I suspect a lot of people, maybe most people, experience moments that make a deep impact on the course of their lives. This has been true for me. I'm not talking about dramatic events, like the loss of a loved one or sudden financial windfall, which would have redirected the course of my family. I'm talking about a moment in time that to no one else seemed particularly significant, but for some reason to me was a big deal. An action or a thought that resonated ... either to the mind or the heart in a way that it couldn't help but shape the future me.
I grew up in a smallish city in Southern Indiana, in a medium sized house that sometimes felt smaller because it made home for six of us. A fairly typical 1960's build, the upstairs held kitchen, dining room, living room, bedrooms and a bathroom. Upstairs was primarily for the business of life...eating, sleeping, getting ready to go out in the world, doing homework, reading quietly. The downstairs held the family room, play room, and utility room. Downstairs was for the more casual side of life...hanging out, watching tv, playing cards, playing pool, having slumber parties...the fun stuff.
There is a hallway upstairs that connect bedrooms and bath to kitchen, living and dining rooms. Although not a particularly long hallway, it probably still holds the memory of more footsteps than any other part of this house where my mother still lives. It is in this space that I made some decisions about my life. I'm not sure exactly why, but maybe because this space is kind of like a portal. Only big enough to scoot by another person and have an isolated interaction or have a few quiet moments to think before heading out into the family fray.
There are three especially significant hallway related memories. Two involved interactions with my parents and one was a decision that I made for myself that did, in fact, inform who I've turned out to be.
The hallway pat on the back...
This hallway that I'm speaking of is narrow. When we passed each other in it, it took some effort to get by without touching. I don't know if it was something my parents thought about specifically, but passing either of them in the hall often included a squeeze on the shoulder, little hug, or some other brief but consistent display of affection. I didn't think of it at the time, but looking back, those small interactions were grounding for me. I was a happy kid, but spent a lot of time rolled back in my own head, thinking about things all loose and dreamy. Creative and emotional, sometimes insecure and awkward, I could feel a bit "outside", a little untethered. I needed those connections. They served as literal, physical and emotional grounding for me. I have friends who talk about how their family weren't "touchers"...no hugs, pats, "I love yous"...I think I would've been set adrift.
You are my most different...
I've always been driven to create. I don't remember a time when I wasn't thinking about how to make something. By the time I was 10, I would save my allowance and wander the craft kit aisles at Ayr-Way (predecessor to Target). It was close to our house so I could walk there and take my time. I needed to have paper and pencils and markers and yarn and more complicated things like printmaking tools and oil paints. My mom taught me to sew in the 5th grade, so fabric became a big deal too. My dad would always be properly impressed throughout my purse making phase...which I think lasted about 2 years. I kept diaries off and on and wrote poems sometimes. As remains true today, when I was in a making space, either in my head thinking about a project or fully engaged in its execution, it was a happy and safe and energizing space. I also had a growing suspicion that I was a little different. Nothing spectacular that I could really put my finger on, but a sense that my siblings fit in a little better...did things and were interested in things that seemed a little more normal. I wasn't agonizing over it, but I was thinking about it; trying to sort it out. One ordinary day, my mom stopped me in the hall and said "honey, of all my children, you are the most different and I really love that about you." Those, of course, may not be the precise words, but that's what I remember. And it was validation. Sweet, triumphant validation. I had permission to be myself.
And then there was 7th grade.
I feel sincere awe and admiration for anyone who made it through the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades feeling confident and without serious angst. There are probably some out there who were magically able to negotiate early adolescent hell flawlessly, but most of us didn't I think. I woke up ridiculously awkward in the 6th grade. Where did that come from? By 7th grade, I knew my hair looked wrong, was pretty sure the friends who liked me yesterday probably wouldn't today, realized that my physical coordination was so uncoordinated that things like volleyball and softball were only another source of embarrassment, and, uh, let's not even talk about dancing... Funny now, but horrible then. And on top of that, there's was still the sense that I was a little different.
I had been thinking about this for a while; having conversations with myself. Thinking about what was important to me and wondering how well I would fit in (outside of parents who would always love me) if I kept becoming who I wanted to be. Many years later I would recognize that this whole process wasn't unique to me, but "developmentally appropriate". Most 7th graders are trying on different versions of themselves to figure out what fits and what doesn't. The easier part, though I didn't always feel successful at it, was having the right clothes, getting invited to the right sleepovers, going to the school dances (even if it meant not dancing and keeping your friends from realizing that you're not dancing) and learning how to be reasonably popular. The more difficult part was reconciling the versions that were becoming increasingly important to me, that I kept mostly hidden, because I didn't really see them mirrored in my friends. And it was those versions of me that I liked the best. It was loving to make things and do that differently...the burlap and leather purse, the skirt made from panels of all different fabrics. It was loving art and experimenting to find my talents. It was realizing that I was much more drawn to social justice and views of the world that I now identify as very left leaning but at the time simply seemed correct. Now I know these things aren't revolutionary or specific to me but at the time I didn't see them in my friends. In the 7th grade, it matters most what your current and future friends will think.
I had a decision to make. I made that decision in the hallway. It was a simple but striking moment of clarity. There wasn't an accompanying thunderclap or voice of god, but it was a clear moment and clear in my memory even now. I was walking down the hall and stopped to confirm...I am a little different and love that about myself. That sense of being different will be my path forward. No apologies.
Hi, I'm Donna. Long time artisan/creative. Full time work in nonprofit world. Mother of two adult sons. Currently, also mother of two cats.
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