Write about five people that have most affected your life.
He’s not really my uncle. In fact I’ve only ever met him once when I was ten. But for several years, at 4pm each day, his voice would enter my home over the radio waves. Charlie VanderMeer was, at that time, the director and host of a children’s radio program called Children’s Bible Hour, now known as CBH. The religiously themed program consisted of music and a dramatized story. It was through this radio program that I first learned the difference between punishment and abuse.
At the end of each program Uncle Charlie would provide an mailing address to which listeners could send correspondence. One of the greatest things that my parents allowed me was the opportunity to write to Mr. VanderMeer, and I did so on a regular basis. To his credit, I always received a response from Uncle Charlie, which made me feel as if I could write to him about anything (and I most certainly did).
As an adult, I’d grown to believe that the host of a radio program would probably have an assistant (and rightfully so), and that my correspondence was most likely with him/her instead. I believed this until very recently when I reconnected with Charlie via email. He remembered my letters and expressed how he had thought of me often. I can’t begin to tell you how much that meant to me.
The insight that Charlie and his radio program provided to me was invaluable. I would have never received it any other way. He is a constant reminder to me that you can have a huge impact on someone’s life, even through the most peculiar circumstances.
When I was sixteen, I had a job at a pizza restaurant and Mark was the area manager that oversaw our location. Mark was notorious for his strict policies. Whenever we saw his Taurus pull into the parking lot a rush of whispers would echo throughout the store that he had arrived. Mark was stern and could be intimidating, so much so in fact that I recall witnessing him bringing several of his managers to tears.
During that time in my life I was very quiet and withdrawn. I just wanted to go to work, do a good job, and perhaps make enough money to pay the bills. Somehow through all of my awkwardness, Mark saw something in me. He began to speak to me about my future, and was the first person to say the words “career” and “try harder”. I had the pleasure of working for Mark for six years, and although I never fully came out of my shell around him he continued to invest time in me.
On my last day at the restaurant, before I moved to Atlanta, Mark dropped by my store to see me one last time and wish me well. Before he left, he hugged me and there were tears in his eyes. Like Charlie, I’ve fallen out of touch with Mark, but the impact that these two men had on my life is ongoing.
Sometimes someone can play a major influence in the life of another without really even trying. With Rachel, my sister, it wasn’t so much the actions she took, but rather her reactions that most affected my life. It was as if she and I, and the rest of my immediate family, had been stuck in a cyclone of dysfunction and abuse until she put a stop to it, sending the rest of us flailing toward reality on the ground. It was a hard landing, and much like Dorothy in Oz I found the real world to be nothing like I once thought it to be. Reality was much more beautiful and much more frightening than what my parents had allowed me to see, and it was quite an experience trying to get acclimated into the real world all on my own.
By standing up for herself Rachel knocked down barriers that allowed my brothers and sisters and I out of our cages. Outside the influences and brainwashing of our parents, we finally had a shot at becoming something other than what they intended.
If my life were a story there’d be no middle section without Renee. She is the story. Any advances or successes that I claim as mine actually belong to her. When she and I met I was socially awkward. I pretty much didn’t speak to people because I was so frightened of them. But Renee saw past all of that and found something in me that I didn’t even know was there. In the ten years that we’ve been together she has fought for me harder than I’ve fought for myself. She is my biggest supporter and I honestly have no idea how I got so lucky. She’s my best friend, and the love of my life.
Okay, so I am bending the rules and throwing in my parents as a “two for one” deal. But if Renee is the middle section of my story they would be the beginning, and to not include them would be to throw out the whole first act. My parents have influenced my life in many different ways. But mostly their actions have given me plenty of material on what not to do. But that’s not to say that it was all heartache and negativity. As hard as it is to believe, there’s no such thing as bad and good people. We’re all just people. While some of us exemplify bad behavior more than others, but it doesn’t mean that they are void of goodness. My parents were no exception.
Despite the monstrous things they did, I still look back at my childhood and can recognize some of the good times that we had. It’s within these memories that I see the family that could have been, the one that should have been. It was the one that I believe they tried so hard to be, but never truly were. All of that good mixed in with all of the bad has made me into who I am today, for better or for worse. I can’t take back the past, but I can definitely make sure to learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others.
Peter Combs is a 28 year old husband, writer and former foster child. He currently lives with his wife, Renee, in Atlanta, Georgia. Peter is the author of the blog Home.