When I think back to my childhood, growing up in the south end of Louisville, there is a group of kids in my neighborhood that always comes to mind.
We were the neighborhood kids, always together, running around, causing a little mischief but never really any harm. We were just kids with no technology to keep us occupied so we would spend our days at each other’s houses watching MTV, riding bikes, playing in the creek, walking to the store to buy candy and snacks, and listening to music on our Walkmans. Yes, that’s how old I am.
We were kids that came from all different types of backgrounds. There was Carlos, he lived across the street from me. He was a Black kid that had some amazing dance moves and a Marine Corps veteran dad in a wheelchair that I was terrified of as a child. There was Jennifer: my best friend and partner in crime. I spent many days and nights at Jennifer’s house because I knew that we could get away with much more mischief at her house than we ever could at mine. There was Carl, who always for some reason seemed so much older than me than he actually was. We spent many days at his house smoking cigarettes and hanging out in his room listening to music at obscene volumes. I’m surprised his parents didn’t kick us all out any time they saw us coming their way.
There was Shane and Josh, Josh being my next-door neighbor and boyfriend at the time. Shane was his best friend, a friend that later became my very best friend and Homecoming King to my Homecoming Queen. There is one memory that I vividly remember of our entire group walking down the street and Shane looks at me and says, “When we get to Josh’s, this is what I’m going to do in that pool.”
And then he takes off running down the street and dives headfirst into a patch of grass. Shane was a big dude at the time and it was so unexpected and hilarious that we were all literally in the street crying from laughing so hard. He did in fact go and dive into the pool after this display of ridiculousness!
Over the years as we grew, all of us remained close. After high school, I joined the Navy and left behind the Silver Heights Crew. Shane joined the Marines not too long after. Josh, Carl, Carlos, and Jennifer all did their own things as well.
I would come home on leave in and out over the next 5 years, check in, visit who I could, and then go back to Virginia and when I got out of the military in 2007 and moved back home. I reconnected with everyone, but we were all in different stages of life at the time so we definitely weren’t as close as we had been before. We lost touch, but thanks to social media, we were able to check in on each other and see what was going on in each other’s lives.
My childhood best friend Jennifer was the first to pass away. She died from a drug overdose, leaving behind two children. Her death wrecked me. I was devastated and I remember getting the call like it was yesterday.
Carlos, the father of one of Jennifer’s children got into an altercation with police and was killed during the process.
Shane’s death was arguably the hardest on me. We reconnected and started hanging out again after both of our military enlistments ended. I didn’t know the demons he was fighting during the last year or so of his life, his addiction, and his battle with heroin. I wish so much that I had reached out more, let him know that I was here for support. I think so many of us do.
This brings me to this week, another funeral, another day of seeing people that I haven’t seen since the last funeral we all attended for our fallen friends. Carl passed away this week after having a stroke in his sleep. Standing outside the funeral home talking to DJ, Cody, and Matt and reflecting on how many friends we’ve lost and the different paths all of our lives have taken was humbling.
It really made me wonder that if I had not left when I did, joined the military, and traveled, would my life have taken a different path? Would I have taken the road that so many of my childhood friends did and turned to drugs when I couldn’t cope with the reality of the life I was living?
Humbly and thankfully, I don’t have to think too hard about it. I made my choices when I was young and paved my way towards success in many aspects of my life. I have a beautiful life, a beautiful family, and I’m blessed beyond measure. But that doesn’t change the fact that my heart still aches for the families and friends of those that have lost loved ones way too soon, especially those that were so close to me and such a huge part of my childhood.
Knowing what I know now, about my upbringing, the things I was able to do and get away with growing up has definitely shaped the way I parent my own children.
There are no sleepovers unless it’s with family. My children are not allowed to roam the neighborhood or be outside of my vision when playing outside with friends. They will not have cell phones until they are of driving age. We monitor their screen time closely.
I do not want my children exposed to the things that I was exposed to growing up. If I could keep them in a bubble I probably would, to shelter them from all the bad in the world that they so easily could have at their fingertips. Of course that’s not realistic, so it’s my responsibility as their parent to make sure I protect them and educate them in a responsible and loving way. I know for certain that my childhood shaped who I am as a parent today.