By Ken Liebsekind
Connie Starr’s story begins with growing up in a Bridgeport neighborhood with her Puerto Rican mother and an absent father. Her mother struggled with broken English, lacked an education, and was “lucky to get factory work.” Her youth was spent in her neighborhood during the 1970s and 1980s “when gangs, drugs, violence and murder plagued [her] neighborhood” and inspired her to put pen to paper in a personal memoir Starr published last May.
The memoir depicts a time during her life Starr sought to share with the world — a hard-hitting account of her journey to escape the trauma of the inner-city. “My mother raised three of us single-handedly and was angry for what she went through and it trickled down to me,” Starr said, recalling her childhood.
The lack of a father figure was commonplace in her area at the time, she added. “There were no kids in my neighborhood who had a father and I never met mine.”
Despite her struggles early on in life, Starr’s story has a happy ending. She is now a successful middle school teacher in Seminole County Florida, and is married with three children.
“I never wanted to publish a book, but I went to see a therapist who said in order to figure out my life I have to revisit the past, so I started writing it four years ago,” Starr said, explaining her writing process. “I did it for my own healing and when I finished I saw I had an interesting story to tell.”
Starr experienced an abusive childhood on Hancock Avenue and Bridgeport’s East side.
“Neither were good areas, there was a lot of fighting and I got into everything.” She fought with girls in the neighborhood and was arrested four times on assault charges. But Starr said her actions were the side-effect of her surroundings.
“I won’t justify my behavior, it was childhood trauma. My mother fought and that’s all I saw. I was so angry, I was molested as a child, I saw my mother fighting and didn’t know any better. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
A turning point came when Starr found herself 14 years old and pregnant. According to Starr, she grappled with the dueling emotions of having her first boyfriend rape and impregnate her and her maternal instincts. She had mixed feelings about her pregnancy at the time, she said, sorry to have been impregnated by a boy she didn’t love, yet eager to experience motherhood.
“I felt fear but then excitement,” she writes. “My own baby to love. A life that would love me unconditionally.” Her mother, on the other hand, was doubtful. “‘You’re only fourteen. How are you going to take care of a child?'”Starr recalled her mother saying to her.
Starr had another baby before leaving Bridgeport at 19 years old, and never graduated from high school. When she later moved to Massachusetts, her life began to take a positive turn. She enrolled in Fitchburg State College and studied science, which led to a successful teaching career that began in 1998.
“It was a different environment. I was used to living in the worst part of Bridgeport but everyone got along in Massachusetts. I wanted to be like that, a much more calm life, so I was gradually changing,” she said.
Her success in Massachusetts was an inspiration to a Connecticut judge who dropped all charges when she returned to answer a pending warrant on her last arrest. “The judge waived everything and I returned to Massachusetts to finish school. God’s been on my side,” she said.
After graduating from college, Starr returned to Connecticut, lived in Milford and taught at Truman Elementary in New Haven. She moved to Florida with her husband – her husband’s health had them seek out more temperate climate – but said she loves Connecticut and may return again.
Damaged? A Look Inward may be shocking to some, Starr said, but she did not share her story for sympathy. Rather, she hopes people will turn to it for strength.
“People who know me can’t believe where I came from, everyone cries,” she said. “But I’m no victim, I was a teen mom from an abusive relationship who made bad decisions and paid the consequences. But I put myself together, went to school and got my degree. That’s the point I want to get across. It’s an inspirational story.”
Starr acknowledged that she is not the only person who has struggled, but she offered some wise advise she gained through her experiences. “I’m not the only one who’s gone through it but I’d like to encourage people that no matter what you’ve done you can fix it. You can’t change the past but you can fix it and set the right course.”
More information on her memoir can be found here.
By Ken Liebsekind