Sunday, April 10, 2011

This column isn’t directed for reader satisfaction as strange as that sounds. I guess this column is more like personal therapy for me. Rarely do I ever know what I am going to write about before I write it. Typically something happens during the week and “bingo” I then know exactly what I need to write about, and this week has been no different.  I am writing this entire column in response to an email I just read.  This is what the email said.

Dear Baron,Thank you for taking the time to read this email. I have a few questions and am asking for advice.  How have you become so successful? How have you achieved what you have? I envy you, but you are also my hero. My family doesn’t have much. I don’t have the perfect life and the talents or skills that you have. I feel like the world is against me sometimes. My parents are divorced and my mom is sick. I have brothers and a sister that I have to take care of like I am a parent. I don’t think it’s fair.  I feel like I will rot in the town that I’m in. I feel like there is no way out.  I feel like my life isn’t that important. Can you please email me back because that would be so cool! I would like to hear any advice that you could give. Thanks for reading this.


Usually I do all my writing from the comfy red couch that sits in the corner of my favorite coffee shop Sugar Browns, but after reading that email I know what this week’s column needs to be about. This column is being written in somewhat of a different location. My fingers keep slipping off of the screen of my iPhone because they are drenched with a nervous sweat.  I genuinely hate to fly, and hate might be an understatement.  It’s ironic that I am about to tell all of you a story during takeoff and through the course of a flight. I figure maybe writing will take my mind off of the fact I’m terrified, and yes I know that all electronic devices are suppose to be turned off, but I refuse to believe having a phone on makes a difference. Too bad I’m not flying Southwest; I heard that they installed sunroofs in their planes as of 2 weeks ago, and will even leave it open during the flight! Ok, I probably shouldn’t have made that joke because I just freaked myself out.

The story I’m about to disclose to you is hard for me to tell because I’ve never really told anyone more than bits and pieces. Few people know this story in its entirety.  This is a story that consists of more turbulence and bumps than this flight out of Lubbock that is being tossed helplessly by the west Texas wind. This is a story that I have trouble telling, and honestly really don’t like to. However, after reading that email I realized it is a story that many young people probably need to hear. This story is one that is close to my heart simply because it is my own. I guess one reason I have avoided this story for so long is because I have never wanted people to pity me. I'm pretty sure I'm over that thought now though. I guess its about time to explain some things.  Ok, enough rambling.  Now that the plane has reached its cruising altitude lets begin.

This is my story from 30,000 feet.

I don’t like to think about my childhood very much. There is a lot I can’t remember. My memory is like a puzzle with missing pieces. I guess a psychologist would say I have suppressed memories or something like that, which could be true. Maybe this column will be therapy for me. I’ve never really tried writing all my memories down until now. So lets start from the beginning.

I was born in Odessa Texas on December 21st 1987. My mom always told me I was her early Christmas present. Joyce Batch was beautiful and would always sing, she told me she loved me every opportunity she could. She would always say "Baron you have to have faith." At the time I had no idea what that meant but looking back she spoke those words into my soul.  I distinctly remember that. I grew up in a large family and we lived outside of town, and when I say outside of town I mean 30 miles south of town in between Midland and Odessa in the middle of nowhere off of county road 1787. The land we lived on was covered in mesquite trees and cactus. I was a typical boy who would collect bugs and who knows what else in jars. I grew up with 3 brothers and a sister. In chronological order from oldest to youngest this is how it goes, Bridgette, Brian, Baron, Brandon, and Bryson. Yes I am the middle child, and yes all of our names start with the letter B.

I learned several things being the middle child growing up. Mainly I learned to fight. I liked it and was good at it. Of course you can’t enjoy fighting without experiencing getting beat up a few times. I never thought there was a fight I wouldn’t win. I guess in many ways that mentality has made me who I am and is still with me. I would describe myself as a very temperamental child and my mom was the only person that could calm me down once my temper ran away with me attached to it.

