Many people don’t, you know, but I just realized today that I did not. I wonder if, after all, that made me resilient sometime MUCH later?
Someone was writing today about missing her dad who had passed away, and she said he was her “rock.” I was about to write the same, since I also miss my dad, whom everyone adored including me. And then it came to me – I loved my dad very much, still do, but he was not my rock. No one was. And I was not that rock for my younger sister when she needed me…because I left home at 16 for college, when she was only 9, and basically didn’t look back. I wish I had been.
The challenge is, people internalize that rock and carry it with them as a stable, unchanging part of their identity, and I felt just…empty inside. I remember a poem I wrote when I was 21 or so, about removing brick after row of brick from the inside of me and finding…nothing precious hidden, just more brick. There were years later, when I was drowning under tsunamis of emotion, that that I would have given anything to be restored to that sense of isolated numb ennui I foundered in then. But I didn’t know who I was, and it took many more years to finally find my “identity.” I was luckier than many though, life at our house was lonely, but not overtly abusive.
I have always said I “grew myself up.” I remember my mother as a controlling angry woman, an alcoholic, and my dad placated her. He was the enforcer and we had to all behave, lest we “upset mother.” He did not in fact provide emotional shelter for my sister and I, as a “rock” would do. I am not upset about that, I am just having all sorts of interesting insights as I start on my book, and that is just one I lacked before.
We went to live in Europe after the Second World War, in Holland, with my grandparents. I was 8 years old. My grandmother, now SHE was my “rock,” for the 2 years that I had her close. I was named for her and I spent all my time with her when I was not in school. She died of a heart attack when I was 10, and I will always be grateful for those 2 years. I understand now that my mother was depressed and overwhelmed and I have long since forgiven her. When we were in Holland, she was often away enjoying “rest treatments,” and we had live-in maids to look after us, but as the oldest child, I especially was expected to function on my own. I largely did, though I paid a hefty price later and so did my children.
I had no rock of “place” either. Some people still remember friends and even teachers and neighbors they had when they were little. Many grew up in the same town withy the same friends and activities their entire growing up years. I’ve often wondered what that would be like.I went to three elementary schools, the last one in Holland, two high schools, three colleges during my undergraduate work, three during my graduate work. As an adult I have continued that pattern, living ten or fifteen years somewhere, then packing up and starting over somewhere else.
I was a reader. I think that the world of books was my rock, even in first and second grade. The characters in the books were my friends, and all the books I could get from the library were my stability. I still enjoy revisiting a world I enjoy in a book when life is closing in on me. For me, Pern’s Dragonriders are my go-to escape world on particularly fragile days.
Back Then – Someone has asked that I share stories of how things were back when I was growing up (I was born in 1941). When I was young, there was not yet television, much less the cyber-world of today. I was 53 years old before I had my first computer (and it cost $6,000). Just before we left for Holland in 1950, the first family on the block in River Edge, NJ got a TV, and every afternoon we would all go over there and crowd around for “Howdy Doody.” We did listen to stories over the radio… “Hi-Ho Silver…Awayyyyyy!” In Europe, no TV, and no stories over the radio. Actually, I count myself lucky in that regard. I probably had a much broader understanding of the world from all that reading, and of course from living overseas, than kids today get from watching TV or playing video games. The education system is FAR superior too. That’s a story for another day, but when we came back to the US they had to put me ahead 2 full years and I was still revisiting material I had already learned.