I went home recently, but this visit placed me on a different plane. While I outgrew my troubled youth long ago, something profound happened this time – bringing me full circle.
I survived a very difficult upbringing, one that often leads to misery, prison, and/or death. What adds additional depth to this story is that the date my cousin settled on for hosting my aunt’s birthday party (March 10), is one of two birthdays I celebrate – 29 years of clean and sober living. While my body recovered from the abuse long ago, memories do not fade as fast as scars.
A few weeks before I arrived in Reedley, I became very anxious about going home. This is something that has happened for decades, for my hometown is littered with dark and light memories. However, as the date of departure got closer, my anxiety decreased. I had gained momentum with a particular project in my life, so this could have enhanced my mood, but I recognized something deeper. As the roads flattened and the endless rows of fruit trees and grapevines consumed my sight, I reflected as I always do, but this time with a positive perspective.
When I drove into town, I had different expectations – visiting with family, touring Fresno State University with my son, attending my aunt’s 84th birthday party, going to church as a family, visiting the graves, and then returning home. I was able to visit with some of the family, but instead of attending my aunt’s birthday party, I had to visit her in ICU. As usual, l was forced to face life as it is, not as I will it to be. Yet, my positive perception remained.
Our campus tour happened and while I have dark feelings about my son returning to an area that has caused me so much grief, I am armed with the knowledge that I raised a very different child. My other aunt and cousins were happy to entertain us, so we had dinner at our favorite Chinese spot and watched a few movies at my aunt’s house (a favorite childhood pastime). Most of all, I was blessed to have a deep discussion with one of my favorite cousins, who was forced to return from his former life, back to ground zero.
When Sunday arrived, I had very little time left for the graves. Time has always been an enemy, so I woke up earlier than I wanted to, so I could visit with the dead before church. I honored my deceased relatives and decorated their graves and when I had less than ten minutes, I ran to my childhood sweetheart’s grave. As I was running, Pandora switched on and the journey to his plot gained a soundtrack, Alan Jackson’s “Remember When.” As I ran, the first verse magnified memories: Remember when, I was young and so where you . . . It always takes awhile to find his grave; although, I will never lose track of the general vicinity, as it is marked by a huge pine tree. I placed the artificial flowers that I had purchased on his grave and I reflected on where we are now. My eyes settled on the mountains capped in snow, blurred by the tears that began to fall. An addict’s life is truly tragic, oftentimes, ending in a final high. As I stood over his body that has been resting for over two decades, I finally made peace with our paths. Ground zero is tough, but six feet under is finite. I grieve for my first love, as I grieve for the troubled girl of my youth. This grave, his grave, is not just his, it belongs to a part of me that sleeps.