Finding Life

Bianca Bucholtz, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Silently packing the house up and putting the bags in the car, senior Josiah Willis wondered where his bags would fit. Breaking the harrowing silence, he gained the courage to ask the question hovering over them, “Mom what’s going on?”
“We’re out of the apartment,” his mom replied. “I’m leaving with the kids and I haven’t decided if you’re coming with us.”
Then came goodbye.
Willis’s mom had him at 22 years old. She was unmarried and living alone while going to Oakland University. For the first few years of his life, Josiah lived with his grandmother while his mom took classes. Shortly after, his mom moved to California to work in the theatre industry and Willis went to live with his father, who had six children of his own. There, the dynamics were very different from the life he shared living with just his mom.
“My dad was a high school dropout [and] a smoker who lived in Pontiac,” Willis said. “That is totally different from my mom who is very classy. I had two completely different lifestyles, and for a while, I would switch between them after [my mom] moved back.”
Willis moved to Troy with his mom when he was in fourth grade, at which time his mom began dating a new guy and became pregnant with Josiah’s younger brother.
“It took me a little bit to adjust,” Willis said.
Over the next months, his mom broke up with her boyfriend and took Josiah and his little brother in the middle of the night and left.
“We didn’t have anywhere to live,” Willis said. “We stayed with my uncle while I was going to middle school. I slept on an air mattress.”
Middle school was just as rough for Willis. The struggles of his home life became increasingly hard to ignore.
“My mom and I started butting heads because she was always stressed out,” Willis said. “I was trying to grow and be independent. She had another kid with another guy and she thought she was going to get married. I hated him.”
As tension grew between him and his mom, the fighting became more frequent.
“We were at odds,” Willis said. “She would need to borrow money from me all the time and I would be like ‘you gonna pay me back?’ and she never did. Those things would make me angry. The most painful thing to deal with was the feeling of loneliness and abandonment, especially in my own home. After my father and stepmother’s divorce, I lost touch with my dad’s side of the family, and at home, my mother had grown secluded. She never shared with me her struggles or asked me about mine. We rarely spoke outside of arguments.”
Willis and his family moved twice after that during his sophomore and junior years of high school. During this time, his mom had her fourth child with a new boyfriend, and after the final move, Josiah started working to support himself.
In March, his mom was kicked out of their apartment. She took her three younger children and moved, leaving Josiah in Troy.
“I officially packed my things,” Willis said. “My life has prepared me for it. I had been supporting myself and saving money while living with my mother. Through the years, I’ve learned that having patience and [being] calm is the best way to operate when faced with a stressful situation, be it emotionally charged or otherwise. I was packing that weekend when she came back and I helped her load the car without a word. We both knew this was goodbye. I haven’t seen her since. I’m staying with a family friend until college. I work about 30 hours a week and that’s enough to buy food, clothes and school supplies.”
While his relationship with his mom has been difficult at times, Willis recognizes the battles she’s faced.
“She’s put me through a lot of pain, but that’s because she experienced so much of it herself,” Willis said. “I’ve matured a lot. What I thought was her being cold and unloving was her just trying to be strong. She’s got her own struggles just like me. She’s just a person. She is a very strong woman. I love her like any son would, even after all we’ve been through. She must have felt just as alone as I did, only she didn’t have a great school and loving friends to escape to during the day.”
He knows his relationship with his mom will improve eventually, and he hopes through all this he is able to remain close with her and his siblings, with whom he has also grown distant.
“I really didn’t get to spend too much time with them,” Willis said. “School during the day bled into work right after, and I didn’t get home until 10. By then, I only got to watch them sleep. I felt terrible because a lot of the times they saw me was when my mom and I argued. I remember the three year-old Jacob said to me once, ‘Josiah, we’re going to the store and you can’t come because you’re a bad guy.’ That broke my heart. He saw me as a cartoon villain. I tried my best to do what I could for them. I took [my brother] Jeremiah to the movies to see ‘Black Panther’ for his birthday. We got the last ticket and had to share a seat.”
It is never easy to balance home, work and school, but it can be especially hard when you don’t necessarily know what home is. Willis has learned from his past, but knows it affected the quality of life he has led thus far.
“One of the greatest gifts my life has given me is the ability to be adaptive,” Willis said. “There are very few situations that I cannot figure out with a little application of knowledge. I find typical high school problems and dramatic issues to be kind of silly at times. I had to grow up quickly; that, combined with the constant moving, made it difficult to make long-lasting friends. I often drift away against my feelings. I had a girlfriend for like two weeks my freshman year and it ended because I couldn’t speak to her face-to-face. That is one of my biggest regrets.”
Willis is proud of who he has become. Through it all, he remains hopeful and wants to provide his future children with the childhood he was never able to have.
“All I want for myself is to be able to support a family one day, both emotionally and financially,” Willis said. “I don’t want my children to ever have to struggle the way that I did, the way that I still do. I can only pray that my siblings are strong enough to fight their way through as they get older. I will always be there for them.”
Josiah plans on studying on a pre-med track at Michigan State University this fall. He said his past played a big part in the future he plans on creating.
“I have had a natural affinity for science,” Willis said. “As I grew older, I became fascinated with the human body. Enthralled by its complexity, I took every opportunity to learn more about it. I think I saw myself in the physiology of the human body: billions upon billions of cells, these shattered pieces all came together to form something whole, something that could think, run, laugh and cry. In all the fractured chaos, I found life.”

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