t long after that, I found out my little sister had developed depression at home. This just broke my heart. I finished my freshman year at that school and transferred to a community college back home. It was time to get my head on straight, be there for my sister, and figure out what I wanted. Once I went back to school at home, I realized I had a talent for broadcast journalism. I was extremely motivated about my career goals and was pursuing them fully. I made almost all A’s, got an internship at the #1 radio station in Detroit, and towards the end of that internship I got word that I was accepted as an intern for FOX 30 in Jacksonville, Florida.
But all the while, my father was going through an identity crisis of his own. He was angry, lonely, heartbroken, and confused. In the midst of my dad’s strife, he met a woman that told him all the right things. So logically… he married her. This woman turned out to be a total fraud and did terrible things. She faked a pregnancy of twins, told people my sister was dying of cancer (which she was getting tested for but was fine), told us the babies died (which I still don’t 100% know is true or not), financially ruined my dad and countless more things. Here we were, a family trying to recover and she came in and did what she did. That was my first experience with a truly twisted person. Talk about trust issues.
I did not qualify loans for school and my dad could no longer afford me because of her. This caused a setback in my life goals. Although I was bummed, I tried to remain positive. The very day I was supposed to move back home to Michigan after my FOX 30 internship, I made a big decision. I called my dad and tossed out the idea of staying in Florida. I knew things were bad when he said “Well, that might not be a bad idea” with zero hesitation. There was nothing for me at home and I couldn’t even go to school if I wanted to. “Here we go- guess I’m staying here. Time to find a job.” So I found one and worked my ass off and made my way up the corporate ladder. Over a two year period, I started as a greeter at the front desk and finished as the Youth Activities Coordinator of Sawgrass Country Club. I hosted events, ran entire camps and started youth programs. It was pretty darn cool.
Once again, despite my accomplishments, a part of me felt empty. I wanted to go back to school but I didn’t know what I wanted out of it. I also thought I was missing out on life. I began to compare my life to people on social media and feel like I was the only person my age who wasn’t partying. I wanted that experience, somehow.
After 21, I started going out often and went to a multitude of music festivals. It’s not like that’s a bad thing. I love going out and I had a blast. But in my particular case, over time, it led me into a funk. I lost sight of my athleticism and continued put my love of journalism aside. I didn’t know what I was doing and where I was going chose to ride this wave of whatever. My excuse started to became that I was “figuring it out” and “had plans to go back to school” without acting on it.
My gut never left me alone though. I KNEW I had to get my crap back together, so I made the decision that it was time to leave my job and do something else. I was blessed enough that the current family I nanny for LITERALLY walked into my life while I was looking for a new job. Once I found them, I felt like I was getting back to where I wanted to be again. I was taking care of two incredible children with a family who loved me like their own. They encouraged me, taught me so much and blessed me more than I could have ever imagined. They truly have become family.
Shortly after I met them, my world changed once again in a different way. This past September, a series of unfortunate events and being naive led me into a dangerous situation at a music festival. Our ride left without us, and no Ubers or taxis could come through. A girl in my group gave me a list of phone numbers of people she knew could possibly give us a ride home. Little did I know that the person that picked up their phone when I called for help- she had only met that day.
We were heavily drugged by a group of men and had to escape getting nearly (but thankfully didn’t) gang raped. I experienced looking into the eyes of a person that had every intention to harm me for their own selfish gain. And not just one person. Multiple. There’s nothing I can say to describe that kind of fear. The words of their terrible plans for me still echo in my head. I shudder at the sight of similar vans. I can’t listen to certain songs. I still have PTSD even trying to get into something as simple as an Uber.
Could I ever trust anyone again? Did good people exist? Would I ever feel safe? How could I recover? Why oh why did this happen after everything I had been through? All I could think was haven’t I had enough? Mentally, it was (and still is) the most painful battle I have ever had to face.
My entire outlook on everything in life changed after that day. Everything. From how I thought, to how I spoke, to how I presented myself, to the way I exercised, to the people I allowed in my life – this experience transposed me from the inside out. I didn’t know it then, but my mom’s lack of teaching and my dad’s lack of fathering me was actually what would be my saving grace.
With that realization, I knew I would be okay. I got through everything else – I wasn’t going to let this take me down either.
I had to forgive my mistakes of the past. I had to learn to love and respect my body. I had to learn to see myself as valued and beautiful. I had to teach myself the reality of the world while learning how to forgive the people that wanted to harm me. To teach myself the power of the mind and not to let bad memories rule my head. To trust very few but to still love all.
