By Kayla Belovich
I was only a year old when my family began to unravel.
My mother tested positive for cocaine when my sister was born, which caused child welfare authorities to remove my siblings and I from our home.
Thankfully, my grandmother was able to get an emergency custody order so we wouldn’t be sent into foster care, or somewhere worse.
After the six months my parents were clean, we went back to live with them. Unfortunately, this move was only the beginning of a downward spiral that left my siblings and I abandoned as young children.
Drugs were always the focus of my parent’s lives, leaving us, their kids, as an afterthought. With my older brother acting as our guardian, we had to fend for ourselves.
According to my grandmother, police and jail were a constant. While living with my grandmother, my father was jailed for a while because he stole my gram’s boyfriend’s credit card and used it at Wal-Mart, which was clearly depicted on video surveillance.
When I was younger, things were never normal. I was always able to tell something was wrong because my parents were never fully there.
For instance, I remember coming home and not having electricity. When this happened, we would go stay with our grandmother.
I was four and five when all of this was happening. I remember my oldest brother Brian around ages 7 and 8 fixing me, my other brother Ryan and little sister Kaylee cereal or Ramen noodles, because they were cheap, always in the house and easy to make.
When we went to school, which wasn’t very often, he would wake us up and make sure we were dressed. We missed so many days of school that we had to go to the magistrate’s office for truancy.
We often dressed in clothes that were hand-me-downs, because all of our money went to my parent’s addiction.
My brother did the best he could to raise us. For example, he turned a fork into a hairbrush because we couldn’t find one. Despite our troubles, I never compared myself to others.
My life was forever changed on Christmas night in 2002 when I was just six-years-old. That night, my mother and father got into a huge fight because they were messed up on drugs.
I know this because when they were high they always ended up in some type of argument. I remember vividly seeing my mother hold a kitchen knife to my father’s back in their bedroom.
The kids were all screaming, “Mommy, please don’t. Stop. Stop.” I remember not understanding the situation, and trying to stop them from fighting like another child would do.
With the knife still to my father’s back, he told us to run over to the neighbor’s house and call the police because we did not have a phone. While we were over at their house, the neighbors called our grandmother and explained the situation to her and that the police were on their way.
This event was the first time my family was torn apart. We then went back to our house where my parents were calmer, but they made a point to ask if they were to split up, which parent would we choose?
My brothers and sister chose my father because their bond was stronger, and I chose my mother because I was always afraid of my father. I don’t know why I always feared him, and to this day, I still question my choice.
My grandmother received another call from the state police before she left the house. This is when she took all of us in to her home for temporary custody as ordered by CYS. She then had to take foster parenting classes, to take care of us.
She would take us up to CYS to visit our parents every two weeks, and then every week. That was the extent of our family until I reached the legal age of 18.
Over the next 3 years, we would repeatedly go back to court, but my parents could never get clean to win us back. My grandmother told me about their problems. At that age, I did not understand the situation. I just knew that my family situation was not typical of other boys and girls.
When we first began living with our grandmother, my siblings and I went to counseling.
We did not speak and if we did it was very little because we were afraid of the counselor telling our grandmother what we said. To this day, I fear going to a counseling office. I still do not think I can place my trust in them.
My parents still went to court hearings, but they never got clean in order for us to go back with them. After two years, the court granted my grandmother with special placement, where we lived with her until we were able to be on our own.
After the tragedy I experienced as a young child, I learned some life lessons I might not have learned otherwise. I learned that you’ll always be shocked at what you’re able to handle.
Growing up fast is really difficult, so the times when you get to be a kid, you enjoy it more. Even now I know that you have to laugh at the little things. You cannot change what you are born into.
I always like to say that a smart person learns from their mistakes, but a wise person learns from others. You can always cope with trauma, but you will never be able to forget it.
To their credit, my parents were mad about the custody battle and tried to keep fighting for us kids, but they would never actually get clean to get us back. Even at my young age, all I could think about was my parents, but all they could think about was drugs.
