This is the 46th story of Our Life Logs.
I’ve experienced many cracks in the road of my life, but I continue driving. Some of the cracks turned out to be deep potholes that busted up my exterior, and I’m still working to pick up all the pieces. Even so, I’ll never stop moving forward because I know a paved road is on the horizon.
My life had a rough start. I was born in the mid-1990s and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio with my two younger brothers. I was raised in conflict until I was 10 years old. When my parents fought they were self-involved and oblivious to their children. I tried to stay away from them during the daily disputes and focus on the needs of my brothers. There were days I’d have to make sure my brothers were clean, fed, and ready for school in the morning. As the eldest, I was forced to take on a paternal role. Needless to say, I grew up quickly.
My parents split up when I was 10, and even at such a young age, I was relieved. I understood that the divorce meant their fighting would be over, and they would both be happier. My brothers and I went with my mom in the split. We weren’t given the choice of which parent to go with. My mother just made the choice for us. I only got to see my dad every other weekend and holiday, which was the hardest part of the divorce for me. I missed him.
While my parents were working on finalizing their divorce, my mom met a man named Jeff. This was a crack in the road I was not expecting to hit so soon. The divorce was supposed to simplify things in my life, but not long after getting together my mother got pregnant with my half-sister. Within eight months, they were married, and we were moving to a new home and a new school.
Our families were melded together, whether the kids liked it or not. I had no problems with Jeff. He was a decent guy, but he wasn’t my dad. Jeff had two boys, so our family of four soon turned into eight with the birth of my half-sister. This meant six children under the age of ten. It became a bit chaotic for my mom and stepdad. I was thankful that we had moved to a bigger house that could accommodate eight people. As the oldest, I was able to have my own room to get away when I needed to. With a new home, new stepdad, new stepbrothers, and a new school, I had no choice but to accept the change.
I started at a Catholic school closer to our new house. Starting a new school in fifth grade was difficult. Many of the kids in my class had been going to school with the same people for five years before I had arrived. I had a hard time making friends that first year, but eventually a group of guys took me into their group, but they weren’t really my friends. I felt that they only included me, so I could be the butt of their jokes. Things started looking up in eighth grade when I befriended a few students in the grade below me. They wanted to be my true friends, and I started to come out of my shell.
By high school, I was comfortable reaching out to people. Going from a private school to a public one was a shock at first. My grade school only had about 200 kids. My high school had over 3,000 students. I could walk down the halls and have people not know my name or background. It was a fresh start on a newly paved road. The students were a lot nicer and open to meeting new people, so it wasn’t long until I cultivated a group of friends. For the last two years, I transferred to Diamond Oaks, a vocational school that helps high school kids get a head start in a trade or in college. I was in the biotechnology program and made a lot more friends.
During my teenage years, my mother began having problems with her mental health. We speculated that these concerns had been dormant and undiagnosed for a long time. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, narcissist personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder. This made being around her difficult, and sometimes illogical. She’d connect dots that didn’t make sense and get upset about problems she had created in her mind. Her perception of reality was skewed and different from the rest of the family’s, so we often had to tread lightly around her. I learned to rely on my friends for support more than my mother because I didn’t want to add to her already heavy load.
I began dating in high school. I went out with a lot of girls my first two years of school. It’s crazy to look back on now, because I know why there were so many. I was searching for affection from these girls, but I wasn’t satisfied. I’d never be satisfied. The affection they gave wasn’t really what I wanted. Around my junior year of high school, I came to terms with my identity. I was gay. There was no way around it. It was a part of me. I tried to deny it when I started high school, but the repressed part of me was aching to escape, and I couldn’t hold it back any longer.
Most of my friends were accepting of my sexuality, and I was thankful they surrounded me with love. I never told my father the truth about being gay. The timing never felt right. I kept my identity a secret from my mom until my first year of college. Coming from a conservative household, I worried that she wouldn’t handle it well.
