Here is a little excerpt from my book, which is about my first weeks living on my own in Minneapolis, trying to find my way after being displaced by my family because I left their church. One of my college friends introduced me to a bar around this time, and I found a home there because I had nothing else.
Warmth flowed through my body as the humid air kissed my taut, tan skin. After a couple beers, my breathing relaxed and my thoughts slowed. It was all about the moment. My friends were laughing around the bar and I was smiling at everyone with my dark outlined lipstick, white teeth, and a sense that life was nearing perfection. Everyone seemed to be my friend who was there to talk to, confide in, and savor. When our favorite songs came on the jukebox, we shrieked in shared recognition and sang along – sometimes using our beer bottles as pretend microphones. Those were the days when you could still smoke inside, and a cloud of our collective and constant cigarette smoke hung around us as a byproduct of our good times. Into the early morning hours, we would carouse and feel on top of the world, as if nothing could touch us. “I love you all!!!” I thought. Surely, they felt the same way about me.
The sun came up fast after these nights. Through heavy eyelids, I squinted at my alarm clock. It was after 10:00 a.m., and I had to be at work at Lenscrafters by 1:00 p.m., where I was still training as an apprentice optician. My cats, Freya and Venus, were in bed with me, playing with each other. They were my backup alarm clock. Rustling around in my king-sized pink comforter with large tulips, I stuck my feet out and closed my eyes. This was the best bed ever, and it took up much of my studio apartment. Friends laughed when they came over because it was so all-consuming and made me look like all I did was hang out in bed. But it was a bed that I had bought with my babysitting money several years before, from an ad in the newspaper. There was a lot of storage space: a giant headboard that spanned the bed, with an oval mirror in the middle and cubbies on each side, drawers along the base of it, and a long tunnel from the foot to the head. It was made of dark wood, maybe oak, possibly painted particle board, and it was adorned with rustic gold accessories and drawer handles that clinked when they dropped after use. I rolled over again and the cats jumped off. My head was spinning, but I had to get up.
Sitting up, I looked out my row of long windows out at Minneapolis, which was already well into the work day, stretching forward toward the chipped green polish on my toes. Today was a 1:00-7:00 shift, which meant that I would be at the bar by 8:00 p.m., with a beer in hand by 8:15. Unless I had a couple beers from my keg first. Leaning back, I looked in my headboard mirror at my makeup-smeared face. What time had I even gone to bed?
I’m both ready and not for my daughter to leave for college. I know she’s going to the best place, a truly wonderful place, where she will be able to spread her wings and fly. And I will be able to work on my empty-nester bucket list, that has been in the works since I became a mom at 18, and enjoy some of my own newfound freedom. I’m excited because I know that she will be able to chase her dreams, meet so many people from around the world, and expand her world. I hope that she will find her sense of home and community. All of my motherly worries are wrapped up with joyful anticipation into a giant knot of mixed emotions in my stomach. This moment is what I have prepared her for all these years: a successful launch into adulthood. It’s a time that has always been very abstract, that never felt like it would really happen. But now that it’s here, I attempt to process it. Although I know that this won’t really begin to happen until I watch her walk away from me – with more permanence than waving goodbye on the school bus to kindergarten, the first venture to camp, or those early play dates. She will be back, but it won’t be the same. In my heart, I know that she will carry my love with her, and it will be a light to help her find her way in her life and lead her back to me. She will always be my sweet, funny, curious, precocious little girl who taught me about love and life. That is why it is both so hard and beautiful to let go in such a big way.
I started a nonprofit several years ago, called The Youth Legacy Foundation. Here is a recent blog post that includes a link to our most recent e-newsletter. Lots of updates, for example, an upcoming presentation at the U of MN! I invite you to browse the website, which is rich in resources geared toward empowerment and inclusion of youth with disabilities. Click here to check it out…..
A chain of paper suns decorated the perimeter of my apartment near the ceiling. They smiled down on me. I had picked them up in a party supply store. They didn’t exactly fit, but they made me happy. I guess I didn’t really care if anything matched. I had my own little space – a studio apartment in Uptown Minneapolis. There I was, in the middle of an artistic, urban Mecca. I could do anything I wanted! So I decorated my apartment with paper suns. I had never had this kind of freedom before – nobody to tell me what to do, how to dress, what language was appropriate or not, and if I was allowed to pierce my nose on not one, but both sides. My giant water bed, with a regular mattress, took up most of the main room in my studio. A picture of myself as a child was propped up on the top of the built-in dresser in the short hallway from the main room to the bathroom. I didn’t have anywhere to hang my clothes, but I didn’t have many. And they fit in the drawers, with room to spare. Over the summer, I would dump my mail into one of the lower cupboards and neglect it in favor of beer, rollerblading, and exploring without restrictions or parental complaints. On the top, I placed things that I liked to look at: my Little Bo Peep porcelain doll, doilies that I collected, perfume bottles (some empty), a porcelain Cinderella figurine that I got from Disneyland, a wooden frame that my great-grandfather had made (without a picture), a few textbooks that I couldn’t bear to sell back to my college at the end of the semester, and a rough poem I wrote from the heart. This gap between being in the church, caring for my younger siblings, and living at home under strict rules, and becoming a single mother would last approximately three months. I was 18, shifting from one world to another. Moving between walls of definition, I twirled, and I transformed – so quickly it was like riding a wobbly unicorn on a carousel in the middle of the night, as it flew off its base into an improvised scene from Alice in Wonderland.