Christopher Paul Hatley – Overcoming Disadvantages

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As a child that grew up in a disadvantaged, single-parent home—I know first hand many of the struggles that are faced by our youth. I also know what it is like to overcome disadvantages and obtain profound dreams. Through my own experiences, I share what it is like to be a child in an addiction-driven family, not having a father figure, living in poverty, and the impact of bullying. It is my intent that by analyzing my life and how I reacted to these situations, others may be able to achieve success—not just materialistically, but with respect to their overall happiness. It should be noted that while my family suffered with many issues, I love them with all my heart. The intent of this autobiography is not to be a “sob story,” and if I am completely truthful, I wouldn’t change a thing as it has made who I am today. There isn’t a lot for me to be sad about these days. I am married to my high school sweetheart and working my dream job, cybersecurity for Microsoft!

Society and medicine treat us all as members of populations, whereas as individuals we are all unique, and population statistics do not apply — Craig Venter

Childhood

I was born December 15th, 1989 in a small, rural town in Southern Illinois called Marissa. My mom always described me as being a very hyper-competitive, “happy-go-lucky” child. I couldn’t sit still, and I exerted max effort in everything that I did. I am the youngest of my “known” siblings. My oldest brother, Danny, is 13 years older than me. My sister, Heather, was born about 10 years before me. Finally, my brother, Jason, has me beat by about 3 years. All of us were raised in a two-bedroom trailer by our single-mother, Mary. Given her personal issues, she did the best she could for us. When she couldn’t provide, which was often, we relied heavily on food stamps and the support of our grandparents. The reality though was that our living arrangements were far less than ideal.

Living Conditions

114Pinestreet
The plot where our trailer once set

 

We lived in a trailer park on the edge of town surrounded by corn fields and a cemetery. Like many trailers, ours was unsanitary. It was littered with beer cans and trash. It smelled of smoke. You literally could not see the floor. It wasn’t uncommon to see roaches crawling up the walls, around the counters, and even in our empty pantry. They had plenty of places to enter, too. In the living room, there was a roughly 3-foot in diameter hole by the front door where you could look down and see dirt. We locked that door and only entered the trailer using the back door. At one point, we didn’t even have a bathroom floor. I remember walking across floor joist to use the toilet while we waited a few months for one of our cousins to install new plywood. We couldn’t afford cable television, so my mom stole it. She ran coaxial cable from a box next to our lot—otherwise I would have been stuck with the 3-4 channels that came in across our antenna. Heat was sketchy at best. To start our furnace, we used to put a piece of paper on the end of a bent hanger, light it on fire, and then stick it into the system to ignite what mom referred to as the “pilot-light.” Food was virtually non-existent. I remember eating Malt-o-Meal most days, and if I wanted a snack, I put peanut butter on bread and covered it in syrup—a recipe learned from watching my mother. If it weren’t for state-sponsored assistance, it is likely that we wouldn’t have had any food to eat. My mom held jobs off and on, but ultimately struggled with her addiction to alcohol.

My Mother

My mom was very loving when she was sober, however, she struggled intensely with addiction. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since alcoholism had been passed down from generation to generation in my family. My grandma battled it into her late 80’s. My mother grew up watching her drink, and on over 20 separate occasions, attempt to take her own life. I can’t even imagine the psychological impact that had on my mother, aunt, and uncles—but I am sure it couldn’t have been good. My mother didn’t behave in a manner that you would expect from a typical alcoholic. Instead of drinking at night or in the evenings, she would wake up at 3 AM and begin drinking before we were even awake. By the time Jason and I did wake up, she was usually already drunk. In my experience with alcoholics, they typically express themselves in one or two ways—extreme anger or sadness. Most of the time, my mom was angry. Deep down I think she was angry because she knew she was an alcoholic and she wanted to stop drinking, but she simply couldn’t. She would yell at us for things we couldn’t possibly control or were never taught. When I think back to my earliest memories, the term “bastard” seems to stick. I can vividly remember the scowl on her face as she would scream the insult at me.

In her incoherent, angry state, I can remember facing several awkward moments. I am not going to share them all, but I will list a few of the memories that really seem to stand out in my mind. I used to sleep walk when I was young. On one occasion, I must have slept walked into the kitchen and urinated in front of the refrigerator. My mother saw the entire incident occur while she sat at the table drinking, but she did not want to wake me. When I awoke that morning and walked to the refrigerator, I stepped in a puddle. Not only did she not clean it up, she scolded me for it. As a child, it was an incredibly confusing incident. When you sleep walk, you typically don’t have any knowledge that the event even occurred. So, when my mom yelled at me for it, I didn’t really know how to react. I also remember a time when my mother was drunk, but instead of being angry, she was deeply depressed. She began to vent to me. I remember finding out that after Heather she had two more children, a boy and a girl, but had to give them up for adoption. The girl, Jenny, has lightly been in contact with the family. However, none of us know the whereabouts of my brother. All I know is that he was named Jacob at birth. That day the grief had really gotten to my mom and I think she felt guilty for the way she was bringing me up. She drove me to a child services office in the nearby town of Sparta while still intoxicated. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I am going to find you some new parents that are better than me. They will buy you lots of Nintendo 64 games. You are finally going to be happy.” Tears rolled down my face as she opened the car door and walked into the office. However, she returned moments later and said they wouldn’t take me. I am not sure what transpired in the office—either it was negligence by the service workers or she couldn’t go through with it. Either way, I was happy. I didn’t want a new mom. I love my mom even with all her issues.

There were many other incidents, but honestly, I learned to tone them out. I came to terms with the fact that she wasn’t going to have any memory of what took place after she awoke from her drunken nap—and her nap would come. Like clockwork, she would pass out around lunch time. After a two to three-hour nap, she would wake up angry again. We continued to avoid her during this time. I would hide in my room and play with Legos, toy army men, or Nintendo. Do you remember when I said my mother was loving? Well, after a few hours of waking up from her nap, her anger would subside and become replaced with remorse. She would apologize and tell us she was going to do better. She would watch television with us or take us to our grandmas to play in their big country yard. She desperately wanted to give us a better life.

Eventually, her addiction had gotten so bad that she had to go to an impatient treatment center. During this time, Jason and I had to split time between our uncle’s houses. I was very young—5-6 if I had to guess. I remember waking up in the morning and my Aunt Betty had made us breakfast. She looked at us and said, “Do you want orange juice or milk?” As weird as it may sound, I wasn’t used to this type of behavior. To be honest, I never even had anyone standing over me saying I had to go to school let alone preparing me breakfast. My aunt Betty and my aunt Patty would go on to take care of us for a few months and show us what normal life was like, but inevitably my mother would have to leave treatment. She managed to stay sober for a little while, but old habits die hard. Within a couple of months, she was right back at it. I forgive her though.

