I started the 9th grade in 1984. I was at the top of my class academically and I was the class president. That same year, I also represented my school on television for “It’s Academic,” which was the scholastic bowl for local high schools in the Buffalo, New York area.
When I say that our little country school was not prepared for the academic challenge of the big city, I am not kidding. I think we only got 30 points. One of the questions was “what is the most popular book in the world?” Which I answered correctly – “The Bible.” It was still fun being able to be on tv, even if we didn’t do very good.
The world was changing too, Reagan had been re-elected and I started to learn about the world outside of Rushford. I started to learn about the plight of people in the third world. Although, rural, poor America resembles the third world in the same way our blighted inner cities do. So I was keenly aware already of poverty and its impact on people’s lives.
I know people say adoption offers a “better life” for a child- which the generally accepted definition of better is “richer with more opportunities.” This was not the case with my adoption. My birth family was much wealthier than my adoptive family and lived in an area that was not in the middle of severe poverty so therefore better schools with more opportunities. But here I was, in the middle white rural impoverished America, in my “better” life.
So, “richer” and “better” are not terms I would fit together. My childhood home had raw sewage running in the side yard and we used a weight in a string to see if we had enough water to do laundry. And we were one of the families doing better in my town. However, the greatest lessons learned were from this type of living. My neighbors may have been poor farmers, but they are my biggest role models to this date when it comes to hard work and perseverance.
My biggest escape, beside my writing, was music. I loved to listen to music all day and would try to tape my favorite songs, so I could learn the lyrics. I kept up with all the charts. These were the top songs when I started high school:
This was my New Year’s Eve ritual, every year I listened to and wrote down the top 100 songs of the year. I guess I have been much of a partier on New Year’s Eve. Now, other nights, that was a whole different story.
As I entered high school, I was soaring socially and academically, but slipping emotionally. It was the age when we all started drinking. And I didn’t just drink a little, I liked to drink a lot- until I could make everything around me disappear.