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.


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

  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.

  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

  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.

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

  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. :)

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


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