Teenager Was Labeled To Go To Prison Or Work At McDonald’s By His Teachers BUT…
I was a bad teenager. The type that teachers took bets on whether prison or McDonald’s was in my future. I made my mother’s life hell, between all the probation officers, courts, and stints in juvenile detention.
One of my only memories of high school was when we were in math class, we were doing some extremely long equations that required you to write out your work or you were likely to get lost in your own head. I was sitting in my desk like usual, doing nothing. The teacher called on me after the allotted time and asked if I knew the answer. Like a deer in headlights I stared at it for about 30 seconds, slowly working it out in my head. I called out my answer, the people who were actually writing out their work confirmed I was right, and I’ll never forget what that teacher said.
“What a waste.”
I dropped out a couple months later and got my GED at 17. I was working at McDonald’s when that same teacher came in and I rang up his order. I’m sure at least one teacher really won it big that day. A little while later I was walking down the street to work when I went past the recruiting office. I must have walked past it hundreds of times at that point, but something drew me in. I was at Fort Benning a few weeks later, and I never saw my mom as proud as she was as when I was in my dress greens, standing tall and looking good.
A short while later I was in Ramadi(city in centre iraq). Scared, angry, weak, strong, hungry, thirsty, tired, that man made hell was no place for anyone to be let alone a teenage boy barely on the cusp of manhood.
But like all things it came to an end, I came home and all was right with the world. I was just coming off a weekend of debauchery with my boys when I got the word from the Red Cross. Mother and stepfather killed in car crash, baby siblings in state custody. My anger problem and disrespect for authority had mellowed out considerably by this point, but when my company commander said, “Listen we need the numbers for NTC, be a team player and stick around for a couple months, than we’ll let you go home and sort this out. Your siblings aren’t going anywhere.” I had to be restrained from attacking him and was arrested by the MP’s. I thank god every day that my battalion Sergeant Major heard about the situation and put an end to the lunacy, and threatened violence on anyone who had a problem with my emergency leave.
I went home thinking I only had to get my siblings out long enough for a family member to come collect them, and help prepare my mother and stepfathers funeral. When I got there the situation became more clear. Both grandfathers were dead, neither grandmother could take on the kids by themselves, the only aunt already could barely afford her four kids, and my older brother was a newlywed who had just graduated college, he couldn’t support them either. That just left me. I moved the kids and the grandmothers to where I was stationed, and since then I did the best I could.
I was a heavy drinker before this, but since than I’ve never touched another drop. I quit smoking too. I never had a father and I would be damned if I was a bad role model. I learned to braid hair, do tea parties, all the names of Disney princesses. I taught my brother how to box, what type of cologne to wear, how to shave, how to flirt with girls. That first time in Iraq might have seemed like the hardest thing I would do at the time, but I never realized how much harder it would be when there are people who absolutely need you to come home. If by the cruel hands of fate I had come home in a box the first time around…… no one would have really missed me. Sure my mother would have told my siblings all about the older brother who died in a foreign land, but they would have never really known me enough to really be affected by it.
I became a father at the age of 20 to a five year old girl and a three year old boy. That five year old girl is now a junior at a big 10 university, and that three year old boy is finishing out his senior year soon. The last time I cried was right before I picked them up from the foster home. After that I needed to be strong. An infallible source of strength that they could always draw from. But today. Today I got in my car, parked in the parking lot of a McDonald’s just like the one I used to work at. And I cried. I cried so hard no sound came out, so hard that I thought I might suffocate.
I did it Mom. I hope I did a good job. I hope I did you proud. I hope I keep making you as proud as they make me every day.