“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

It’s 3 am; I awake in a sea of newspapers stacked over me in the beat-up van we sometimes slept in; my Goodwill clothes still on from the day before. It’s time to help my single mother deliver them before her house cleaning jobs and before my classes. She drops me off two blocks away from my elementary school to hide our circumstances.

My modest childhood was encapsulated by multiple service jobs and the hope I could achieve “more” than what I was born into. Yet gaining upward mobility as a first-gen student was not as simple as once fantasized while cleaning toilets. I straddled two worlds, ridden with guilt for leaving a past that taught me so much and feeling alone, assimilating into a new world I couldn’t relate to.

This tension subsided as an adult when I took an unfiltered look at my mother. No one in her life regarded her as just a maid; she embodied the highest potential of oneself with her drive and the dreams for her children. When she was diagnosed with dementia, owners of the homes she cleaned offered to help. People gave a damn. Who was I to hide this reverence for her or pride in my upbringing? Amongst so much confusion and pain, I suddenly also felt free.

I owe it to her to accept my whole self. To honor and live the example she set if she could no longer do so herself. I take that with me; I try to lead unabashedly with my heart, my whole identity. She bridges the gap in my divergent worlds. She is my becoming.

— Tory Voight