I have this overlay of these kids. It's really hard not to. The girl to Elizabeth's immediate left is her best friend but they weren't friends until fourth grade so that's where my memory picks up and the first one I've got is this nine year old kid throwing herself into my arms in the pickup line because she was just so damn happy to be going to dance class with Elizabeth on open dance day. She's been throwing herself into my arms ever since. Yeah, she still does it. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to still be able to hold this child in my arms. The next girl goes all the way to kindergarten. She was never allowed to sleep over but her father let her come to all the parties. He would come back for her at 9 and quietly pick her up. I loved that he was so willing to compromise. The girl on the way far right (E's left) is the girl she's in Nicaragua with and I have to tell you, I don't remember when she showed up because by the time they made friends E was already dancing full time and wasn't bringing them home much anymore so I'm going to say this only goes back as far as seventh or eighth grade but they're tight.
Kids that get themselves moved from one town to another every couple of years have the benefit of leaving their history behind as well as the option of reinventing themselves entirely within a new context. It doesn't always work this way because the fact is, wherever you go, there you are but the truth is your history very rarely follows you. That little fact didn't occur to me as we moved from town to town until the last move because I was too busy holding my breath and breathing back tears, gathering the courage to jump into another murky, green lake of my own accord before something reached out and dragged me in kicking and screaming or pushed me off the dock. I disliked nearly all parts of moving but mostly I hated changing schools. I didn't so much think I might die as pass out in an unfamiliar hallway left prone on the floor while the student body parted and passed me by, unseen, unloved, and unwanted.
I spent what I consider five of the most important years of my childhood in one town. Five years blew away any other location and so I considered Glastonbury, CT home. I still do. We came to Connecticut from Michigan when I was six so I consider Connecticut home but I can still feel my Michigan roots. Maybe that's the memory machine still at work. When we came to Connecticut we spent two years in an apartment in Manchester followed by three years in Moodus which is part of the Connecticut River Valley and still one of the most rural and underdeveloped (read: backwoods) regions in the state. I can remember two moves in Michigan which required acclimation on my part but I was small and all it did was prepare me for what was coming.
The move from Moodus to Glastonbury was a slap in the face but nowhere near what was coming. I entered sixth grade in a school which brought the fifth grade classes from four or five lower schools together for the first time forming what would become the 380 (approximately) student graduating class of 1982. I wasn't entirely alone in being alone, but I was. On the other hand kids were still young and girls reached out. I had near instant friends and I was OK. By the beginning of my junior year when we were getting ready to make the move to Fairfield I was no longer OK. I wasn't in dire straights yet but I was walking a fine line. Gone were my friends from sixth grade and I spent most if not all of my free time on the back wall with the smokers and the freaks and the potheads and the good news was I didn't particularly like to be high at school because I didn't function particularly well or just wasn't comfortable not functioning particularly well but I was back there and for me that was like looking into the abyss.
When it was time to go my vice principal, who I knew fairly well by then invited me into his office not on a disciplinary matter but to talk about where I was going. He was worried. He didn't come right out and say worried but he wanted to talk about the cultural differences. He called it the Gold Coast and explained why. He talked about how the kids might be different and the money and how having access to that sort of money brought an entirely new breed of drugs into those school systems. He said I was intrinsically a good kid but that I was lacking direction but that this move would also give me the opportunity to reinvent myself, that I could be anyone I wanted to be. Who do you want to be, Alecto?
I want to play field hockey.
So that's what I was going to do. I was going to move into my new town, walk into my new school and figure out how to get myself onto the field hockey team even though I'd only ever played field hockey in gym and by the time you get to your junior year it's kind of hard to get on a team. They laughed at me. OK, fine. Archery. I'm good at that. On day two I shot someone straight through her achilles tendon, pinning her to the floor (DO NOT run forward to retrieve your arrow, you idiot). I couldn't bear the stigma. Cross Country. I'd been good at that. I'd started smoking. My lungs laughed at me and I wasn't in the mood to quit. I found the back wall. The funny thing is I didn't really make friends at my new school. I made friends where I worked and by virtue of that job made friends at the other high school but at my own I trolled the halls alone and eventually stopped going to most classes entirely, instead choosing to sprawl on the couch in the library working my way through Vonnegut and then later Dylan Thomas and a few other truly depressing poets.
In the end I survived this but it informed a good many of my life choices and had repercussions which echo in my life today.
Mike attended only two schools. He might have gone to three but we kept him in Stamford because of the marching band and therefore kept Lucia there as well. He graduated just in time to get Elizabeth into kindergarten where we are today which put Lucia into her third school in the eighth grade. Lucia's transition had all the makings of mine into Fairfield but halfway through the year she was rescued and the family breathed a great, collective sigh of relief. Both kids resented being picked up and moved. I apologized, mentioning that they really would not have wanted to stay in the first school system (Mike reluctantly agreed but Lucia couldn't remember) and pointed to Elizabeth and said, really, doesn't one of you at least deserve to be here? I'm sorry I couldn't have gotten this right sooner. They both reluctantly agreed but they will carry the scar tissue of abrupt change for the rest of their lives. This is neither good or bad, by the way. It just is.