My parents and I never spoke about drugs. It caused my parents to be blind to the entire situation. It is sad to think that when they were under the influence, they knew they were hurting people, but while they were hurting people they were just trying to fix themselves.
I still wonder how they could choose drugs over their own children. I knew that I would never live with my biological parents again. When I found out that I would be living with my gram, I did not feel like I was losing a relationship with my parents because there was never one there in the first place.
The love that my gram offered me was much greater than the love I received from my parents.
My oldest brother Brian loved my father very much. They had a special bond that I was always jealous of because I never had a special bond with anyone in my family.
My brother would call my father every day and explain how unhappy he was at my grandmother’s house, which would initiate a seemingly endless series of custody hearings.
Overtime, my brother would complain and win, with my father calling child welfare officials and state that my grandmother’s home was unstable.
At my grandmother’s we developed the routine of an actual family. During the years we were at my grandmother’s, we made friends and went on with a normal life until we had to go visit our mother and father.
We would not want to visit with them because we enjoyed our new friends. We were friendly, outgoing and our teachers thought very highly of us. We were shocked at our transition into a new, happier life.
Although the teachers thought very highly of me, I was behind in school, and at the end of second grade I was tested for a learning disorder. In third grade, I was placed in special classes for English. I believe that this transition was the hardest to make because I had to leave behind my newly made friends.
Moving to these different classes made me feel more alone than any family situation because I was not able to hide this in school and all my peers knew about it. I was bullied for having to attend the different classes, but fortunately, my older brother Brian protected me.
Then my mother and father broke up. My father stayed in the house while my mother moved in with a man and his mother who abused her. Together they had two more children, but soon enough she would have them taken from her as well due to her poor parenting skills.
As if her drug use wasn’t bad enough, my mother’s parenting skills were deplorable. At the time, she lived across the street from a state policeman whose wife saw my step-brother Landon outside in the cold wearing only a diaper.
She called the police. Both children were taken from her and soon adopted by a foster parent. To this day, I have not seen them or know how their lives are.
While I had witnessed horrible arguments between my parents, things became even worse with her new boyfriend and parent of my step-siblings. I never developed much of a relationship with him. He was just always there.
He took a piece of wood from a kitchen chair and hit my mother with it, breaking her eye-socket, but my mother did not report this and stayed with him. They were so unstable that my grandmother paid the phone bill for them, but when she decided to stop my mother’s boyfriend, Antonio, threw the phone at her and gave her a bruise.
My grandmother did report this, but the police never did anything about it.
The only light I had in these dark times was my grandmother. She was the one who showed me how to care for others, how to help those who need it and how you don’t have to offer money when you have love.
Despite all of the battles with her daughter, she never once told us to end our relationship with our parents. She never forced us to do something we were uncomfortable with.
I feel that my siblings do not give my grandmother enough credit for taking us in and keeping us out of a children’s home. She has sacrificed so much to keep us four children together, but no one brings to light her accomplishments.
Although she was not “motherly” to us, that was fine because we didn’t really need one at the time. We were already taking care of ourselves.
After living with my grandmother for so long, we made friends with the kids in her neighborhood. We had so much fun together, riding bikes and going swimming in the summer and playing in the snow in the winter.
From the outside, things appeared normal, but on the inside, I always had the secret of my childhood that no one knew. My brothers, sister and I would never speak of our situation. This was our secret that kept us together when things fell apart.
My brother Brian became our father figure. He took care of everything from food, to protecting us on the bus to correcting us when we were little. When we moved in with my grandma, there was a power struggle between the two of them.
My gram had to tell him to be a kid and that she would worry about us, but because he had always looked over us they fought over control. We tried to get our family back together, but neither of them could compromise their power.
Every year in February, we would take a getaway and stay in a hotel just for fun. My father came to visit us at the hotel on Feb. 11, 2007. That night, we saw him for a few hours.
