Street Lights

Please describe the factors and challenges that have most shaped your personal life and aspirations. How have these factors helped you to grow?

I didn’t understand what street lights were until I was about eight. Still, some of my earliest memories are of street lamps. Growing up, I clearly remember seeing blurry beacons of light suspended in the dark. In the daytime, the seemingly useless tall poles lining streets never looked the same, so I didn’t make the connection.

Tired, I open my heavy eyes to my dad unbuckling my car seat, pulling me out of my mom’s car and throwing me over his shoulder. I hear him spitting words at my mom, but quietly, as to not wake me. My mom reciprocates this treatment, and the exchange continues on. I just begin to close my eyes again. Suddenly I am jerked out of my attempt at sleep as my dad plops me down in my car seat in his car, and slams the door shut. I crawl out and watch out the rear window of his blue convertible at the conversation. Their voices rise; their bodies show aggression, and my mom sobs. At this point I start to cry, as verbal aggression is normal, but it’s unnerving when they get physical, and it scares me. Then, my dad abruptly turns around and returns, buckles me in, and drives off quickly. Still, I stare out the back at my mom, who stands in the middle of the street, tearfully waving goodbye. I stare until she is so small I can’t see her. Screaming and crying, I keep watching her for as long as I can. Then, with nothing else to watch, I stare at the passing street lights, but through thick tears I only see starry looking shapes coming from the lamps.

Growing up, I did not have the same experience as other kids. My life lacked the quintessential structure that a functional family provided. Constantly searching for stability, I found myself feeling emotionally unstable. As I got older, I developed anxiety and a tremor. I began to have a hard time keeping up with schoolwork when I started to recognize the degree of the fights my parents would have. I became a bargaining chip, a threat, or a privilege. To combat this, I started going to coffee shops. The family-owned Christian coffee shop at the bottom of the hill near my school was a 24 hour sanctuary; a safe place to study and escape. Coffee shops offer a stable, calm, working environment that I desperately needed for my emotional and academic success. When I started doing homework in these productive environments, my grades picked up. I found an untroubled place to craft complicated rules of procedure for Model United Nations, draft bills for Youth and Government, and write without interruption. I began to take matters into my own hands to create stable environments.

The circumstances of my upbringing positioned me to be independent from a young age. From being responsible for my own lunches much earlier than other kids, to instructing my mom on how to give me my medications, there are a lot of responsibilities that get overlooked when communication between parents is lacking. However, if I had not grown up with so much trust, I would not be who I am today. With the trust I was afforded prematurely, I grew incredibly, and by middle school was far more independent than my peers. In high-school this translated to few check-ins, lots of freedom, and no curfew (because the only place I’d be at two in the morning is a coffee shop studying, anyways). From my experiences, I learned that I was the only person who is responsible for my happiness. This pushes me to be on top of my emotions, keeping them in check so I can stay focused. When I get overwhelmed, I can always hop in my car and go for a drive to regain that focus and balance. I can park by the waterfront, blast music on the freeway, or drive through a forested area, alone. In my car, it is only me and the road. I can finally be alone to my thoughts.

Driving throughout my day from place to place, these times in my car are invaluable. I spend my time singing, thinking, praying, people-watching, or, often, crying. In this sanctuary of isolation, I feel safe, because I am the only one there and the only one influencing my environment. With this control, I can create stability in which to express vulnerability. When I find myself with wet eyes while driving, I look at the street lamps and see exactly what I saw years ago. The blurry lights are no longer a symbol of fear, however, but rather a symbol of independence and stability that I have learned to create for myself.

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