I hid a lot from Dave during the early years of our relationship.
I was afraid that he would find out about my childhood in poverty and think, “There is no way I’m having kids with this person.”
Dave grew up middle class. Went to private school. Got brand new shoes every year. Always had food.
I was once homeless. Not on the streets, or even in a shelter.
But my dad, on two occasions, moved us into people’s basements. People I didn’t really know. We had nowhere to live.
My stuff in boxes.
My mom always made the most of it. She hung sheets on the unfinished walls to make it look like wallpaper. She turned cardboard, fabric, and hot glue into toy boxes. Once built a bookshelf out of milk crates and a board. She made little spaces for our school clothes and hung our backpacks on nails.
I saw a folder once on my teacher’s desk. It was opened. My name was on several of the papers. I saw the word “transient” and quickly memorized it. When I saw the dictionary definition, I was stunned.
There were times we didn’t have food. I watched my mom turn items you wouldn’t donate to your enemy into dinner. I wasn’t involved in extracurricular activities, because they cost money. And we didn’t have a vehicle to get there.
My mom made sure we were always clean. Trimmed nails. Clothes that fit, with no stains or holes. She dug through yard sale boxes to find toys and books. She once secretly saved up for 6 months for camp registration. She handed me $5 of spending money for the week, and I knew it meant she was stretching the spaghetti sauce with more water so I could buy candy that week.
I moved 16 times before graduating high school at 16 years old.
Dave moved two times. Went to two schools.
I once went to three different schools in three weeks.
Before Dave, I shared some of my past with a guy friend over lunch. “Were you, like, abused and stuff? Raped or beat up? You can tell me.” “No, of course not. I was just poor.”
I didn’t lie to him. I honestly did not remember all the sexual abuse. The emotional abuse. The spiritual abuse. I didn’t remember the atrocities at the hands of my father. I just remembered all the ways my mom had been a fantastic mom.
“I’ve never met anyone as poor as you were. That’s some crazy shit. Makes me uncomfortable.” My friend’s words kept me from opening up to anyone else.
When I finally told Dave, I was able to start stripping off those labels.
Weird. Poor. Transient.
A few years ago, I added new labels.
Abused. Victim. Damaged.
Dave wouldn’t let those labels stick. He asked older people he respected for their help. He read books and articles. He stepped out of his comfort zone to help me. He admitted that he couldn’t relate to me, but he sure tried.
Then one day, I started a story with “That time I was homeless” and Dave started laughing. He teased that I had stolen my life from a Dickens novel. And I knew everything was going to be okay, because we were both laughing in our kitchen. The one we’ve had for 11 years. At the kitchen island he built. That was filled with jars of spaghetti sauce I don’t need to water down.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived 2 dozen lives. But I’m blessed the last few have been with him.