My grandmother told us that we were going out to eat at Red Lobster so my father told us that he would come back to see us once we returned. Before he left, he told us goodbye and that he would see us after we ate.
Little did we know that that would be the last time we ever saw him. When we got back to the hotel, he never came back to finish his visit. The next day we went home and my grandmother got the news that my father had passed away.
She sat us down at the kitchen table and told us that the police came by in the morning and told her that he had been found dead in Uniontown.
While she shared the news with us, my other brother Ryan and I did not have a reaction. Mostly because we knew he did not love us as much as he loved my brother and sister. My favorite memory with my father was coloring with him.
He was actually the one who I give all my coloring credits to. One day at a visitation, I was coloring and I thought that it turned out nice, and I could not wait to show him. When I showed him what I had done, he was so excited, but he told me the trick was to make sure the pencil strokes went in the same direction.
To this day, I still color for fun and think of him. I do still miss him and wonder what my father would be like if he were still alive today. My sister and Brian took it the hardest out of all of us because they had a stronger bond with him.
After my father’s death, my mother suddenly became “in love” with him again. I feel that my mother did not actually care that he was gone, she just thought about herself. She knew this would make her look good if she cared and was there.
She would be able to spend more time with us, but after the funeral it felt like she stopped putting in effort again.
The thing I remember most was when my grandmother showed us pictures from the coroner’s office of my father, where they found him. The pictures showed his arms with track marks. They were all bruised and red from the injections.
That image is still clear to me today. It’s hard to think that that was my father in those pictures. My grandmother showed us that image to hopefully scare us and help us see that this can happen to anyone.
I was embarrassed that my father passed away from an overdose. So when asked what happened, I would always say that he died of a heart attack. This obstacle was hard to get through and I do not think my oldest brother ever got through it.
I felt like he tried to hold it together for us, but you could see that he was mess. After the funeral, he started pushing boundaries and acting out. He became more abusive when he was trying to control my siblings and I.
The reason I think he did this was because he felt he needed some type of control in his life and acting out was the only way he knew how.
After the funeral, Antonio and my mother’s relationship ended. She quickly started a new one with a man named Joe. Joe was less abusive, but still used drugs with my mother.
In 2011, she got pregnant again with Nevaeh. My mother told me she named her this because it is heaven spelled backwards and that she came from the angels in heaven.
She was born handicapped and would be her entire life. I never got the chance to see her as she has since been adopted.
After my father’s death, we moved from that home to another house away from our neighborhood friends because the new house had more space.
The move did not help Brian. At age fourteen, he did not have the same group of friends after we moved. It was apparent he was not happy about the move and his attitude changed, and so did his friends.
At this point, the obstacles were small.I tried to help him, but it is impossible to help someone who doesn’t think they need it. With his new friends, he started smoking marijuana and drinking, which led to harder drugs.
While he lived in the house during his descent into drug addiction, I would go through his room like any another nosy little sister and I would find needles and spoons.
I would tell my gram and show her the needles. This is when Brian would talk about how he didn’t have a problem and he was just experimenting. With him doing this, I was scared to death that my brother could be the next one to go.
I had watched addiction tear my family apart so much already, I couldn’t bare it to have taken my brother away as well. This is when I started to take the tough love approach and distance myself from this situation as much as possible.
Now, I understand why he started using. He wanted to try to understand why my mother and father did this and get an idea of what it is so appealing about it.
This is when I knew he had a serious problem, but I never confronted him about it until he was kicked out of my grandmother’s house. He was kicked out for stealing and lying about doing drugs. He would leave for days and we would have no idea when he was coming home
Brian then overdosed on heroin at age 19, while he was living with my mother. At this time I was 16, and I received a call from my grandmother saying that Brian was in the hospital from an overdose.
She told me that everything was fine and that he was stable, but she was heading over to the hospital to check-up on him and wanted to know if I wanted to go.
