“To think about it now, it almost brings me to tears. It would have been really easy for me to fall through the cracks, but there were just so many who saw that light in me and nurtured me. There were people reaching out to me left and right, asking if I need to talk to someone.”
I’ve been through some really strange things in life. My parents divorced when I was two. I ended up living with my mom until I was about five or six. She had substance abuse issues. I had some sort of bruise on me and they thought she was beating me. She wasn’t, but they took me away from her. I ended up being raised by my dad.
As a sophomore in high school, my mom’s health started deteriorating. She started drinking and smoking herself to death. She ended up in the ICU because her body basically just let out. Her organs were starting to fail. She was in the ICU for like a month, she lost all of her muscle mass. She made it through, but it was a really weird time because I was so busy with school and soccer and being a normal kid. She ended up becoming disabled.
The following year, right at the end of my junior year in high school, my dad ended up having a stroke. Thankfully I was home when it happened and I knew that he was having a stroke. He ended up becoming legally blind and completely relearning how to read and write. He’s not allowed to drive. He was forced into early retirement, so at that point I had two parents who were disabled and you can’t survive like that, you know? My dad ended up moving to Indianapolis for rehab. My aunt and uncle helped him get his life back in order.
I was about to enter my senior year. I wound up living with my best friend and her family in their house. We ended up drifting apart; I lived on the other side of the wall from her and never saw her.
I graduated from high school and the day after I was kicked out of my friend’s house and told to figure it out. I ended up moving in with one of my teachers (Heather Miller). I literally had to call her and be like I have no where to go and she didn’t even think twice. She hopped in her car and came and got me and we packed my stuff up and I was in her house that night.
I really could have fallen flat on my ass if she hadn’t been there. I was surrounded by the best possible people. My teachers always knew of the situation and they always helped me through it. She just inspired me and stepped in and said you know what, I know this kid is a great kid and I can’t let him fall through the cracks. Baltimore is a pretty rough city, there’s a lot of kids who just never make it out. She would pay for my meals; as a teacher on a salary like that, she didn’t have a lot of money, but she really made a home for me. She’s an angel, you know? How does someone swoop in like that? I don’t know… To this day I’m still really really close to her. We still talk once every week or so.
College happened. My mom died my freshman year. The day my mom died my dad had to call me at work because they didn’t know how long she was going to last. That was at 11am, she died at 3pm, i was back in work at 5pm.
When she died my dad was there. I think he was actually living with my sister at the time. I just remember distinctly when it happened – he just grabbed me and grabbed my sister and said I promise I’ll do whatever I can to support you. That spring semester was really rough. My grandfather died six days after my mom died; she had died two days after Christmas.
Through all of it, all of the divorce drama, the uncle who never really accepted I was gay, my dad has always been there when I needed emotional support. Saying, “I know it’s tough, just stick it out, it’s going to be okay.” He’s really stuck with it through the years, to his credit, despite the fact that he wasn’t okay with the whole gay thing up front. He worked through it and he’s okay and we talk almost every day.
My dad, it was really he and I along the whole journey until he had the stroke and he really had to get himself in order. The stroke was kind of a blessing and a curse because our relationship had hit a point where it was either at a breaking point or he could come around. Then the stroke happened and he was like, “wow, I could really lose my son and it doesn’t matter if he likes guys or girls.” He’s always been there to stay “stick with it,” even when no one else was.
To think about it now, it almost brings me to tears. It would have been really easy for me to fall through the cracks, but there were just so many who saw that light in me and nurtured me. There were people reaching out to me left and right, asking if I need to talk to someone. I have all the faith and optimism in the world and I know that when I have the means, I can’t wait to give back.
Chris Rackliffe is currently the social media editor for Men’s Health and Women’s Health magazines. He stumbled into the world of social media after wrapping up the award winning 2009 University of Miami Ibis Yearbook, where he was Editor in Chief. That year, the yearbook won some of the top awards in the country. It also happened to be the year that the writer of this blog graduated, so she currently has three of them sitting on her bookshelf.