If you’ve had the chance to flip through our Spring 2015 issue, you may have read Split, an article in our Self-Improvement section about the trials of having divorced parents. There, we shared excerpted stories of four Penn State students whose lives were changed, disrupted and set on a new path when their parents split up. However, we felt it necessary to do their stories justice and thus have shared them in full here.
“The last time I saw my father was on the other side of a prison glass wall when I was six,” senior Graceanne Domino says. “I haven’t seen him since.”
Domino says she didn’t see her parent’s separation coming, but that her home was never a peaceful one growing up. Her home was plagued with violence and she says and it wasn’t normal by any means. Her father was taken to prison on drug related charges.
“I only remember fuzzy details just because I was young,” she says. “But I remember things like the FBI showing up at our door and being 6 years old seeing all of these cops and cop cars in the driveway…. it took me years to understand.”
At times, Domino says her father would come home in a bad state and her mom would wake her and her younger sister to flee to a friend’s house or women’s shelter.
“My mom wouldn’t explain why we were leaving,” she says. “She would just grab my sister’s allergy medication and some sippy cups and we would leave.”
Domino’s mom was friends with a pastor in town who needed a place to stay with his children, so she offered for them to stay in their home.
“It was like a planned fire drill,” she says. “Whenever my dad got home, the oldest of (the pastors) kids would grab all the other kids and we would go in the basement and lock the door because we never really knew what was going to happen upstairs.”
Regardless of the situations severity, Domino says she didn’t fully realize how bad things were until the family left because she had grown used to it.
“I saw things I never should have seen, but I could have seen a lot more if it weren’t for my mom sheltering us,” she says.
Domino says she visited her father in prison a few times but eventually stopped. He wrote letters to the family, but the letters were mailed to a church so he couldn’t discover where the family lived. When that came to an end, Domino says they dropped off the radar.
Her father had depleted the family’s bank account and Domino says they lost everything, including their home. With the help of friends, they eventually found an apartment in New York. To come up with enough money for rent, they sold everything they owned.
“I remember waking up one morning and seeing people and tables in our yard,” she says. “My mom came in and said ‘pick out your three favorite outfits and three favorite toys and we’re selling the rest… it’s you, me and (my sister Olivia) and this is what we have to do.’”
To make ends meet, Domino’s mother cleaned houses sixty hours per week and rarely saw the girls. Her grandparents became a second set of parents and Domino often saw them more than her mother.
“People from church would give us money,” she says. “Some years, church friends would buy our Christmas gifts.”
The family filed for bankruptcy. Her mother would cash paychecks and live on cash week to week. They didn’t have cell phones or internet, even during Domino’s sophomore year of high school.
“I didn’t feel like the other kids,” Domino says. “I didn’t have everything that they had… I felt like an outcast.”
She vividly remembers a time in the lunch room that was just like a scene from a movie.
“I sat down at a table in the lunchroom and the girls stood up,” she says.
For the longest time, Domino says she couldn’t be like others because she didn’t have the same things. She says she felt she constantly played a game of catch up.
“I didn’t hold it against anyone, I just always felt like things were unfair,” Domino says.
Her mom remarried at the end of her junior year to a man she says is amazing. Currently, he works three jobs to put her and her siblings through college. She says she finally had a foundation and a home, and even a cell phone and internet her last year of high school.
When college came around, Domino says she did not understand how things worked. When she received her tuition bill, Domino says she burst into tears.
“My parents wanted me to go to Behrend, but I said no way,” she says. “Main is the only place I applied to and I got in… I had no idea how, but I was going to make it work.”
Domino says her mom and stepfather work constantly to pay tuition while Domino works two jobs to pay her rent.
Coming into freshman year, Domino says she still carried the weight of problems back home and mostly kept to herself until she got involved with her first activity, THON.
“As I started getting involved with things, I started to realize I could pull myself back together,” she says.
Domino was a member of THON’s morale committee and served last semester as a media relations captain on the public relations committee. She says her committee worked seemingly round the clock to spread THON’s word and says this year, she realized why she enjoyed doing it.
“If you’ve ever been to something like family carnival or THON weekend, you can really see the burden being lifted off of somebody’s shoulders,” she says.
Domino says she has grown particularly close to the Marley Watson family. Marley is a THON child who passed away a few years back. Her 16 year old sister, Morgan, has grown very close with Domino since.