It’s a battle I fight every day. & here I am.
I didn’t share my story because I want sympathy. I shared it because perhaps someone needed to hear it. It seems like social media has blinded us into thinking that people don’t have problems. Tough- ass- problems. Too many of us are afraid to share our real lives because we live in a world of highlight reels. This causes us to feel alone. So we relentlessly try to prove ourselves with photos of staged happiness instead of ACTUALLY working on trying to get there.
What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. I know it can’t be too simple. All of our lives are filled with ups and downs 110% of the time. I’m not here tell you that things are suddenly going to get better. I also can’t tell you that when things are better, that they won’t go wrong again. From experience, I know things are bound to go wrong again. But maybe I can help you think of things a little differently.
We have all struggled with something at one point or another. What’s most important is how we recover from those trials. I have good news. No matter who you are and what kind of path life has weaved for you – you always have a choice.
Isn’t it nice that we always have a choice? Despite what your circumstances say and regardless of what you are feeling – you get to choose what you’re going to do about your problems. Your situation and your feelings are not what has true power over you. YOU have power over you.
Of course we wish things happened differently sometimes. The way life happens is not always fair. But wishing your life happened differently will only get you so far. You can try and wish the pain away 10,000 times. You can try and wish yourself a different set of circumstances. You can wish and waste away your life. Or you can consider starting now exactly where you are- with what you have, and bust your balls through the pain.
My heart still aches. My mind is tired. My hands feel tied. Yet I would choose to rise up ten thousand more times than to lay down and surrender to a life of self pity. You can’t give up on what’s important to you because of the excuse of a painful past or the time it will take to accomplish it. The harsh truth is, the time is going to pass anyways.
I remember sitting in the car with my high school boyfriend and yelling to him “Why. When will it be over? Why ME?” I thought I was being punished for something and I didn’t understand why. I didn’t know it at the time, but those were the moments that were going to make me the strongest. Our past was not punishment. It was preparation. If my life would have gone according to my own plan and my mom hadn’t died, and if that crazy lady wouldn’t have come around, if my father would have fathered, if i didn’t get into that van- I wouldn’t have learned.
As it turns out- those bad experiences are the biggest blessings. Now I know to love everyone in my life with 110% of my heart because they could be gone tomorrow. Now I know to have my own back because there are people with ulterior motives. If life went according to Jessica- I probably would not be ready for the big things that God actually has in store for my future.
I might not be where I thought I’d be. But perhaps I’m right where I’m meant to be. With that in mind, there is no time or room for comparison. Comparison will only steal away the joy of the journey. Others did not experience what you did. You are a completely separate person with a unique story. Progress is progress.
So here we are. We can either get frustrated, or we can get thankful. I think it’s time to look at what we have gone through and realize how far we have come. You recovered each time – and you can recover again. Be proud of yourself and keep fighting. Regret nothing. Take back nothing. (Even the things that hurt) It all mattered and fought to become this person. Life moves on- and you, my dear have to do the same.
Some days you’ll be the mess, some days you’ll be the broom. One can’t exist without the other – and that becomes your story. You are complete, so embrace it! Who am I choosing to be? I’m choosing to be happy. I’m choosing to be thankful. I’m choosing to be loving. I’m choosing to press forward. I will forever choose to make the best of my mess. Because whether you’re the board op, the nanny, the gym chick or the annoying neighbor- one day, we will all look back with confidence and say “This is why God put me here.”
Update: It’s truly amazing what has transpired in our lives. I’ve lived in Jacksonville for 3 years now. Currently, I am a nanny and I am working mornings at a radio station as a board operator for a morning show. Started next month, I’m going back to school full time for Journalism. I am physically in the best shape of my life. Mentally, I am stronger than I could ever imagined. Every day I feel myself becoming a better person for the people I love. & Don’t just take it from me- everyone changed. My dad is now a different man. He as well learned from ALL of this. He’s taken up new hobbies, working hard to make improvements on the house and working to be a better father (and now grandfather). He’s also going back to school and has a wonderful girlfriend that we adore. Celia is now 16 and I couldn’t be more proud of her. She’s working to get her license, keeping her grades up, and takes constant care of my niece and nephew. Johnny runs his business and has 2 kids with his lovely wife, Brittany. They are expecting a third in December. And Jason just accepted his dream job teaching position and travels the world any chance he gets.