In a small town in Georgia on March 18th 1981, my parents welcomed me into the world. My mom had just turned 16 years old and my father was 20. They named me LeeAnn Michelle. Lee being my dads middle name and Ann being my moms. I always thought that was a super clever way to come up with my name and I loved the idea, it made me feel special. I learned later on in my life where the name “LeeAnn Michelle” really came from. It was the name of my dads favorite centerfold at the time. Realizing this took the special meaning of my name away from me, and it probably hurt my mother to learn this too.
Soon after I was born my parents decided to head back to Michigan to be closer to family. Having a baby at such a young age proved to be tough on my mom, especially with my dad having to work long hours to provide for us. Once we were back in Michigan things didn’t get any easier for my parents and their desire to still be teenagers outweighed their desire to be parents. After being passed around to multiple family members I ended up with my grandma Jeannie, my dads mother. She took on the role of both my mom and dad. When I was little I didn’t know that wasn’t how things were meant to be, I just knew my grandma loved me because her whole world revolved around me. Never once do I remember doubting her love.
When I turned 4 my sister Devin was born. My parents were a little older now and they decided it was time to settle down and become a family. They had a little apartment and set up a nursery for my new baby sister. They had their little family, but I wasn’t included in it. It was around this time that I began to know that things were different for me. I often wondered why they didn’t include me in their lives, they rarely visited me and when they did things never ended well. They ended with me standing at the sliding glass door crying when they left.
I remember one of these visits very clearly. Devin was just a few years old, I was 7 or 8. My parents stopped by with my little sister, probably to get some money from my grandma, because surely it wasn’t just to see me. Devin and I played together for a while before they told us they were going to the zoo. I’d never been to the zoo before so I was excited when I heard the news. I jumped up and was about to get ready only to learn that they were going without me. This broke my little heart and made me feel very confused and angry. I couldn’t figure out why they had told me if they didn’t plan on taking me too. I hoped this was all just a bad joke and they would tell me to hurry and get my shoes on too, but that never happened. It wasn’t a joke at all, it was as real as could be. I was looking at my curly haired little sister who I loved so much as I burst into tears. It was only a moment later that the same big brown eyes as mine burst into tears too. My parents yelled at me for making my little sister cry. My grandma immediately told them to leave and they got up and headed for the door. I remember still holding onto hope that they’d tell me to hurry and get on my shoes but instead my dad carried my sister to the car, my mom following closely behind them. I stood crying at that glass door promising them that I’d be good if they took me with them too. My sister was turning around in my dads arms reaching for me and still crying. They put her into the car and drove away. As they pulled out of the driveway Devin was turned around and staring at me through the back window. We cried and waved goodbye until the car was no longer in sight.
After they left, my grandma put me in her car and headed to the toy store. She told me to pick out anything that I wanted. I picked out my toy and we headed home. But what I really wanted was nowhere to be found in the store that day, what I wanted couldn’t be bought. What I longed for left me that day and many more days crying at that door. They didn’t worry about how badly they had hurt me because they didn’t care, and I knew that was the case even back then. They were able to look at their first little girl with a completely broken heart that was caused by them, and without any hesitation at all they were able to just drive away. I still cannot comprehend their reasoning and the thought of it still brings tears to my eyes.
My grandma tried to fill the void in my heart for years, but she never really succeeded. The void and brokenness in me could only have been filled by the two people that caused it, the two people I loved so much, but who would never give me the time of day. This caused me to feel as though I was unlovable, like there was something wrong with me, like I wasn’t good enough.
They continued to do this type of thing to me for years, it became normal to me and it’s what I started to expect from them. But no matter how many times they left me, I always hung on to that little bit of hope that they’d take me with them too one day, if even just for the day. But instead the only thing I got were a million goodbyes and too many shed tears. There were more days than I can count of me left standing at that door watching the family that I should have been a part of driving away.
This never got any easier and it hurt and broke me a little more every time. I became a very bitter, rebellious and angry child. The love that I once had for my little sister began to turn into jealousy and resentment. I thought she had the perfect life because my parents loved her and kept her with them. It wasn’t until later on in my life that I realized being with my grandma was the best thing that could’ve happened to me.
I was 8 and Devin was 4 when my sister, Dyana, was born. It wasn’t long after she arrived that having a new baby proved to be too much for my mom and dad once again and Dyana was sent to live with my Great Aunt Karen. Dyana couldn’t have been more than a couple months old. My mother was older now and was already raising one child so her age could no longer be used as an excuse.
Now there were 3 of us all separated from each other and living in different homes. I was with my grandma, Devin was with my parents and Dyana was now with my great aunt Karen and Great Uncle Gene. This worked out well for me since my Aunt Karen was my grandmother’s sister and her and my grandmother were very close. I was blessed to be able to spend summers on the farm with my aunt but more importantly with my curly headed baby sister Dyana, that also had the same big brown eyes as me. I felt as though I had been given another opportunity to be the big sister I always longed to be.
I knew that I’d make many memories with this new sister of mine and memories together we definitely did make on that farm during those summers. Good memories, fun memories, memories playing outside with each other all day long. Chasing around animals that were always trying their hardest to get away from us, dressing our dogs up as baby dolls and trying to catch all the wild cats. It was so much fun during those summers, but one thing always felt as though it was missing, because it was. Devin wasn’t there to share these moments with us and I knew in my heart that she should’ve been and that made me really sad.