People will always be quick to judge someone, but slow to understand why they are who they are. My mother grew up around alcohol and believed it was normal. She didn’t want to be an alcoholic, and she probably didn’t even understand what addiction really was until it was too late. I would ask anyone that condemns someone because they have an addiction to have some empathy. I didn’t say enable them or excuse wrongful behavior—they still need to be held to the same standards. However, love them and show them some compassion. Have you ever consumed alcohol? I believe 99% of people would say yes. Well, if you have and you are not an alcoholic, then you are fortunate—it didn’t impact you the way it may have impacted another. The same is true for other addictions as well. I often hear people say, “Well it is their fault for using the drug in the first place”. I would agree. However, I would also argue that all of us are human and make mistakes. Some mistakes are temporary and some last a lifetime. Most of time people become addicted at an early age—and I don’t know about you, but I didn’t always make the best decisions when I was young. Especially when we live in a society where alcohol is everyone’s favorite pastime and doctors hand out prescriptions with opioids just because you had a wisdom tooth pulled. As you can tell, I am deeply passionate about the subject. Addiction has had a tremendous impact on my life and who I am—not as the person being addicted, but as the person that has watched many loved ones suffer and even die. Given my mom’s circumstances, I had to be very independent and I feel that has been transcribed into my current personality. Up until this point, you have heard a lot of bad things about my mom, but deep down buried under her addiction she does have a heart of gold.

She was a completely different person sober. It is incredibly difficult to describe how someone can go from being so cruel and hateful to kind and loving—but she pulled it off. I learned many of my values, morals, and ethics from her when she was sober. She is easily one of the most compassionate people I have ever met. As an example, I remember one time I came home from school and was telling her about another child in our class that had been wearing the same outfit for the entire week and how he was being treated. At the time, my mom had a job at a cabinet shop, so she had a little more money than usual. I remember going to J.C. Penney’s with her and buying 3 – 4 shirts and a pair of pants. I could have used the clothes myself, but this wasn’t about me. We dropped them off at the school office never telling a soul, and they distributed them to the kid. I remember sitting in class seeing him wear the clothes that we had purchased and the amount of joy that brought me. It is one of the most valuable lessons anyone has ever taught me—the act of generosity and the ability to have empathy for others. On other occasions, she would take her last couple of dollars, sometimes even change, and buy us baseball cards or new video games. She would even write checks that she knew were going to bounce just to try to buy us food or clothing. I loved baseball and she always ensured that I got enrolled into Khoury League. She also made every effort to attend my games to which I am grateful. It helped that they were in the evening which is when she was usually sober. In addition to her random acts of kindness, she also introduced me to Christianity.

While Christianity has taken a lot of criticism in modern-day society, it is largely due to misinformation or overly judgmental Christians. There are so many decent concepts that a young child can learn from the bible. It teaches love, forgiveness, generosity, integrity and so many other ideas that I would have missed out on not really having a solid foundation to learn from. I felt like God was watching over my shoulder, so I always made it a point to try to do the right thing. As a child without much supervision, it was critical to my development to feel like my actions were being actively monitored. Additionally, prayer was an outlet for me ease some of the pain and stress I was feeling. I would lay down at night and pray to God about anything that was bothering me. I used to pray daily for my mother. I have a memory of me laying outside against one of the metal beams on our car port clutching a rosary. I don’t remember why I was crying, but I do remember grasping the first bead and saying the Lords Prayer. I reached for the second bead and did the same thing. I repeated until I had touched every bead and the cross on the rosary. While I understand that many find the bible offensive or disagree with some of its teachings, I am thankful for the lessons it taught me. I think the biggest backlash against the bible is due to the teachings about sexual orientation. Real Christians know that it is not their place to judge others, demonstrate hate, or take away someone’s own free will. No one enforced that concept to me more than my mother. For all the bad things she did, I forgive her. For all the good that she brought me, I praise and love her.

She would continue to struggle with alcoholism the entire time I was growing up, and still to this day, it plagues her. If I ever find that magic lamp with a genie, my first wish will be to cure the suffering that addiction has brought to humanity. However, deep down I know that there is nothing that I can do for those already addicted. I think that was the hardest part of growing up in a family that suffers from addiction. Watching the ones that you love struggle, suffer, and even perish, and not being able to do anything to stop it. I wanted to describe my mother and environment to give some background on the issues that I had to deal with. It is important to not only understand them, but also to understand my perspective on the situation. Millions, if not more, of children grow up in environments like this. As you will see, many don’t make it out. They end up in similar situations as my brother, Jason. For me, I was fortunate. I beat the odds and overcame my environment.

Early Life

Danny and Heather were much older than me, so my earliest memories are usually filled with my brother Jason. With mom suffering from alcoholism, we were typically left to our own devices. We would roam the trailer park, fields and the streets. My brother Danny recalls coming home with mom passed out and me running around outside with my diaper full. We had no supervision and no rules. It is honestly a miracle that we are even still here. Jason and I were remarkably close at this time. He was much larger than me, and even though he was a little chunky in his early days, he was incredibly strong. His size was matched by his heart. He would rescue stray animals, protect me from neighborhood bullies, and keep me safe while mom was struggling. However, he couldn’t teach me the basic things that every kid should learn—because he himself had not been taught. I didn’t know that I was supposed to shower every day. I was never taught about brushing my teeth or hair. I had absolutely no idea what a bedtime was. To make things worse, we barely had the things that are essential to everyday life such as toilet paper and hand soap. I remember mom teaching us to take dirty socks off the floor, wet them under a facet, and use them to wipe ourselves after we used the restroom. If my mom had something stuck in her teeth, she would pull out an old, dirty straw broom, pluck a straw from it, and use the “non-dirty” end as a toothpick. As you can imagine, this did not translate very well when I went to school. I was called every name in the book. Usually not by my classmates, thankfully, but older kids had no mercy. I can remember bumping into an older girl at recess while running. I looked at her and said, “Sorry.” She turned to me with a look of disgust and said, “You’re ugly!” Other times I can remember kids laughing about the way I smelled or the holes in my clothing. My voice was also “high-pitched” or not “normal.” It is interesting how a compliment can make someone feel happy for a few hours or even a day, but an insult can scar for a lifetime. These insults seemed to be on repeat for the duration of elementary school and I still wear them as insecurities to this day. I will discuss how this impacts me in more detail later. When no one wants to be around you as a kid and you don’t really understand why, it can leave some severe emotional scars. Except for a few close friends, I was basically an outsider.

