Packing For Life pt. II
*Read part I here*
I sat at the small wooden dining table that was nestled on a patch of linoleum flooring between the kitchen and the carpeted living room. It was a November evening in New England, so it was pretty dark outside and the only lighting in the house was the fixture above me. It felt like a spotlight was on me. I watched as the activity buzzed around me, coming in and out of the light. I was having what felt like an of out-of-body experience.
From the outside I looked engaged but internally there was a storm brewing. I was exhausted and emotionally drained. But, I put on a brave face!
I watched as my mother, stepfather, my dad and older sister laughed and talked. I engaged when it made sense. My mother was busy discussing plans to spruce up my appearance. My pubescent acne and awkwardness had just settled and I didn’t have a good grip on styling my hair yet. Pretty soon, she’d have me on a regular skincare regiment (Neutrogena for the win!) and somewhat regular visits to the hair salon.
As I sat there, I wondered what Auntie was doing at that moment. Was she still crying? I had conflicting feelings of excitement and incredible sadness. Just a couple of hours ago I was home with Auntie. Now, I was sitting in this townhouse in the suburbs, my new “home” shared with my mother, stepfather and older sister, who was five years my senior.
How do you define “home?” Beginning that night and lasting for the next several years, I questioned what I had always known “home” to mean to me. Home, to me, is where you feel most comfortable, safe and at ease. Away from the chaos that can happen elsewhere in the world, home is a refuge from all of that. And it is not just a physical space. It’s the people and the love shared among them. It’s consistency.
I felt like I was a visitor everywhere I went from that moment on. Whether I was visiting Auntie or at my mother’s house where I was living permanently. I never felt like I belonged with family when I was with them. Just passing through. At my mother’s house, old family jokes and stories just went over my head. My mother’s family was huge so there were cousins and relatives I never knew that I was meeting on a rolling basis at cookouts, weddings, funerals. And to top it off — I was an introverted and shy teenager. This did not help matters.
Two years later, I watched from my bedroom window as tiny crystalline snowflakes fell from the night sky and then floated their way down to the dark pavement of the parking lot outside our condominium complex. I couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of it all — the contrast of the sparkling white snowflakes on the sky and pavement. Boys II Men (my favorite group) played on my stereo. I thought about how it always snows or is extremely cold on my birthday. It was my 16th birthday. And this was certainly not how I had always envisioned my teenage milestone birthday to look.
Prior to my birthday, Auntie and Uncle took me to purchase my first real leather jacket. I suppose they viewed 16 as an appropriate age to own and take proper care of a genuine leather coat. I sincerely appreciated their efforts and kept the coat for many years.
The contrast of my life before (two years ago) and and my life now resembled the snow and pavement. Black and white.
So sitting here, on my actual birthday, I was melancholy but mostly devastated. Devastated that my mother didn’t think I deserved any sort of celebration on this day beyond a card and a “happy birthday.” She explained that my behavior was the cause. I didn’t understand and still do not to this day. Not even a cake or a happy birthday song with family. Nothing special.
Special. I didn’t feel special. And that’s what most kids want, right? To feel like their parents think they are special. Because the world is already so unkind. Home should be your sanctuary of love and support.
As I stood there staring out into the winter night, I wondered how I got here. Here, at this particularly low moment. I was miserable and crying on the night of my 16th birthday. All day I had secretly hoped my family would surprise me with a party. But, as I watched the clock in my room change from 11:59pm to 12:00 am, January 31st — my secret hopes dissipated.
For a long time I felt silly for caring about the events of my 16th birthday.
Such a first-world problem!
Who says your 16th birthday has to be special?
I now recognize these thoughts were me downplaying my very real feelings. My mother, who had missed most of my birthdays did not seem to care to celebrate in any way one of the few she had the opportunity to share with me. It was a tough pill to swallow.
And it truly set the tone for how our relationship would take shape for years to come.
The contrast of my life before and and my life now resembled the snow and pavement. Black and white.
Just two short years prior to my 16th birthday, when I left home to live with my mother, I had such a picture perfect idea of how our relationship would look. I often fantasized about long conversations over pizza, quality time and ultimately creating a new bond. Unfortunately that did not happen.
For many years I longed for that relationship and did my part in making that happen. By my mid 20s, and several disappointments later (and therapy), I came to terms with the losing game I was in. I would always lose in the battle for affection or a substantial relationship with my mother and I eventually learned to be ok with that. I grieved and mourned the loss of that perfect relationship I imagined as a 13 year old girl.
These experiences have really contributed to the person that I am today. While I don’t wish that sort of emotional warfare on any child — I have come out of it as a more empathic, wise, resilient adult. I am thankful for that result and my perspective. It could have taken me into a tale spin, but it didn’t. In raising my own child, I place extreme importance on creating a safe, warm and loving home at all times. She will never know anything different.