I did not have a happy childhood. I did not have a sad childhood. I definitely had happy experiences, but it was a very weight-of-the-world-on-my-shoulders kind of existence. I was aware of our poverty pretty early, and of how much stress it caused my mother and I wanted her to be to happy. So I worried a lot about ‘making it better’ for her. And felt very helpless in the face of not understanding how life worked so I could ‘fix’ our lack.
I am not a nostalgist. Friends comment often on my lack of pictures. I rarely throwback on Thursdays. My origin story was so uncomfortable, even as I was going through it, that early on, I shuttered those halls, and wrote off history.
So it’s been a surprise to me both times this year when some experience -really it feels like a kind of bread-loaf sized packet of complicated emotions- that I never would have thought indelible, wells up in me.
On an exceedingly brief trip to Washington, DC in March I found myself trying to walk by all the places I had lived there, and visited constantly by ghosts of the interactions I had. D.C. was my first real stab at adulthood. Which means it was actually my last adolescence. Luckily, both the friends and the mistakes I made were deep and dear in equal measure. And the fear and anxiety made choices I am very glad I lived through to get to now.
Yesterday, I was making blueberry oatmeal muffins, and the brown sugar was three quarters of the way to hard. That is, if I steadily drove all of my upper body weight through the stacked heels of my hands I could just get the block to start to yield and partially crush. Memory came on with that stinging scent of rubbing alcohol. A thin seam of sharp pain zipped open and closed in my chest lightning quick. I remembered baking cookies as a child and hard brown sugar being an insufferable defeat.It was so frustrating it would make me cry because I wasn’t strong enough. Sugar should have been simple, but I wasn’t strong enough.
I felt unexpectedly happy to be visited by this past self, to feel what ground me down 30 years ago, and know how the story ends; know that I have found solutions between then and now for times when I didn’t feel strong enough.
The muffins are good. I still get obliterated coming face to face with my own frailties. And such, my dears, is life.