Friday, August 17, 2012
home of the brave.
"What do you think we could be if we didn't have to be brave."
this was in a book i just read. i read that and then put the book down. in full and fair disclosure i cried. but you knew that.
the thing is, i have thought this very thing so many times in my life. what might i do, what i might become if i didn't have to keep doing 'this.' keep being brave. picking myself up.
i think many people with difficult childhoods or difficult circumstances have had the exact same or a similar thought.
what else could i have been or done if i didn't have to put my energies towards bravery?? just getting by. just making it through. imagine the possibilities. imagine the me i could be.
i was in my hometown when i read this book. a place i rarely go. a place that holds memories both good and bad. so many of each.
the boys asked to go by my old house. this is not usually on the agenda during my rare visits. but, they had never seen it and of course were curious. i joked to a friend on the phone when he asked what we were up to that day that we were going to strap on our kevlar and head over to the old neighborhood.
it's not that bad. maybe it is. it's hard to know when you're not really there. it was fine growing up. i mean as a neighborhood in general. i guess. from what i remember. i mean there were neighborhood bullies and the occasional flasher. one neighbor drove his big old convertible drunk and with kids all piled in on the regular. the other neighbor sometimes forgot to feed her kids. we think the lady who lived upstairs was a hooker. when i was older i wore a low cut shirt and got a good deal on a set of used tires from the guy who lived behind us. i walked to all three schools i went to, walked to the store. bought cigarettes for cinnamon's mom at the corner store with a note saying please let my daughter buy cigarettes for me. and her mom signed it. so, you know, the usual neighborhood dynamics.
anyway, i was a little reticent. the last time i went home i ended up in a puddle on my hotel bed. crying to another friend on another phone call. i couldn't even fathom driving down that street. by the old house. why couldn't it have been different, i cried. why couldn't it have been easier, i cried. blah blah blah.
so i'm in the car and driving the boys towards my house. i see the shopping center that had the grocery store and the place we used to buy 10 cent boxes of candy. the video store was there. i remember when it opened. this was right when VCRs came out and video stores started popping up. you could rent a VCR then because so few people had them. my father used to rent a VCR and 3 movies there every friday afternoon. he'd watch them and do a review column for a local paper.
i see that ernie's liquors is still a liquor store but called something else. i remember going in there with my father when i was little. i remember later, more recently, sprinting in there dressed to the nines for the goddess mother's wedding. i was supposed to be at the church already. supposed to be marrying her and her husband at nearly that exact moment. i was still miles away. i was late. the laptop ate my ceremony. the duke nursed too long. my hair and makeup made me look like i spent a little too much time at home with mother's little helper. i sprinted in there and grabbed a bottle of jagermeister.
mother's little helper indeed. liquid form.
the husband was driving and the duke was asleep in the back. and there i was, sweaty, freaked, and late. cermony-less. shooting jagermeister and muttering to myself.
it turned out beautifully.
it's true. ask anyone.
the car made its way past. i shook off the memory. there's the apartments on the left my father told me never to go to alone. sometimes i did. there's the park on the right that used to be an orchard. there's my street. shit. i nearly passed it. how in the hell did that happen? this street has its own freaking barbed wire wrapped wing dug right into my soul and here i almost missed it. i turned off and expected it all to come flooding back. you know, it. it. the it of the difficult childhood. it. like it always had when i had gone back the few times before. expected something that didn't come. instead, i played tour guide.
there's where melvin lived.
the kid with the rotten teeth who always cussed?
yep. oh, there's cinnamon's house! it looks so small.
that's where she lived? is that the tree? you were lucky to live so close to your best friend.
so lucky. oh! there's allan's house. god it looks so small. the yard was always perfect. too bad it looks the way it does now.
was that the kid who always wanted to play border patrol?
i slow the car.
pointing out allan's house had almost made me miss my own.
that's my house. look at that fence and grass. we didn't have grass or a fence. it was prickly bushes that smelled like cat pee and beauty bark instead of grass.
it's cute. i like the brick.
it looks exactly the same. look at how big my father's peach tree has gotten. i remember when he planted it. so he could always have fresh peaches. for cobbler. and pie.
