Updated: Jul 8
| This is the 178th story of Our Life Logs |
The car was gone, and all our things were destroyed. I stood in front of our rented house and panicked wondering what to do. We didn’t have any insurance. All that we had was gone, swallowed up by the flood. Up until that moment, I thought I could handle any hardship. But this one threw me for a loop. How was I going to face this alone?
I grew up in a small Pennsylvania town in the 1970s, primarily with my mom. My parents never got married because my paternal grandmother didn’t approve, so they remained at odds, me as their favorite thing to fight over. Finally, when I was 12, my mom won custody of me and I got to stay with her for good.
We didn’t have much and for years I watched my mom struggle to keep us afloat. Our financial situation deteriorated when I was 15, and we had to move to the public housing provided by the government to the poor (known as the “projects”). Living in a place where drug addicts and gang members littered the streets was not fun, but it motivated me to want more for myself than this life. My determination to get out of the projects and not ask for any help was ignited and the flame never died.
When I was 17, I started dating an incredibly sweet guy from high school named Chris. Chris was very supportive of my determination to break the cycle of poverty. I went to Sawyer Business School to get a management degree and worked with an intense drive to escape my situation. Unfortunately, in trying to escape one situation, two more bubbled to the surface. I had grown up feeling physically weak all the time, but it got worse the older I got. I was falling over from things as simple as a heavy wind. I went to see a doctor and was told that I had fibromyalgia and a seizure disorder. I battled with my illness while still trying to turn my financial situation around.
A few years later, when I was 21, Chris and I found out that we were pregnant. It was unexpected, but we were happy. We moved in together and prepared to start a family. Even though we still couldn’t afford to get our own place and had to settle for the projects, we stayed hopeful. My motivation—our motivation—to find success was no longer just about me getting out of poverty; it was now also about creating a better life for our son.
We welcomed our second son to the world four years later. By that time, our situation had slightly improved. We had moved out to live in better-quality housing, though still under the government’s rental assistance program. Together, Chris and I raised our boys with love. We were a great team, taking turns changing their diapers or helping them with homework.
What I had with Chris was special because we both wanted the same things in life. We vowed to always work hard so our kids could live by our example. We both worked vigorously in our jobs so that we could save up money to buy a house of our own. I pictured a home with a beautiful garden and a lush front yard where the boys could play safely. In my dream, yes, it was all beautiful.
I wanted to rise above our situation so badly that I ended up overworking myself. In my late 20s, my health problems that were once an inconvenience was now crippling me and keeping me from working. I was placed on disability, which set us back in our quest for a home.
But I couldn’t give in. I started working side gigs from home for the next few years. Despite the setback, Chris and I managed to save up enough to start searching for our own home.
Just when I thought that we’d be able to finally get ourselves out, Chris became deeply ill and had to stay in hospital. The doctors said he would recover in a month and be back home with us. I told myself, “I can handle one month on my own. I don’t need any help.”
The hospital was a few hours away, so I would call Chris on the nights I couldn’t visit. One night we were on the phone and one of our sons started yelling about something, so I told Chris I’d call him back. Only I didn’t know then that I wouldn’t get the chance to call him back, or even speak to him ever again. In the span of me hanging up, checking on my son, and calling back, Chris had died. I was completely baffled. How could this happen? He was supposed to recover in a month! A heavy fog of guilt enveloped me when the doctor told me, “If you had just called a moment sooner, you might have saved him.” I felt like his passing was my fault, and that threw me into a deep depressive state.
The man I loved—whom I had been with for 14 years—was now gone, forever. And with his death went all my hopes of a happy family living peacefully in a home with a big yard. Now there was only panic and sadness. How was I going to raise our boys, 10 and 5, alone when I could barely get out of bed in the morning without immense pain?
I felt completely lost.
After a year or two of struggling with my inner turmoil, I snapped out of my depression. Chris wouldn’t want this for me, right? And my boys deserved better. They looked up to me. What I did in this time of crisis would be pivotal on their growth and how they would view life. So, although I was devastated by the loss of my partner, I pulled myself out of sadness and found ways to provide for my boys through jobs like hair, crafts, and designing invitations.
From Chris’ passing, we did get a small sum from his life insurance. Getting the money to help us through his loss felt like he was helping us from beyond the grave. It was like he was saying, “Here’s the money. Go get that house we wanted.” But I didn’t. I had to do better planning. Instead, I bought a reliable car and put the rest in the bank for my sons’ education—their future should be above my dream of buying a house.
For the next couple of years, I focused on making a living and getting my boys through school, and nothing else. So, when my cousin introduced a man—a handsome man from Ohio named Ben, I showed the slightest interest. I wasn’t ready. I kept our relationship no more than friends.
On the other side, things began to fall back into place. The guilt that weighed on me began to fade, I was making a good amount to keep us going, and my kids were thriving. Yet, things weren’t going to stay easy for me. In June 2006, a flood swept over the mid-Atlantic region of the country and took almost all of our things with it. The good car we had bought, all our clothes, all the sweat and tears I endured to get my family to a stable place—all were swiped away in just a few hours. I was broken, again.
Ben had heard about the flood and offered to come and help us. I rejected it, clinging to the idea that I could handle this all on my own. But the longer I tried, the harder it became. It was a rented home and we had no insurance. There was no hope in gaining back all that we had lost, at least not alone.
Thankfully, Ben didn’t take no for an answer and drove from Ohio to help us. It was in that moment, watching him help my boys go through soggy stuff in their room, I realized that Ben wasn’t just there for me. He cared about my kids too. That moment, my feelings that I had been holding back exploded, and I let myself fall for him.
Ben and I bought a new house in 2007, had a son in 2010, and got married in 2014. In the wake of these changes, I also learned the illness that had been ailing me was actually Lupus. Finding that answer brought me so much peace. Things are still tough sometimes, but I feel I’m strong enough to endure it now. After all I’ve been through, I can make it through anything.
I know now that allowing Ben to help was exactly what I needed. All my life, I had convinced myself that I didn’t need help. After years of watching my mom struggle to keep us afloat on her own, I wanted to grow up and do better but keep that independence she had. Ben came at a time when my independence was shattering, and he lent me a helping hand to pull me back up.
After Chris died, I thought life had stopped, depressed and hopeless, and I would never see happiness again, but I did. Through the darkness, we find hope.
Anitra lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and eight-year-old son. Growing up in poverty, Anitra had a desire to be successful and get away from the dangerous area she lived. She was on a right path to rise above poverty when her partner Chris died of sudden illness, leaving her and their two young kids behind. While attempting to provide for herself and her sons alone, a flood destroyed all her progress and she was forced to accept that sometimes you should take help and you don’t have to do everything alone.
In her free time, Anitra loves to dance, sing karaoke, have barbeques with her family and friends, and go to church. In 2016, she started working online as a freelance writer. She also started a blog called “Struggles of A Single Mom” to give advice to fellow parents, dipping into her experience from raising her three boys. Writing has helped her deal with tough times.
This story first touched our hearts on October 2, 2018.
| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: MJ ; Colleen Walker|