In the middle of my fourth twelve hour shift, I anxiously check my phone every few minutes, hoping to see a message from my mom that she will come home tonight. My pocket buzzes. Her text is a simple “no”. I receive the same answer to the same question, night after night for a year. It hurts knowing my mom never wants to come home and be part of my life. At 17 years old, I am on my own.
The next day, I quickly check my phone during work, expecting to see the same response from my mother. Instead, I see several missed messages from her. I unlock my phone and feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. My mother sent me a message saying, “Arthur is my priority. You live with your uncle now.” Her abusive boyfriend always came first. I hated him, but my
feelings didn’t matter to my mom. I was forced to get a full-time job to pay the bills. I barely made ends meet. My landlord grew suspicious. I never told him my mom abandoned me, but my gut told me he knew. Most days, I went without eating. Even though I was struggling to get by, living alone was better than staying with my uncle.
I felt completely alone. Nothing could fill the void my mother left behind. Out of anger, I pushed everyone I loved away from me. I no longer laughed at jokes I used to find funny. I barely smiled at all. One night, I attended a gala my boyfriend’s family was hosting. Within minutes of walking in, I became painfully aware of how out of place I felt. Even though I was surrounded by friends, I couldn’t bring myself to force a smile on my face. When my mom left, I felt like she took my ability to be happy with her. My boyfriend’s uncle, Ray, noticed how miserable I was and made it his mission to make me laugh. The rest of the night, he stood by my side cracking jokes and sharing cherished high school memories. For the first time in months, I actually laughed. I felt my stone cold face crack into a smile while the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders.
At the end of the night, I was heading out the door when I felt a hand wrap around my wrist, pulling me in for a hug. I was taken aback, but quickly realized it was Uncle Ray. I couldn’t
remember the last time anyone showed me a genuine sign of affection. He looked at me with a big smile and said, “When you smile, you light up an entire room. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently, You have the ability to go far in life just by the flash of your teeth.” After pinching my cheeks way too hard, he strolled off leaving me speechless. Knowing someone couldn’t see the sadness or pain I carried around seemed to make those negative emotions vanish. For the first time in years, I felt truly happy and at peace with myself. A simple smile and a night of laughter was the cure I needed all along. A smile means to me the end of a long, dark road. A simple smile provided the happiness I desperately needed.
My new-found happiness gave me confidence I never had before. Eventually, the broken pieces of my life started to fall into place. I confessed my story to my school social worker. She recommended me to Starting Right, Now which is a program helping homeless teens in situations similar to my own. I finally had a safe place to live. At one point, I wouldn’t let myself think about college. I knew attending college was a dream I could never afford. With the help of SRN, I plan to attend college and receive a degree in business. With SRN behind me, I can overcome anything. In the future, I hope to share my story and inspire others to overcome their obstacles. One night filled with smiles and laugher, changed my life forever. I can do the same for someone else.