A rice field on the outskirts of Beaumont, Texas, developed for the ever-growing suburban-meets- country living, is where I was planted. My father a Beaumont police officer and my mother a nurse.
I have few memories prior to becoming a latch key kid. Memories of a garden and family dinners still trickle through my mind like the breeze on an Autumn day. Memories of a pink room, with Strawberry Shortcake and Cabbage Patch dolls lining the bed, still bring a smile to my face. An astronaut inspired me, while the breath of Strawberry Shortcake kept me lingering in pink. It was the way life was supposed to be and the way I expected it to always be.
And then it changed.
Life’s memories went from playing in the yard with an entire neighborhood, to being busy in high school with my father an hour away and my mom working two jobs to make ends meet. I can barely recall who I was then. An athlete, a band nerd, chess geek; but where was I headed? What was I doing? Plans made and drawn in my mind’s eye. All I needed was to find my starting point, pave the way, a little wishful thinking and life would be perfect. Memories of childhood faded and day dreaming graduated to reality. Real life, college, freedom and motherhood. Wait? Motherhood? Yes, motherhood. Ok, that wasn’t in the plans. Funny how that works, yes? College started and I was officially a single parent (or soon to be). The “I’m never staying in this town”, was silenced with the reality of “you have no choice”.
The years progressed and life continued to happen. Where was I headed? What was I doing?
Struggle, joy, loneliness, voids, abandonment, peace, joy, work, struggle and repeat, were the emotions that tended to try and drown. Where were the yellow bricks? Where were my slippers? I just wanted to find my way, and if I couldn’t then let me go home. Where was home? It hadn’t been the same since the “I do’s” turned into “I’m sorries”.
By this point, the weight of my life and the pit stops that had turned into the pits, kept me from even considering glass slippers. Fairy tales weren’t meant for “used goods”. Besides, how could I ever walk in heels carrying all this baggage. Not to mention all the weight I had acquired as the consolation prize courtesy of stress. Fairytales were just that. Tales. And they obviously weren’t for single, overweight moms. At least that’s what the world and the shallow dating prospects told me, and for a while I believed it. Time turned to kid number two, a marriage turned to divorce, nights turned to weeks and weeks to years. The ex-husband remarried (it’s always easier for them isn’t it?) and college graduation was almost here. My only physical way out of this financial and time devouring nightmare, which gave zero cares about the moments it continually stole between me and the two beings that mattered most.
Graduation was almost here. Boy, that was fast. No. In all reality, it was the slowest and most painful three and a half years of my life. Yes, three and a half years for a 4 year degree. Summers, minis and eighteen hour semesters, topped off with night shifts and lost time with my girls. Nights and days spent wishing the time would pass faster and yet slower at the same time. I wish I could say I had some sort of memory during that time that wasn’t hastily wished away, but I don’t. Why me? Why so much struggle? When I said I do, I meant it. Was I being punished? The glares and name calling seemed to confirm that notion. I had made up my mind. I had made up my mind that no prince was to be found, which painfully became no prince needed. Just show me the way to normalcy. Show me a way out of here, or make it feel like home again. My only hope was finishing school and graduation was coming. It was coming in all it’s glory! As much glory as a single parent with two daughters towing everything we owned in a Dodge pickup could possibly encompass. Homeless would have been our newest title had it not been for an old grade school friend who took us in and let the three of us share a double bed for a couple months. “Homeless” from leaving a situation that would rank up there with “Sleeping with the Enemy”. Within the same month of practically placing a restraining order on cupid, love found me. Notice I said, “found me”. I was looking for love about like someone who has an allergy to work looks for a job. I let love in and returned it the best I knew how. Still no yellow bricks and definitely no ruby slippers.
Where was I headed? What was I doing? My direction was uncertain and my feet already tired. Could it be that what I had been searching for was under my feet the entire time? No. My road was supposed to be yellow. An adventurous road made of yellow bricks, leading me to a far off land where I would find myself and a place to bloom, to break free. This road was dirty, tattered with overgrown weeds of guilt and adorned with pot holes of low self esteem. This wasn’t my road. Or was it?
It seemed no matter how much I tried to uncover my path, scratch away the guilt and fill the holes, there was someone or something waiting to make a new mess. Including me. I tried everything to make the repairs and at times paralyzed by the fear of failing even more. So I learned to play it safe.