What does a kid with few friends and big imagination do? He finds ways to escape reality. I read books like it was my mission. I tore through the Hardy Boys, Hank the Cowdog, Goosebumps, Shivers, Holes, The Family Under the Bridge, Harry Potter, and eventually the Lost Years of Merlin to name a few. I played video games whenever I could. I played Mario, Lion King, Zelda, 007, Banjo Kazooie and many other classics. Jason and I would turn the lights off in our room and play the first Resident Evil games when they released on PlayStation. I was also a very curious kid. I loved science! Our school library had books about each of the planets in our solar system. I read them all. It was this very curiosity that may have ultimately saved my life. When I was younger I remember turning on the Science Channel. There was a documentary on there about addiction and how if your parents were addicted to a substance, your chances increase substantially. I am not even sure how accurate that statement was, but I took it to heart. I saw the helpless in my mother’s eyes and how she struggled, and I was not going to let that be me.

When I wasn’t in wrapped up in books or video games, I managed to snag a couple of friends—namely Zack, Dustin, Geoff, Colin, and Kyoto. However, going to these friend’s houses wasn’t easy. Even though I didn’t know my biological father, it seemed that everyone else did—and let’s just say he wasn’t a good person. He was known for domestic violence, theft, and drug abuse. My mother and older siblings were emotionally and physically abused by him, so his absence was for the best. When my friends would ask their parents to let me to come over, the request would often be rejected. “That Hatley boy? Stay away from him. Hatley’s are nothing but trouble!” The infamous words that still ring in my head. It is a hard reality for an elementary kid accept that even though you don’t know your father, everyone is judging you based off his actions. The parents of one of my best friends even told me the story of how my father had stolen their truck several years before I was born. Every new relationship that I forged I felt like I was in debt to the other person—like I had to prove myself as not just another “Hatley” boy, but a decent human being.

While I didn’t have a father in my life, I was fortunate enough to fill the void in some capacity thanks to my grandpa. When I was extraordinarily little he would take me out into his garden to help him, teach me some life lesson, or just show me what any young boy wants—that someone loves him. I remember him taking me out during spring to till the garden. I was tilling the ground but not really paying attention. He grabbed me by the shoulders in frustration and said, “If your going to do something, don’t do it half-assed.” Petty things like that are what shape and mold a person. To this day, if I feel like I am about to cut corners on something, I am conscious of that fact and ensure I exert max effort. My grandpa was truly an amazing person though. He bought us food and took us under his wing as often as possible. He would tell me his World War II stories and how he was in the Navy. I remember hearing about how he was a firefighter while in the service and his station was in a volcano. As you will discover later, I somewhat followed in his footsteps. He also taught me how to shoot a shotgun and fish. The most important thing about my grandpa though was that he stayed married to my grandma despite the magnitude of issues she suffered from. I am told my grandma was sexually abused at an early age. She grew up suffering from depression, alcoholism, and bulimia. She also was very suicidal. Even in her old age she attempted to take her life. I remember going to the hospital after she turned on her car, shut the garage door, and laid under it. She had carbon monoxide poisoning and barely survived the incident. I recall my grandpa at the hospital and the anguish in his eyes. I could tell it tore him up, and to be honest, it hurt me deep down as well. Ironically, my grandma would go on to outlive my grandpa by 20 years. My last memories of my grandpa are playing frisbee in the back yard and watching the St. Louis Rams win the Super Bowl together around 1999. I believe it was Halloween when I heard the school intercom broadcast to the room, “Can you tell Chris Hatley to ride the bus to his grandma’s house today?” That day I would step off the bus to find my family in tears. My grandpa had passed overnight due to a heart attack. At roughly 10 years of age, this hit hard.

Around this time is when things started to go south for my brother Jason. Living in a small town with not much to do, many young kids resort to walking around and drinking. My brother Jason was around 13 at this time and he took the wrong ques from our family. Where I was able to learn “what not to do,” he was not so fortunate. I remember mom yelling at him for smoking. I also remember him disappearing overnight—staying out drinking. I have no idea where he was even getting the alcohol from, but I must believe that some adult was supplying it. Given the town we grew up in, I am not surprised. Jason at age 13 was bigger than most full-grown men—and we have some athleticism in our genetics. The only person that could put him in check was our oldest brother Danny, but at that time, he lived in his own double wide with his girlfriend. To make things worse, Jason became violent when he drank. He would push mom and me around—even force mom to give him money to purchase more alcohol. I can confidently say that by age 13 to 14 he was a full-blown alcoholic. Where his heart was once full of compassion and generosity—there was now anger and hate. He learned that he could use his size to get whatever he wanted. That could be alcohol or that could be the TV that I was using to play video games on. It didn’t matter, and even though I tried, I wasn’t big enough to stop him. Neither could the school system. He became so violent that he had to go to a special behavioral school. It got to the point where I could hardly live in the trailer any more. I would wake up to my mother already drunk. After walking on egg shells all day to avoid her, Jason would pick up in the evening where she left off. You never knew when he was going to come home, but you didn’t want to be around. He would wake me up at 2 AM and try to fight me for no reason—sometimes completely delusional. Other times, he would just throw me out of the bed from a dead sleep. I love my family, but this was too much to take for me. I started going anywhere other than home.

I would often go to my uncle Bruce’s house to hang out with my older cousins Stacy and Mark. I liked going over there because their family was what I perceived as normal. However, my uncle Bruce was the worst kind of alcoholic. His macho-man persona made it impossible for him to admit he had a problem. I was only 10 or 11 at that time and he was offering me beer. Luckily, I was so scared of the substance you couldn’t even get me to hold the can. My fear gave me the courage to say no if that makes sense. If they got annoyed of me, I would go to my brother Danny’s house and play video games. His girlfriend was not thrilled about this idea. For one, Danny already spent too much of his time playing video games and not so much time hanging out with her. Then I came a long and took up more of his time. I feel that her response was reasonable, but she took a lot of her anger out directly on me. When they eventually split she even went as far as to write a personal letter apologizing for the way she had treated me. Having to limit my time at Danny’s, I would head over to my sister’s house down the road. My sister’s husband, Aaron, was also not onboard with the idea of me spending too much time at their house. I remember him telling me to leave quite often. One time he even made me sit across the road from the house since Heather wasn’t home. I had nowhere else to go that day though, so I just sat sobbing quietly on my own by a telephone pole. My mom would eventually take some temporary work over in Georgia and Aaron would have no choice but to take me in.