My family lived in a small 3-bedroom trailer house. We had what we needed to survive but not much in addition to that. The word poor doesn’t suffice. My mom loved to garden, I remember she was always outside in the garden, and I loved to be out there with her. Looking back I now realize that the reason my mom gardened so much was not only as a hobby, but to simply provide food for us. I can recall the day that I realized that my family was poor. I was in 3rd grade and was invited to a friend’s birthday party at his house. I remember pulling up to his house and looking at it in awe thinking, “My house looks nothing like that.” After that I was always embarrassed to have friends over to my home because I didn’t want them to see how my family lived. I guess I was embarrassed of my family in a way. I would let my fists talk for me when other kids would make fun of my clothes, shoes, or the awful haircuts that my older brother Brian would give me that I thought were so legit at the time. I spent the majority of my childhood sleeping on the floor in front of a space heater.  Looking back I realize how dangerous that probably was, but when you are cold safety doesn’t matter much.

Although my family was poor, my siblings and I never lacked creativity. We always came up with new games most of which were extremely dangerous. These ‘games’ or looking back now ‘feats of danger’ varied from playing tag on the roof of the house, throwing rocks at each other, or making intense rope swings from the highest possible thing we could find. We had a steel gate that was painted white that sat at the end of the dirt road that led up to our trailer house. I remember there was always a crazy rope swing attached to it.  Luckily none of us were killed.

My dad had a job that required him to travel for weeks at a time, this left my siblings and I at home with my mom. I can only imagine how hard it was for my mom to keep track of all of us! Thankfully, my aunt and uncle would make frequent visits by the house to check on us and bring us food or anything else we needed.

Eventually my dad met another woman during one of his trips away and left my mom. Shortly after, my mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Years passed, and my parents fought. While my mom’s disease progressed, my dad commuted back and forth between his two lives.

Mom’s disease worsened and she lost basic skills like the use of her hands and eventually the ability to walk, which confined her to a wheelchair.  My siblings and I had increased responsibility. We had to take care of each other, and mom. We were forced to accept roles that my dad wasn’t around to do and my mom was unable to do. We learned to cook, do laundry, and we even woke ourselves up for school and caught the bus in the mornings. Time passed and eventually mom had to go and live in a nursing home in Crane TX away from my siblings and I. I went from seeing my mom every day and hearing her sing, to seeing her once every few weeks. It was strange to see every other kids parents as their school functions knowing that mine could never be there. I remember lying to my friends when they asked why my parents were never present. It was hard for me to understand. I was constantly angry at my situation. I didn’t think it was fair. My dad was still away on work quite often and busy juggling two lives, this left my siblings and I completely home alone to raise ourselves. We were our own parents.
My uncle still tells me how he was tempted every day to call Child Protective Services to come get us.  I’ll never forget his response when I asked him why he decided not to. He said “Baron I was close to calling them to go get you kids because I worried about your safety. However, one night I had a dream. In my dream I saw two angels with swords. They were gigantic. About 60 feet tall. They were guarding the white gate that sat at the beginning of the dirt road that led up to the trailer house. They said that they would protect you kids from anything or anyone but they couldn’t stop you from hurting each other”

The first time he told me that story I was 16 and rolled my eyes laughing to myself thinking "yeah ok".  Now looking back I can almost see for myself what he described and it all makes sense.

Mom’s health began to decrease drastically. She regularly began to have complications that required her to be hospitalized off and on.

On April 13, 2003 my mom was admitted to Medical Center Hospital. I remember arriving at the hospital and having a gut feeling that she wouldn’t ‘bounce back’ like she did many times before. That afternoon Joyce Ann Batch went to be with Jesus. At the time I didn’t see it like that. At the time I felt like my mom had been stolen from me. I didn’t get to say goodbye because I got there too late. My uncle told me I needed to go see her for closure but I remember being too scared to. I didn’t want to see her. I remember my uncle tried to hug me and I pushed him away and ran. The hospital hallway was long and I had no idea where I was running to, all I knew was that I wanted to get away. I felt if I ran far enough maybe everything would go away. It didn’t. That night I cried until I vomited and passed out.