i put the car in park and briefly i remember how my father made a list of foods that he wanted me to cook for him when i came to visit. last year. when he was dying. peach cobbler was on the list. i made most of the food. he had a plate, but didn't eat any. i never got around to making the peach cobbler.
at this point it's just as my sister said, everything seems smaller. the houses the street the distance to the corner. everything seems at once shabbier and brighter than i remember. i am somewhere else, but it's not painful. it feels odd for it to feel so...normal. like, hey here's the house i grew up in. and nothing more. it's just a house. where i grew up. it isn't everything it used to be. no longer the scene of the crime. just a set piece in the movie of the week of a silly mortal.
and then i remember it's probably best not to be stopped in front of unfamiliar houses. i pull forward. drive by my old elementary school. turn around. cruise by the house again. and then we're off. more places to see.
and again, i expect that thing. that pit to open me up and swallow me whole. the reminder of pain and sheer exhaustion. i expect it to hit. and, it doesn't.
instead i am pointing out my jr. high. why can't i remember that it was called a 'senior elementary' instead of a jr. high. what in the hell is that?
mama, that's so weird.
i keep driving down the street that takes me to my old high school. i point out to the left side of a duplex with a rusting car on blocks in the driveway.
i had a boyfriend who lived there with his dad.
oh. it looks um, really run down.
it looks about the same.
was this in high school?
no. after. i worked with him at the burger place. actually, technically he was my boss. he was a little older. from a trailer park in oklahoma. he used to invite me over to watch an old video of him playing in the state basketball championship. over and over and over.
i keep driving. in my old hometown. here where i grew up. here where i grew my armor. and regrew and regrew and regrew my armor.
but the more i drive i STILL don't feel it creeping up on me. i am just pointing out houses where friends lived (look there's rich's house!) and telling stories. i don't feel the need to be crushed by this trip down memory lane. i don't feel the need to be brave. at all.
i stop at the stoplight.
oh my god, i'm thinking. that's what it is. this feeling. i am not a wounded child here. i am ALWAYS a wounded child here. but now i'm just a mama showing her boys the old neighborhood.
and that's when it hits me.
that thing i always thought about having to be brave all the time. how my life might have been different if i could put my energy towards other pursuits. the possibilities. the me i could be. if i didn't have to carry around all that armor. i look over and sitting beside me and behind me was all that i ever wanted. my boys and my little family were all i ever wanted. to be a mother was all i ever really truly wanted.
and that's exactly what i got. and it's fucking awesome.
and those other things i did. things i've done in my life. those were awesome, too. i think we need to take stock more of the things we have done, and not the things we think we might have done. or missed out on. because i don't even know WHAT THOSE THINGS ARE. i mean my god what exactly has to happen to make the things we have done, however big or small, *just* as important as the things we think we might have missed out on?
i don't know, but i think i accidentally stumbled on it at the stoplight in front of my old high school.
the light changed and then we were passing by the school. under the pretense of getting a better look i pulled over. i needed a minute. i needed a breath.
i don't know if it's because my father is gone now. or if i have finally just grown the fuck up. or if it's a combination of the two. or if it's getting back to the west coast or all the sun or WHAT. but 'it' never came. not the crush, not the sadness, not the pit. not the armor. bravery was no longer needed. at least not here.
and that was that. how quickly the shit that's kept you down falls away. and then you're left with...a deep breath. a little wiggle room. possibilities.
the me i have always been.
just like that.
we looked at the bumpy walls of my old high school. and i told them the story of uncle nate's 'controversial' mural and how we (i won't name names to protect the absolutely guilty as charged) snuck into the school and uncovered the paint they had painted over it to hide it.
did uncle nate go with you?
no. i don't even know if he knew at the time we were gonna do it.
wait. how could you take that paint off without taking uncle nate's paint off underneath?
he sprayed his mural with some kind of anti graffiti spray. that makes it so you can take paint off the top without taking the paint of the piece.
yeah. just you don't do something like that. sneaking into school property and all that. and if you do, don't let me know about it. and don't get caught.
i pulled out and we drove to the taco trucks and to sonic for slushes or whatever they're called there and to the park.
i like it here, says wingman.
i do too, i answered.