finding what you never lost

My parents were really big on education, growing up.  Which was sort of ironic given that neither of them had ever been all that educated.

My Mama was kicked out of school in 6th grade, because she was a bad influence on the other children–having become pregnant.  My papa told her, if she wasn’t going to school, she had to work and pay rent.  He was big on personal responsibility, but mostly, I think he knew this would be a defining moment for her.  That she had to find the strength to keep going, and he was going to kick her ass into gear.

The baby–Danny–was stillborn.  It was the first of two children my Mama would lose.  She never returned to school.  Instead she worked and got married to a man in her late teens.  She had another baby–Terry–with that man–and he abused them both.  Terry was the other son she’d eventually lose–this time to leukemia.  And then my mother kinda lost it for a while, sank into depression and alcohol–until she met my dad–an alcoholic himself–who took her to brand new places and got her back on her path.

My Daddy, though brilliant, never had much of an education.  He had tried many careers–seen the world–done many things–but never committed to anything other than the military.  He left a slew of woman shaking their heads across the country.  I still find random wives every time I do an Ancestry search.  But my Mama was the one that stuck.  I guess that counts for something.

Anyway.

My earliest memories are of my parents–reading to me–quizzing me–giving me things to create–teaching me about all the things that were magical and cool.  I learned the world was my classroom, and I could find new things to absorb almost anywhere.

I grew up valuing books and art and music.  I love everything about the world.  I was enthralled by its lights and its sounds…how it tasted and what it felt like.  I credit all these things to those two people who had so little for so much of my life, but gave me absolutely everything they could.

I grew up working hard, always.  On a mission to prove something or other.  But mostly just trying to get out.  Mostly, just trying to free both of them from this life of less.  They both died before I could.

###

As a kid, being a schoolgirl–that focused, never say die, whirlwind of a student–was my home.  It informed everything about me.  It created stability where there was absolutely none.  It gave me something to hold onto.

I knew the rules.  I knew what to do.  It was black and white.  Not complicated.  Emotions had nothing to do with it.  Hard work and sheer will did.  All I had to do was continue walking.  And one day, I got where I was walking towards–for all those years–and suddenly–life became complicated.  Mostly because of feelings.  And exhaustion.  And things catching up with me.  But mostly, I kicked those things out of my life and kept walking–until I reached yet another impossible goal.  And she was so proud.

But then what?

Turns out?  The things people believe about success aren’t exactly true.  Turns out, you can’t outrun the boogeyman.  Turns out?  Where you come from matters a whole lot.  And it can eat you alive if you don’t integrate it into your new life.

I was doing that–doing very badly at that–when she got sick and eventually died.  I had been changing a lot before her death, but her death made everything crystal clear.  Some things weren’t worth it.  Working that hard, all the time, with no break or appreciation, wasn’t worth it.

My focus shifted as quickly as a rabid squirrel.  Or rather, it switched to coping–getting through the day–not constantly hurting.  So whims were honored.  Feelings became everything.  My brain was the enemy as those horrible thoughts often drove every conversation and all the anxiety.  I wanted to shut them off forever.  So, I’d distract myself–often–with people and things.  It didn’t really matter.

Most of my love stories and heartache come from those years.  Most of my utter failures and my disappointments too.  These days, I don’t love as deeply.  I flirt and occasionally dip in toes.  But I’ve not found anything really worth diving into.  These days, I’m mostly just holding on till something better comes along.  These days, I question my will and my commitment and my drive.  I know who I am, without question, but I’m not sure I believe in her.

And that’s why I quit.

###

2015 was about rebuilding.  About surveying the wreckage of what happened years ago and finally understanding how it impacts everything.  It was the first time I was really shocked by myself and the first time I realized–“Oh.  This mattered.  I can’t fix it by myself.”  And so, I worked on it.  I wasn’t as focused or committed as I should have been, but I gave it what I had.  I recognize it as a journey that will last my whole life.  I started tuning in to the changes I needed.   I started making it happen.  And a reality I thought I’d never get to happened.  But in each case, I got to the cliff–and all I had to do was jump in the water…and that brings me to here.  And all of it will be done in 8 weeks.  It’s just a matter of believing in myself, putting my head down, and not chickening out.

I feel more prepared this time, but still terrified.  I know I need both of these things to just be over with.  I know this new chapter in my life will buoy me so much–just because I did it.  For so long, I’ve sort of beat myself up for not being the girl I was when I was younger–before they died.  The thing is–I’ll always be that girl.  But she’s just grown up and maybe isn’t as mean to herself anymore.

As daunting as this is, it’s important and actually something I’m looking forward to.  I’m looking forward to being proud of myself again.  I’m looking forward to making good on the promises I’ve made to myself.

At the end of this month, I’m getting a tattoo.  My first ever.  It’s a lot more complicated than I originally hoped, but it’s going to remind me to commit to MY life.  To wear my heart on my sleeve and focus on the details that actually matter to me.

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