How I Found Love In A Hopeless Place
Words: Ev Petgrave
Emotionally neglected as a child, one woman realizes love doesn't always have to come from your immediate family.
There’s few worse feelings in the world than being a child who feels unloved and alone.
I know from personal experience. I’ll never forget one specific Saturday in 1999, when I was a not-so-average 10 year old spending the weekend at a friend’s house. I can’t remember what exactly triggered it, but on this Saturday, I was distraught and inconsolable. I burst into tears unexpectedly because I felt like no one loved me.
My mother, who was a single parent, and I moved at least once a year. We lived with whoever she was in a relationship with at that time and as soon as I began to feel comfortable, we packed up and left. You can imagine how hard this was for a child who craved nothing more than stability. I had no friends and our constant shuffling left me incapable of knowing how to relate to others my age.
My mother’s own self-discovery left little time for her to tend to my needs and I was often dropped off to the homes of distant relatives or friends for the weekends while she danced in a gentleman’s club. It was in these people who took care of me that I found what I was most in need of: love.
It was in these people who took care of me that I found what I was most in need of: love.
I first learned of what family truly meant through a woman my mother met at our county’s utility company. I still remember the day we went to the corporate office to settle some matter only adults could be concerned with. As my mom handled business, I walked through the halls and landed in Launa’s office. It felt peaceful and calm. I don’t remember much else of that day, but the next weekend and every weekend after that, I was sleeping at her house. Una, as I came to call her, was the best thing that could ever happen to an attention-deprived child.
Una’s home was an escape from the beatings and abuse I witnessed my mom receive regularly. The love that my mother was incapable of giving, I was given freely not only by Una, but by her family. Even though I have older siblings, we grew up hours away from each other. Una’s nieces, Keneisha and Angela, played the role of big sisters to me during my adolescence. We listened to music and watched movies together. We went to church, where they encouraged me to sing, and they taught me how to tie my shoelaces. Una’s mother was like a grandmother to me and the males in her family all were my uncles . All of her family took me in and they were the family I always wanted and finally had. Though I saw them only on the weekends, their love and support carried me throughout the years.
As I grew up, I repeated some of the same negative behaviors I witnessed in my mother’s co-dependent relationships. I unconsciously sought out unavailable men so that I wouldn’t have to open myself up and embrace vulnerability.
I survived countless heartbreaks, but despite the challenges I faced, I was blessed with a beautiful daughter. I was also blessed enough for her father’s family to be welcoming, caring, and loving.
I saw through them a pure, uncensored, real version of family. A family that didn’t get along all of the time, but still loved each other no matter their differences. The whole concept was new to me. I had grown up thinking that differences were deal breakers from watching my mother’s relationships. If you didn’t like someone, you packed up and disappeared.
They accepted me, someone who had never been taught that lesson of unconditional love...
My ex’s family accepted each other entirely. Most importantly, they accepted me, someone who had never been taught that lesson of unconditional love and often struggled with reciprocation. Even though my daughter’s father and I aren’t together anymore, his family still treats me like their own and I couldn’t be more humbled and grateful. It was in their love and acceptance that I found the strength to eventually love and accept myself.
No one has the opportunity to choose their family—or so we think. Family is more than the people who share your features or blood type. Family are the people who make you feel whole. They are the ones who love you unconditionally especially when you don’t think it’s what you need, or sometimes deserve, at the moment.
I gained family in ways that I never thought I would. The unconditional love that I received from them allowed me to provide the same to my daughter. I learned compassion and empathy, things that most adults still struggle with, but I was lucky enough to learn from two families taking me in as their own.
The grieving 10 year old in me—the young girl who wanted nothing more than to be loved and supported—found what she needed over the years in unexpected places. It is through my extended families and their open hearts that I’ve learned to love myself. I am eternally grateful.
Who has taught you the most about love? tell us in the comments!
Ev Petgrave is a poet and writer currently living in Houston, Texas. Being a mom, minority, and techie, she enjoys writing about social issues affecting these groups. To see Ev’s work, visit her website.