I just got back from a trip home where I spent time at a barbecue with my cousin’s family, my brother and sister-in-law, my niece and a few little children running around, swimming, playing musical chairs and crying on tricycles while wearing bunny ears. We caught up on what’s going on with everyone, who’s still watching Bachelor Pad and why it is that only people from Ohio seem to know what Corn Hole is and how to play it. (Terrible name, right?)
Now that I’m back in Chicago, I miss picking apples on Sunday morning. I miss the silly discussions about whether that smell is a skunk or the next-door neighbor smoking marijuana again. I miss hysterically laughing in the middle of the underwear aisle at Target when my mom shrieked during a last-minute game of hide-and-seek. I miss the red wine conversations about lime green MC Hammer pants and hearing an almost two year old child yell “shit!” for the first time. This is the stuff that makes up a life, these are the moments that make up a family. Instead, I’m in my apartment going through the belongings that make up my life getting ready for my move to New York in a few weeks.
Modern society has made it difficult for families to remain in close proximity. Whether it’s for a particular job or an education or a relationship, people are forced every day to make decisions that may not make it easy for them to be near the people they love. Sometimes they leave even though they want to stay and sometimes they run away because they can’t imagine ever staying.
When I was seven years old, I told my best friend I was going to move away. I wanted to get out. I had big dreams of becoming a meteorologist or a poet or a Broadway performer, saving the whales and putting an end to nuclear war. These daydreams filled me with hope for a future beyond my perceived limitations–away from a home rocked with turmoil by my father’s mental illness. He blamed us for everything wrong with him and we blamed him for everything wrong with our family. He would pull us in with grand gestures and promises of change and then push us away with anger, manipulation, isolation and judgment. You never knew which version was going to show up or how long it was going to last. Home was not a safe place to be. We resorted to silence as a preemptive coping mechanism. When he wasn’t home, it felt like we had stood in the eye of a hurricane and survived. Hope lived in that momentary feeling of freedom.
I don’t speak to my father much anymore. When I’m home, I don’t make an effort to see him. I know he’s lonely and broken, but I can’t make any of that go away. I could never do enough for him because he lives in the place where nothing is ever enough. It breaks my heart. Spending time with him is like walking across hot coals…and I have sensitive feet. If I don’t want to get burned, why start a fire? For years I lived with the hope that he was capable of change, that he could accept responsibility for his illness and realize how much we loved him and how much we had tried. But that’s not the way personality disorders work. He doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong and he wants a list to prove otherwise.
I’ve spent a long time trying to create a sense of safety for myself at the expense of a lot of other things…like creating a family of my own. But I don’t want to play things so safe I forget how to live. It’s time to save myself. As Martha Beck writes, “Hope is the shape of love not yet experienced.” And one thing is certain, I am ready to experience life in a way I never would have considered before and I’m willing to take a huge leap of faith to do it. So, I’m moving to Rhinebeck to create a new way of being in the world by letting go of what I thought I wanted for want I know I really need.