Do you ever think about the years gone by, the things that happened and how far you’ve come? Well, half my life ago I had just turned seventeen, it was two weeks before Christmas and I was homeless.
You see, my parents had split up the weekend before my GCSEs started the summer before and by the time I started college in September my relationship with my mother had reached breaking point. I was juggling college with a part time job in Woolworths and time with my boyfriend and I just didn’t spend much time at home at all. I didn’t want to – without my dad there it just wasn’t a happy place.
But my mum didn’t like me being in contact with my dad – he wasn’t biologically my dad and even after being in my life since I was two she found his continued presence in my life after their separation really hard to deal with and gave me an ultimatum.
That day in December 2001 I had to choose between staying at home and cutting contact with my dad, or leaving home and maintaining a relationship with him.
That isn’t an easy choice for any child and so it didn’t really feel like a choice at all. So I found myself in my boyfriend’s spare room until I went to Dublin with him and his family for Christmas. It was the loneliest Christmas I have ever had, my first one away from my family home and my first one with separated parents and I knew when I got on the flight back home that I couldn’t stay at my boyfriend’s house anymore, his parents didn’t want it to be a long term solution and so I had to move on.
But where could I go? My dad was living in his parent’s spare room and I didn’t really have any other family to turn to. So I ended up sleeping on friends’ floors for a few weeks whilst still trying to juggle college and work. It got to a point where I just couldn’t go on.
The council wouldn’t help me as I wasn’t a child in their eyes, I was in the 16-18 limbo that thankfully doesn’t exist anymore. So I gave up college and I started working full time, at the same time renting a room in a house that I stayed in until I’d met Dave and we bought our house together in 2006.
Half my life ago I was a mess. I didn’t know how life would turn out. My family had shattered, most of my friends I left behind when I had to leave college and I was thrown into this adult world of working full time and paying rent that I couldn’t really afford.
Looking back I wish my childhood had lasted longer – that I’d had those carefree college years of going out, going on holidays with friends and just enjoying myself. But instead I started to build foundations for my future, moving from Woolworths to the world of banking a couple of years later and taking steps up the corporate ladder.
My childhood ended half my life ago but my life also really began back then too – with so many downs before life started to come back up again. I’m not going to lie – it was a really, incredibly hard time between moving out of home and meeting Dave eighteen long months later. But it’s a time that I learnt from. It helped shape parts of me and it taught me so much. It taught me how little money I could really live on, how far you could stretch money if you needed to and how little food you could exist on. I wouldn’t recognise that 17 year old me if I met her now. Her life was one long day stretched into the next, existing but not living and I was so empty inside.
I’m not writing this as a woe is me post. I am writing this to look back and see how far I have come. Looking back at half my life ago it hardly feels like that was my life at all – I feel so far removed from it and it feels almost like it were someone else living those years.
Looking back I know that given that impossible choice all those years ago I made the right impossible decision and that, despite everything, life has turned out better than I could have ever hoped. If I have taken anything from that time, all those years ago, it’s that I don’t want my children to grow up so soon, so quickly, so suddenly. I want them to go to college or university if they want to. I want them to build lasting friendships and I want them to experience some of life’s freedom before they get tied down to paying bills, rent or a mortgage. All of that really doesn’t need to start at seventeen.
I’m in a good place now. I have a solid home life, two great kids and a job that I could never even have dreamed of back then. But, half my life ago the future was bleak and I think it’s grounding to take a step back every so often, look at your journey and appreciate where life has taken you. Even now life isn’t all rosy. There are tough times – but nowhere near as tough as the times I’ve had. I think my seventeen year old self would be proud of the life I have carved and I need to thank that girl for going through what she did to bring us out the other side. We didn’t do too badly.