507EastKeysStreet
Heather’s house

 

Shortly before my grandpa passed away, my mother was hired on at a car part manufacturing company about 45 minutes away from our town. This period was the best that my mom has ever done to my knowledge. She still struggled with alcohol, but she was doing better. She did have an incident where she received her second Driving Under the Influence (DUI) violation, but she was able to get a work permit to drive during specific hours. One day she came home from work and found out that the company needed to send some employees over to Georgia to support another plant during an influx of work. The only place for me to go was my sister Heather’s house, and Aaron eventually caved to the pressure. My sister had three kids; Katie, Alex, and Mathew. The house only had three bedrooms, so I was given the couch. I wasn’t going to complain though. Anything was better than the trailer. The simple fact that my sister kept the house clean was enough to keep me satisfied, and the fact that she cooked dinner every night was a bonus. Aaron, a bricklayer and handyman, spent his free time landscaping and renovating. As I mentioned before, Aaron was not too excited about adding another member to the household, but he eventually warmed up. At first things were a little awkward and I did feel like I was intruding. However, Aaron and I shared a very similar passion—we both liked to fish. One day after a conversation about fishing he asked me if I wanted to go out with him the next morning. From that day forward, things started moving in a positive direction. To a degree, Aaron took me in as his own. Looking back at it now, if I had to call one person a father, it would be him. He had a strong work ethic. My brother and uncles were all in the construction business, and I was used to seeing them take “sick days” or intentionally getting laid off to collect Illinois unemployment. Aaron was different though. Day after day, he would go out in the hot sun and perform back-breaking labor. Even more bewildering to me, he would volunteer to do work on the weekend—sometimes only to make an extra hundred dollars or less. Being an observer, I knew this was a trait that I respected and wanted to emulate. I was just starting to get into a normal routine and feel like I had a normal life when mom returned from Georgia. She came bearing news—we were going to move to the town of Nashville, IL about 45 minutes away to be closer to her work.

Nashville, Illinois

At first, I was somewhat excited about the idea. My home town was so small that our school didn’t even have a football team. My 7th grade class at the time only had about 40 kids total. The new school was much bigger. If I had to guess my class had about 100 to 150 kids. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it was a big increase for me. My mom rented a small house in town and it was settled. Things should have been perfect, but they weren’t. Being the shy new kid was one thing. Being the shy new kid in ragged old clothes that stunk was another. I found it next to impossible to make a friend. One day on the bus ride home, one of the jock kids tried to instigate a fight between me an another kid on the bus—just to see who would win. I politely declined. However, the other kid was a bit of an outcast as well and felt that he had to prove himself. We got off the bus that day and Zach was ready to fight. I continued to try to talk him out of it—but my request fell on deaf ears. Zach took a swing. Unfortunately for him, I had received a lot of “practice” trying to counter Jason and was able to move out of the way quickly. I hit him with a couple of quick punches and he eventually decided it was time to stop. I helped him off the ground. After the jock had left the area, I started talking to him. Just like that we became friends. I remember him coming over that day to play Need for Speed with me on the PlayStation. Outside of school we would hang out nearly every single day. However, we didn’t have many classes together, so I still dreaded the school week.

To add to my issues, Jason had become more violent. I had very little to begin with, and he made sure I had less. One time we got into an argument about the TV. I was legitimately sick, and Jason had skipped school that day. I wanted nothing more than to lay in bed and fall asleep to the Science Channel as cold chills ran down my body. However, Jason wasn’t having it. He got so mad that he locked me outside in the dead of winter with no shoes. He then took the paintball gun that I had saved up for by cutting grass with Zach and smashed it to pieces on the couch while I watched through the window. Trying to find warmth, I went into our car port and curled up against the wall until mom got home a few hours later. On another ocaasion, I suffered a severe injury to my right hand. I was out in the yard playing with a homemade bow. Jason comes outside and throws a cup of water on me for no reason other than to torment me. I started chasing him back inside only to have him turn and slam a glass door on me. Instinctively, I put my hands up. The glass ripped through my flesh. The whole scene went down in slow motion for me. I stepped back. Realizing that I had lost feeling in most of right hand, I looked down at my wrist. A giant “L-shaped” laceration lay wide open nearly exposing the bone. Blood began to pour out covering my shoes and the porch. The pinky and ring fingers on my right hand curled inward. All feeling and control of them had been lost. I looked down at my left wrist. It too had been cut but feeling remained intact. I laid down on the porch in shock as mom wrapped a shirt around my wrist and called an ambulance. We arrived at a community hospital only to find out I had to be

Right hand laceration

transported to St. Louis for surgery. Both the nerve and tendon in my right hand had been completely severed. Mom opted to drive me as opposed to using an ambulance as it was cheaper. Although I shouldn’t have been surprised, Jason spent the car ride trying to convince mom to drop him off in our hometown along the way so that he could get drunk with his friends. Out of fear, she would honor his request. We arrived at St. Louis Children’s Hospital that evening where surgery was performed to reattach my tendon and nerve. After a nerve graft, I would eventually be able to bend my right pinky and ring fingers again, but I never fully recovered. I still to this day cannot move those two fingers to together when my hand is fully opened—making a proper solute impossible. In addition to my issues with school and Jason, I also received some tragic news about my cousin.

It was very early in the morning when we received the call. My mom answered it. I was sleeping on the couch and overheard the conversation. My cousin, Mark, had passed away at age 19 due to a drunk driving incident. I mentioned earlier that my uncle Bruce had tried to give me alcohol when I was very young. He also extended that offer to his children. Mark had been taught that the only way to be a man was to have a beer in his hand. Bruce was also the kind of guy that would fill up his truck’s center console with ice and drink on the road. To Mark, this had to seem like normal behavior. However, after Mark’s passing it was everyone’s fault but Bruce’s. I think he put most of the blame on Mark’s friends for allowing him to drive. To this day, I am not sure if Bruce has ever accepted his role in Mark’s passing. It is hard to blame him though, as I am sure that is a large, tough pill to swallow. For me, it only further reinforced the idea that I never wanted to touch alcohol. Mark’s death hit me hard. The emotional stress of school and my home life became overwhelming and depression began to set in. I started to feel numb. Life and its purpose seemed to be escaping my grasp. My family always knew me as a very “happy-go-lucky” person and I have always had a very “Type-A” personality, but due to bullying and my insecurities, I was always too scared to show people my outgoing side. Instead, I opted to hide in shyness and mask my true character.