That is when I told her no. I didn’t want to see him there. I shouldn’t have to. I tried giving him the tough love approach, and I regret my decision every day because when he needed me the most I wasn’t there.
After he was kicked out, we did not keep in touch, but I was so worried about him all of the time. I was making the honor roll in high school while having an amazing group of friends around me that supported my dream of one day being famous as a television star.
I dreamed that I would have my own talk show to make others laugh like Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon did for me during these rough times. I never thought that college was an option for me because of where I came from, but here I am.
While I am still facing obstacles with my family, these dreams are what keep me going. Brian would message me on Facebook every once-in-a-while to see how I was doing in school. Then I would ask him how he was doing, where he was staying and where he was working.
He said that he was doing good, just drinking.
Having just completed my first semester at Point Park, I saw him over Christmas break. He looked fine and he said he was doing well. We talked how he was doing. He said he was clean, and I believed him. He looked great.
On the night of Feb. 6., I had several missed calls from my sister and a text from her that said, “Brian died.” In my lifetime I have had to deal with my family splitting apart, cocaine addicts, heroin addicts, the death of my father and still, nothing was harder than having to deal with the death of my beloved brother.
Without my sister confirming, I knew that my brother had passed away from a heroin overdose.
I could not fall asleep until 5 a.m. that night and woke up at 7 a.m. for my grandmother to come pick me up at school. When I got in the car she started talking about the funeral arrangements.
My grandmother and I never had a “lovey dovey” relationship. I was always closed off and still am, but she offered some much needed reassurance: People would not remember Brian as a drug addict, but as he was when he was a small child.
At the funeral, I saw all of our neighborhood friends, who all have grown up so much. We spoke about how Brian was the captain of our baseball team, and how we all thought that one day we would go professional.
We also remembered how Brian and Lucas created a club called “Penguin Club,” where we would have to do tasks in the snow and we would advance, and this is what we would use to split up into teams for snowball fights.
Sam Henry, a neighborhood friend said, “He was our leader on Elwell.”
While we all went off in different directions, we all share the same stories and memories of growing up on Elwell St. We all have the same memories of not going inside until it was dark out because we were playing release and having squirt gun fights in the summer.
To the clubs we made, the games we played, the woods we ran in and of the baseball team we were going to start. We spoke about how Brian was always the leader and had to win.
That is how I will remember him. I will remember him as my big brother that would do anything for me. As my big brother that would take care of me, as my big brother that always supported and believed in me. I will not remember what he did behind closed doors, but for those he loved.
Before going back to school, I was packing my things up and that is when my sister told me that she and Brian had a conversation about how they thought that I would be famous one day. That meant more to me than he would have ever known.
So here I am, a soon-to-be sophomore at Point Park University. My father is dead, my brother is dead and my mother is still a drug addict. But against all odds, I am a college student who wants a better future for herself.
Many people hear my story and wonder how I got here. They say that they would have expected me to mess up already, and in some cases, I feel that they are waiting for bad things to happen.
There are two worlds you can be born into, a good one or a bad one. I was born into the bad one, clearly not the worst one, but not the best one either. I got here from dreaming that one day I would be a part of the good world.
In the good world, I will not have to worry about money, and where my future kids can have a better life than I did. I dream of a day where I can share my story and be proud of where I came from because I made a name for myself coming from nothing.
I really like the person that I have become because I had to fight hard to become her. I had to make a lot of hard choices in my life and cut the people out who were supposed to love me the most.
Many people have 18 years to grow up, but I only had six. As for the future, I have not had a real conversation with my mother that did not involve screaming in years.
On the bright side, I was able to complete my freshman year at Point Park. I am currently studying advertising and hope to get a job with an agency in the creative department.
I still cannot give up on my dream of becoming famous to make people laugh, because what is the point of living if you’re not living your dream.
Kayla Belovich of Belle Vernon, Pa. is a rising sophomore Advertising and Public Relations major at Point Park University