Growing up, we moved a lot — from North Dakota to California to Iowa — and always for my parents’ jobs. One time for a construction gig in San Diego and another time to buy a fast-food joint in the heartland. And each time we kids got notice of an impending move, I’d watch my older sister sob uncontrollably and wonder what the big deal was.
I liked the idea of an adventure and starting over as someone new, someone better. When we made the trek from Bismarck to San Diego, I was nine and thought I was going to live out the Beach Boys song, “California Girls,” in real time.
But I did make two friends and then lost them. I don’t remember what happened, but know things rarely work out in threes. Pairs, yes. But in threes, someone always seems to feel or get left out. Either way, I made friends (I think) with Hiroko. She had just moved to California from Japan. Hiroko had jet black, stick-straight, shoulder-length hair and bangs. And she always wore a navy blue pleated skirt, white blouse and frilly socks. More importantly, she spoke little English. And I spoke no Japanese. So we had little to talk or argue about. But she was someone to eat lunch with.
On the upside, during that same time, I became friendly with a cute boy named Chris King. He was popular, nice and played soccer. We shared our first kiss behind the row of portable classrooms. And then my parents told me we were moving.
When we left California — a year later — for Iowa, I was relieved. This obviously sheds more light on my social state considering no one should be excited to leave The Golden State for flat fields of corn and humidity. But I was excited to get another opportunity to make friends and be cool.
Being the new girl from California wasn’t enough to impress sixth graders. So I tried in other ways. I called a boy a bitch. She cusses! She’s tough! She’s cool! they’d think. Instead someone shouted, “Boys can’t be bitches, Meghan,” with an eye roll.
How was I supposed to know? Aside from moving a lot, my parents were busy and heavily involved in their own shit, so everything I learned about making and maintaining friends was from Sweet Valley Twins, Laverne & Shirley, Nancy Drew, The Munsters and The Brady Bunch.
And, because I was surrounded by so much chaos at home, I shrouded myself in a world of fantasy in an effort to escape, in an effort to belong, to be accepted. Nick-at-Nite accepted me. Books accepted me. Twinkies and Capri-Sun accepted me.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t bullied or anything. I was just a loner — oftentimes with my head in the clouds or buried in a book. Eventually I graduated high school early and trekked off to Tennessee and then Arizona. Taking off was easy. I wasn’t committed to anything or anyone.
Having a kid changes that. Gone are the times when I could just say: Fuck it. This isn’t working. I’m out. I have someone to take care of. Someone who depends on me. Someone who looks up at me and says, “Mama, hold me,” and wraps his 2-year-old chubby arms around my neck as he coos, “I love you, Mama.” Someone who tells me he’ll miss me when I leave for work. Someone whom I love wildly. Someone whose photos I scroll through in my phone while I’m at work because I miss him, too. That said, I sometimes flirt with the idea of not going home. Just skipping my exit and letting the freeway be my guide. But those thoughts are few and short-lived.
But on bad days, I take the long way home or drive around the block a couple of times — in an attempt to prolong the inevitable chaos that awaits me behind the front door. And then I remember how lonely I once was, and how grateful I am to get to make dinners, give baths, read stories, have dance parties, clean up poop and trip on toys, so I smile and pull in the driveway.