How did I get here?
[Your path may be much different but we are both exactly where we are meant to be right now.]
I have been trying to explore my path to here, right now, in my journal each morning for the last several weeks and it has brought up some moments in my life that at the time I probably didn’t realize how impactful they were.
If I was going to be 100% honest, I don’t do enough self reflection. I do some but not enough. I don’t like to dwell or at least that’s what I tell myself.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. I don’t dwell because I’m avoiding some of the feelings that are deeply buried within me. But I also don’t dwell because I’d rather move forward than look in my rear view mirror.
But I think it is important for me to take a 1,000 foot view of my life to see how I arrived at this unlikely spot in Montpellier, France at 52 years old.
As I write this I’m not looking for sympathy or praise. But all these tiny and not so tiny little pebbles of life that have led me on this path need to be recognized and the dots connected.
This I my path and I want to embrace all the successes and failures that have brought me to exactly this place right here, right now.
There are scenes in my head that play out as pivotal. I think I might characterize them as chapters in my life with further stories to be written within these chapters.
So I’ll start with Chapter 1: Babysitting money.
These are divergent stories because as I view my life through these pivotal moments I also observe my mother’s life happening simultaneously. A potential foreshadowing of my own life if I don’t pay attention.
We had just moved to a ground level, non descript little 2BR apartment, god knows where in Worcester, my mother’s home town. For fun I would play on the large green dumpsters in the parking lot, waiting for the Del’s Lemonade truck to pull up. We weren’t there long, but long enough.
I’m going to make this part of the story short, but my parents were recently separated, getting divorced. I was 5, my sister was 2. After we left home, my mom grabbed the best apartment she could afford and started this next chapter of her life. She needed to rely on my grandparents for babysitting help while she worked.
On a snowy day on her way to pick us up from my grandparent’s house, her car slid on ice and she hit a parked car. She ran into their house upset and she used the word “friggin” when she described the small accident. Said something like “I can’t friggin believe this happened”.
Just like that, my grandmother decided to temporarily write us out of her life.
She was incredulous that my mother would use such a word in her house. (Really? It wasn’t even the real F word) We slunk out of the house and managed to drive the damaged car home.
That day or the next day I can’t remember, my grandfather showed up at our apartment door. This man was my mom’s hero, she adored him. But rather than support her or offer her any sort of compassion, he handed her a few of our items we had left at their house and then a tally for their babysitting services. And also mentioned that my grandmother would not be talking to my mother anymore. Or us.
Wow. This scene is something that I will never forget as long as I live.
In my naive little mind, none of this made sense to me. I thought grandparents watched you because they loved you, not because they wanted babysitting money.
As I look back on that moment I can imagine how crushed my mother was. She was at a low point in her life and her parents decided that rather than support her, they would reject her because in the heat of the moment she had used a word they didn’t approve of.
As an adult I look at this interaction and can deduce that what was really going on for my grandmother was that she was disappointed in my mother because her marriage to my dad hadn’t worked. My mom had embarrassed my grandmother (back in the mid 70’s that’s what divorce did to Catholic families) and rather that discuss this with her, she used ‘friggin’ as the means to write my mother out of her life. Get rid of her shame.
Since I was so young I don’t know everything that happened in between. But my mom was now dating a man I remember having been in my house where I had lived with my dad. The house where I had witnessed my dad throw my mother into our coffee table, where the geese screamed every night and I couldn’t sleep, the house where my mother threw our little hamster out into the snow to die.
My new step dad had a sweet little dog named Ginger who would become my best friend. They were married in the basement of a justice of the peace’s home. I still remember the dark, lifeless room. A large pool table covered in plastic was the centerpiece. They were married right here, with my sister and I and Kathy and Paul as witness.
After they were married, my mom said we were moving and she was going to let my sister and I decide where. She had a map or a globe I can’t remember. One of our little fingers landed on Seattle.
My new step dad was a used car salesman, so in what seemed like a minute we had a green Econoline van packed and ready for this cross country trip. In the back of the van, my sister and I each had a yellow bean bag that we sunk right into. All of our worldly possessions were now in this van. We stayed our last night in Worcester at a motel on Southbridge St, near the big Polar bear (my favorite soda company), right off of 295, the highway that cut through the city. Holy Cross college, where my dad had graduated, loomed above us as if watching. Only Kathy and Paul came to see us off.
Not sure what I was processing at the time since I was 6 but I now had a new step dad, a sweet dog Ginger, no grandparents and no place to call home. It must have been the end of the school year because it was warm. I remember it was 1976.
I’m guessing we thought it was adventure.
An adventure it was.