Monday, September 8, 2008

What Am I Looking For?

I recently renewed some friendships from many years ago. 
As an adult, if you had asked me about my youth, I most likely would have said it was miserable.  My childhood was fairly chaotic. 
A few years ago, when counting the number of places I lived as a kid, I realized that in just one 18 month period I lived in six different places:  a Baptist college campus in North Carolina; a state park in West Virginia; a coal camp (also WV); in the home of my uncle (at the time an Air Force Colonel in Maryland); a commune in Kentucky; then back to West Virginia, on the campus of WVU across the hill from the frat houses (the last one seemed adventurous). 
The “miserable” part would have come during the teen years.  I constantly felt I did not belong.  I guess that is not uncommon, but I really did not fit in.  I did not fit in to the community where we lived when I attended 7th grade.  Only a hand full of last names made up the rosters of students at my junior high school in the ‘holler’ outside of Charleston, WV.  It seemed everybody was related.  In the school where I spent 8th and 9th grade, while everyone was not related, everyone grew up together – it was a community VERY closed to us ‘outsiders’.  The high school I attended was not in the district where I lived and had attended junior high.  Again, I was from the ‘outside’.
More than just geography separated me from my high school classmates.  My high school was in the more ‘affluent’ area of our city, and I was far from ‘affluent’.  I usually saved my monthly allowance of lunch money to be able to buy some article of clothing that would be similar to those of my classmates.  Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from cousins. Not bad, unless you consider the fact that my older cousins were boys.  Most of the pain I experienced, however, did not come from those things that were apparent from the exterior.  The difficulties came from the conflicts within myself.
I struggled with fitting in, at least in my own mind, for as far back as I can remember.  My parents and brother had dark hair.  I was blonde.  My parents, my brother, and even my sister 11-years younger than I, were extremely ‘book smart’ as well as just plain old ‘smart’ smart (I am not allowed to use the word ‘intellectual’ here), while I struggled to put words on a piece of paper that would form any resemblance of a cohesive thought to form a term paper, or (when I would bother to study) could never retain and recall anything that I had read and reread when it came time for a test.  I constantly demanded that my parents admit the truth:  that I had been adopted (I believed my true, biological parents had been blondes with minimal IQ’s and large overbites).
The only place I really felt that I was part of a group was in the band (Note to my kids:  being in the band did not carry the same level of ‘disgrace’ you associate it with today…these were really “OK” kids).  Part of it may have been the fact that in a uniform, we all looked pretty much the same.  Maybe it was the fact that we had to work as a group to accomplish the thing that we were trying to accomplish (playing a song, marching in some kind of design on the field, etc.), so we HAD to get along.  It could be attributed to the extra hours we spent together.  I am not sure exactly what ‘it’ was.
I recently reconnected with some of my friends from that time.  Instead of looking back and only remembering the ‘bad’ as I once did, I am looking back and seeing quite a bit of the ‘good’.  We’ve shared the tips of some of the icebergs that are the stories of our teen years, and I realize that not all of the memories are painful.  I remember now that there were people ‘for’ me.  These were the people I could rely on to share a lunch table with, to walk down the hall with, to share a laugh with, to even get into some (fairly innocent) trouble with.  While I still would not wish to go back to that time and relive any of those confusing, self-absorbed years, it’s not a bad place to visit.
I don’t know what, exactly I am looking for when I do look back.  Memories of a more innocent time?  Glimpses of my brother?  Worries about getting the ‘right’ jeans versus today’s responsibilities of caring for the real live human beings that are my kids (unlike jeans, you can’t find a new set if this set doesn’t seem to fit quite right)?  Looking back on those years, I think what gives me the most satisfaction is to be able to see where I was then and where I am now, and realize that I am continually moving forward, and I won’t let myself get stuck in a rut even here, at this place in my life, and those things that seem to be the “ugh” things I find myself going through recently, won’t seem quite so bad in a year, or maybe twenty.

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