When I was 9 years old, my mom dropped a bombshell on me.
She told me that our family would be moving from Los Angeles County to Bakersfield.
I had grown up with nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles in L.A. I was happy there.
For the most part, I was a good kid. I played sports, I had lots of friends and perfect attendance. So, I was confused why my mom and my stepdad wanted to take that away from me.
“It’s for your own good, Denae,” my mom said.
“What does that mean? Was L.A. not good?” I remember thinking.
It wasn’t until I started the fourth grade at my new elementary school that I started to see where my mother was coming from. The environment was much different than my school in Bell Gardens. Parents were more involved. Students had more one-on-one time with teachers.
Still, it was an adjustment that was made tougher because my mom, who was working for the United States Post Office, couldn’t be transferred to Bakersfield for one year after we moved.
That means I was in a new city, without my mom, for almost a year.
My mom worked Monday through Saturday and while my stepfather and her were going back and forth from L.A. to Bakersfield, I lived with my stepdad’s mom and dad, my grandparents, Mami Estella and Samuel.
School has always been important to my mom and she did not want me going back and forth as she did. She enrolled me in school and my new journey began.
I pretty much started a new life. I met new friends, cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents.
No matter how many times I screamed for my mom to not leave Bakersfield after her weekend visits, my stepfather’s family took me in as their own and I will forever be thankful for that.
The sacrifices my mom made to make sure I had a better life and education is something I will always be grateful for. It took me years to realize that, but I am so blessed for those sacrifices, even though I still tease her every now and then for her “dumping me in Bakersfield with strangers.”
It has been six years since I graduated from high school.
Six years since I first started taking college courses at Taft College, near Bakersfield.
Six years of dreaming about the day I move back to my hometown, Los Angeles.
And most significantly, six years since I last talked, hugged, and kissed not one, but two of my parents: My father, Thomas, and stepfather, Davie. The men who helped raise me.
I lost my stepfather on August 9, 2014, during a shooting at a casino in Delano. Some may say he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I say, life is unfair and I’ll never understand why bad things happen to good people.
Three months after that, right before my 18th birthday in November, I lost my father. He suffered from a heart atPtack.
School started to become a place where I escaped my reality. A place where I didn’t have to think about not having a dad anymore.
The library was my favorite place to cry. There was something about the quietness of the room and how empty it was that led me to reflect on my life when I was there.
I remember pulling into my drive-way everyday after school and not wanting to get out of the car. My house no longer felt like a home and each time I walked inside the living room, the garage, the backyard, the bedroom, I felt as if I was grieving all over again.
Fast forward today. I can finally say I’ve completed my undergraduate education at Cal State LA and I will be receiving my bachelor’s degree in Television, Film, and Media Studies with an option in Journalism and a minor in creative writing.
My journey has been filled with loss, uncertainty and hardships. But, above all, my journey was filled with love, hard work, support, and dedication.
I have an amazing family behind me: A hard working mother, who taught me to never settle for anything less than great. A loving sister, who is constantly supporting me in everything I do, big or small. A protective brother, who inspired me to learn everything I could about sports — and is the reason I decided to take on this major. And three soft-hearted nephews, who remind me to always believe in myself no matter how tough life can be.
This degree is not just for me, but for us.
I keep imagining the graduation day I would have had. My dreams becoming a reality as I hear my name being called during the ceremony and my family shouts in the stands.
The gathering afterward that we were planning for months. The pride on my dads’ faces since they were always bragging about how “smart” their daughter is.
The conversations I would have had with them as I start this next chapter in my life.
I think, too, of their smiles and their laughs, as they are no doubt celebrating my accomplishments in Heaven.
My journey has not been the same without them, but I know they are looking down on me and I know they have been with me every step of the way.
My biggest take away from this journey is that everyone’s paths and circumstances are different.
It’s OK if you have divorced parents. It’s OK if you lost people who are close to your heart. It’s OK if you finish college in six years instead of four.
Because life is a marathon, not a race.
Dad and Davie, I did it!
Community News reporters are enrolled in JOUR 3910 – University Times. They produce stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to [email protected]