Up until this point,t I had been a straight A student. The mere thought of getting a detention in 7th grade would have sent me to tears. However, the kids in this school were incredibly cruel and it started to wear on me. I tried to avoid others. I was especially afraid to talk to girls. My experience thus far was that they were far more judgmental, and given some of the insults I had hurled at me, I couldn’t see how any of them would have liked me anyways. One time on the bus a girl approached me and said that her friend thought I was cute. It caught me off guard. I thought to myself, “No girl would say that about me.” I was so insecure that I couldn’t possibly talk to her. If I did, she would surely no longer like me, right? It may sound crazy, but I avoided the bus from that day forward. The middle school was about a 2-mile walk, but it didn’t stop me. The problem wasn’t the walk there, it was the solitude I felt when I arrived. I remember trying to hang out with various cliques. I tried the Yu Gi Oh kids. Everything seemed fine until at first until one of them said, “Your voice is weird. It doesn’t sound like what I would expect.” After that, the insults started rolling, and I am smart enough to know when I am not welcome. I couldn’t hang with the jocks because to be honest, I really don’t know anything about football—and this was very much a football town. I even tried to hang out with the inline skater kids, but that ended tragically. I decided to put my roller blades on and skate all the way to school—only to realize I had forgotten my shoes. All I had to wear were the inserts that go in the skates themselves. You would think that the teachers would have helped me out, but no. They were almost as bad as the students. That day I walked around school with my head hanging low as the other kids looked at my feet and laughed. To that group of skaters, I was forever known as the “Fruit Booter.” Evidentially, Wal-Mart skates were an insult to the community. Everyone else seemed to have some snarky comment to throw my direction that day. I wanted to find a quiet place to hide. I felt like crying, but I wasn’t going to let them know they had gotten to me. It got to the point where I accepted the fact that Zach as my only after school friend, and in school, I made it a point to hang out with anyone considered an outsider. I started to rebel against students and teachers alike.

I recall science class—my favorite subject. There was a kid in that class named Anderson. Anderson was overweight and had acne. You could tell that like me, his family didn’t have a lot of money. I picked this kid for every project on purpose, and it drew a lot of negative attention. At this point, I didn’t care. As far as I was concerned, Anderson was a far better person than most of them. The happiness I saw in his eyes when I willingly wanted to work with him brought me joy than I could have ever manufactured on my own. That joy only fueled me. I started becoming more vocal. I lashed out at any student that tried to provoke me or who messed with any of the kids I knew were having a hard time. Naturally, this mentality did not sit well with many other students, and school became a very passive aggressive, depressing place for me. I received my first detention, and while it brought me to tears, it didn’t alter my behavior. I then started being truant.

I remember waking up and going through an internal conflict. I would feel an incredible amount of guilt when I skipped school. I knew that it wasn’t right, and it would emotionally wreck me. One time I felt so guilty that I watched an entire 8-hour DVD set of Jesus of Nazareth to make myself feel better. It didn’t stop me from being truant though. The amount of anguish that I felt when I went to school was overwhelming. Eventually, the truancy officer started coming to the house. I was skipping school 2-3 days a week and even my mother was starting to get frustrated. Not wanting to deal with the truancy officer and overcome with the grief that going to school brought, I started hiding outside where no one could find me. Down the road from our house was a giant drainage pipe. One day I skipped school and spent the entire day in that concrete enclosure dwelling on the guilt of knowing I had missed another day. This was a very dark time for me and my mom started running out of options. After a year of waiting for me to “adjust”, she decided it was best to move back to our hometown midway through my 8th grade year.

Moving Back

My mom maintained the same job, so we were able to rent another cheap house. However, I was still unable to live at home. Jason was there, and my mom had just taken in my cousin, Joe. He had recently been released from prison for the production and distribution of methamphetamine. If you knew Joe, he was a very kind, quiet person and incredibly intelligent. He lost his mother, my aunt Sharlene, while he was still in high-school due to Hepatitis C. She had contracted the virus from sharing a needle when she was younger and did not know until it was too late. Joe and his older brother, Larry, were left to provide for themselves, and the only thing they ever knew was drugs. Joe’s father stuck around a little after the death of his mother to help enforce the idea that drug dealing could make them the money they needed to survive. Joe himself did not want to be an addict and fought it to the best of his ability. As can imagine though, I did not want to be in the same house as him or anyone that did drugs for that matter. When my aunt passed away from Hepatitis C, I overheard my family describing the death and how gruesome it was. I also saw her months before she passed, and she was filled with fluid—almost like a balloon. It was awful to witness, and I knew I wanted to be far away from anyone that could be carrying a virus like that. Luckily, I was able to split time staying at some friends’ houses throughout the week. I also got to spend some more quality time over at my sister’s house with Aaron.

When I arrived back to school, I was not the same kid that left. I was hardened and defensive. If I ever looked back and said, “I regret this part of life,” then this it. Not because of anything that happened to me, but because of the way acted and sometimes treated others. I didn’t want to hear what the teachers had to say. I would sleep during class and make witty remarks to anyone who tried to correct me. This was my rebellious stage—and it coincided deeply with my depression. Behind my grandma’s house were endless hills, wilderness and lakes. These lakes were the product of a once booming coal industry that was shut down due to too much sulfur. I would spend my evenings in solitude behind her house out fishing or catching various animals for “extra credit” in science class. It is interesting how specific smells and songs can be directly linked to certain feelings and emotions. To this day, if I smell Axe deodorant or listen to any of the country music songs that my grandma played during this time (e.g, Joe Nicols’s song “Brokenheartsville” or Kid Rock’s song “Picture”), I instantly have flashbacks of this period of depression. The only way I was going to come out of this feeling of helplessness was to get some close friends.

No longer caring about what others thought and making entertaining comments to the teachers was a hit with some of the other kids. And while it certainly was not good for my high school transcript or the teachers, I did land a group of friends to hang out with. This group wasn’t exactly “new”. It consisted of my friend Zack who lived next door to my grandma. Due to a feud between our families, we had been off an on friends growing up. It also consisted of Josh whom I used to hang out with in elementary school. This time though, we all clicked together very closely. We added Jean-Paul (JP), Colton, and Adam to the mix to complete the circle. We had just graduated 8th grade, and we were ready to start our high-school shenanigans.

