Angel, the Remarkable Spin-off
Perseverance in the face of the unthinkable
If you liken the journey of life to a work of art, there are sequels and then there are spin-offs…
A sequel is a work of art, whether literary or other, that continues the story from an earlier work of art. Sequels, in this analogy, are the lives of people in the aftermath of a normal life transition.
A spin-off is a completely new work of art which is based on a character or event from a different work of art. The lives of spin-offs have gone through such profound transitions, they emerge almost a totally different person. They had to show courage in the face of their uncertainties and to persevere in the wake of their trials.
Angel’s life journey is a spin off
Angel is a 39-year old single mother of two children, ages 12 and 15. I met Angel in April 2016 at the community college where I work when she came to my office for her honor society graduation regalia. It was then she began to tell me her incredible story of courage and perseverance.
If you liken the journey of life to a work of literary art…
Background — The First Unthinkable
Before Angel was 3 years old, her mother took Angel and her two brothers and left her father, who was addicted to drugs and a very abusive man towards her mother. They moved in with family and lived there for a while. Her uncle (her mother’s brother-in-law) sexually molested Angel from the time she was 3 years old until her mother remarried, before Angel was even 7 years old.
Angel’s struggle with sexual abuse was far from over, however, when her step-father continued her victimization after her uncle’s abuse, and now she was also witness to drunken parties and violence. That was the norm for her childhood.
When I recently met with Angel, one thing that struck me about Angel was the stark determination in her eyes. What she said will always stay with me, “I grew up watching people get drunk and I knew I didn’t want to end up like that. I never believed I was going to end up like that just because my parents were like that, I thought that reasoning was a cop-out. I didn’t believe what people told me – that if your parents were drunks, you had no choice but to end up that way.”
After age 12, Angel decided she didn’t have to put up with sexual advances from male authority figures, so she learned about self-defense, so much so that men learned to stay away. Unfortunately, Angel had been profoundly affected by her childhood trauma by suffering the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, and low self-esteem. The low self esteem actually worked in her favor; it led to her being known as an Over Achiever at college.
…there are sequels, and then there are spin-offs…
Events That Led Up to Quitting School — The Next Unthinkable
Angel had two older brothers, John and Adam. Both of her brothers attained their high school equivalency diplomas, and Angel admitted that she waited so long to get hers because it appeared to her that it didn’t help her brothers much.
When Angel was a mere 15 years old, certain traumatic events occurred in her life, some of which most of us will never experience in our entire lives. The girlfriend of her oldest brother, John, became pregnant. Before John’s girlfriend gave birth, Angel’s other brother Adam was hit by a truck while he was driving a moped and was paralyzed. Later, the insurance stopped paying for Adam’s stay at the rehabilitation center in Asheville, and he had to come home.
Because her mother, now single, was making a living outside the home and John was also trying to make a home for his baby and girlfriend, it was up to Angel to take care of her brother. She was 16 when she chose to quit school to take care of her best friend and her brother, Adam.
When I began writing this post, I began it with, “When she was 16 years old, Angel decided school was not for her, so she quit.” Angel did not hide her surprise and disappointment at what I had written, and I’m glad she didn’t. This embarrassing moment was, for me, another lesson smacking me in the face at false pre-conceived notions of people who seek alternatives to traditional high school diplomas.
Not long after giving birth to their daughter, John’s girlfriend left. Angel raised her niece, Ansley, for a couple of years, while living with her mother. She admitted that she had never known a love like the one she felt for her niece, and thought she couldn’t even possibly love her own future children as much (which later proved to be a false assumption, of course).
In 1995, when Angel was 18, Ansley’s mother reclaimed her child and moved to Florida. This event devastated Angel, feeling a loss she had never felt before. Little did she know that her future held much, much more loss for her. [Angel saw Ansley again, later in life.]
Going Back to School
In 1996, when Angel was 19, her house burned to the ground. Angel and her mother lost everything except a few photographs that Angel salvaged during the weeks that followed as she scavenged through the destruction. She credits John as the one who saved her life by getting her out of the house where she was sleeping alone. He later said he came to her house because “he just had a feeling something was wrong.”
Other events in Angel’s life included:
- In 1998 at age 21, Angel married.
- In 2001 at age 24, her son Chad was born.
- In 2004 at age 27, her daughter Julian was born.
- In 2005 at age 28, her oldest brother John, whom she credits saving her life, died.
- In 2006 at age 29, a mere five months after her oldest brother died, her best friend and beloved wheelchair-bound brother Adam, also died.