I took a teaching job around my kids, degree of study, and my love of helping others. Settled into the day in and day out. Eventually I even remarried( to the man who broke through that restraining order I had on cupid). Marriage, kids, step kids, a home, a career, joy, peace, struggle, ex’s, work, love, in-laws, judgement and antidepressants. Sounds like I had everything. I even learned to live with the journey. Maybe I wasn’t living with it. Maybe somewhere along the way, life decided my road wasn’t yellow. Maybe it wasn’t even made of bricks. And the slippers I once longed for had been reluctantly replaced with grungy tennis shoes. I walked the way I was supposed to walk, talked the way I was supposed to talk(well kind of), and I made sure that I cared about what everyone thought. I sacrificed my sanity to the opinion of others who never wanted to understand me. I obliterated my self worth with the over thinking of how I could fix the world including the grief that hung over our home. College graduation, marriage, career and yet I still was in search of a way home. Hadn’t I arrived? Isn’t this what I had worked for? Who am I? Where did the time go with my oldest daughter(as she prepared to leave for college)? What do you mean I have to keep walking? I was tired years ago. What do you mean I did all I could only to be pushed to limits and held at arms length. I learned to be perfect, just like requested. Not good enough? They say a woman comes to a point in her late 30’s where you can either get bitter or better. I was tired of bitter. And then it hit me.
I took off the tennis shoes, put down the antidepressants, and picked up what was left of my passion and my sanity. I walked barefoot and vulnerable on a new, yet somehow familiar road. It was then I could feel the earth anew. I learned to embrace where I had been and the hurt I tried for many years to suppress by trying to be perfect. It was then I was able to dig deep and sink my feet into the remnants of where I had been, the damaged remains and the freshness of new growth around me. The arms of my children and husband to hold me when the world gets too heavy to bare and new songs to sing. Literally. Was I finding myself in losing the list of unsurmountable expectations placed on us by the world, by society and even in-laws?. Or was I finding my worth because I was finally able to remove the “should have/could have” and toxic vocab from my own mind? I let go of “dreams aren’t for you”, even when so many who believe it within their own lives, projected it onto me with their ever- consistent ignoring of my efforts. My path was not of yellow bricks and no slippers to wish my way home. I’ve always been home. I just needed to learn to clean house a little better. So I did. I removed the clutter and took out the trash. Yes, trash. Don’t get me wrong. I am the biggest trash-to-treasure girl you will ever find. But sometimes projects that take ten years of your heart and soul, aren’t really projects; they are distractions. Soul suckers. So here I was, finding beauty in standing still and it didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother me that giving up a career to heal was frowned upon by those who couldn’t understand. It didn’t bother me that no matter what I did, it was never enough for some. It no longer bothered me that I would always play second fiddle to a memory of, not one, but two parents within our household.
What was once a race, had become once again a journey. Where there was competition, I found moments of solitude filled with nothing but time to find my purpose, to find the little girl, once obsessed with pink who longed for adventure, and peace in knowing it was right where I stood. I started to embrace the mess and the loved ones that give way to the becoming of who I was, who I am, and who I will be. The unexpected blessings that were being bestowed upon my life when I could have sworn they were punishments. The love of a husband so big and so steadfast that I still get overwhelmed when I think of how true the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” really is. Second chances at happy endings do exist. Happy endings filled with pot holes, weeds, dirt, beauty, love, hope, loss, and pain all along the way.
Maybe yellow brick roads are cold and the clicking of ruby slippers will rub blisters. While some paths seem to lead to nowhere, there are always sights to be seen and seeds to sow along the way. I hope we always find the courage, the heart, the brains to know home is where we find our wings to fly and the hope to put them to flight in search of our dreams . No matter your age. You see, you can’t go home. You carry it wherever you are. And wherever you are, wherever your hope and courage is found, there you will find the warmth of that thing we call home. I found the pot of gold at the end of my rainbow-colored road. It’s acceptance of your failures and gratitude for each day you have to hopefully help pave the way for those you call family. There really is no place like home. No place. No location. No X marking the spot. X’s can be erased and buildings can burn to the ground. Like our childhood home did.
Many times I wish to be able to visit the place I was raised. To lay in the grass under the same lot of sky and pretend all is well with the world. To imagine my entire family gathered around the table as my sister throws our dad a dinner roll. Come to think of it, Its as though I just clicked my heels and was carried there. Home.