I was fortunate to be able to visit my parents over the weekend. It was my mother's 81st birthday. These are precious days.
Shawn drove me. I was planning to help drive. It's an easy drive, no cities, mostly beautiful Wisconsin countryside. The fall colors were still vibrant, and I felt the smile of God on me as the van chugged along the road and the dogs napped in their crate behind us. I was planning to help drive, but I didn't feel good, so Shawn shouldered the burden and did it all. Eight hours seems so minimal compared to the old eighteen.
I love the Midwest, everything about it. I love the big blue sky and the spreading fields, the neat red barns and even the names, German and Swedish and solid.
In my parents' town, people know me. Some of them I remember, although I remember faces more than names, and with the passing years, some of the faces look familiar but changed. The eyes and the smiles are the same, but the colors are gone, replaced with white hair, pale skin and more wrinkles. I want to know these people, and love them, and talk about old times with them. They remember when I was a little girl with big brown eyes and shiny braids. They are part of my history.
I am young when I am there. I was barely more than a teenager when I left, and that is how they remember me. Getting ready for church Sunday morning, I sat on the floor in my old bedroom and applied lotion to my legs. I saw myself in the old, long mirror on the wall. In dim light, lines in my face disappeared, along with gray hairs and spider veins. I didn't look much different than I had looked at nineteen, when I was just getting to know Shawn, wondering how it would turn out, peering into the mirror as though it could answer questions about my future. Now the future I wondered about is over and done: I married and raised four children. Who would've thunk?
Back home in Illinois, I have no history, and this is where the loneliness stems from. Nobody knows me here, what I was like as child or a teenager. Nobody knows what I am good at, or what I am afraid of, or what makes me happy, or my allergies. Renee Louise always used to make sure that there was fruit salad without kiwi in it for me, way back when. Way back when.
I am almost willing simply to adopt someone's idea of me, and become that, just to have something that I can be. Any identity seems preferable to no identity.
How can one's identity be so bound up in one's history? Who even am I? For so long, I was primarily the mother of Shannon, David, Laura and Jon.
It's funny. We changed churches when Jon was small. I realized, in the new church, that I had lost my identity as the pregnant lady. I'd been pregnant pretty much the whole time we'd been at the previous church. I was the scattered, struggling, pregnant mom with too many kids. And then, suddenly, I was not. I was the mother of four school-aged children and nobody had known them when they were babies. Nobody even knew that I was good with babies, or that I loved babies. My youngest was six, and we did things like soccer, homework and piano lessons.
And now I've lost it all, even more. Yesterday I went to the IGA to pick up some bratwurst for supper. We live in the Midwest, and I just had a hankering for brats. The lady ahead of me in line had a nice conversation with the check-out boy who, I gathered, was a drumline captain in the local marching band. I wanted to say, "Hey! Just last year, I was a marching band mom! My son played trumpet! Everybody loved him!" But I didn't say anything. The check-out boy politely greeted me and asked whether I'd found everything I was looking for. "Yes, thank you," I told him, but I was talking about the bratwurst, not all the things I've lost that I will never find again.
I wonder how I would feel if I met someone who knows someone that I know, someone from Minnesota or New York. I wonder if that would help?
The last time I moved, I created a new history for myself, over twenty-five years and pouring myself out into the lives of my four children. I became a person with a new history.
But I wonder if I am too old to go through all that again. Before we moved here, I dreaded starting all over trying to make a house a home, and wondered if I would die about the time I finished, if I finished. But now I am beginning to see that it is not just a house. The house is quite an external part of it. It is my history. I don't think I have it in me to create another history. Again.