Friday March 13 2021
There was once a young girl who dreamed of independence away from the hardships of her childhood. She wanted to shed herself of the years of limitations of what others otherwise enjoyed as part of their ordinary lives. There were basic needs she desired, such as winters where you could awake in the morning to a warm bedroom where you couldn’t see your breath and summers where you didn’t have competitions for the housefly kill stats. But really, the girl wanted autonomy. The freedom of choice was her noble goal.
And one day, she was granted the power to to make this happen. With her high school diploma, a part-time retail job, a tempermental’68 Ford Ranchero, and the suitcases gifted to her at graduation, she left her family and farm behind.
With the pride and inexperience that comes with youth, she next not only burned that bridge between childhood home and the future unknown, but proceeded to peace it out completely like it never even existed.
It only took a couple of months before she realized that adulting was hard. Sure, it was seriously crappy back at home and quite probably she was battling an undiagnosed case of PTSD, but shit y’all. The girl was completely unprepared to meet some of these decision points, like do you pay rent on time or buy a half-tank of gas to get to your job. She was counting change just to get a fast food meal once in a while.
Swallowing her pride, which was held together by thread at this point, she asked if she could come back to her childhood home. The answer was “this was your choice, so no.”
It took a couple of years for the girl to get her life back on track. She was never one to turn away from a really bad decision, and yet she was starting to get in the groove of looking towards the future instead of just surviving.
This was that girl. A snapshot in time that doesn’t reveal much of anything to the observer, either at that time or these many years later. You wouldn’t know she slept in her clothes so she didn’t have to undress during those cold winter mornings. Or that she spent hours walking through the woods with her dogs and dreaming of stories that she might write someday. That lip-glossed Mona Lisa smile doesn’t expose how she and her best friend since fourth grade had started their unintentional but inevitable drift away from each other.
The girl was scared and sad and hopeful and lonely and desperately in need of a hero, though she would have denied all of it to her death.
Today, she is a survivor with the hidden scars to mark her journey.
I’d stored that girl way deep into the archives of my mind, with only an occasional memory bubbling up from time to time. Until today, when I opened a letter from my Aunt Vicki, with the photo tucked inside. “Your father,” says Aunt Vicki. “kept this photo near him all these years. He loved you and your sister.”
I don’t remember sending this 5X7 photo to my biological father, so it was probably my grandmother who did. Actually, I do recall mailing my high school graduation announcement to him and it was told to me later that he simply tossed it in the trash. It’s with this info that I consider that if he did indeed keep this photo “near him”, it was more likely in a safety deposit box than displayed within a silver frame in the living room. After all, the photo returned to me is in mint condition after all these 40+ years.
I could say my relationship with my bio dad was complex, but really it’s not all that complicated to be truthful. He left us early and came back too late. Nothing much was in between those fifty years of void that involved this man and his first child. When he unexpectedly passed last year, I emoted my feelings in the journal posting of 46. A beginning and ending without a middle. And in the interest of unblemished journaling, I have not edited that post. It’s more than a bit raw and I’ll give a heads up that there is some strong language there.
I look at this photo now with the eyes of a woman who has experienced both the joys and challenges of a life well-lived. I can’t go back and give this young thing advice on how to do things differently to make her path a bit easier. And you know, I still wished she knew her value. She was a lovely person with a heart of gold that would go on to make a world a better place in the unique ways only she knew how to do.
If someone could have convinced this young girl of her worth then, where would she be now?
Be the hero you once needed.