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Voices of COHP



I grew up in a double shotgun house that connected in the back like a U.  My grandmother lived on one side, and my dad lived on the other.  We had no privacy because you had to walk through one room to get to another.  The bathroom had painted glass doors that didn’t close.  I didn't have my own room, and slept with my brother on the sofa until we were 12.  We had roaches, and my grandmother "saved" things like mayonnaise jars and paper bags that she used as trash bags. 

My grandmother took care of our physical needs, like cooking for us.  When we got to be teens, she would leave a plastic covered plate on our spots on the table so we could heat it in the microwave when we got home.  AC was only in their rooms (in 100 degree New Orleans summers).  The rest of the house had a huge fan that pulled air through the whole house if we left one door open with screens.  I never felt safe sleeping with a screen door that someone could just cut open.  My grandmother and dad always told us it was their house and they were kicking us out the minute we turned 18.  

At 12, I started babysitting to buy my own clothes, shampoo, makeup, pads ... everything that wasn't school or shelter/food related.  If I argued with her, my grandmother pulled my hair.  She called us lazy bastards.  

My father worked a swing shift, went to the bar, came home, and slept.  When I was 13, he broke his ankle and started saving jars of urine, instead of going to the bathroom.  My grandmother blamed us.

My mother had left when we were little.  My father always treated me as his missing spouse.  He would always say sexual things and comment about my boyfriends.  I later learned this behavior is known as "covert incest" from other members of a support group.  

When I was 15, my father attempted to molest me.  Not long after, he came home drunk one night, started an argument, and threw me out of the house.  I lived at a friend’s house until I was 17, when I returned home having forgotten why I had to leave.  I skipped school and went out to bars all the time because nobody cared what I did.  

My grandmother died when I was 19.  Soon after, my father came home drunk, started an argument, slapped me in the face, and kicked me out the next day.  My brother had already left because my father punched him and burned him with cigarettes.

Dad’s hoarding got much worse after we were all gone.  Ten years later, I cleaned waist deep trash out of the kitchen, mostly cardboard and used butter containers.  When my father passed in 2014, my brother and his girlfriend were living in my grandmother’s side of the house.  My brother had become a drug addict and a hoarder.  They took most of the hoard with them when they left.

I never learned self-esteem or boundaries growing up.  I let any man have whatever he wanted from me.  I expected nothing from friends until I was driven to rages.  I joined a cult for seven years.  

When I was 32, I met my husband.  We now have 4 children and a life I never imagined growing up.  If I could tell my younger self anything, it would be: 

“Take care of yourself, first.  You are allowed to save money and not give it to someone more needy.  You are allowed to care for yourself before others.  Pay attention to what people do, not what they say, and only share your life with people who give as much as they take.  Take care of others, but make sure to take care of yourself.”




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