Monday, August 9, 2010

Patches of a Rough Childhood and Why I'm Living Like I'm Dying

Everyone had a “rough” childhood in one way or another. Maybe you’re family moved a lot. Maybe some tragedy struck. Maybe there wasn’t enough food on the table. Maybe there were bullies at school. Maybe you were the outcast/misfit at school. Maybe you had extreme anxiety around girls/boys. Maybe a lot of things.

I was out with some friends the other day. And we were discussing bills and adult responsibilities. One mentioned wishing they could go back to childhood. The concept terrified me. And at some point I said, “I’ll go back to my childhood when you drag my kicking screaming corpse there, because even if I were dead, I’d still put up a fight.”

Some of us had things rougher than others. Me? I will never claim that my problems were worse. But they weren’t pleasant either. I can check of a number of the aforementioned childhood downfalls in that previous paragraph. I was moved around, a lot, for very little reason, and was the family outcast. Whereas my mother never laid a finger on me, my days were not without verbal abuse and emotional neglect. Tragedy did strike and strike hard. My teen years were spent contributing to household and raising my brothers. And there was no appreciation for it.

My family would forget about me. Often!

And I don’t mean just those times when I got home from school, had to walk to the back of the fence, climb onto the cable box, launch myself over the fence, slide down the shed, climb on the porch swing, through the kitchen window, and over the sink. I mean they forgot about me! Outings, vacations, I can give several stories that support my claim.

When I was a teen, I was a very spiritual person. Loved church. Youth group, service, the brotherhood of it, singing in the choir. And then there was my first and last mission trip. I was 17. My church was going with habitat for humanity to Ohio to help flood victims. I spent a week out there. Painting, cleaning, building, mudding, putting up siding… A full tiring week three states away, and when I got back to the church, and watched everyone’s parents arrive one by one to pick up sons and daughters… My parents were nowhere to be found. I called them. No answer. Several hours passed, until I finally just went home with my pastor’s family.

But no big deal, maybe they just got the days, or times confused, right? Let’s look at another example. How about Mother’s day the same year. When my mother decided to pack a suitcase for each of my brothers and leave my father, and as I ran out to her in the driveway as she pulled away, she stopped only long enough to tell me that I should find somewhere to go too if I want.

Or the day I walked down the stairs to find a bunch of bags packed by the door because the family was going on a vacation, but forgot to tell me. Not that it would have mattered much. I had to work that weekend and often enough my paychecks were “borrowed” to help with the household groceries. I couldn’t skip or quit. (but having the house to myself this was my first unauthorized party and adventure with alcohol. I was fed up with being the good girl that always did as told and got stepped on for it.)

But if this isn’t good enough I will tell this one last story about baseball. I loved baseball. Was never allowed to play it, but loved it. Carlton Fisk was my God made flesh, catcher for the White Sox. I have the majority of his baseball cards. My cousin Adam helped me with that collection. My immediate family however was not as entertained by the sport. Until that was, the car accident.

On Christmas Eve of ’95 my parents were in a head on collision on the local freeway. (This story is well known by many of you, but if requested I will post the tale again.) One of the many results of this event was my having to give up my bedroom as it was healthier for my father’s recovery. Construction work was to be started on their would be bedroom. Despite the fact that my two little brother’s beds were capable of being converted into a bunk bed, they did not want the double-decker mode, and I found myself sleeping on the floor between two twin sized metal frames.

It didn’t take long before I had a nervous breakdown, and my grandfather came to rescue me, took legal guardianship, and put me back in the Crystal Lake school system. I knew the stay would be short. Six months at most. And though I have a lot to say for the experience that I’m sure I will get around to one of these posts, that’s not the point for now. I didn’t go much anywhere or do much anything while living with my grandparents. I was too content with the quiet. But there was ONE activity I was very amped for. For back at “home”, in my old room, only a couple of channels came in clearly on my tv. And in the summer, it was baseball, day and night on the WGN. My dad, was slowly brainwashed to like the sport, and my mother made a bargain. If he could get well enough to get around with a cane by the end of the summer, she would arrange a big outing to a Cubs game.

EVERYONE was going. My parents and brothers, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins (I have more than 20), My Grandparents. I was ready! My first EVER professional Baseball game! At Wrigley Field no less!!! Yup, everyone got a ticket. My mother arranged it all. Everyone…. Well… not everyone. Somehow or other, my mother had forgotten me. Again. How, with all of the cousins, and aunts, and uncles tickets she could say to me without laughing “Oh, I didn’t know you wanted to go…” I will never comprehend.

What I did with the Cubs hat that was brought back for me I can’t remember. I still to this day have never seen a professional baseball game, and probably never will. The thought fills me with disgust and anger, and to be honest, I haven’t even watched it on tv since. I’ll occasionally take a glance at a screen while at a bar or something, but I won’t really watch anymore.

So, when other’s chalk up my claims of mistreatment to hyperbole, I usually just smile, let them assume what they wish and move along. I know the truth, and I have a whole bag full of tales just like this one I can pull out at any time if I wish.

The things I’ve endured in my past have made me stronger and more capable as a person. And the concept that life is short well engrained. Time is fleeting and I’m tired of waiting around for others. My life has been growing rich in the past few years. Especially in this last year. And when contrasted against my childhood, it is night and day. I sat here this morning reflecting on all I’ve done this past year alone.

I went to an art museum for the first time. Saw my first live concert. Took my first trip out of the country, (alone!) to Norway. Saw Kevin Smith Live. I’ve seen live theatre, met new people, ridden roller coasters, and pet a zebra, and have ate ice cream for breakfast. I’ve done the things I always seemed to be waiting on others to join me for. And got tired of waiting. It’s been an eventful year. And it isn’t over yet. I have a lot of time to make up for, and a lot of stones left to turn.

No, there is no getting me back to my childhood. And I would NEVER want to. This is too good to be missed. This is so much better. I’m living never knowing what tomorrow is going to bring me. And living each day as if it could be my last.

I urge you all the same. Life is too short. It can change in the blink of an eye. One minute you are setting the table for Christmas Eve dinner, the next, you’re raising two little boys. Don’t wait on anyone. Take chances. Forget what others think of you. And if you see something that will make you happy do everything in your power to grab hold of it. And if it still falls out of reach, don’t waste time moping. Look for the next opportunity, never regret, and never give up.

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