I grew up in Marshall, Texas with nine other brothers and sisters. I was the second-youngest in the mix of 10 children. My father was never in the picture. He left my mother long before I could even remember. My mother had only an eighth-grade education and was prone to severe anxiety, and so we lived on welfare. There were times in my early childhood when my mother found work cleaning homes and would take me with her to help scrub floors and clean toilets. I remember making shoes out of plastic bread bags, and many nights without food. My mother’s sisters looked on us with pity but did not help because they felt our house had too many problems to solve.
I remember my mother as two different people. Sometimes, she was a loving mother who took me to doctor’s appointments and laughed with her kids. But often, my mother was irrational, and targeted me to bear the brunt of her anger. Around the time I was in middle school, my mother had a nervous breakdown due to the loss of her sister. Her episodes of illogical behavior escalated. Her mannerisms changed, and I knew something was not right. She began shaking and licking her lips more often than normal. I tried to tell my older siblings about our mother’s new behavior, but my oldest brother warned me against this story. He and his wife didn’t believe me. My brother never saw our mother the way I did. I was the oldest child left and had to defend my younger sister who was still living in the house.
When I was 14 years old life happened. I began hearing a soft voice late one night, though I wasn’t sure where it came from. The voice told me to lock all my younger cousins and my sister in a room, and I did. At the time, I normally slept in the same bed as my mother, but the voice told me not to get in the bed with her. After I locked the children in the room, I laid on the floor of our bedroom, and I fell asleep.
I heard my mother call my name, beckoning for me as if I weren’t in the room. As I opened my mouth to answer her, a pair of supernatural hands — which I must attribute to the Spirit that spoke earlier — blocked my mouth, and whispered in my ear, “say nothing.” My mother was to the left of me, and as I looked up I saw her shadow. She called my name a second time. I still couldn’t open my mouth. My mother began to say openly, “Lord, I do not want to leave my child like this.” I’ll never forget that sentence. As I turned to see her shadow on the wall I heard her say, “I’m sorry for what I’m about to do.”
My mother pulled out a gun, and as I watched her shadow, the Spirit yells at me, “run!” Knowing I had locked everyone else in their rooms, I sprinted to the front door. I was short for my age, so I knew I could not reach the high locks on the door. As I ran, I looked back at my mother, carrying a .22 black pistol. I’ll never forget looking down the barrel.
I remember getting to the door, saying, “God, help me,” and the locks I could not reach began to pop off the door, one by one. I bolted out the door heard my mother’s last words to me, “I have to do this.” Before I ran out of earshot I yelled back, “Momma, no, you’re sick!”
My older siblings arranged for our mother to be placed in a hospital and allowed me to stay with my older brother while she was in the mental facility. My family had finally realized the gravity of my mother’s nervous breakdown. She wanted to take her life and take me with her. After a year of rehabilitation, mother came back to live in her house with my sister. On the day I went to visit, my mother pulled me aside and told me, “just remember I’m gonna always love you.” I left the house that summer. My mother took her life two months later.
I believe my mother was lucid when she spoke to me for the last time, and I believe what she said. Though her behavior has put me and my siblings through trauma, I choose to believe we were loved.
After my mother passed, I began to “wake up.” During the next school year, I joined the ROTC group at my new high school, picked as the only girl in a squadron of 48. Many of my family members had pegged me as frail and unfocused, even after they heard my experiences with my mother. I knew they couldn’t see the strength inside me, and I was destined to make them see it. With ROTC, I joined the drill team, the rifle team, and the step team. This new chapter in my life was a turning point. I gained confidence and began speaking up for myself. At age 15, I became company commander, team leader, and I had my own department. I was one of the best on the team. I did what people said I couldn’t do.
I went to college right after high school, though many of my family members doubted that I would be able to graduate. But something inside of me knew that wasn’t true. I enrolled at Texas State Technical Institute in Waco, Texas, majoring in business.
Many of my professors held biases against me and my work. Unfortunately, there were a lot of race issues at the university, but I never saw color. My professors told me that I wasn’t going to be successful in the field I’d chosen, though I was determined to graduate and make something of myself. I went to school full time, worked full time at a grocery chain near campus, and graduated at the top of my class. Again, I proved myself, and to the people who doubted me that, “yes I can.”
After college, I got married to someone I liked in high school, but only ever saw me as a friend. One day, he reached out to me and asked how I was doing. I told him I had just graduated, had my own apartment, was a manager at age 20, had my own car, and was doing well. And right as I finished talking he said, “will you marry me?” I thought I was hearing things. After I thought about it, I accepted. After 6 months, we got married. We moved to California in 1990.
