Friday, June 10, 2011

A Long and Winding Road

by Kristina Wright

If I had been my mother's daughter, I would never have been a writer. My mother's talent was in art and music-- she did not read and, with an 9th grade education, she did not write. She did not understand my love of books, of words, of storytelling. She didn't understand how I could sit in my room all day, all alone, reading a book.

My mother did not like sitting still, she did not like being alone and the only books I can remember seeing her read were cookbooks (rarely) and the Bible (which I don't recall seeing her read until she went through some sort of mid-life finding religion experience). Oh, and when I was around 12, I remember finding a tattered copy of Peyton Place tucked in her nightstand. I never read the book, but I suspected it was something "dirty" that I wasn't going to be allowed to read anyway. I was often in trouble for reading "dirty" books like Judy Blume's Forever and Wifey, and romance novels with open bodices and shirtless men on the covers.

If I had been my mother's daughter, I would have chosen a different path. As far as personality goes, I turned out as opposite from my mother as two people could be-- and I honestly think a lot of my early decisions were based on what my mother would certainly not do. Not necessarily the best way to go through life. But once I moved away from home and started seeing the world for what it was-- or at least how I perceived it-- rather than for the scary, intimidating place my mother told me it was, I realized all of my mother's choices were based on fear-- fear of being alone, of strangers, of new places, of being as poor as she'd been as a child, of being abandoned, of dying. It took me a couple of decades to realize that's no way to live.

When I was in my formative teenage years, my fantasy future was the polar opposite of my mother's life: I never wanted to get married, I didn't want to settle in one place or live in the same house for two decades, I didn't want to have children. I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to travel, I wanted as many educational degrees as I could get. I wanted to date a lot of people, I wanted to have a lot of sex, I wanted to spend my money on sports cars and books and trips to Europe. I wanted to run away-- far, far away from my ugly South Florida house with the palm trees and swimming pool-- and find myself. It's a cliche, but that was my fantasy life.

My reality is uncomfortably closer to my mother's life than I would've liked at 16. I got married, I've moved a few times, but I've been living in the same house for 11 years now, I have one child and another one the way. But I did become a writer, and I have been a lot of places (though not as many as I would like) and I have a couple of degrees (though 'd like a couple more). I've dated my share of boys and girls (though not as many as I thought I would because I'm a romantic at heart) and had enough sex that I don't have a very long list of things I haven't done. I bought that sports car I dreamed of, though now it's 19 years old and I'm looking at something more practical (though I'll never get rid of my baby), and I am in the process of trimming my book collection because it has grown unwieldy over the years. I've been to Europe a few times-- enough for London to get in my blood and to whet my appetite for more trips with and without my family.

I did run away from my ugly house in South Florida-- and I never looked back. I haven't visited the house I grew up in since 1991. I Googled the street view once-- it was such a strange sense of deja vu to see something at once so familiar and so foreign. It was then that it hit me-- I hadn't been running away from the ugly house or the Florida heat or the familiar, I was running away from the unhappiness that thrived in that house like mold thrives in humidity. I was running from my mother's paranoid fears and irrational behavior, from my father's alcoholism and my brother's drug problem and violent mood swings. I was running from the life I grew up with and looking for a new life. I was looking for happiness.

The path I chose is not completely foreign from the one I imagined as an unhappy kid in a dysfunctional family. That fantasy path of adventure and exploration and excitement curves and winds its way through the path I'm on now-- a path that is, in many respects, a traditional path of marriage and family and home in the suburbs. But it's also a path that veers pretty deeply into the territory that my mother feared so much that she managed to instill-- for a time-- that fear in me. From the outside looking in, my life parallels my mother's in many ways-- but scratch the surface and it's a jungle in here. A wild adventure of meshing a suburban lifestyle with a free spirit's fantasy.

My mother's world was filled with "don't" and "no" and "be careful" and "you'll regret that." The path I fantasized when I was desperately plotting my escape had none of those cautionary warnings. And that's what it was-- I wasn't planning the road my life should take, I was planning my escape from all the negative things that hung like a black cloud over me. The path I ultimately settled on, the one that still manages to surprise me with unpredictable twists and turns, has the occasional "don't" and "no" and "be careful"-- but there are no regrets. There are no wishes for a different life. And that's how I know it was the road I was meant to take.

8 comments:

  1. Thank god for that path not taken! Congrats on finding your way out.

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  2. A beautiful story, Kristina. That you have found the balance of your present to your past, and done so on your own terms, is wonderful. Not an easy road to navigate.

    I was running away from the unhappiness that thrived in that house like mold thrives in humidity.

    Wow. That image says so much.

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  3. Wonderful post, Kristina. Maybe the real point is that life is not about the externals, but about how you feel about them.

    I resonate with your comments about a house filled with fear. I was brought up terrified. It has taken me a long time to get past that. I see now how my mother's unhappiness, like yours, was as much a cancer as the leukemia that ultimately cut her life short at 52. Perhaps there was even a relationship.

    ~ Lisabet, who was also sure she'd never marry and is about to celebrate her 29th anniversary

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  4. Craig, thank you so much for your kind words. I don't often write or talk about my childhood-- but it's hard to talk about where I am without dredging up where I've come from. Thanks for your response.

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  5. Lisabet, here's to us and the pasts we left behind. Congratulations on 29 years of marriage! That's wonderful!

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  6. "And that's what it was-- I wasn't planning the road my life should take, I was planning my escape from all the negative things that hung like a black cloud over me."

    I completely identify with this, even though I've never put it into words like this before. I'm glad your winding story has turned into a wild adventure & free spirit's fantasy even if it's a little more like your mom's than you'd have liked. :)
    Jess
    xoxo

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  7. Thanks so much, Jess. I'm glad this resonated with you. :-) xoxo

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