About 4 more years after Dyana was born my mom and dad had another child together, this time they had a boy. I thought for sure they’d keep him but soon after he was born they divorced and my brother, Kevin, was sent to live with my other grandma, my mother’s mom. I rarely saw my brother when we were growing up but him and Devin were pretty close since Devin stayed with my mom, and Kevin was with my mother’s mom. Some holidays all of us would get together and see each other and I remember those being some of the best times of my life.
When Dyana was 8 my Aunt Karen became very sick. She had a massive heart attack and was hospitalized. We were told that she most likely wouldn’t pull through this. I went to visit her in the hospital. My grandma warned me that my aunt was in very bad condition but that it was crucial for me to see her so that i could say my goodbyes. We hoped that I would find some closure in this so that from it I could heal. No matter how much they tried to prepare me for what I was about to see that day it still came as a shock. My strong, fun loving aunt was frail and weak and hooked up to all types of machines. She could hardly talk because of the state she was in but she heard everything I had to say. I knew this because she would nod as I’d talk about certain memories with her on the farm. She even cracked a smile when I brought up our dog biting my uncle’s butt for trying to give me a spanking. I remember her laughing so hard when this happened with our dog. My uncle was chasing me, the dog was chasing him snipping at his butt the entire time, my aunt looking on and laughing so hard that she was bent over in tears. I didn’t end up getting a spanking that day but my uncle sure did get a bite and my aunt definitely got a good laugh out of it.
As I was getting ready to leave the hospital that day my aunt reached over and grabbed my hand. She looked right in my eyes as she gave it all she could to get the words out that she was about to speak. I could barely understand her so I leaned in very close. She said “LeeAnn I love you so much, I always have and I always will. Please will you promise me one thing?” “Of course aunt Karen, anything” I replied. She said “Please look after Dyana for me, protect her and love her to the best of your ability. I know you love her too and I know I can count on you to make sure our baby girl is ok.” My eyes filled with tears as I promised her that I would do my best. This was my aunt’s only dying wish, and the one thing she had asked of our family before she died was the one thing we all failed to do. I kept Dyana close to me but I dragged her into the chaos and destruction of my own life later on. She followed closely in my footsteps that ultimately led her to a place my aunt never would have wanted her to go.
Not long after this visit my aunt passed on and Dyana was bounced around from one home to another. The dysfunction that her life became and the lack of love that she was given had killed the little girl my aunt had worked so hard for her to become. Her once gleaming eyes so full of love and happiness were now like mine, there was nothing behind them except pain and sorrow.
When I was 17 I got my own apartment and brought Dyana to live with me. She loved being with me and I loved having her there. I was dancing illegally in clubs at the time because it was the only way I could make enough money to support and provide for the both of us. But I needed to work and I remember using my money from dancing to buy my sisters their school clothes many times. I was their big sister and it made me feel so good to finally be able help them out. I helped some of my other family members out with the money I was making during this time as well. I would pay their rent and help them get ahead on many of their bills. They were gaining from something that they knew had the potential to destroy me, but nobody tried to get me to quit. Instead it was encouraged.
Not long after Dyana came to stay with me, my father showed up one day and took her from my home. I was scared for her because I knew the awful things my dad had done to me and I feared he’d do the same to her, and eventually he did. I had no way to protect her from him back then because at the time I thought that he was stronger than me.
I was devastated and soon after Dyana was gone I turned to drugs and alcohol to numb my pain. Before long I had become addicted to heroin because heroin made it all just go away, it numbed everything, the good and the bad. My conscious was gone.
It didn’t take long until I introduced both of my sisters to my life of drug abuse and dancing, a decision that I regret to this day. My family tried their hardest to protect them from me, especially Devin. But all their attempts to save her from me had failed and I sucked her into my lifestyle too.
I wonder if my family would have protected me from my father all those years ago, would they still have had to try to protect my sisters from me? My behavior was learned and I was now teaching it to my sisters. Many years would pass and way too many bad decisions would be made before I would finally begin to really beat my addiction.
Today I’m proud to say that I have overcome, and continue to overcome, daily. I am a new creation and I’m becoming the woman that I was always meant to be. My sister Dyana recently told me how grateful she is that I am the one to break our vicious family cycle. Hearing this from her gave my heart so much joy. She is clean and sober today too. She has a little home of her own and works very hard to make ends meet. She’d never ask me for help because it’s not her character to do so, but I still try to help her out in any way that I can. I’m so thankful that I’m finally in a place in my life to make sure my baby sister is ok. I’m keeping the promise I made to my aunt all those years ago and my footsteps have become ones I’m proud to see her following in.
I pray that through us, Devin can one day see too that a different way and better life is possible no matter how bad the cards that we were dealt. As long as we still have breath in our lungs and blood in our veins we have the choice to change, we have the chance to do and become better. Devin is no longer using heroin and she stopped dancing years ago but she still struggles with addiction in other areas of her life to this day. I’ll never give up on the hope I have for her though, because God never gave up on me.
I am so thankful that today I’m someone they can look up to, I am being the big sister I always longed to be. And nobody can take that away from us now or ever again.