Ying and Yang of Growing up Rough

From the ages 6 – 12 I lived in a predominately black neighborhood in South Atlanta.  To be honest it was the hood. Not just the kind of place where people claim they grew up in a rough neighborhood, but it was really just the suburbs – this was quite literally the ghetto.

Rough Neighborhood 

I was the only white kid, that I knew of, in my neighborhood.  I remember two high school guys fighting outside my house one day and even my dad was unable to break it up. I remember being a little scared that the one boy was going to kill the other.

He had a padlock in his hand and was bashing the poor bastard’s skull in.  His white shirt was drenched in blood. What’s even more fucked up is I remember rooting for him too.  The guy that was winning was from my section of the neighborhood and I kind of looked up to him.

Another time a young man was shot a killed at the beginning of our subdivision.  I remember walking to the bus stop for school the next morning and seeing his blood still staining the sidewalk.  It was strange – he was the first and only person I have ever known personally who was murdered.

There are times I look back on my life and relive it like a movie.  I can barely believe it myself.  I remember times my parents would have so many people over they wouldn’t notice and wouldn’t care when people slipped me shots of liquor, which I took proudly, just to seem cool.

I remember seeing pounds of pot stacked in my living room being packaged for sales.  Even back then I knew how many grams went into a nickel, dime, or quarter bag of marijuana to sell on the street.

I saw my Dad go to jail a few times, I saw my Mom on the brink of self destruction, and I saw enough young people come and go through our home that I’m quite sure both my parents will find a warm spot in Hell for all eternity for blindly instigating their addictions.

Ying and Yang

My life is almost a Ying and Yang.  On the one side I look back on events that seem surreal – some of which I’ve mentioned. Other events make me realize how I made it.  For example, my best friend, who I spent a lot of time with, had two of the best parents on the planet.

They were from Puerto Rico and devoutly religious.  I distinctly remember once suggesting to the Father that he lie to his daughter so we could leave to play basketball without her getting upset.  He looked me directly in the eyes and said: “I never lie to my children.”  That will stick with me for the rest of my life.

I also remember playing little league football.  It seems like every child who grows up in a rough neighborhood is absolutely convinced he will grow up to be a professional athlete.  I thought this too, without question, for my entire childhood.  I think that explains why so many excellent athletes come out of seemingly rough circumstances.

It’s kind of funny too.  While my Mom and Dad were terribly addicted to one drug or another most of my childhood I distinctly remember that my Mom would make me do all of my homework and write my spelling words down five times each until I was in the 5th grade.

If she did one thing right it was letting me know how important school was to her. Both my parents knew how to make me feel proud of myself and I think that has proven invaluable throughout my life.  If anything, I have never had an issue with self worth.

Moving Out

I’m not sure how I would have turned out had I not moved out of that neighborhood when I did. Man was that conversion interesting.

I remember going from a school where I was almost the only white kid in the entire building, where you had to be checked with metal detectors before entering the school, and security guards walked the hallways – then to a school with almost all white people and no security what-so-ever.

I had an accent, wore baggy clothes, and was completely oblivious that I was any different from the rest of the kids. In fact, it wasn’t until high school that I started to dress like a typical “white guy”.  It took a thorough lashing by all of my “friends” in high school until I realized I dressed like a black guy. I quickly remediated my wardrobe problems and slipped into the expected mold.

Somehow I found a place on the sports teams, made all A’s, and found a way to fit in. It is almost insane to me how resilient yet fragile the human mind is.  You can overcome almost anything or crumble because of almost everything.

When I take a careful look at my life over the past 25 years I am incredibly thankful for what I’ve overcome.  I’m incredibly thankful for what I don’t have to relive. I’m infinitely thankful for the future I see myself having and sometimes it all still feels like I’m remembering a movie I saw – not my own life.

8 thoughts on “Ying and Yang of Growing up Rough

  1. Jon

    What a great post. the impact of your hearing that, given what you were seeing at home, really resonates. And your wearing the baggy clothes even when you started at the new school, before getting with the (new) normal style..
    Really cool – you’re such a good writer.

    1. Atticus

      Thanks Jon. Sometimes it is interesting to relive my life through writing because a lot of those memories are things I never make an effort to think about. However, I wouldn’t go as far to say I’m a “good writer”. 🙂

  2. Rattlesnake

    You’ve had an interesting life. Thanks for sharing; it was a good and inspiring read.

    I’ve never really thought that I’ve had a very easy life, especially compared to the people I am used to being around. My father has smoked pot for my whole life, but he was still a good father. And I’ve never even been to a “bad” neighborhood, let alone lived in one. Even still, sometimes I find it difficult to overcome the relatively minor adversity I face. You have again made me ashamed of my complaining (which is a good thing).

    1. Atticus

      On that note – I wasn’t born in a war torn country, wasn’t born with a terminal illness, and 1000 other situations that could have been worse. Sometimes I find myself “complaining”, but I really can’t. I’ve been pretty lucky overall.

      1. Rattlesnake

        That is a good point, but I have to imagine that most people don’t go through anything like what you have gone through. I suppose adversity is subjective. Some of the least fortunate people in the world (such as starving orphans in Africa) seem to have a happy attitude in spite of their awful circumstances.

  3. philebersole

    Thank you for sharing this. I respect you for being able to remember the good things about your mother with all the problems you now have.

    I owe almost everything good about myself to the example and guidance of my own parents. I can’t imagine what would have become of me if I had had to find my own way without their example and guidance.

    As you say, it is amazing how resilient yet fragile human beings can be, and how a human being can overcome almost everything or crumble because of almost anything. You seem to fall within the resilient, overcoming category.

  4. Pingback: Stolen Memories: I used to call this place home. | BlogTruth

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