My childhood wasn’t exactly idyllic. I was born to a mother who couldn’t even be bothered telling my father she was pregnant, preferring instead to play the martyr role and let people think he dumped her because she got pregnant. My biological mother, I will call her Malina, because that was her name and because she’s not the person I consider my mom, was unstable and really, looking back now, unfit to be a mother. She did drugs, drank a lot, and random men were always hanging around. I had so many “uncles” that I really had no idea what that word even meant. I was left alone to fend for myself a great deal. I learned to cook for myself, I learned to clean, I learned to take public transportation to my grandmother’s in Bensonhurst, all before the age of eight.
My Yia Yia was my only real support. She would feed me and buy me clothes. She would help me do my laundry so I wouldn’t be teased at school for being the “dirty girl.” She couldn’t take care of me fulltime because she was older and not well. She also had no idea how bad it was for me. I never told her anything. I would tell her the things that Malina said about my father, though. It was through Yia Yia that I discovered my father wasn’t like the other “uncles” in my life. My father, according Yia Yia, was a good man and Malina was a different person then. My father wanted a relationship with Malina, but she was hanging with a bad crowd and eventually, he moved back to Illinois when my mother sabotaged their relationship one too many times. He never knew Malina was pregnant and she never let him know, not even when I was born. Not until I was about nine and she needed money. Yeah, Malina attempted to blackmail my father for drug money. But my dad, being my dad, didn’t crumble to the extortion. He told his wife immediately about me. He came to visit me. He promised to get me out of the situation. He hired attorneys. In the end, only about a year later, Malina died of a drug overdose and I went to live with my dad in Los Angeles, where he had relocated for work.
After that, my childhood was pretty normal. I had friends, pets, ballet and music classes, went to good schools, had sisters, and most important, had a mother and father who loved and cherished me. Yes, I did have a rough time during my early childhood, but it doesn’t define me, it simply is part of the definition of me as a whole and as a person.