I am Atheliah!
As told by Atheliah
Photos by Raymond Planas and Jess Mijares
I’ve had a bit of a rocky past. Growing up, I didn’t have a father figure to look up to, or to cry to, and this, I feel, created a void in me. I had made a decision early on not to talk to my Mom or stepdad Erik about all the bullying. I didn’t feel I could talk to my stepdad because we were still forming our relationship, and although my Mom had been my constant, there were things even she couldn’t know and even bigger things I would struggle with - alone.
From as early on as elementary school, I was bullied. I would come home from school pretending everything was ok. When my Mom would ask how my day was, I would say that my day was good, even if it had been a horrible day. When I knew I was out of earshot from my Mom, I would break down. Many hurtful things have been said to me, about me, and done to me thatstuck. Their actions and their words affected me so much. I felt that since I was a little girl trying to find herself, I was never really able to build on who I was becoming, because I was too busy changing who I was so that I could fit in. To this day, I am still trying to find myself, and trying to heal from the low self-esteem issues their words and actions caused. Even now, I still face the same words and actions from people. They don’t understand the person I am - how unique, free, and loud I am without a care. It’s weird and not normal to them I guess. I get to feeling like such an outsider in this world sometimes. People looking in at me, making up their mind about who I am and getting it all wrong.
Through it all, I would pray, and pray, and pray, but nothing seemed to ever change or get better. Because I felt that my prayers weren’t being answered I strayed away from my faith. I continued to go to church but only because I had to go with my family. Regardless of my Mom’s advice during this time, I refused to open my bible. This for me was a time in my life when I felt totally and utterly lost.
I’ve been in a few relationships, …okay more like a lot. I always had to have a guy. I don’t know why, or maybe I do. I guess it’s because I never felt I’d had a father’s love, and so that is how I filled that void. I’ve had some good relationships and I’ve had some bad. Relationships that ended in friendships, and some that ended in no friendship. For a while there, I was choosing all the wrong guys for my life. Wrong guy, after wrong guy, after wrong guy. Cheating became one of the main issues from both sides to be completely honest. Cheating issues turned to stares from others, turned to name calling, turned to bullying. I couldn’t take it. So, I stopped trying when it came to getting ready for school. I just gave up on everything related to relationships. I let the name calling in school get in the way of school and work. I faced a lot of days of crying at my desk and found it hard to focus. My grades fluctuated a lot during this time but amazingly, I was still able to keep my grades up. Probably had lots to do with my parents. There was this one teacher in high school that I would go to whenever I needed to talk. One day, as I was headed out of his class, he called out to me. So I turned around to him and he said, “What does it matter what others think about you? You gotta go out there and show them that they didn’t break you.” The next day I got nicely dressed and showed up to school. That day I ignored all the talking and all the looks. I just wanted them to know that day that they didn’t break me, and that I was still me.
After high school, I spent the summer working to save money for college. Money that wasn’t covered under my partial scholarship, and definitely money that I needed. Once summer ended, I went straight to college, where I struggled so much. The classes, the teachers, the new freedom that I wasn’t used to. My life changed so fast, too fast. About halfway through the semester, I realized that I wouldn’t have enough money to pay the difference for the next semester. I’m thankful to my parents who helped me out with getting in, but I wasn’t able to find a part time job to help with the remaining balance. I was so stressed about money that I let my grades fall, which messed up my GPA, which in turn lowered my scholarship for the following semester. So, I ended up having to move back home and working at my old job again. Being back home was good at first, but it went downhill real fast. My relationship with my Mom was getting worse largely, in part, because I was making bad choices and getting into trouble. My Mom and I started looking for other options for me since I wasn’t ready for a university. We started talking and researching trade schools, Air Force, or even just about goals of moving out. After a while, the pressure of growing up became too much to handle and I packed my bag and moved out, and moved in with my friend and his family.
Living with my friend was good at first. We would go to work together, and then afterwards, we would just go back to his house to relax and watch a movie. Little did I know that I would develop feelings for him, and he would too for me. We fell hard. Here is where I broke my promise to myself and lost my virginity at age 19 to him. It wouldn’t take long after this took place that we would have a falling out and wouldn’t remain as close as we used to be. I began going out with friends more, and since I didn’t have him when I needed him, it led me to go to other guys.
During this time in my life, everything began going downhill. I let myself believe that other guys whom I would start to give my time to actually liked me and genuinely cared for me. I wanted again what I had found with my friend and so I lived in the lie and gave that part of myself to them as well. I see now how much of a mistake that was, I only wish I had seen it then. I was fired from my job and was struggling to keep myself together. I was spiraling into a mess of bad situations and bad choices. I would soon face pregnancy and STD scares during this time. That is when I called my Mom. I was right to be scared, my Mom was pretty upset at me and was scolding me through the phone. I had done everything she told me not to do, and now here I was - scared of what my future would hold. The next day, my Mom came to get me and we went to a clinic. After taking a handful of tests, everything came back negative, negative… and that’s when I realized that I had been given another chance at my life. It was my new start.
I moved back home again and began to have serious conversations with my uncle about a military career. Almost immediately I began studying the material that my uncle had sent me in preparation for the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test). I was now preparing both mentally and emotionally for the move to Vegas and prepare for the Air Force. As soon as I got to Vegas, it was go, go, go. After all the paperwork, the physicals, and signing was done, I was sworn in. I feel I will never be able to find the words to describe how I felt that day when I was told that I was fully qualified for the Air Force. When I graduated high school, I remember I felt accomplished and proud, but that feeling does not at all compare to the feeling I had after I was sworn into the military. Surrounded by my family and their love, both there physically and spiritually, it was by far the best day. I was beyond proud of myself in this moment of reflection on how far I had come, how I had changed for the better, and now was about to be a part of something great.
I’ve been waiting for four months now for a job to open up so I can go to basic training and start on my new journey. I don’t mind having to wait. In this time, I have been able to make some amazing friends, I got to know and spend so much time with my cousins and family here in Vegas, I’ve been able to be home for the holidays, and most of all, I’ve learned so much from everyone. I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’m just so happy to be the person I am today, and to be on the path that I am on now. I know I couldn’t have done it without my family, my friends, but most of all, I couldn’t have done it without God. I was talking to a friend recently who said something that stood out to me: he said that we are all trying to not let our past define us, and it doesn’t, but we wouldn’t be who we are, and where we are today if hadn’t been for the mistakes we made in the past. So, remember that our past doesn’t define us but we wouldn’t be who we are today if we hadn’t learned from the mistakes we made in the past.