My reaction to today's unexpected encounter is baffling. I'd love to figure out why reminders of my past always seem to inspire doldrums.
She did look familiar to me, but I couldn't imagine why. Then she came over and introduced herself as an acquaintance from a summer camp during high school. She had been shy; I had been shy. Two such people rarely befriend. I was able to recall her sweet disposition even though I hadn't known her well.
The sadness that overcame me was not about her. It was about missing my old life. Back then I had a mother. I had a best friend, Sandy. I had a family, far from perfect but family nonetheless. I lived where I had grown up, where I knew a bunch of people and even had relatives. My family was not strong, not close, but it was better than the nothing I have now.
I had big dreams. The sky was the limit. I knew I could become whatever, whomever, I wanted. Within the safety net, real or imagined, of my family, friends, school and community, I was free to dream, to choose and to thrive.
Going away to college was a rude awakening. Real life, away from support people, hit hard. I cried over the phone, asking my mother to come and get me. Wisely, she didn't. I stuck it out.
Then I got a job in the city I live in now. It was even farther from home, but it's difficult to get a job in my field. Scared, I hung around with anyone who'd have me, almost. It was bearable because my mother still visited often enough. She came here when I got sick, or when my laundry was piled up beyond belief, or when things got tough, really tough, like when my boyfriend committed suicide.
She was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and lived only eleven more months. To try to survive without her, I latched onto a new boyfriend, which proved to be a bad choice indeed. It's good that we eventually broke up.
I had friends, so I thought. But when my child entered the scene, those friends, all single and childless, fell by the wayside. This is a common phenomenon- single people don't unusually gravitate toward the "family-oriented."
At this point, I have no place to fit in. The parents I have met at my child's preschool, then elementary school, are all married, and they steer clear of single mothers.
Even so, most of the time I'm perfectly capable of playing whichever role is called for in our two-person drama: I'm usually the mother, sometimes the father, often the grandparent or the sibling. Once in a blue moon, my child actually attempts to take on an adult roll, when he can see that I'm totally spent. I guess there's no real reason for me to feel sorry for myself, since we're apparently functional. But, I see now why the memory jolt brings tears. People thrive better when surrounded by and supported by others. Hillary's right. It takes a village.