Marcella Howard and her 14-year-old daughter, Haley, have seen their lives dramatically uprooted in just a short span of time. The mother and daughter have faced one struggle after another in the past few years.
But the bond between Marcella and Haley is one thing that hasn’t changed. It’s difficult to pay all the bills, and the family doesn’t expect much for Christmas, but they know they will be there to take care of each other. “We’ve had each other,” Marcella said. “I know that what’s kept me going.”
Marcella, a single stay-at-home mother, lives with Haley in a small two-bedroom apartment in New Albany. She suffers from epilepsy, which prevents her from driving. She doesn’t live on a TARC route, and she often cannot afford the bus tickets. This makes it difficult to find work, and she relies on disability benefits.
In December 2015, the Howards lost their house, two dogs and their possessions to a fire. “It was really difficult, because I had lost every- thing,” Marcella said. “All of my clothes, everything. I haven’t been able to get everything back.”
They moved into another house in New Albany after the fire, but about two years later, they battled another difficult situation. Last year, Haley’s father was imprisoned for child molestation after sexually abusing her best friend.
It was a traumatic experience for both of them, Marcella said, and it turned the family’s world upside down. Marcella had been with him for about 16 years, and it came as a huge shock, she said. He had been the family’s breadwinner and their main support system, and in the past year, it has become much more difficult for the mother and daughter to make ends meet.
“It’s been so, so rough,” she said. “It’s like, can we catch a break?”
The Howards have been living in their current apartment for about a year — it’s not the best living situation, Marcella said, but it’s what they can afford. They meet with a case manager from New Hope Services, Inc. to help them with their budget and other challenges.
The mother and daughter only have one bed in their apartment, which they share. They hope to get another bed for Haley, but right now, they just cannot afford to buy one, Marcella said. She’s been scared that she won’t be able to provide much for Haley this Christmas.
Their apartment is also not suited well for Marcella’s epilepsy. She has to go down to the basement to do laundry, and this week, she fell down some stairs when she experienced a sudden seizure.
For Haley, her mother’s epilepsy is a constant concern. The seizures are often triggered by stress, and her mother is often at home by herself. Marcella’s safety is her number one priority, she said.
“I just want to help my mom out the best I can, because I don’t like seeing her struggle because of me,” Haley said. “I feel like she stresses out more because of me — she stresses about how she’s going to please me and make me happy, and as long as she’s happy, I’m happy. When she stresses out, I worry about her, and I worry about her seizures.”
Marcella said she wants her daughter to know that she loves her and she is sorry for all the struggles she’s experienced. “She always tells me, don’t worry about it, mom — next year I can get a job, and I could go do this,” she said. “I don’t want her to have to worry about that. I just wish she didn’t have to worry about that.”
Both mother and daughter hope to get out of their apartment soon and build a better future. As soon as she can drive, Haley plans to get a job, and Marcella wants to find a home on a bus line so that she’ll be able to work and run errands.
Marcella and Haley have plenty of disagreements, but, ultimately, they are a team. “We get in fights and stuff, but that’s because we’re so much alike,” Marcella said. “At the end of the day, we love each other, and we’re each other’s best friends. We’re willing to take a bullet for each other.”
Since her father was imprisoned, holidays haven’t felt the same, Haley said. But the mother and daughter feel lucky that they have each other. This Christmas, they plan to continue their tradition of watching Christmas movies and drinking eggnog together.
“Every day, I’m just happy I’m with her,” Haley said. “At least I’m with her during the holidays — at least I still have her. Everything’s not different because I still have her in my life.”
Story by Brooke McAfee Photo by Tyler Stewart
New Hope Services partners with News and Tribune each year for the Holiday season Wish Book project. Click here to help families in need.