“It’s heartbreaking to think that she lost her older sister who she would have been able to talk to,” Domino says. “If it weren’t for us being there, who would she have to talk to?
Domino says she spent most of her childhood and high school years feeling alone, so it’s a great feeling to be there for Morgan.
“I always told myself that I don’t want anyone to ever feel (the way I did) if I can help it,” she says.
Domino is now constantly on the go, involved in numerous Penn State activities and living off of her calendar and coffee, which she says it’s worth it.
“I’ve had the opportunity to do so many cool things and meet so many cool people,” Domino says.
She says she has been nearly moved to tears thinking about what she’s accomplished and how truly lucky she is, despite her hard upbringing.
“It’s hectic, and it’s stressful sometimes and it’s exhausting most of the time, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Domino says.
Life is what you make it, and Domino says she advises others to never take an opportunity or day for granted. Even the darkest of places have a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Your dream is that light,” she says.
Looking back on her past, Domino says it’s truly a miracle she made it and that there’s no logical explanation for her to be able to do what she now does. But to Domino, impossible is just a word.
“I always promised myself if I got the chance to, I would try to change the world,” she says. “I don’t want to just waste the time that I have… I want to do something substantial and leave an impact on anyone.”
“I wouldn’t be who I am without my parents being divorced,” Saige Jones says.
Jones is a senior double majoring in public relations and Spanish. Her parents divorced when she was 4 years old, but Jones says her situation is blessed.
“Although my parents divorced when I was 4, I never felt neglected or underprivileged, mostly due to what I believed was a close relationship with my dad,” she says. “Sundays and Wednesdays were my days with him, and I always thought it would be just the two of us.”
Jones lived with her mother but says her father only lived twenty minutes away, allowing for frequent visits. Growing up, she says she developed amazing relationships with her parents and brothers.
“Then in eighth grade… my dad introduced a pretty young woman,” she says. “We shook hands, everyone laughed, I threw on a smile, but there was some strange vibe in the air,
“He met a woman twenty years younger than him,” she says. “She came around and eventually started living with us, eventually there was a baby on the way and eventually we were in Aruba for a wedding.”
Jones says it was not until a Wednesday night sushi dinner that things changed between her and her father. Her dad said he found a house in Florida and would be moving that July with his new wife.
“At that moment, I wasn’t sure how to feel, but I felt hurt by my dad,” she says. “He had always said that he would move after I graduated and I thought that he loved me enough to stay, but now I knew that I was not enough.”
She was usually nitpicky about her father’s girlfriends, making it hard for him to be in a relationship. But Jones says she let this relationship be and let her father move to Florida a year before she graduated.
“Moving day came quickly, and my last day at the house was spent gathering my belongings while my dad directed the movers,” Jones says. “There were memories everywhere… and through my bedroom window I watched my dad staring back at the house with tears in his eyes.”
He seemed suddenly uncertain, according to Jones, and at that moment she says she forgave him.
“I stood next to him in the driveway… I looked into his eyes and right then resolved to have a positive attitude,” Jones says. “He hugged me and said, ‘Everything will work out, you’ll see Saigey Girl,’ and then he was gone.”
Upon her dad leaving, Jones says she had to fill a gap. Sometimes she told herself she had no choice but to grow up, but reminded herself she chose to stick by his side. She says the situation taught her to be more self-sufficient, which carried into college.
“I was never over privileged or running around with a credit card but I lived a comfortable life, never having to worry about money… I’m incredibly grateful,” Jones says. “But I’ve learned that sometimes things change and you have to roll with it.”
When she accepted her offer to attend Penn State, Jones says her dad offered to cover most of the tuition. However, the tuition wasn’t promptly being paid. Jones says this lead to account holds each semester. Extended family members provided money to keep her afloat, but Jones still couldn’t afford essentials like health insurance.
“The ironic thing is I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Jones says.
Through her financial struggle and father leaving, Jones says she has learned to adapt to change and overcome challenges.
“I am setting myself up for the future while learning how to budget as I set the groundwork to have more opportunities,” she says. “I am now self-sufficient and proactive, always looking for new ways to get as much done as possible.”
Without the experience of her father leaving, Jones says she doesn’t think she would have the same motivation and drive she does now. She works two jobs alongside full-time student standing to cover her expenses. Among her array of extracurricular activities, Jones is the host of a successful radio talk show on the Lion 90.7 FM called SaigeJonesRadio.
