Single Biggest Influence

This is the story of a violent man, a grandmother and the impact adults have on our lives


Zach Harris, Staff Writer

     I had just finished the first week at a new school. I was starting the second quarter of my first-grade year. My mom, her new boyfriend and I all moved here together. 

     This house was weird. It was so much bigger than I was used to, and with a new person so close in my life, it was just an odd feeling.  The new boyfriend made me do most of the yard work while he watched me, even when it took me hours to complete. I had to weed the area by our shed without gloves, without shears, without any proper equipment. 

     Earlier that week, he let me sit next to him and, even though he wasn’t very nice to me, I looked up to him. He sat smoking a cigarette. The only person I’d seen smoke was my grandmother. The burning bits that fell from her cigarettes left holes in her chairs and scars on her skin.

     He got a bit closer.  

     I began to worry about the cigarette.


The fire left a circle on my skin.”

— Zach Harris


     The wound stung and my wrist was dusted in ash.

     He was a violent man.

     My mother was at work for the night. She usually didn’t get home until after I fell asleep. She waited tables at a restaurant in a hotel in downtown Kansas City. It was a bit of a drive, but she made good money. She always had stories of interesting people she’d meet there. 

     I was locked in my room for the night. I hadn’t eaten and my stomach was turning. I could hear loud noises coming from down the hall. The picture frames on the wall shook. I could hear screaming, although muffled. The walls weren’t thin, and the house was quite stable. Carpet floors even, to stop noise from footsteps.

     The only noise was this violent man raging from a mixture of his bipolar disorder and a drug-induced chemical withdrawal in his brain. 

     The next morning, I woke up with stars in my eyes, weak from not eating. I walked out of my room and down the hall. Something had splintered the door to my left. A shattered syringe that seemed to have been thrown down the hall, lay in front of the door to my sister’s room.

     He was a violent man.

     Everyone is missing. 

     It was 8 a.m. on a Sunday. There were no cars in the driveway. I had poured myself a bowl of stale Cap’n Crunch. The milk in the fridge had begun to curdle, so I ate my cereal dry.

     And then he came back. 

     He thought that I shouldn’t have been out of bed yet and that I let the milk go bad and he smacked me across the face, knocking me to the ground.

     He was one of the main reasons I turned out the way I am. From the age of seven, I’ve become significantly less violent. From seeing drug use, being locked away, neglected and beaten, I decided that no one deserves that. 

     How much does this experience change me?

     I think one person was able to shape my personality through abuse, and one other person was able to shape it through taking care of me. When I was a little older, somewhere around the age of 10, my grandmother obtained custody of me from foster care. I think she is the single biggest influence on my entire life. She taught me to be good to people and got me adjusted to what should be a normal life. She taught me that violence was a last resort and a cry for help and that my mother and her boyfriend needed to clean themselves up before they could see me again.

     Thank you, Nana. You’ve shaped me into something more than I would’ve been without you. I’m so thankful for you.