I was married to my first husband for seven years, and we had three wonderful children together. Though as time moved on in our relationship, I sensed he wasn’t happy. He would anger easily and become frustrated.
He was diagnosed with HIV during the time we were still married. I had to be tested, but I wasn’t shaken. I had made a promise with God, that if I remained faithful, He’d be faithful to me. When I got my results, the doctors’ eyes were wide. They said, “we have never seen these kind of results — ever. Your alkaline fluids are as pure as a newborn’s.” I had known my results were going to be negative, but not like this.
One day, I was at home with three kids at the time, ages five, four, and one, and he told me he was leaving me. At the time, I was given no explanation, but later I found that he was with another man. Before he left, he told me I would never survive. He said I wouldn’t make it.
Many people thought I was dealing with abandonment issues. So many loved ones had walked in and out of my life. But I was determined that I would never fail, that I wanted a better life for me and my children. After my husband walked out, I got two jobs. I taught my oldest son how to microwave the food I prepared for them, and they became latchkey children. They knew not to open the door, and they knew exactly when they needed to go to bed. Our small family did what it took to survive. I enrolled myself in school, and I switched my career of working with youth, to working in IT to make a better living.
I worked in IT for 17 years. I started in the field as programming analyst, where my focus was assisting clients. Then I got hired by Nissan. During the interview I told the hiring manager, “give me 30 days and I will learn your program, and if I don’t learn it, let me go.” I learned in 18 days. Nissan made me a permanent hire. When the company moved to Tennessee, I started working with Toyota for the next eight years. I worked with several other contractors and large companies for the remainder of my time in IT. My resume is long, and unexpected. Being a woman in the field is uncommon but being a black woman in the field is rare. Many people who sought to hire me didn’t know I was black and were dumbfounded when they met me in person, expecting me to be a white woman.
My current husband found me in 2004 when I wasn’t even looking. I was well-known in California, which made men chase me because they knew I was successful. They wanted to marry me for all the wrong reasons, and I didn’t stand for that. One day I started talking to a man online, who knew nothing about me, and I felt safe. The second day we talked he said to me, “I’m going to marry you,” to which I replied, “well, get in line.” This man would tell me he was going to marry me about every other day, while I would never even say “I love you.” Eventually, I did, and we are still married to this day.
In 2007, I partnered with a lady in LA who promoted finance and business education through conventions. She reached out to me, knowing my background, and asked if I would teach a financial class. I jumped at the offer. Growing up, no one taught me about money because we didn’t have any. Once I started making my own wages, I taught myself how to be frugal and spend with intent, both in personal finance and in the corporate sphere. This opportunity would allow me to share this information with many people who needed help. This relationship began many years of public speaking, motivational speaking, and online teaching.
In January of 2013, my husband came to me and told me he wanted to move our family from sunny California to Ohio, so he could help his family build a church. I looked at him as if he had three horns in his forehead. I said, “well honey, if you move to Ohio we will have to have a long-distance relationship.” In the following weeks, I had dreams in which the Lord showed me that I would lose my job and remain unemployed if I didn’t move, so in July, our family moved to Ohio.
I stopped working in 2015 after a loss in my immediate family and decided to focus on my home base business. I knew I could help take care of my grandchild and have a break from the corporate world. But after a few months, I got bored. I decided I would go to volunteer with high school students. I had been a youth pastor in California and had always felt a desire to mentor. I chose a high school close to my house and made an appointment with the administration. After the interview, the hiring committee offered me a position as a teacher in the technology and business department. I was baffled. They were looking to fill a position in which I was high qualified to take. After another interview, I became a teacher.
I teach three different levels of computer and business. The enrollment in my classes are at maximum capacity. Kids have repeated and taken all three of my classes, urging me to teach a fourth level of the course. Teaching has given me the opportunity to make a footprint in the lives of young people. The school has a medium-high poverty status, with many, many students who overcome so many obstacles, just to graduate. I want to empower those who do not get a chance because I believe their story is my story, they are living what I went through 30 years ago.
If life hadn’t happened to me when I was a young girl in my mother’s house, I don’t think I would be here today. My childhood taught me how to fend for my survival, a lesson I needed many times in the years that followed the death of my mother. Life happens to everyone, both sleeping and vigilant. I chose to stay awake and fight.
This is the story of Kathy Gray:
Kathy Gray lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and works as a high school technology and business teacher. She has continued to teach financial planning skills through public speaking and online videos. She is an active member in church, and mentors young people. In her free time, Kathy loves to play with her beautiful grandbaby, watch the Dallas Cowboys, and ride her Harley.
I Will Not Fail
I grew up in Marshall, Texas with nine other brothers and sisters. I was the second-youngest in the mix of 10 children…
Life Log #52