My sister and I were brought up in a regimented home where things were always clean and if they got dirty, that predicament got fixed in a hurry. Growing up, my family didn’t have much. But in retrospect, we had so much more than many others. When I was young, that concept was hard to grasp… but over time, it was something I truly learned to appreciate. A roof over your head, a car to get you from point A to point B, food on the table, someone you could always talk to.
Young minds are like Play Doh, easily molded by society’s expectations. In a world where material goods are often elevated above things that truly matter, it was hard to realize just how hard my folks busted their ass for us. Because, as a young kid, I thought my parents were Nazis. They held us to a certain standard with expectations that today’s soft society would probably classify as child abuse. Growing up, my life was structured, and I think that became my saving grace.
I was responsible for cutting the yard when the grass got long, ironing my formal clothes and uniforms, keeping my room clean, making my bed with proper hospital corners on the sheets (because dad would inspect it), and hand washing the dishes (to this day I refuse to use a dish washer). The cars got washed whenever they were dirty… even when my dad worked as a garbage man and drove a broken down piece of garbage. In the winter time, my dad would wake me up at 2 or 3 AM some mornings to shovel and ice the driveway before it got too high. We dusted, we mopped, we even cleaned the wood with polish.
If I wore a tie, the neck was to be pulled all the way up to the top of my button and the length was to be adjusted accordingly so that it reached the top of my belt buckle. Collared shirts were to be tucked in all the way and the right colored socks were to be worn with the right colored shoes. We were to respond to our elders with “yes sir” and “no ma’am”, we were to offer a helping hand to the elderly. I never swore at my parents and the few and far between times I made a scene in public, I got the belt.
When we got to the car or a building door, I opened if for my mother (or any other woman) and shut it as soon as they were inside. If I failed to, my mom would smack the shit out of my head… she would still backhand me to this day, but because of repetition, it’s a habit I’ll never break.
There were times when we didn’t have a lot of food in the house. When I say that, I mean there may have been a loaf of bread, some butter, and maybe a bag of rice in the kitchen cabinet… that’s it. We couldn’t always afford fancy meals on the holidays, or birthdays, or any day, normally. Yet my parents always kept our bellies full to the best of their abilities, sometimes going without food themselves. We ALWAYS finished our plates and we always ate whatever our mother cooked. Which is why to this day, if I don’t finish a meal, I box it up and take it home… I remember too many nights going to bed with a growling stomach and have seen too many people on the streets begging for scraps. How would they feel if I just tossed away good food?
We didn’t let our current hardships weigh us down so much that we never progressed past them. We had tough times, a lot of them… but we were a family whose shoulders were broad. And yet, perhaps the most valuable expectation my parents had of my sister and I was what seemed to be the easiest of them all… to simply keep good company.
You can tell a lot about a person by those that they surround themselves with. One might even say their character is a direct reflection of those they give their time to.
I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, but the ones I did (and the ones I do today) are people I can confide in, people whose morals align with my own, people I would put my life on the line for and people I take pride in as I watch them grow into wiser human beings.
Ultimately, that means we every so often need to do some Spring Cleaning– taking the time every so often to analyze our lives, our friendships and the direction we are headed. Cutting out certain folks and habits, adjusting the sails, and steering back on course.
Not everyone you meet in life will be honest with you. Not everyone you meet in life will be good to you. Many individuals will use you for nothing more than their personal satisfaction or advancement, and in the end, it sucks to realize that. But everyone… EVERYONE, should impact you in a way that makes you better.
I don’t regret a single relationship I’ve been in… whether it was with family, platonic or romantically, and neither should you. Everyone can teach you at least one valuable thing, and that should not be looked past. But it is equally as important to know when to walk away and cut off leeches that are bringing you down.
As I progress through life, I always find myself returning back to the analogy of driving in a car. I don’t seek to forget my past… it’s the very thing that turned me into the man I am today. But I also have no more time or energy for it, for there is far too much ahead of me I must find and explore. I can see how far I’ve gone in my rear-view mirror, but stopping to reminisce about the view only keeps me from seeing all the beauty that lies ahead.
Living a life with water under the bridge is the only real way to get through life and grow, or else we drown in our past, our sorrows, our mistakes and our regrets. So just keep swimming until you’re a damn good swimmer… and calmer waters have found you.