The Smile On My Face Is Genuine

I hid in the dryer.

Because some kids had to literally go hide in the dryer.

When my dear friend Corina asked me to write a piece for her supporting the message of Survive and Thrive, I knew I’d say yes. And I knew it would be difficult. What you’re about to read has been redacted a few times. It just had to be that way. Some things are not meant for a public forum. So I simply deleted them. They will go to my grave.

When I was still too young to make and keep a memory, my father decided I had no place in his tea leaves. He left forever. Don’t get me wrong. In that regard, I was no different than the other millions of poor kids that were raised by a single mother. Plus, when you’re a kid and you’re poor, so is everyone else around you, we really didn’t know it. We all had Summertime and a bike. (…and homemade ramps and no helmets.) And the bruises that go with that.

My bruises were different.

I was a straight A student growing up. I came to terms as much as I could that my dad was never coming back. I cried when I was supposed to cry. The rare mail I got from him was written in his wife’s penmanship. In odd years, he’d call me on days he thought might have been my birthday. He never guessed right. On the ultra-rare times he agreed to see me, he never once took a day off work. Kids notice these things.

In my life, I don’t have one single memory of my father telling me he loved me or that he was proud of me.

He died a couple months ago. I think he knew he was dying, too. I don’t know why, but I really thought he’d have had something written for me. An envelope. A shred of regret. A promise to be my pal in Heaven.

But I should have saved that hope for something else. He died the way he lived …as far away from his little boy as he could possibly get.

He never knew how much I needed him.

Let’s roll back the clock a bit. My grades. Yeah they went from the Honor Roll to perpetual Summer School. Nobody bothered to ask why I went from the smart kid to a flunkie. Back then nobody questioned bruises. Not even my mother. I was just a kid being a kid. That wasn’t the case at all.

I started getting beat up by my mother’s son from her first marriage. He was my older half-brother. These were violent beatings.

My mother had a son to her first husband. His name isn’t important. But I grew up with him …and he was a terrible human being. We were polar opposites. He had dark hair and brown eyes. I was a toe-head with blue eyes. I was also smaller. Much, much smaller. Right around when I turned 9 years old, he was turning 15. Whether it was sports, girls, acceptance in school…I don’t know. But he began hurting me. Hurting me badly. And hurting me with no explanation.

Every day he came home, found me, and hurt me. “Tell anyone (meaning mom or the cops) and I’ll kill you”. That was the message. Every friend I was ever able to make witnessed my older half-brother abuse me. His alpha status had to be established…and that was his favorite method. Those friends quickly became no more than passing acquaintances. So for a large portion of my youth, I rolled solo. And things went from bad to worse …and from worse to praying.

I begged him to stop. I thought if I started doing nice things for him, like cleaning his room or delivering his newspapers, maybe he’d stop. He didn’t.

[*right here is where I deleted paragraphs. I don’t want to say it and you don’t want to read it.]

Just know that to this day, I sleep with the light on. There is always a light on somewhere.

You may ask why I didn’t just tell my mother. My mom was (and still is) a saint. Her duties as mother and father simply made her oblivious. She worked her real job and various side gigs just to keep the train on the tracks. She made sure there was food in the fridge. Man, she was always tired. Always so tired. All I can say is that this was around 1980, times and families were different. My mom would have had to call the police. I can’t imagine what would have followed.

So I became recluse. And my A’s changed to D’s. Nobody even noticed.

It’s hard to describe the reality of when the person hurting you is also the person you’re supposed to run to for protection.

I was tiny and weak. And I was only 9.

So I hid in the fucking dryer.

I swear to God that’s the truth. It didn’t stop anything. The memory of being in there the few times that I was is a permanent scar. More so then the terror of all the pain that followed. A few years later, The person abusing me moved out. It was like I was born again.

Let’s smile a bit here.

Since this is supposed to include some Thriving along with the Surviving …here’s how I decided to pave my own way once he was gone. My grades went up – but not enough to go to college. I found true love in baseball so that’s pretty much all wanted to do. I graduated high school to nary a shred of fanfare.

In 1991, Desert Shield turned into Desert Storm …so I did what I thought every kid should do and I enlisted in the service. I won’t bore you with old Navy stories, but I’ll tell you this: The world would be a better place if everyone did a hitch in the military. We walked in as boys …we walked out as men. There is not much in my life I’m more proud of than my military service.

The Navy saved my life.

After that, I weaseled my way into college through the back door. I took a semester of classes at CCAC and transferred those 12 credits to Robert Morris. Back then, it was a perfect way around taking the SAT’s, and “Bobby Mo” had an agreement with Community College. College was a breeze. I earned a BSBA with a double minor in Communications and Marketing.

Got to use it for 6 whole months.

My job out of college was with a subsidiary of the breakup of Bell Telephone. It was a horrible job that made up for it by paying almost nothing. Hell, I didn’t care. My foot was in the door and I still bartended four nights a week. I skied and played baseball. I was happy.

Then one day I was informed that I had two choices. Relocate to Allentown, or get laid off. I’ve been to Allentown. No thanks …so I took the lay off. Here’s where fate showed its beautiful face.

The day I got laid off, I was going through the paper looking for a miracle …and there it was.

Once every three years, the Civil Service Department in Pittsburgh used to place an ad to come take a test to be hired. I’m purposely not saying which department. I will say this, it was not only a piece of cake, but I also had 10 additional points because I was a Navy Veteran.

Here is my Thrive:

In the past 21 years, I’ve had the pleasure to save so many lives. I’ve helped more people than you’d probably believe. I’ve even delivered a baby. I’ve embraced and wept with total strangers when they lost everything. I had a purpose.

My entire being had every excuse to go the other way. I always thought I’d amount to nothing. Instead, I don’t know …I just opened my eyes one day and started accepting challenges. Then more challenges. Then more. Today, I have a wife and children that I adore more than life itself.

Every day, I tell them I love them and that I’m proud of them. The same words I always longed to hear. The smile on my face is genuine. I survived.

So can you.