Editor’s Note: Over the past year or so, we’ve gotten to know Chris via his upbeat personality and unbridled enthusiasm when it comes to all things people and authentic human connection. Which is what prompted our special invitation for him to tell “his story” in his words. Please grab a large coffee, sit back, and enjoy an amazing story full of challenges, trauma, and extraordinary resilience. And then leave your thoughts for Chris within the comments section below.
Here is the story of me, Chris Berryman from the day that I was born till today. It was August 28, 1971, in a small town on the St. Johns River called Sanford, Florida. I was born to Wally Wallace and Marjorie Christine Doston.
My childhood wasn’t your typical childhood. From what I can remember my natural mother and father fought a lot. I remember at the age of 3 on my birthday, my mother got so upset with me because I licked my birthday cake before my party, that she picked me up and threw me into a wall as punishment for licking the cake. And that is where my troubles started.
My mother then left or divorced my natural father soon after that. I do remember one afternoon at a relatives house that my father (Wally Wallace) came up to the door and asked me if I wanted to come to California with him. And that was the last time that I saw my father ever again! So fast forward a few short months and my mother met my stepfather Clarence “Chip” Berryman and soon after they met they got married. He was from the great city of Kingsport, Tennessee. He went to a military school when he was young. Then he went on to the University Of Tennessee. He stayed until he was in his junior year at Tennessee. Then set out on a journey to Florida. He worked in some hotels when he was young. Then he got a job with Red Lobster.
So at one point at school, I had my first incident at the elementary school that I was attending. This is where my learning and emotional disabilities surfaced.
I believe that is when and where my mother and Chip met each other and got married. I in my earliest memories of being a new family is when I got to my first school in Sanford. Chip wasn’t living with us since he was training at different stores early in his time at Red Lobster. So at one point at school, I had my first incident at the elementary school that I was attending. This is where my learning and emotional disabilities surfaced. I was taking my pencils in class and got into a pencil fight with another student. I don’t remember why the fight occurred, But I completely lost control. That was at age 4. So fast forward 1 short year and I had to be institutionalized at Shands hospital in Gainesville, Florida for 6 months because my mother and stepfather couldn’t connect or control me.
And for me, the journey with these disabilities would haunt me for a very long time.
My time at Shands ended and I was going live in Kissimmee, Florida with my parents. There is where I met my future teacher and mentor Patty Harville (At the time she was Patty Henderson). She was my psychologist helping me deal with all the demons and all the issues that I had with my disabilities. I was under her care for only six months until I had to move to West Palm Beach, Florida for Chip’s next store with Red Lobster. The year was 1976. There while I lived in West Palm Beach, I had to be hospitalized for triple pneumonia and that was the 1st winter that it snowed in Florida !! Wow, the creek behind my house actually froze over. I had overcome triple pneumonia and had to move again this time I was moving to Merritt Island, Florida and it was the spring of 1977. I loved living there. There too was my elementary school right across from where I lived in West Palm Beach. I didn’t have to go far for school. But that was the beginning of the end for my parents. They were always fighting and drinking a lot. At one time that I remember that my Dad had come home drunk from driving his motorcycle and he was trapped underneath the bike. I had to help lift up the bike and bring my father inside.
My speech impediment was so bad that my counselors were saying it was on the line with the Great Mel Tillis.
So I was in Merritt Island for only 6 months then it was off to Louisville, Kentucky for the next store assignment for my father from Red Lobster. Now I have to tell you that from the time I was living in West Palm Beach to Merritt Island some of my teachers informed my parents that I had a very bad speech impediment that needed to be addressed. I was going under counseling for my speech impediment between Merritt Island and when I got to Louisville. My speech impediment was so bad that my counselors were saying it was on the line with the Great Mel Tillis. So I had to undergo speech therapy for close to two years. And that was an experience that I will never forget. I still to this day have to calm my mind before I talk. Living in Louisville was awesome. I had the opportunity to see the U-Boat races on the Ohio River and it was a blast.
My 1st official winter was just as amazing. I never lived in snow for a long time. When I had visited my grandparents’ house in Kingsport from time to time I loved playing in it. But the thing I will remember the most is when my Dad told me don’t run out of the front door because I will slip on the ice. Well, I didn’t listen and landed on my rear end in a very short time. And boy did it hurt.
And now the time is the winter of 1979 when I was in Louisville and my Dad got the call again from Red Lobster to move once again. So it was going to be moving to Lakeland, Florida was our next stop. So what happened in the spring of 1980 I and my mother moved to Lakeland ahead of my dad so he could finish up getting his things and his replacement ready for taking over the stores in Louisville. At this point in time with my dad, Red Lobster promoted him to the area supervisor. So his next assignment was to be covering Lakeland, Winter Haven, and all Tampa area stores. Even at one time in his supervisor’s career he even had the St.Petersburg store as well.
So let’s talk about all my educational experiences from Sanford to Lakeland. It was really hard for me to fit in at any elementary school. I was always in a special education classroom with other special education students and was only in one classroom setting. Remember Patty Harville the psychologist from when I lived in Kissimmee? She was my special education teacher when started the 3rd grade at Medulla Elementary. See when I was in Louisville the special educational system thought it was in my best interest when moving to Lakeland that I needed to be put in the 3rd grade again. So she was my teacher from 3rd grade till 10 grade. And even at one point, she was a counselor at summer camp that was by an organization called Peace River.
So here it is, I have moved to Lakeland and had to start all over again. My 3rd grade at Medulla was like I was invisible to everyone and I was constantly being picked on. So at this point, my mother and father were doing somewhat ok in their marriage. So the 4th grade was starting in the fall of 1981 and I had to wait to take a test to see if I could move up to the 4th grade. Now the one thing I forgot to tell you about is when I was in kindergarten, I was there twice because I moved so much in one school year so I was technically 2 years behind the other kids at Medulla. So the school board said I could not be moved up because my test scores needed to be improved, but if I did well in the spring semester, I could be transferred to the 4th grade in spring. But that never came to pass.
I was so out of control at home and at school that my parents yet again committed me to a mental health institution in Winter Haven, Fl. I almost committed suicide twice.
In January of 1983, I was officially adopted by my stepfather Chip Berryman. But this event was very short-lived. My hardest year was in the 5th and 6th grades. I was in 3 elementary schools in less than 2 years. The year was 1982 and it was a very dark time in my life. I was so out of control at home and at school that my parents yet again committed me to a mental health institution in Winter Haven, Fl. I almost committed suicide twice. I was going to run away from Medulla at one point. I never saw that through. But that put a halt to my education for at least 3 months. So I had to be in a mental health program for 3 months and was so agonizing for me. I saw people who were actually in worse shape than me and I was thinking, Why was I here? But what I didn’t know was while I was in the mental hospital wing at Winter Haven, my parents’ marriage was getting worse.