I seem to find sanctuary in chaos. Even as I write this now, I’m sitting in my car, engine on, muscles tensed, left hand gripping the paper; a representation of the reaction to a life led not in gradual stages but in fragmented transitions. ‘Transitions’ would be a gross understatement, as the moves and resettlements I’ve made since emerging from the womb have made up for those of a dozen people, at least. I wouldn’t give it up for anything, the life which was given to me and the life I’ve moulded from it – even the parts that were frightening, the parts that I’m still not quite sure how I got through and the parts I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. There have been moments throughout this turmoil, this strange and segmented life – which made me believe that one day I’d find comfort in stability. It hasn’t happened yet, and though I’m happier and in a safer place than I’ve ever been in, I still find myself on alert for the next possible escape, for the exits which have always existed as my only safe haven. Until last year, I bit my nails out of anxiety until there was nothing left, and I still battle with the constant urge to binge on sugar-laden foods when I’m alone to fruitlessly fill what remains of the corrosion in my heart and to stifle the sort of loneliness that swallows a person up like an undertow. I take a breath. I have to remember to do that when I’m programmed to halt everything in anticipation of the next wave of pandemonium.
Funny, looking back – I was getting straight A’s when most kids would have dropped out. Doing homework at homes I would only be in for a few months at best, amidst a mass of moving boxes from a previous life of prosperity – many of which hadn’t been opened since the 80’s, shuffled through our 20 plus moves. Writing essays on top of these dilapidated brown U-Haul boxes when we didn’t have a table to sit at and perching myself precariously on the entryway railing with an old laptop to try and catch the neighbor’s internet signal when we couldn’t afford to pay for our own. I’d be interrupted from this process a handful of times by a crying infant, as I was 16 in the memory I’m currently entertaining and had in the year prior become an aunt to my half-brother’s child – who my mom and I would take on in our care since Justin’s Asperger’s prevented him from being able to function in the capacity of a father. My family consisted only of my mother and grandfather who was in his 90’s at this time, so I was appointed co-parent as I was the only person capable of helping her raise the baby.
Diaper changes, colic upsets, spit ups, and tempering fits of wailing became commonplace in my teen years, as did never knowing where we were going to be in a month, sometimes a week’s time. Though relocating was something that had always been part and parcel of my life – it went from moving globally out of luxury like a couple of cavalier explorers, to moving like vagrant gypsies because we were being evicted…again. When we were raising Shea, I dyed my hair pink (and blue, and turquoise) – not because it was a show of troublemaker or larrikin tendencies but because I loved creatively challenging assumptions. How could a straight-A student have pink hair and dress like a punk? And even more, how could she be raising a child? When holding Shea in public, people assumed I was her mother, a girl who so carelessly got herself pregnant, so I became used to the glares and ostracisation. I’m lucky I got a kick out of sociology and assessing human behavior, because objectively speaking it was quite fascinating seeing the reactions. So, I was challenging while being wrapped up in the challenged situation I found myself in.
Move, suppress, change, move, suppress again…it’s like breathing – if you hold it long enough you cease to believe you have to experience the living part of it again. I didn’t have time to stop and grieve – for the loss of my mother, as she announced through actions and words her renouncement of that role for me as she had another to care for, or to even understand what all of it meant. The chaos which existed amidst the toxicity was a safeguard, for if I’d had a moment to stop and de-mystify what was occurring, I would have renounced my own role as daughter long before I did. As Fran, my spiritual healer, said: When you run fast enough, you don’t have to take a look in the mirror. Breath, stop, breath. My exhale become an outpouring of my past. The pain in my spine carries years of burden atop my shoulders. It’s a weight I’ve dragged along with me for so long, like an overflowing rucksack in my gypsy caravan of memories. Memories so segmented and halfway subdued they feel like glimpses of a past life.
Always in fight-or-flight mode, I’m most comfortable in chaos. Those A-grade papers were always written atop the cardboard boxes, often amidst a baby I had cradled in my arms – and so I find it difficult now to know ‘how to be.’ I grew up quickly in bizarre circumstances with a mother who joked I was more of an adult than she, and everyone could see it. I’m learning what a normal life is, though I laugh as I know ‘normal’ is not my forte, but being strange in a safe place would be fine with me. Safe, God, what is that truly? Whenever the time comes that I can fully feel safe, I’ll know that I can stop running. In the meantime, I find solace in the philosopher whose verses have always enraptured me. Little did I know when I first picked up my late-grandmother’s worn copy of The Prophet that the words inside would not only resonate so deeply within me years later but would become a treasured motto – “The deeper sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” Prophesizing indeed – my middle name is Joy!
This life I’ve led, emerging barefoot in the jungles of Central America and Mexico, amidst celebrities and the world’s most sought-after enclaves, taking an unexpected decade-long detour to relocations, repossessions and too many repressions, to an almost surreal rest-stop in a paradise of white sand beaches, turquoise water, hopping marsupials and voices so different from my own – to become who I truly am. It has allowed me the opportunity to experience utmost gratitude as I never knew possible, because I’ve come to a place where I can pause long enough to exhale the past and let in all of life’s beauty and wonder. Finally able to experience the elements of childhood I never had, this pure sense of feeling, as if I’m touching the sand and smelling the salt water for the first time with sheer clarity. It has always been so fleeting for me – the raw, true kind of happiness that exists in safety, so I will ever so gently embrace it now. My gypsy spirit is, and always will be, vibrantly alive within my soul – and jungles and bare feet always more real to me than anything – but I can hope one day I will be beckoned back to whatever will exist as my home.