“I have learned that there is beauty along the journey of struggling,” she says. “This experience has made me a strong, independent woman… I’ve learned to embrace every moment and take each experience as a lesson meant for me.”
Jones says she believes people need to know that they can be whatever they want to be no matter what the circumstance.
“Work hard and you can make happen whatever you want to make happen,” she says. “I want to be a television host and I know it is going to happen because I’m working towards that.”
According to Jones, happiness is always an option.
“I want other people to know their worth and go for whatever they want,” she says.
Sophomore Josh Bojewski’s parents split when he was 1 year old.
“When it first happened, I felt a little disconnected from them,” he says. “But as time went on, I understood their different personalities and just adapted to it.”
Bojewski says he lived with his mother in Erie, P.a. and saw his father biweekly. He says his parents’ separation had the biggest impact in high school.
“If it came down to something like me having to get to basketball practice, my dad would say he didn’t want to drive me or didn’t have time,” Bojewski says. “My mom would drive to the other side of town to pick me up and take me… things like that.”
When he began pursuing his finance degree at Penn State in 2013, Bojewski’s mom moved to Florida and he moved in with his dad, which he says was very different.
“(My father) is oblivious to how school works because he never went to college,” he says. “So it doesn’t seem like he really cares… my mom calls twice a week checking how classes are going.”
Regardless of the change, Bojewski says he has not been majorly affected by his situation.
“People (with divorced parents) get to an age where they realize they have to do things on their own and not let their (parents) separation effect anything,” he says. “If you’re in that situation and you feel like your parents aren’t involved in your life or don’t care, you should take the initiative.”
Bojewski says he has learned the importance of being involved in children’s lives in the future.
Less than forty-eight hours into her winter break sophomore year, Megan Flood’s parents told her they were ending their twenty-one year marriage. The divorce papers were signed the following summer.
“I had always been close to my parents, and still am to this day, but the three peas in the pod I thought we were going to be forever was to be no more,” Flood says.
Flood lived in Connecticut her entire life. When her parents divorced, Flood’s dad moved to Detroit, Michigan and her mother relocated within Connecticut.
“I’ve always wanted to study abroad, and it just so happened that I studied abroad in London that summer,” she says. “So I wasn’t there when they signed the papers and moved everything.”
Her friends lent a sympathetic ear, but Flood says they were not able to fully understand her situation or how close she was with her parents. Flood says she believes she has a closer, unique relationship with her parents and that they are her best friends.
“I’m an only child,” she says. “I didn’t have anyone to rely on that was going through the exact same thing.”
For the first 6 months following the divorce, Flood says she had a hard time telling anyone that her parents were separating. For the most part, she says she pretended they were still together and never defined what home meant.
“I consider myself to have three homes now,” she says. “Penn State, Connecticut and Detroit.”
Flood says she has her opinion on what her parents could have done differently in their marriage, but she respects the decision and maintains a relationship with each of her parents separately. As for her college experience, Flood says she didn’t have to adjust her plan due to her parents’ divorce.
”Fast forward a year and a half after signing the papers,” she says. “I’m about to graduate college and still am close with my parents… but I have become a strong woman who knows what she wants in life.”
Flood says animosity lingers between her parents, but says she knows the love between her and both of them respectively is still strong.
“That’s really important in divorce,” she says. “Sometimes people get to hate one of the parents or be resentful… I try not to let that happen.”
Sometimes, children of divorce steer clear of marriage because they fear the same outcome their parents had. For her, Flood says this is not the case.
“Observing my parents relationship, I know the mistakes I don’t want to make in my marriage and how hard one had to work at marriage,” she says.
Flood says she doesn’t need the perfect future “with the white picket fence,” but that she knows she wants marriage and a family.
“Seeing some of the things that caused (my parents) divorce are going to be focal points because we do carry and have the same personalities as our parents,” she says. “They’re half of our DNA. There are just things I know I’m going to have to be aware of whether it be communication or how I want to be treated… those things I know are going to be at the forefront when I go into a relationship long term.”
Close relationships with each parent can still be had after divorce, according to Flood. She says it’s not necessarily better or worse, just in a different capacity.
“Life does take its course, and unfortunately families get broken up,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean that the family you knew has to be different… you can still have a family aspect even if it’s not traditional.”
Flood says the biggest lesson she has learned is the importance of loving the people closest to you.