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My mother is exactly what you would call a “woman on the move.” I think it’s because as a child, she was moved around so much going from boarding school to boarding school, but she could honestly never be happy living in the same place for more than a few years. You would think that my description of the word “home” would be quite distorted, if entirely nonexistent in my vocabulary. However, my mom was carefulthat whenever we moved, I would not be switching schools. She highly valued my sister and I’s education, and firmly believed that me switching schools would put us in academic and social crisis. I got used to the rules of packing and unpacking (an art that, I admit, has come in handy when leaving for college) and my friends and family remained fairly consistent. I haven’t spent near a quarter of my life thus far in one location. ‘Home’ to me is much more than just a place.
It’s a broken place in my mind, yet a place where I was young. I was innocent.
My father, mother, and I lived in a beautiful brick house in a typical suburban neighborhood with a lake in the backyard. Two stories and a basement made three sets of stairs for my eager young legs to climb, stumble, run up and down upon, a white carpeted living room, which my mother shampooed frequently, and a big open kitchen for pancakes on Sunday mornings. My room was simple, a full size bed to jump and sleep on, a TV for The Magic School Bus episodes, and a closet full of girly shirts, shorts, and princess tiaras. My life was as far as I was concerned, perfect in every way.
My life instantly brightened when my younger sister, Brittney, was born. I now had a younger sister in which I could teach the alphabet and how to read, walk, shop, dress, and all the fun things a five year old girl could teach her younger sister. My mom and dad were a cute couple, my mom a mere 5’2 and petite, my dad (a former high school and college football player), a whopping 6’4, sturdy and strong. I was aware at the time that they sometimes argued, but Mommy and Daddy always told me that this was “normal” and that “We still love each other very much.”
I remember watching The Lion King on VHS in my bedroom, over and over again, until my mom came in and unplugged the VCR, taking the tape with her, insisting I had to go to sleep. Sometimes I’d ignore her requests and simply pull out a flashlight and a picture book under my covers and get lost in the land of The Magic Tree House Series. The next morning, when I absolutely refused to get out of bed, my mom swore up and down it was because I had stayed up too late (which was, of course, one hundred percent true). She claimed I needed to be disciplined for my disobedience. Easygoing Dad however, always put his large hand on her small shoulder, and in a calm voice said something along the lines of, “Now, Elsa, she’s only a kid once. Let’s let Stephanie sleep, call a babysitter and go to breakfast.” My mother would eventually calm down and laugh, saying how she was being unreasonable and my dad was so sweet for paying for breakfast, that sort of thing.
I began noticing my mother and father’s increasing tensions during the summer before kindergarten. My dad would take me fishing on our lake in the backyard, often times right until the sunset. “You all really should come in and wash up for dinner so we can eat,” my mother said countless times. Looking back, I see my mother was probably feeling lonely and hurt that Dad never let her come out fishing with us. But when you’re five years old, you approach everything with a “The World Revolves Around Stephanie” stance. I began to resent my mother for trying to take what I thought was “Fun Time With Dad” away from us and began questioning why we couldn’t push dinner back a few minutes. Dad would eventually pack all our things up, but we both knew if Mom hadn’t said anything, we would have been on that lake till dusk, just talking and joking and laughing until we got a bite.
My ‘home’ was my childhood, the very time before my parents’ divorce, before my whole life was torn apart. Except that my life was too fragile, and when you tried to split it in half, it completely ripped, almost deemed useless on both fronts. I never foresaw my parents’ divorce, it came like a torpedo, completely shocking me with disaster. I always wanted to live in those moments of my childhood, of fishing with my dad and library trips with my mom. I remembered checking out specific books, such as The Hungry Caterpillar and Corduroy. I admit it, I amaze myself when I am able to so easily recall certain events from my childhood, such as books I checked out from the library or what color my shirt was on that Tuesday.
Gary Synder states, “Revisualizing that place with its smells and textures, walking through it again in your imagination, has a grounding and settling effect.” Remembering is not always satisfying though. Sometimes remembering certain events can, years later, bring realizations that you never wanted to come to. I remember going into work with my Dad, and saying hi to the nice secretary, Jessicca, who always gave me candy and told me I had the prettiest curly hair. I remember how Jessicca would also tell me that my Dad was a very good Dad, and would never do anything to hurt me.
I remember on a Monday, my Mom came to pick me up from my Dad’s work. I was with Jessica, coloring a picture. Mom greeted Jessica politely and told me it was time to go. I gathered up my materials and hugged Jessica, in front of my mother. Jessica whispered in my ear, “Your Dad and I love you very much.” I remember my mother’s tears in her eyes and how, when I later asked, she said she had been chopping onions before she came to pick me up.
I remember the next night, my mom screaming, accusing my dad of having an affair with a woman at his work, how she finally had proof. I remember my Dad lowering his head, a silent confession. My mom began screaming and crying and throwing things (specifically, our home telephone, I remember) and saying the same things over and over again, “How could you do this to us?” “Two beautiful daughters I give you..” “That filthy whore.”
The next day, my dad moved out, carrying three bags. I was in a frenzy, begging my dad to take me with him while standing at the doorway in my Simba nightgown. He looked emotionless as he shook his head and without looking back, went out the front door, saying “It’s over.” under his breath. My life, my landscape, had been bulldozed.
My childhood, my home, was my sanctuary, my safe haven as that five year old girl, living happily with both my parents and baby sister. After that moment my father left, my entire life came apart at the seams. My mother, sister, and I could not afford our home and moved into a much smaller home in a mediocre neighborhood. I learned how to adapt to seeing my father only on the weekends, and when I was ten, my dad moved out of Missouri. Since then, I’ve seen my father at maximum, twice a year, over the summer and over the holidays. My mother remarried which caused our relocation to North Carolina. I learned to forgive my father and Jessica for tearing our family apart. Living in North Carolina has brought me to some of the best people I’ve ever met and brought me more in touch with my childhood. I cut my hair short a few years ago in remembrance of my days as a child. I haven’t visited that home on Honey Locust Lane in years, but that hardly matters. That place was my home and I remember.