Mom’s death affected all of my siblings differently. For me I became angrier than I already was, and it didn’t help that the only person that could calm me was gone. At the funeral service I remember feeling anger instead of grief.

Time passed and my anger grew. I remember my dad telling me he was going to marry the woman whom he left my mother for. I never had raised my voice to my father but that night I yelled at him. He wanted my siblings and I to move to another city with him but I refused. I didn’t want to leave the only stable thing that I still had and that was my friends. At the time I had been living with my best friend when football season would come around because that was the only way I could get back and forth to practice on a consistent basis. Instead of moving away from Midland they took me in. They will never understand how grateful I still am.

None of my siblings ended up moving away. We all had a different family that we went to stay with. Even though we were split up we still saw each other often and I was thankful for that.

I continued to excel in football throughout high school. Anger still consumed me, and I would have frequent outbursts at people that didn’t deserve it. If you were one of those people please accept my apology. Football was my escape. Football was the only thing that made me feel important and secure because I felt like I was in control when I was on the field. I fell in love with the game because of that feeling. It filled the void that my mom’s death left. It also helped to have a position coach that served as a father figure to me, and still does.

Eventually I began to get scholarship offers my junior year of high school. I decided to stay close to home and attend Texas Tech University. Upon arriving on campus I quickly impressed the coaches and earned playing time my true freshman year. My anger hadn’t gone anywhere, I actually felt like it helped me play better at times. The only important, constant, or stable thing to me at that time was football.

On October 18th after playing in 7 games as a true freshman I broke my ankle and had surgery. I ended up getting a very serious bone infection after my operation. Suddenly my season ending injury turned into a potential career ending injury and possible life threatening situation. I remember having a long term I.V called a central line put into my chest and having to run I.V antibiotics twice a day for two hours, for weeks on end. I didn’t think I would ever play a snap of football again. I remember being too sick to fly with the team to the bowl game that year, so I went to Odessa to stay with my aunt and uncle.

One afternoon while I was laying on the couch during a two hour antibiotic session, I looked up to my uncle and said, “There is a good chance that I will never play football again” and he looked and me and said, “Yeah, there is a good chance of that, but it will be ok, have faith.” I remember that is the moment that I let go of all my anger I had been carrying. I was finally free. I was finally able to let go and forgive. I was able to heal.

Ok I’m going to stop the story there.

The rest of the story after that point is what mostly everyone already knows, and is well documented. I guess everything after that point is what you could call my ‘comeback’ story from my injury. But, in all reality there was no real ‘comeback’. My injury simply closed a chapter on a life that most people never knew existed.

Ok the plane is starting to shake again, and I think we are about to land.

“We have now reached our destination of Pittsburg, the current temperature is 42 degrees”, that was pilot! Whew, I’m back on the ground.

Tomorrow the poor angry kid, with the crazy childhood, and horrible haircuts will meet with the Pittsburg Steelers. The NFL draft is in 3 weeks. Over the past month, several different NFL organizations have flown me in for interviews and it is all very surreal. After looking back on my childhood I realize how fortunate I am, and whether I play a down in the NFL or not I am proud to say that I am very much ok without football. Funny thing is, as much as I hated my childhood and thought it was unfair I wouldn't change one single event. I actually appreciate my childhood now more than ever.

To the young man that wrote me that email that sparked this entire story. You speak for a demographic of young people that are struggling and hurting just like I was, and this is what I have to tell you.

You don’t have to become a victim to your situation. You can overcome it. Problems don't exist, only obstacles so hurdle them. This is what makes you strong. You will fall, and when you do get up because the world is still turning. Don't lay on the ground because few sincere hands will be extended. However, once a sincere and trusted hand is offered quickly grab it and never let go,  because you cant do it on your own. When you overcome your situation never be ashamed to talk about it like I have been until now, but never use it as an excuse or crutch.  Others need to hear that there is hope for people like us.  I know what you are going through. Have faith. Everything will be ok. I'm flattered that I’m your hero, but please understand this one thing. I’m not just 'kind of like you'.
I am you.

God Bless

Read more of Baron's thoughts HERE

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