|Taken last week in the mountains|
My sister Norma Jean and I had each other as constant companions, and when I was seven my sister PJ was born into the family. However, there was enough difference between her and the two of us (two and a half years apart) that we never brought her into much of our play. There was just enough distance in years to make her a baby while we were growing older. And then when I was sixteen, my parents decided to start another family, raising another three children, two of whom were born after I left home.
Isn't that an interesting phrase? "After I left home." What happened to us, and I suspect to most migrant families, is that wherever my parents happened to be was "home," even if that wasn't a constant place. I remember when my dad finally retired and they bought a home in Fort Worth, Texas. It meant that my three youngest siblings would grow up entirely differently from the three earlier children: they went to the same schools and had the same friends as they grew up. It's almost as though we were two different families, but we had the same parents.
However, that home in Texas became "home" in a different way, one in which my siblings and parents established roots that I didn't feel were my own. Since my first husband and father of my sons was in the Air Force, my life continued on in the same way as in my childhood: moving from Georgia where we were married to Puerto Rico to Michigan, where my husband's family lived. We moved there after he left the military.
There were only short periods of time in my adult life when I wasn't working. My years as a young mother were just about the only time I wasn't actually holding down a full-time job. I sometimes think of how different my life would have been had I grown up like my mother, having babies, raising them, and working in the home rather than out in the world. That was what I expected to happen in my life; it was all I had ever known.
Growing up while moving around from place to place was completely different for Norma Jean and me. She was shy and introverted and it tore her up each time she had to leave her hard-won friends behind. It made her become more introverted and more dependent upon me as her big sister. We usually shared a room as young kids, and when I think of our childhood, there are few memories where she was absent. I am just the opposite: I am extroverted and make friends easily, so I didn't mind moving around.
The persona of the "new girl" became familiar to me, and I liked it. What happened so gradually that I didn't even realize it, is that I stopped knowing how to be a real friend to anybody except my sister. I developed an external habit of relating that put me in the middle of my drama, and everybody else was a bit player, easily replaced by someone else. Why should I invest in friends when they would be left behind in a short while?
How much of this lifestyle is responsible for the chaotic years I spent in my twenties? By the time I turned thirty, I had been married and divorced three times. Those years now blur together as a time of pain and struggle. You can just imagine how my son Chris' life was: when he turned ten, his father convinced me that it would be better for Chris to live with him and have a more stable upbringing. By that time Derald had remarried and had a much better situation, so I agreed.
Then I was totally unmoored from any responsibility to anyone except myself. I traveled around and finally settled in Boulder, Colorado. I remember the first time I visited that place. It felt different to me, and I realized that I had no home and could choose one for myself. Boulder became my "home," except the place where my parents lived was my childhood "home." After Daddy died, wherever Mama was became home.
And then Mama died in 1993. Now I really had no home except the one I had made for myself. For more than thirty years, I lived happily (and sometimes not so happily) in Boulder. I met Smart Guy when we were both fifty, and we married. Now it has been twenty MORE years, and he and I have retired to a new "home." We moved here from Boulder more than four years ago, and I call Bellingham home, where he is, where my life is.
That picture of myself that I put in this post (I always feel I need at least one picture) shows a contented older woman, living her life. I've learned over the years to value friendship and partnership, and I owe the healing I have gained during the past twenty years to a partner who showed me how to become a real friend. His wisdom and maturity brought me, a little at a time, to wholeness.