I was happy to have my baby blanket because it was cold in the car. The blanket was made by my grandma, lots of small squares of colorful cloth painstakingly stitched together in the form of a quilt. I didn’t understand what it meant back then. To me it was just familiar, comforting, colorful and warm. My chubby toddler hands bunched the baby blanket up under my cheek before sticking a fat, little thumb in my mouth. The back seat of the car was cold and I laid down, unbuckled, trying to sleep because that is what Mommy told me to do.
We were leaving. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know where we were going. To this day, I don’t know if we ever arrived at our destination or if we simply drove around until the sun came up only to return home. Sometimes I sit in the driver’s seat of my own car with my hands on the wheel and glance back in the rear view mirror. I imagine a toddler sleeping on the cold vinyl and I wonder how she could have taken me while leaving both my brothers behind. We eventually went home, so I guess her abandonment was never real, but I can’t help but wonder how she Sophie’s choice’d that night.
My parents fought a lot when I was a child. I remember people telling me I was lucky to have married parents when I was old enough to understand the impact of divorce. But was I? I learned that people in love can survive anything but I also learned that adult codependency forms a level of marital tolerance that is intolerable to children.
Before I was even a pre-teen I learned the following about love- If you are fighting with someone the only solution is to leave. Do what you must- walk home drunk and alone, lock yourself in the bedroom, drag the silence on for days on end, break things to make a point or, when necessary, kick the offender out of your car and leave them on the side of the road. I have successfully reproduced each of these actions multiple times throughout my early adulthood.
At one point, I remember crawling out from underneath my bed to investigate the aftermath of a parental fight. I was never afraid of the monsters under my bed because I knew that monsters were just the darkness within the people you love. The first thing I saw was a hammer in the bathroom mirror, the head buried and the claw sticking out like a beast trying to climb out from the fractured glass. Every mirror in the house was broken that day.
I have to stop here and tell you that my parents are actually quite incredible people. Although their early exploits left a long lasting impact on my ability to form healthy relationships, they did eventually outgrow and overcome all of the terrible lessons I learned from them. By the time I was a teenager, most of the drama was behind them and they have been blissfully married since. You see, mom and dad got married when she was 17 and he was 19. By the time my mom could legally drink she had two rambunctious boys and I was soon to follow. My parents clawed their way through self-discovery and postpartum woes while the poverty monster lurked in their codependent household. That was the foundation for my childhood.
My first marriage commenced when I was 19. I married my first husband because I thought I owed it to him. You see, I had my first major mental breakdown when I was 18. He could have left me; he probably should have. He didn’t though. I believed that I was lucky to find someone who would walk through the darkness with me. I believed that there was no way I would find another person who could withstand my illness. Our marriage ended when I was 26 (that is a story for another day) but I can tell you that the dark night of the soul began to end when I set myself free of my own learned codependency.
When I look in the rear view mirror of my car and see my toddler self sleeping on the seat, I am looking in the rear view mirror of my life and seeing forks in the road that were always out of my hands. I am the driver now.
Where will I go next?