I recently sat across the table, at my favorite coffee establishment, as my girlfriend shared one of her most vivid memories of me.
I had been speeding on a freeway, late on a Friday night from college, when I realized the flashing lights and siren behind signaled for me to pull over. I was on the, all-too familiar, drive to my extended family’s home when the death of my father had finally hit me. Through my blurred vision, I had waited quietly for the highway patrol officer to approach and, after he angrily asked what my problem was, his response had shocked me. He gruffly asked for the house address I was headed to and commanded that I follow him; this officer escorting me to my family’s home. I never got the ticket for speeding and driving recklessly. I had been eighteen.
I blocked out memories from that time of my life; this particular one forgotten. The tears sprang to my eyes, unbidden, and my girlfriend’s arms had goose bumps. To my utter surprise, she had never known my father died of colon cancer; almost three decades earlier.
With the ending of the school year, in June, I found myself choosing to engage in silence; a quiet, meditative retreat. There were no places my sons had to be and with our relaxed schedule, I slowly began to unwind. But instead of finding things to do, projects to complete or places to go; I chose to remain close to home. I have journeyed to many places, enjoy traveling and taking the time to learn the details of my destinations; pouring over maps and guide books. But I have never taken the time to really understand the place where I live; my so-called sanctuary that I call my home. I live in these four walls with four other occupants, but how much time do I invest in learning about the things within these parameters? And so I stayed still, this summer, to come full-circle and discover what lies within my four walls.
I used to think the best summers were spent at beaches, camps or exotic vacations with grand stories for my kids to share when they returned to school in the fall. These were ideal summer pursuits and made me feel like we provided great memories for my kids.
What I’ve learned is that it’s not always the destination that mattered. It was the quality time spent with family, and people, that created the best memories.
For the past few years I have been finding my way back, to remember where I came from. I found that I had gotten lost, somewhere along the way, and needed to unlock the things that have shaped me into who I am today. I kept forging new paths with new destinations to conquer. But I had never fully walked the journey I had originally been on.
My girlfriend and I stared across at one another; tears in our eyes. We had barely caught up on our present lives when we, abruptly, ended up in the past. This memory was a gift; as is her friendship.
The song, 7 Years by Lukas Graham, makes me think back and reflect. It’s one of my faves. But the song, Mama Said, is what I hope my sons will remember.
I know which place I’m from
I know my home
When I’m in doubt and struggling
That’s where I go
An old friend can give advice
When new friends only know a half story
That’s why I always keep them tight
And why I’m okay
… I said I’m OK
You know what my mama said
You know what she told me
My favorite summer, at age sixteen, had been when my cousin took me along on vacation with his young family. To this day, whenever my cousins or I hear the song, “Brass Monkey” by the Beastie Boys; our memories fill with winding mountain roads as we traveled the high Sierras to Yosemite, Sequoia and King Canyon. It was on this trip that my love for the outdoors, truly, was born.
August 25th was the 100th year celebrating our National Parks. I hope to someday visit all of them. I hope my sons, someday, appreciate them as much as the hubs and I do.
These days my sons would rather hold mobile devices, chasing pocket monsters, and roaming the outdoors like walking zombies. Rarely do my boys choose to hang outdoors with friends; instead choosing to communicate in message chats and Skype. Our one camping excursion, this summer, has become an annual trip with the girlfriend I’ve known since age four. Our midpoint, between the two cities that we reside, happens to be at a national park. Electronic devices are banned once we reach our destination and cell service drops as we ascend the foothills and drive within the redwood trees.
My favorite destination happens to be our car. It is within the confines of our vehicle that the boys begin to share the tidbits of their lives that, most days, seem trivial. We listen to various music genres, commenting on what we like and what we don’t. No earbuds are allowed. I pondered how to create this same environment in my home.
Over campfires our sons listened to the tidbits my childhood girlfriend shared of our past. I am awed by the capacity she has to remember the details. Her words filled in the blanks from my childhood; the stories priceless. With both of my parents deceased, it is the memories of my girlfriends that help me piece together who I once was. She recently lost her own father and we sat silently by the campfire, remembering him.
With knowledge of my past I can, once again, forge friendships with others as I carry the pieces of me and move forward. There are always gaps in my puzzle but my new friendships help me fill them in as we continue to journey in the path of life. I have undergone many transformations from the girl, I once was, some great, some not so much, but those who can look past these things continue to walk alongside. I do not do a good job of keeping communication lines open but these friends know they are carried with me; a vital piece to my life story.
My silence has finally been broken.
The memories flood me in dreams at night or in the brightness of day. I see pieces of my life in my sons as they learn to maneuver their tween and teenage years. If not for them, I may not have made the effort to remember.
I know I always have the sturdy shoulders of the hubs; the ones I’ve hugged during the good times, and silently wept and held during the bad. I want my boys to know that I have their back, and hope that they grow to be decent, respectable men, just like their father. Their puzzles don’t have to be complete. It is one of the joys and mysteries of life, to discover the pieces.
It’s for them that I type. To push through the hype. To show their mom as an imperfect woman and wife. And to carry the pieces forward into their life.