This piece was originally posted on Medium.com and written/owned by Kyle Urbashich.
Everyday I wake up and thank God that I am alive because only He knows there were times when I didn’t think living was the best option anymore.
In 2001, my life changed forever. While I didn’t know it at the time, I was actually being saved from the anguish I lived in up until then. It all started on the South Side of Chicago. As much as I can remember, we had always lived in a two flat apartment building. To this day, I cannot remember the insides of the house very much, although I do remember many nights where I would avoid using the bathroom so I didn’t have to turn on the lights and watch dozens of cockroaches scatter in all different directions. The thought horrifies me to this day.
Growing up I dealt with constant pain from my drug and alcohol addicted parents. Time and time again, I watched my father get high in the bedroom, or my mother ruin herself with a deadly combination of alcohol and dangerous drugs. Many times she spiraled out of control and she was almost always helpless during her episodes. In one of her episodes, I remember her locking my siblings and I in the bathroom, forcing us to watch her slice her face with a razor. She said she did it to prove that she would do anything for us, but her actions only forced me to distance myself from her in order to avoid anything like that again. My mother faced multiple incarcerations during my childhood, so my relationship with her rested on the very few memories I had of her at that time.
My siblings and I faced serious abuse and neglect from my parents because of their tarnished state of mind the drugs and alcohol produced. Being the oldest brother, I constantly felt the pressure to protect my siblings under any circumstance. Most times when the abuse started, I would hurry my siblings into our bedroom where they hid on the top bunk. There was no way that with my siblings being so young, they would ever understand what was going on. I also knew that safeguarding them as much as possible might help them come out on top of the situation we were facing.
Amidst all of this, however, there were good times that were had that kind of took my mind off of the situation. During our time in Chicago, my father worked as the night watchperson for a Chicago cruise line. His commute to work always fascinated me because even at a young age, the beauty of the city simply fascinated me. My favorite part of the commute, and still probably my favorite thing to do to this day, is to travel on Lower Wacker Drive. The tunnel-like experience of the commute always made me happy.
After many years in Chicago, my father met a woman who I now know as my ex-stepmother. As he fell in love with her, I began to realize that the two of them had similar problems when it came to drugs and alcohol. After some time together, they moved us to the suburbs of Chicago. At the time, I figured this would alleviate some of adversity and abuse we were facing, but it only continued. My father and former stepmother fed off of each other when it came to drugs and alcohol, which led to many arguments and more abuse. It didn’t take long for my former stepmother to join in on adding to all of the chaos in our lives.
After some time, the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services finally intervened and encouraged my father to place my siblings and I in a children’s home. I distinctly remember meeting with the case manager at the Home, who setup our weekend visit at at the facility to determine if our placement at the Home was appropriate. During our weekend visit — which almost felt like vacation — I remember being amazed by how well kept the houses were. I remember being shown my bedroom and told that a particular side of the room would be mine and that I would share it with another person. I was overjoyed at the fact that I finally had my own bed because for so long my siblings and I shared bunk beds. I was happy that my siblings and I were able to stay together and that we were able to see each other everyday.
During my time there, the Home provided complete care for me and provided me with love that I wasn’t familiar with. We attended the local public schools and were encouraged to participate in the community where I volunteered my time The LeaderShop, a local youth service agency that coordinated youth volunteer efforts. During my time with The LeaderShop, I volunteered hundreds of hours assisting with relief efforts for refugee families, caroling at senior living facilities, assisting with local 5K races, and so on. As a token of appreciation, I was awarded with the Cook County Sheriff’s Medal of Honor in 2007 and 2009.
Living in the Home saved my life and granted me opportunities I would’ve have never had before. I resided at the home until I was 18 years old, at which time the Home released me as an adult. After 10 years in the Home, I was able to learn about myself, who I was, and what I stood for. The staff and children at the Home provided me with a family and gave me love even when I didn’t love myself very much. I don’t tell this story to talk down about my biological parents. I tell this story to show that sometimes in life we will be afraid. Sometimes in life we will want to give up. Audre Lorde once said, ““When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” I knew as a childhood that no matter how afraid I was or how badly I wanted out, I was better than the hand that was dealt to me at the time.
Tomorrow I turn 24 years old, and in May, I will graduate as a first generation college student with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. I have a family who has taken me and my siblings into their home and loved us as if we were their own. It’s hard for me to imagine a world where I would’ve given up. I wouldn’t have lived to change the lives of others. I wouldn’t have lived to learn what love is. I wouldn’t have lived to watch my siblings grow up. I wouldn’t have lived to learn that life is so much more than a crappy childhood. I wouldn’t have lived to realize that I was given this life because I was strong enough live it.