High school was a rough time for me. My immediate family changed in strange, unpleasant ways and I found it hard to connect with my own blood. My siblings and I got older. We left my stepfather. My brother moved out. And my mother had to focus her energy on working to support our family as a single parent again. It was a confusing and painful time.
But there was a positive constant. My best friend Dan, and his family took care of me when I didn't want to go home. They fed me, supported me, cheered for me, and hoped for me, when I couldn't hope for myself. They were intense, loving people who taught me how to use a Mac, employed me to catalog their library in the basement because I loved books too much, and let me join them on trips out of town whenever I needed/wanted. Their love and warmth is such a beautiful memory for me.
And I got to see them yesterday after not really talking to them for months because life happens at speeds beyond measure. It was relaxing to talk to those people who gave me a home away from home when I needed it. Who loved me when they didn't have to.
Something that I didn't quite understand in our conversation at the time was when Dan's mom asked me hesitantly, Are you happy? I had told her a bit about what is currently good in my life: my supportive husband, that little boy I love so much, and school, always fascinating me when I can sit back and breathe and think about how much I'm learning. I told her about what is currently hard in my life: issues with parenting and siblings, with correcting my son who will stand in the middle of the room and scream if things aren't going his way, issues with communication and sometimes wanting to stay in a hotel for a night, just so I'm not woken up by elbows and knees crashing into my rib cage. Or dog shit on the floor because the dogs ate something they shouldn't have when I wasn't looking.
And yet, after telling her all these things and more, she asked if I was happy. I answered "yeah, of course" but I was still confused. Her voice was so quiet when she asked.
Today, it seems more obvious why she would ask me if I was happy. Because I wasn't before.
I wasn't happy before I moved to Lansing a little over five years ago. Now, I've spent years going to college. I got married to a really great, supportive man. I adopted a little boy who makes my heart burst with happiness when he isn't being a little butthead!
Yet, I never made it a point to tell them how much things have changed since high school and how happy my life makes me, when I look past the bad. I haven't connected with them like I did yesterday. I haven't made it a point to call, or text, or email besides when major life events like my wedding warrants communication. I haven't sent more than a Christmas card each year, and a "tell your mom I said hi!" every few months home to them. And I need to. I need to put more effort into staying in touch from afar, not just when I have the time to visit.
Because no matter where I go, and what I'm doing, they're still there in the town where I grew up, in those cozy homes where I felt loved, hollering a hello from the living room because they recognize my voice, even if they weren't expecting me to visit. Making me purple potatoes and asparagus, hamburgers covered in onions, asking several times if I need mustard sauce or ketchup or sour cream, and whether I want fresh pineapple, or chocolate ice cream, or some of the beautiful cake they made. No judgement on any level. Just love, love, love. Handing me a book with a touching note written in the cover. Embracing me in warm, calming hugs that make me feel whole. Asking if I'm still writing and showing me pictures they treasure from our years in high school, when Dan was my best friend, and they were my second family.