Since I didn’t have a permanent place of residence, I also didn’t have any rules. I went where I wanted, when I wanted. I still lived within the confines of the personal barriers I set—no drinking or drugs of any type. Not even Tylenol. My friends seemed to follow the trend. However, we lived in a small town. We had a single gas station and there was really nothing recreational for a young teenager to do. At this time, the show Jackass had just started taking off, and we followed suit. We would drive to the nearby town’s Wal-Mart and play jokes on people or drive down back roads tipping trash cans. Pretty much anything we could think of to get a quick laugh. We would all stay over at Zack or Adam’s house in the country and just wonder back roads together. We even started a little band called “Slow Children Playing.” We were not all that great, but I did enjoy strumming some Blink-182-like bass lines. We were full-blown emo-punk rockers. I remember listening to Linkin Park, Story of the Year, Three Days Grace, Yellow Card, Bullet for My Valentine, Blink -182, Hawthorne Heights, and Taking Back Sunday to name a few. I started to come out the rut that I had been in emotionally. I had people to hang out with and things to do—even if we weren’t always the most ethical bunch.

It wasn’t all fun and games. Our group managed to managed to make a few enemies which eventually led to some fights. As an example. I remember Zach and a kid named Richard were constantly in verbal conflict. Zach and I were walking by the elementary school we ran into him and his friends. Zack, who was bigger than me, started arguing with Richard. However, when it came time for them to throw punches, Richard walked around Zack with the intent of fighting me. Having not said a single word during this encounter, I was caught off guard. I guess Richard didn’t want anything to do with Zack, so I was the target. He came at me with his arms flailing wildly—almost like windmills. It was incredibly easy to dodge, and with my weight advantage, I tackled him. I pinned him to the ground as my brother Jason had done to me so many times. I had a knee on each of his biceps and I could see he was helpless. Zack shouted at me to reign down punches and he screamed for his friends to get me off him. I couldn’t do it though. I didn’t have it in me to inflict pain against him, especially given the fact that he was helpless in that moment. Thanks to Jason, I had been in his situation so many times before, and I knew what it was like. Up until this point, I had always worried that violent behavior was hereditary. My father was violent and so was my brother—so why should it skip me? After all, Jason never even knew our father, but was somehow just like him. My inability to hit Richard that day gave me some degree of confidence in myself. I felt like I was different from Jason and not bound to the actions of my father. There were a few other fights that the group and I had encountered, but they were minor compared to some of the other things that we did.

We also had some moments of thievery. One time, we all went out to a construction site and stole a bunch of wood to build a little shack for our band. A neighbor reported us unloading the wood from JP’s truck in the middle of the night and called the cops. We denied that we had stolen it, and eventually the police officer left. I spent the next few nights shaking and wondering if we would eventually get caught. However, the police never connected the dots and my worries started to subside. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only thing we stole. One night we were near one of the towns bars. A drunk man walked out of the bar and got onto a kid-sized dirt bike. The man locked eyes with us and started doing a burnout on the road. Eventually, he drove a block down the road to his house. As a group, we got the brilliant idea that we would take the dirt bike and drive it out to our friend Adam’s house in the country. We spent the next few days riding it around back roads and ramping it off hills. One day, JP and I were ramping it around a farmer’s field. He spotted us and called the police. A state trooper came and stopped us. He cited us with a ticket for “Driving an ATV on the side of the road.” I wasn’t worried about the $50-dollar ticket though. What worried me was the fact that he recorded the serial number and then loaded it onto the back of a tow truck. I didn’t realize it even had a serial number, and now I worried that the drunk man had reported it missing. I looked up the dirt bike, and to my surprise I found out it was worth around 1,200 dollars. I lost months of sleep over the incident wondering if I would get picked up. Fortunately, we managed to avoid getting in trouble by the law. I am not proud of either of these incidents, and would never think about committing them again. I use the term fortunate because had I been caught, I may have a criminal record. Criminal records follow you for the rest of your life, and it is a guarantee that I would have never been able to make it to where I am today. It is a flaw in the justice system and assumes that a few bad decisions as a child are a clear indication of who that person is–not factoring in their environment or ability to mature. Fighting and stealing were not my only issues. During this time, my academic life was also spiraling out of control.

I was in detention every single session. I was skipping school, sleeping in class, and mouthing off to teachers. My grades were all failing because I never submitted any of my homework assignments. I would end up serving several in-school suspensions and attending Saturday school. I was way off track compared to the kid that I was before I left for Nashville. I wasn’t proud of who I had become. I didn’t want to be a “bad” kid. However, I felt like I needed the attention. I am not sure why I felt this way, but it was a hard, mental rut to escape. I would tell myself, “You are going to knock this off and start doing better academically. Go back to the way you were.” Then I would go to class and it was right back to mouthing off to the teachers or sleeping. To add to my mounting academic problems, I also had zero money.

Mom would step in and try to pay for reduced lunches at school when she could, but even that was not a guarantee. Luckily, the lunch lady showed compassion and allowed me to eat. My sister Heather would also give me a few dollars here and there, but I didn’t want to be dependent on anyone else. For my 9th grade year, I was still too young to work “officially” in the state of Illinois. I started off by helping my brother do construction. I would tear off the roof and carry bundles of shingles up the latter. I would also run around the yard collecting trash. If he didn’t have any work going on, I would offer to cut grass for people–usually making 15-20 dollars a lot. Finally, at age 15, I was able to land a job as a dishwasher getting paid “under the table.” My friends had a proposal on how I should spend my first paycheck. They were going to take me to the mall and show me what type of shoes and clothes to buy. Naturally, as a bunch of kids that listen to punk rock, we went to Hot Topic. I picked up as many band t-shirts as I could find—Bullet for my Valentine, Blink 182, Him, Atreyu, and so on. I also picked up a pair of skater shoes even though I had never touched a skate board in my life. I topped the outfit off with a studded belt. I know what your thinking right now, “this kid was an emo.” I guess technically that would be correct, but more than anything, I was just lost and looking help anywhere I could get it. That Monday I put on cloths that fit me for the first time. JP helped me spike my hair and I was off to the races. I walked into school with a new-found confidence, and it appeared that it was working. Girls were taking notice of me and a few of them even gave me compliments. I felt like a new person, and it led to something great.