I was correct. When she found out, she was heartbroken. My mom’s solution was to try sending me to therapy. She thought they could “fix” me. At one point, she even suggested conversion therapy. Thankfully, I was able to refuse all her suggestions. I believe that half the time she’s still in denial that I’ll one day be straight again. Because of the problematic patterns in her thinking, her position on my identity fluctuated frequently. One day, she’d support me and tell me she loved me for who I was. The next day, she’d get hostile, and insist I was a sinner destined for hell. My stepfather never really reacted badly to the news. He let the dispute stay between my mother and me and pretended like he didn’t know I was gay.
After graduating high school, I went right into a community college at Cincinnati State. Through the biotechnology program at Diamond Oaks, I was able to start college with 15 credit hours already under my belt. I’d chosen the community college first with the intention to transfer to a bigger university later to save myself some money. Neither of my parents had the ability to help me with tuition, so I was on my own. To help pay for it, I got a job through a career development program through my high school in my first year.
It was a third shift job through a pharmaceutical company. Trying to balance it with school was difficult because I worked multiple 12 hour shifts a week. I’d work 7 pm to 7:30 am then go to class from 9 am to 12:30. From there, I’d go home to try to get some sleep before getting up to do it all over again. The pay was great, but I lost a lot of sleep and sanity during this time. I ended up quitting and started working at a less-demanding retail position.
Around this time, I moved in with my dad and transferred schools. When I made the switch to Northern Kentucky University in 2015, I ran into trouble. After several hiccups while transferring my credits, I had to begin a completely different program, and decided to pursue business administration.
I was thriving in the program, but things changed when my father passed away from a heart complication in April of 2017. There were no warning signs. I just woke up one morning to find him dead. The last image of my father I have is him lying lifeless on the floor of his house. I’d become close to him in the last five years of his life before he was taken from me. My middle brother was serving in the Navy during this time, and I had to be the one to call him and break the terrible news to him.
It felt like the whole world had stopped. This bump in the road ended up being a deep hole that temporarily halted my journey. I wasn’t motivated to study anymore. I couldn’t understand why it was my father that had to die. I regretted that I never told my father of my true sexuality, as I always thought an opportune moment would present itself. It never did. I made the choice to drop out of school, so I could focus on my family, but continued working full time. Rather than letting my journey end there, I picked myself back up and continued with my life even though it was extremely painful.
I dove into my work, spent time with my brothers, and became a licensed optician. My father’s death put a stop to the momentum I had, but I know I’ll be able to get back into the groove eventually. I’m working to mend my relationship with my mother. I plan to go back and complete my bachelor’s degree at some point, but right now I’m just focusing on moving up at work. With my business degree, I have a better chance at becoming the regional manager at my job.
My life has seen many bumps and cracks in the road, but I kept driving. I know that the bumps were there for a reason. They forced me to grow up early, but they also helped me become more independent. I’m now working to build more open relationships with loved ones. I’ve had a life full of fighting, coming out, transfer problems, and the loss of my father, but I’ve made it through it all. Every time that I thought something was my lowest point, something bigger happened, but I never gave up. I stayed positive. I believe there’s a green side to everything, and if I keep driving, I’ll get somewhere. All roads lead to somewhere. I’m interested to see where mine leads to.
-This is the story of Jesse Shepherd-
Jesse currently lives on the West Side of Cincinnati, Ohio with his friend. Growing up with parents that were constantly fighting and dealing with their divorce at age 10 gave him a difficult start to his life, but he always kept driving. Though he dealt with his mother remarrying, transferring to a new school, and the death of his father, he never let himself get stopped by these bumps in the road. Jesse currently works full time and plans to finish his degree in business administration once he pays off some of his student loans. Jesse used reading to escape from his difficult upbringing, and he still loves reading today. He also loves to sing and discover new music.
This story first touched our hearts on March 22, 2018.
| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker |