I have been tasked, for professional development, with writing about me at five different times in my life, accompanied by a photo. To find the photos, I would need to dig out my memory boxes tucked into a wide shelf in my son’s room. He is sleeping. My memory is not.
Five years old, I’m wearing a ballon-print shift dress, my long dark hair hanging loose over my shoulders. I’m standing next to my brother, who is in tan short-shorts and a navy blue tank top with red trim; his arm is slung over my shoulders. We are standing in the driveway at my neighbor’s house. It is the first day of school, and the look on my face tells me I am excited to go to this special place my brother has been skipping off to during the day for two years. Indeed, it is a special place, especially in those early years when it really was just all about learning.
Sixteen years old, my birthday, I am sitting on the front porch of our red brick ranch house when my crush pulls into the driveway and comes walking down the poured concrete path to the porch. I am elated because I think he has come for me. Another friend arrives, and another, and I realize this is a surprise party. My disappointment is tempered only by my realization that my shy mother has planned the whole thing. The picture I remember is of everyone who came, scrunched together on my back deck for a group photo. I will never in my life think I have as many friends as in that moment.
Twenty-two years old, I am literally hugging a tree, my arms wrapped around it, a hand-me down tan-and-beige rag wool sweater wrapped around me. I am between homes, the one I’ve chosen and the one that chose me, but neither feels quite right. I am examining the tree bark as if it holds the secrets to the universe. My best friend, a budding empath, captures this moment when I am more me than anyone but her realizes. I know now that the secrets to the universe are most definitely written in trees. If I ever forget, the tattoo on my back will remind me. Why DO people get unfilled tattoos? You might wonder. I don’t.
Forty years old, my son is on my chest, his cheeks perched over his purple pursed lips. He has, after more than 24 hours of labor, decided to join us. I am exhausted, simply more empty than I have ever been, more empty than after running a marathon, than after wrenching my life from my previous partner’s of more than 12 years, than after saying goodbye to the baby who didn’t make it. In that emptiness, as I fall into a deep sleep with my son beside me, is the most beautiful space to be filled, that empty space between the dark outlines of the tree.
Forty-two years old, I am sitting on my fold-out couch that no one has slept on in over a year, wearing a wool Fair Isle patterned sweater with two moth holes in it, writing this post, just after the new year, after the strangest time I’ve ever experienced. When my son is older and asks about this time, I will say “yes, it really was that bad.” He is too young to know that we didn’t used to wear a mask whenever we walked outside our door, too young to know that we didn’t always have to have our temperature taken every morning by Ms. Shi-Shi or Ms. Shields, too young to realize that none of this is normal. But, what IS normal? You might wonder. I do, too.