- In 2007 at age 30, she and her husband separated and later divorced.
It was then that Angel knew, as a single mother without a high school diploma with two children to raise on her own, she had to go back to school to survive.
School Taught Angel She Was Smart
In June of 2007, when Angel was 30 years old, she was awarded her GED, as it was called back then (now called “High School Equivalency” diploma).
Afterwards, she enrolled as a full time student in the Medical Office Administration program at a NC community college. She remembers her complete astonishment and unbelief that her placement test scores were so high.
This reminded Angel of how brilliant Adam had been with computer hardware, he could build and repair anything before his accident. He was a black belt in martial arts and though it was tough for him to find a job as he had been in jail before, he had been working hard to get his life back together. She remembered believing Adam had had such an amazing future in front of him.
Every time Angel spoke to me about Adam, even ten years after his death, she struggled to fight back the tears. I admired her strength that day, realizing as each moment that passed just how remarkable people like Angel are, and there are many such unsung heroes. [See “The Inspiring People Nobody Knows”]
The pain of loss, especially the loss of someone so dear, never vanishes.
After Angel had scored so high with her placement test scores, she was asked if she would tutor other students, which she did. She made the Dean’s List her first semester, and during her entire college tenure she made nothing lower than a B, and only made two of those. She was known as an over-achiever to her peers and her instructors.
While in college, her therapist who also traveled around presenting motivational speeches, asked Angel to write papers about her life experiences. Angel wrote about everything she had experienced; she didn’t hold back. Her therapist was so impressed with Angel’s stories that she asked permission to use them in her motivational speeches. Of course, she agreed.
Unfortunately, fate again played a cruel hand. Angel suffered a devastating injury to her hand at one of her jobs, requiring surgery to repair a severed tendon. She had to use her Pell financial aid funds to pay her medical bills, withdraw from her classes and pay back her financial aid. She became discouraged, became involved with a controlling, emotionally abusive boyfriend, and left college.
After a time, Angel’s cousin, Darryl, offered to pay for Angel to move where he lived in far south western NC and encouraged her to continue her college studies at the community college I work. She left her boyfriend, gathered her children, and headed west.
She lived with Darryl’s mother, Angel’s Aunt Paula, until she could find a job and her own place. Angel again enrolled in Medical Office Administration to continue her studies. Angel’s extraordinary mother lived with her, sleeping on a mattress in the living room, so she could look after the kids while Angel worked full time and went to school part time for years.
Angel Today, Her Life as a Spin-off
Angel admitted that even though her mother had faults, as we all do, her mother’s support during Angel’s most difficult moments dealing with the past was invaluable to Angel’s healing and pointed her to the path of personal inner freedom.
Angel graduated in May 2015 with an Associates of Applied Science degree in Medical Office Administration and in May 2016 with an Associates of Applied Science degree in Medical Assisting. She graduated both programs as the Top Graduate, which is the graduating student with the highest GPA in their program. She now works as a Medical Assistant/Front Office Coordinator at a doctor’s office located in the local hospital. She loves her job.
Angel says school changed her life. She also credits her success on her mother’s unselfish help by saying, “I couldn’t have gotten through school without her.”
She still faces challenges, but she faces them head on and never quits.
Angel says that others can succeed as she did by never giving up and by surrounding themselves with good friends and a good support network, like her mother is for Angel.
“Perseverance is key. Never give up.” ~Angel
Angel felt such pride and excitement recently when she purchased groceries for the first time in her life without the help of food stamps. She admitted how scared she was because she had never had to budget before with her own money that she made independently. It is a new freedom for her, not having to depend on anyone or anything else but herself. It is also a new and a great responsibility.
She recalls quizzing her daughter, now 12, on what she wanted to do when she grew up and moved out of the house. Her daughter dodged the question. Angel asked her, “How will you pay for things such as groceries if you don’t have a job?” Her daughter answered, “With food stamps.” Angel quickly and sharply put an end to that thinking by telling her daughter that if she depended on anyone else financially, including the government or a man, that she would never be free.
Angel’s definition of Personal Inner Freedom is “never having to depend on anyone else financially.”
You go girl. In my book, you are the epitome of a spin-off.
Please recommend this article if you were inspired or impressed by Angel’s story. Angel plans on writing a book one day about her remarkable life.
I will be posting more stories of inspiring adults who live in the Appalachian mountains of western NC. Dispell the false pre-conceived notions of these courageous people, as well as others who grew up or currently live in poverty or need and follow me.