By Jamie Coulson | firstname.lastname@example.org
I had tears rolling down my face as the car sped out of the town I had lived in for 18 years. I cried for joy and out of sorrow for leaving the only home I ever knew. This was the town that saw my brightest days; the neighbors that watched me grow up, the school where I made my best friends and the dance studio where I found one of my greatest passions. Moving to Florida was a brand new start not only for me, but for my entire family. It was a place of opportunity, new faces, new climate, new everything.
Simply put, I was a spoiled child. My sister and I both were. We had Barbies, all the baby dolls we could ever want, pink and purple bedrooms, a little jeep to ride around the bike trail on, as many dance classes as possible, frequent movies with our friends. We did and had everything.
My parents both had amazing jobs. My mom worked as a medical biller for multiple doctors and my dad had been a machinist since he was 18. He worked his way up the ladder to the manager position at all of his jobs. When he told us he was going to open his own business and be his own boss, something he had always wanted to do, we were excited to take on this new endeavor as a family. It was like that saying: if you don’t build your own dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs.
It started out as little things. Dad would come home late from work because training his employees was tedious. He would miss chorus concerts because he had a big job he was working on and couldn’t afford to lose his client. We ate dinner as a family of three instead of four most nights.
My dad wasn’t bringing home much if any money some weeks because he was more concerned with paying his employees than paying himself. Eventually, my mom quit her job to work with my dad as his secretary. We even converted one of the offices into a play room at my dad’s shop because being there while he worked was really the only quality time we got with him. Some nights he’d even sleep there because it was worthless to come home for a few hours only to go back.
My family slowly started to deteriorate. As a small child, I knew we were struggling, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around why my parents could never bring home enough money. The sad thing is this country wouldn’t survive without it. We couldn’t survive without it.
How sad is it that we, as human beings, have to wake up every day and go to a job that we don’t love just to make enough money to live comfortably? The American Dream sounded so wonderful. Being your own boss sounded like such a luxury, and for some people it is. But for others, that takes more work than they thought and the reward at the end isn’t as great as anticipated.
There are still around 47 million Americans living in poverty. They all have different stories. But the battle is the same. Forty seven million seems like such a large number, but looking around the hallways of my middle school, I didn’t see one kid like me. But as I grew up and became friends with different people, I learned that there were actually many kids in my grade who relied on food stamps or lost their home.
I didn’t know if I should be proud of my dad for doing everything that he could to give us a better life, or to be angry at him for giving up a great job only to have failed and put our family into poverty. There were nights I cried because I was so angry that this was happening to me.
I was selfish. I never thought about the girl who lived down the road from me who lost her father that same year. I never thought about the family who just lost their house to a blazing fire and everything in it. I was stuck in my small brain and in my close-minded ways. I was heartbroken that we weren’t the well-off family that we used to be only because I never thought something that terrible would happen to me. But we never think those things could happen to us until they do.
I was always terrified of people finding out we were poor because I felt like school was hard enough, without the added pressure, so I never told anyone. My dad gave up his business after a few hard years, but the struggle wasn’t over. He switched jobs multiple times before becoming a machinist again, where he stayed until I graduated.
My parents never went to college. My dad attended night classes when I was a baby but other than that I would be the first in our family to get a real degree. This was super important to my parents and me and they used to tell me I needed to do well in school or I wouldn’t get accepted anywhere. I threw myself into an abundance of clubs my junior year in an attempt to make myself look better to colleges. I was in the math league, leo-club, musical, mock trials team, choir, and I was the editor-in-chief of my high school yearbook, all on top of dance.
I’m not sure why I thought being so busy was a good idea, but it kept me away from being home. I was happier and doing better in school because I wasn’t burdening myself with my parents money stresses. My dad and I used to sit awake at two in the morning in the living room talking, because I could never sleep. After I discovered Flagler, he told me he would follow me anywhere at any cost because I was his baby girl. I will never forget the night I asked him to come to Florida with me. Come hell or high water my family was going to make a complete 180.
It took some convincing to get the whole family on board, but summer of 2012 all four of us packed our house up into a moving truck, the house we lived in for 18 years, and came to St. Augustine. This was the best decision we ever collectively made. People think it’s strange that my family followed me to school. But I don’t live with them, and those people don’t know why my whole family came with me. One thing my dad taught me was the value of a dollar and what hard work and earning your money really means. My grandfather used to say, “Any job big or small, do it right or not at all.” This really stuck with my dad, and to this day it has stuck with me.
Now that I’m older, I understand exactly what my dad did for us. While going to college, and having a job, and paying rent and bills made me see that it is hard to keep your head above the water sometimes. But I think this also made me more appreciative of what I have unlike some of my peers. The pride I have for my dad is unreal. He is a man that literally did anything he could to put food on the table for his girls. He went above and beyond, risked his health, risked his life, and did anything possible for us. I think that is the real American dream, sticking it out and doing anything possible to make a better life for your family. Money may run the world, but family holds it together when the times are tough.