11 Years later, where it all began

RevisitingWhereItbegan
11 Years later, where it all began

There was one girl who caught my eye, and she happened to be the best friend of JP’s girlfriend. Her name was Catherine or “Cat” for short. The only time I had ever talked to her was about 6 months prior to my wardrobe change when I asked her to borrow 50 cents for the vending machine. She was gorgeous, so I automatically assumed that she was way out of my league, and I let it be. However, fate had different plans. I walked into school one day and sat down in my algebra class. Like I typically did, I forgot my ID. An offence punishable by detention. Mrs. Wesslemann, our teacher, asked everyone to hold up their IDs one by one. As they went around the room, I quickly realized that I did not have anything hanging around my neck. A girl sitting two seats away pulls out an extra ID and threw it over to me. I quickly put it around my neck and held up the back side so that no picture was visible. The teacher didn’t even notice. I was grateful that someone went out of their way to help me, and I caught myself looking over at her. Cat smiled, and I instantly knew. Later that day JP helped me get back in contact with her, and through the exchanging of neatly folded notes, I got her MSN instant messenger information. Shortly after on March 9, 2006, I asked her out and she said yes!

FirstDate
The day of our first date

 

For our first date, Aaron let me borrow his truck. It was a Ford Ranger. I remember picking up Cat, JP, and his girlfriend Jasmine. We had to drive about 45 minutes to get anywhere that had things to do, but I didn’t mind. That evening we went bowling and to played laser tag. We had so much fun that it was hard to image that I was ever depressed. Going from never really having any girl show interest in me to having a kind-hearted, beautiful girlfriend, I took nothing for granted. The idea that there are were other women out there was an idea that I did not support. There was Cat—and then there was everyone else. I had some issues to work through. I was still incredibly insecure. I was scared to look at her. Afraid that she would see something she didn’t like. I avoided eye contact at all cost—despite her pleading. When we went out to eat, I pretended I wasn’t hungry. I was too afraid to let her see me chew. I was afraid to talk. Afraid my voice wasn’t going to sound right. I was so nervous that I was afraid to even let her family see me. All that ran through my mind was them thinking, “She is so pretty, what is she doing with him?” To be honest, I have never talked about this to anyone because I have been too afraid to show this side of me. However, I feel that it needs to be said. Be careful of what you say to others. The most seemingly harmless words can have the longest lasting impact. As I write this, I think of anyone that I may have harmed. A few names come to mind, and I am going to make it a point to apologize to them. Hopefully, they are not still walking around holding scars that I inflicted on them and they have it in their heart to forgive me.

I found that the only way to gain power over my insecurities was to face to face them. It helped that Catherine had a heart of gold. Even with all my insecurities, she still picked me up. She helped restore some of my confidence. She saw through the barriers that I put in place to protect myself. She was the missing piece of my life that I didn’t know I needed. She gave me purpose and encouragement. Thanks to her I even managed to save up $600 dollars for my first car. It was an old aqua colored Pontiac Grand Am. It was the first major purchase that I had made, and I couldn’t have been prouder. However, I still had a long road ahead of me. I had already failed most of my classes during the first two years of high school. I was right on track to be like the rest of my immediate family—destine to be a drop out. At the end of my sophomore year I had over 100 disciplinary points. Each detention was worth 1 point and suspensions were worth 3 if I recall correctly. I was banned from attending any extracurricular activities. It is a miracle that they didn’t expel me. Jason had stopped attending school before we even made it out of Nashville. Heather had to drop out due to a pregnancy. Danny dropped out as well after collapsing under the weight of the emotional and physical abuse he suffered from my father. I was the last ray of hope, and Catherine’s timing was perfect.

Change started immediately. I realized that if I were going to keep Catherine, I had to be able to provide some sort of future for her. I started turning in my homework assignments. I was fortunate enough to not have to really study. I was able to pick up on information very quickly. This part was easy for me as I am fairly book smart. The not so easy part was reversing my behavior—and here is where I struggled.

Shortly after I started dating Catherine, I started working at a Subway. All the other employees were great company and I enjoyed working there. I even made a lifelong friend in Kassie. As a younger, immature boy—it was good to have friends that were girls. Girls seem to mature faster and it helped expedite my growth process. Meeting her was important, not only because she is an awesome friend, but because she would also help Cat during her final year of high school while I was off in the military. When Kassie and I weren’t joking around at Subway, we were busy knocking out work.  Sometimes, I would stay late to do extra cleaning. One night, the manager’s  son (also Kassie’s brother)entered after hours. He was 21 at the time and I was 16. After talking for a few minutes, he informed me that the “lemon lot” next door had sold him a car with severe mechanical issues. He wanted me to come with him while he popped some of their tires, and like a fool, I did. That night over 2,000 dollars’ worth of damage was done. We even popped the tires of the teacher that was responsible for managing in-school suspensions. The next day the Marissa newspaper had blown up. There were forensics teams investigating the tire holes to figure out the type of knife that was used. In a small town, I knew it was only a matter of time before my identity was discovered. I couldn’t sleep at all. All I could think about was the disappointment I would bring my mother. I was her golden child. What would my sister think? What would Cat think—would she leave me! What about my friends’ parents? For nights, I lay sleepless. Waiting for the call or to be picked up. Then it happened. One day at school I was called to the office. The cops were there waiting for me—ready to haul me to the station. It was bad enough that I was a Hatley and my brother Jason had already continued the expected pattern. Now, here I sit. The cop asked me very simply, “Did you do it?” I am a terrible liar and I had to believe that was a rhetorical question. To be honest, I had wanted this day to come. The shame and anxiety were too much for me to handle. I am not just referring to the anxiety of not wanting to be caught. I also generally felt bad for the owner of the lot and the teacher as victims. I read the paper and it detailed how the incident put them in a bind. I knew that my actions were wrong—and it did hurt. I came clean on everything. I told them the route we took and how the tires were popped. I believe this was my saving grace. When I appeared before the judge with no previous convictions as a minor, he took it easy on me. I believe he could see the remorse on my face and I also think that the Marissa Police Department played a part in the sentencing, as it was lenient. I received informal probation. Nothing on my record. The only thing I had to do was pay back my half of the damage via money orders over the course of the next 12 months, which I did so graciously. The managers son was not so lucky. He was sentenced with “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” and received a felony.

