Richard and Nancy had known each other for many years now, they were taking a photography class together. Richard had mentioned Project Wise Words to Nancy a few times but had never fully described the ins and outs of exactly what Project Wise Words’ mission was. They were working on a photography project together in class, when Nancy asked Richard to explain Project Wise Words’ mission in greater detail. After Nancy understood it more clearly, a light bulb went off. She had a friend who went through a difficult time throughout his adolescent years. Richard asked if Nancy would be open to interviewing her friend so that he could share his story with the Wise Words community. Nancy was hesitant, but obliged.
It was a crisp December morning, at a local coffee shop in San Marcos, California. Nancy had asked her friend Riordan, “Rory” for short, to meet her there. After some small talk, Nancy remarked, “It appears that the world is growing more and more dysfunctional as the years go on. More divorces, more half siblings, step siblings, custody cases and other aspects of dysfunctional American life that have become relatively mainstream. The meaning of a dysfunctional family is even changing, thirty years ago it meant that the family had outside marriages and children, more commonly known as a blended family. Now, the traditional dysfunctional family is not considered unique or alarming anymore, a dysfunctional family is one riddled with abuse and detrimental to the wellbeing of the children”.
Growing up, Nancy knew that Rory’s father was an alcoholic and that his family had financial issues, but she did not know that they were evicted from all of their homes. She just thought that they moved for convenience purposes.
Rory responded, “Part of living in an adverse childhood environment is dealing with your situation amongst the seemingly normal world you are immersed in”.
When Rory went to school, neither Nancy nor the rest of the school knew about his home troubles to the severe degree that was happening in reality. All they knew was that Rory’s father was not the most stable man and that the family moved around frequently. The extent of abuse that Rory endured was unknown by the school and unknown by Nancy until this interview.
Being a child from an abusive home is fundamentally difficult because there are two personas involved. There is the persona that deals with the rest of the world and is the mask that must be worn to protect their family and themselves and then there is the crippled, abused self that is the chilling reality.-Rory
Rory, how was your childhood difficult? What challenges stick out the most to you?-Nancy
Rory emphasized that having a crumbled foundation and a lack of stability was the most difficult part because it was something that all of the kids had around him.
My father was an alcoholic and his abuse was so bad to the point that I was evicted from every home I lived in because he couldn’t pay the rent.-Rory
Constantly having to leave a home while being left in the dark as a child made it hard to establish roots and ever feel comfortable. Rory was always looking at his front door, waiting for a letter from the courthouse or note from the landlord.
During their conversation, Rory recounted three of the most memorable and scarring experiences that took place at three different points of his childhood. The first experience was during his late elementary years. The house in which Rory referenced was the home that Nancy remembered the most. It was a beautiful Victorian with three bedrooms and a large and mystical backyard that they used to reenact the Chronicles of Narnia in. It was the type of house that Nancy thought no one would ever move out of, especially not Rory’s family. But they did, and Nancy didn’t ask the reason, the only thing she remembered is how upset they both were. The one level ranch Rory and his family moved into afterward was a disappointing replacement for their childhood fantasy adventures. It was the fourth time that Rory and his older brother were evicted from their home, and the countless time that their parents were.
Seeing the sheriffs there, and moving out the memories we made, broke my heart.-Rory
The second scarring experience happened two short years after and this situation Nancy was aware of and recalled how difficult it was to witness. Rory and his family lived the entire seventh grade year in hotels. At one point it had become so unacceptable that Nancy’s father and Rory’s father got into a physical altercation over the welfare of Rory and his brother, who was in high school at the time. Nancy’s parents were not comfortable with the idea of children living in a hotel and were ready to legally adopt Rory and his brother. Nancy and Rory’s parents did not have much of a dialogue after the situation; however, Nancy’s father did provide the down payment and several months of rent to Rory’s family.
The third most dramatic experience that had a lasting effect on me was the decision to break away from my family and come live with you, Nancy.-Rory
Even after the previous re-established stability, the family was evicted once again. Rory had had enough and moved in with Nancy and her family. Nancy and her parents were relieved, but also concerned.
I remember being worried about you, you became so focused on establishing independence that your work came before your studies and you began to fall behind in class. Eventually you graduated high school, but your focus was on two part-time jobs which made your journey more difficult than it needed to be.-Nancy
It gave me solace knowing that I finally lived in a stable environment and oversaw my own finances.-Rory
Rory’s childhood experiences were life-altering because his feelings towards his family and home life were not confined to the environment but followed him everywhere he went. Rory’s outlook of the world became bleak, he trusted no one. When people promised to help him and his family they either were lying, or their help was limited to the point that it barely helped them at all. Rory only trusted Nancy and no one else, thinking that all people were rotten and only wanted to help themselves.
It was not until recently that Rory began to trust people again and have healthy relationships with his girlfriends and colleagues. Good relationships are built on trust, and Rory had steel walls up when it came to trust. Surprisingly, Rory said the most difficult part about going through the form of abuse he did was the memories that still haunt him periodically.
They often creep up on me like soft music or a random chill, the images of the sheriff or the hotel floor. The memories and learning to forgive are truly the most challenging parts.-Rory
Living a childhood that is harmful and abusive has a burdensome effect that continues to follow the victim throughout their life.
Coming out on the other side standing is not a guarantee. Even though some demons may be put to rest, it does not mean that the victim is unaffected. My advice to children who are going through similar situations as me? Establish independence as soon as possible so that you can separate from toxic relationships you are legally bound to. An abusive or neglectful childhood is one that needs no saving, but extinction.-Rory
Rory’s childhood was similar to that of a “Parentless Childhood” (PC). A PC is one that includes all or some of the following: abusive, neglectful and/or absentee parents; parents lacking the ability to consistently provide proper guidance, stability, structure and discipline. Keep checking in to the GROW section of this website for more articles and true stories focusing on overcoming and coping with adverse childhood experiences.
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