As if this incident weren’t enough, there was a kid at school that wasn’t so enthusiastic about my relationship with Cat. He decided it would be a good idea to go around school telling everyone he thought I was a “bitch.” A wiser me would have ignored it knowing that ultimately his words have no power over my life or relationships. However, the high school me was not always so wise. I followed this kid into the locker room during gym class. He knew it was coming, and due to some peer pressure, I felt obligated to do it. I reared back and punched him right in the lower lip. He flew backwards and then staggered out of the locker room. I felt guilty, but it was too late. He had braces and I had punched him in a manner that caused is lower teeth to dig through his lip. Again, I found myself ashamed and at the police station. I must believe some higher power was looking out for me. He and his family were given the option to press charges against me, but they did not. Even though they had to rush him to the dentist. If I can, and I will try after I finish writing this, I am going to reach out to him and apologize. Not only for being lenient, but for the way I acted towards him. I think this is the biggest thing that separates me from my brother. I felt remorse and guilt. I spent the next few days beating myself up mentally over the incident. When Jason participated in this type of behavior, it was as if he didn’t feel anything. As if he thought it was the way of life.

I needed stability at this point in time. I had two years of high school remaining, and literally every class mattered. I also needed structure. In the months prior to that I had been staying at random houses. Aaron and the teenager version of me did not always get along, so there were a few nights that I couldn’t stay with him. I had also started to wear out my welcome with some of my friends—especially on school nights. On most nights when I had nowhere to go, I slept on the Marissa rock pile. One night it was so cold that I broke into an empty apartment because I simply couldn’t take it. I was able to get the door open without doing any damage—but that does not excuse my actions. On another occasion, I rode a bike out to Cat’s house. She lived in a small farm town about 4 miles outside of Marissa. I slept on a pavilion bench that night across the street from her. It was hard, and although my mom knew I needed a place to stay, she felt obligated to take care of the son that needed the most help, Jason.

You would have thought at this point Jason and Joe would have moved out of my mom’s house, but that wasn’t the case. I took Cat, JP, and Jasmine there one evening. We were going to pick up my PlayStation and some of my games. We were in the bedroom packing everything up when Jason came home. I am not sure why he was mad. He had no idea I was taking the PlayStation, but for whatever reason, he wanted to fight. The four of us barricaded ourselves in the room. He rammed the door over and over until it was about to come off its hinges. The girls managed the escape out the window first, and JP and I followed shortly after making it out just in time. On another occasion, my friends and I had went to the house after school to try to find a pair of my boxing gloves. When we arrived, the place was surrounded by police and had helicopters circling above. Evidentially, Jason and Joe had a party the night before and the neighbor did not appreciate it. Instead of knocking on the door, he fired a few rounds into the house. Luckily, he didn’t hit anyone. You think that would have been enough for me to never return. However, on one final occasion me and my friends were walking down the street near the house. We saw the lights on and decided to “check in.” Jason was having another party. When I walked through the front door and into the kitchen, I noticed a group of kids sitting around the table. There were so busy that none of them bothered to turn and look at me. After further examination, I saw a white powdery substance on the table. My heart stopped. At this point, I had been fortunate enough to have only been exposed to alcohol. It wasn’t hard to figure out that these kids were sitting around the table using cocaine. We immediately turned around and left. I don’t have any other memories of the house. Eventually, mom also moved out and was living with my grandma. Even she couldn’t handle living in the same house as Jason, and who could blame her? My only remaining option was to go to Heather’s house, and fortunately, they took me in.

I was able to straighten myself out. The tire incident had scared me away from doing anything that was remotely close to a crime. I was coming home from school, sitting at the table, and finishing my school work every day. Things were going perfect. Aaron really stepped up his role as a father figure. We would go fishing and hunting all the time. We would also watch documentaries or play video games. I remember he was huge Star Wars fan, so one weekend we sat on the couch together and beat the entire Star Wars Battlefront game. Aaron was the type of guy that couldn’t spell the word “porch,” but he could tell you the name of every tree he encountered as well as the behavior of all indigenous species to Southern Illinois. I loved going out into nature with him. It was like being part of a nature documentary. Catherine and I spent a lot of time together with Heather and Aaron camping. These times were easily some of my fondest memories in high school. I really appreciate the time he spent me with me, as I feel like it he also played a large part in the development of my present-day self. He was the authority figure that I needed to motivate me to stay on track, but he would not be the only inspiration that I needed.

It was about this time that Cat’s brother, Michael, came home to visit. He was an active duty Marine on leave from North Carolina. To be honest, I didn’t know much about the military—only what my grandpa had told me regarding his time in the service. I believe Michael was there for the graduation of Catherine’s older sister, Emily, and this was to be my first time meeting him. To make matters worse, he didn’t acknowledge that his little sister even had a boyfriend. I remember I was in the school parking lot when he pulled up. He was driving a silver Tiburon with a bass system. There was a giant Marine Corps sticker in the back windows. When he got out of the car, I was instantly intimidated. He was stocky, and his demeanor was different from anyone that I have ever encountered. There was a sense of self-confidence and pride that you could recognize from his body movement alone. I remained intimidated, but I was also fascinated. That night I walked on egg shells. I didn’t want to do anything to offend or anger him. Unfortunately, Cat was not on the same page. She decided she was going to kiss me in the back seat of his car while he was taking me home. I remember going ice-cold. He saw it and I could see the anger in face through the rearview mirror. The rest of the ride was quiet, and I got out of that car as quickly as possible. I took something with me through—the idea that I wanted to be a Marine. I wanted to emulate him.

Graduation grew closer. In my senior year, I had to pass every single class. The pressure was on, but I was up for the challenge. While other students were taking what seemed like two study halls and physical education classes, I had a full course load. I welcomed it though. It was my fault that I was in this situation, and it was going to be me that was going to get me out of it. I had to—for Catherine. On top of the school course load, I had also entered the Marine Corps delayed entry program. I selected a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) that focused on computers and information technology (IT). I nearly wasn’t accepted due to the injuries to my wrist, but a waiver was submitted and approved. I was going in the Marine Corps with another classmate, Charlie Raban or “Chuckles” as we called him. The “Buddy System” allowed us to be in the same boot camp platoon together. We were given a shipment date of August 3rd, 2008. I was excited—but that was only because I didn’t put too much thought into what boot camp would be like. All I had to do was graduate high school. To the surprise of everyone including the school staff, I did. The first in my family. The school staff congratulated Catherine for all the support she gave me. If you look at my high school transcript, you will see it. The first two years are nothing but failing grades. The second two years are nothing but A’s. Now came the hard part—saying goodbye and getting on an airplane bound for Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California.

More to come in the next week. I almost have the more positive parts of my life finalized!