Because here's the thing, after all my moves, after Mike and Lucias' two and three moves I have finally managed to raise one child in one school district from k-12. OK, she's not quite done but it struck me the other day that she's nearly through with her junior year which will make her a rising senior. I have done this thing. If something happened tomorrow and I sold the house she would be permitted, even encouraged to commute and continue through her senior year. No one is going to make her leave. She has been in this town long enough that her memories of Stamford are nearly gone. We drive by, or more accurately she drives by the old house on Weed Hill which used to have a beautiful red door and she glances quickly to the left and says, 'I really wish they hadn't done that', meaning replacing the door with something that just doesn't make sense on a mid-century colonial. But she says this thing because she has heard it from both her father and me and probably Mike and Lucia for years as we drove by. I don't know that she remembers the red door on her own. I ask her if she can remember her easter egg bedroom with violet walls and a just brighter than grass green carpet (1. I did not do this and 2. it actually worked) and she cannot. She can remember Lucia's bedroom because it had two steps down and then two steps up if you walked over a bit to the left. The walls, she tells me were painted like the ocean and there was sea foam at the windows (1. Yes, this I did and 2. It definitely worked). This part is true. But here, in this place it might as well be her entire life.
And she's desperate to escape.
A few years ago, maybe as many as four, she said something really funny about getting out of here and going to New York City because everyone was weird there and that was better. She didn't quite say it like that; she was much funnier but the thing is, she was serious. Elizabeth wasn't quite as buttoned up as she is today but she was working on it. Later when we were talking about schools her criteria began like so: 1. Location: NYC, ...
Elizabeth, we do not begin with location.
Mom, yes we do. I need to live in a city.
OK, how about Philadelphia.
Oh, hell no.
Oh. My. God. Just shoot me.
OK, wait, are you interested in the left coast at all?
No, I'm really not.
OK, so is there a specific part of the country you really need to be in or are you open to other parts, like the midwest, so you could look at Chicago, or maybe the south which also has some good size cities...
Yeah, no, just the northeast.
So, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (I know, that's a reach), NYC, Hartford, Boston, Burlington, Somewhere in Maine that thinks it's city?
OK, find me a school in NYC which does not cost 64k a year. Also find me one which does not cost 40k per year. And also find me one which is not in a neighborhood that will get you killed if you leave your dorm. Also find me one with a graduation rate above 80% and have you considered the SUNY and CUNY schools?
I do not want to go to the CUNY or SUNY schools.
I just don't.
None of this made any sense to me. The kid has a love affair with NYC. I get that. We let her loose last summer when she danced with Ailey and I wondered if we could find her some sort of gap year internship so she could work and commute for a year and get a good enough dose to let go long enough to take care of her education.
Later she tells me, I'm considering international schools. The top of my head quietly unscrews itself and leaves the room. Well, E, you'd have to speak the language, wouldn't you? Not necessarily and some of these schools are seriously affordable. Do you really want to be in Iceland? No, not really, I'm just trying to figure out how far I can get away from here.
How far I can get away from here.
Elizabeth. Why do you need to get away from here?
Mom, I cannot wait to get the hell out of this town. This place is going nowhere. Nothing ever changes. It's the same drama, the same people, the same things all the time. Sometimes I feel like I'm holding the walls up and you know what? They're the same damn walls every time.
OK, so I took some time to process that and tucked it away. I understand at least theoretically that kids that grow up in a small town have nothing with which to compare it to and do not understand the value of knowing literally every face they pass in the hallway and knowing by name and top three traits of every classmate in their graduating class. They don't know because it's all they've ever had; these friends and frenemies, rivals and acquaintances you nod at because you were inseparable in second grade.
There is this other thing I've been noticing about my daughter as well and I've been noticing it slowly as it grows, fleshing itself out, deciding what it wants to be or look like. I suppose she could just have shut down but she didn't. She's a relatively social animal mostly I think because she's tremendously empathetic. You don't see it on the surface anymore but when I listen to her talk about her friends, which is something she is cautious about because she isn't sure she should, she talks about the worries, the fears, the ways in which she cares for them. I know that isn't the extent of the relationships because I see other things but I do know she is deeply vested in their well being. She travels in at least three overlapping social circles which causes difficulty but she manages the traffic with her overall silence and her complete unwillingness to gossip. She listens. I am left wondering if she says anything about herself at all.
I ask if she talks about her boyfriend and she looks slightly put out. No, she says, they don't want to hear about it. This startles me. He goes to another school so they don't know him and this works for her because she doesn't want exposure in general but she has no one to talk to. She is buttoned up though and not likely to say very much other than when she periodically looks at me and whispers...'it's just that I like him so much'
There is almost nothing on her Facebook page. Periodically she will post something with her friends (once or twice a year) and on her birthday she will open her wall and allow people to post. If you tag her there is a 2% chance she'll allow it to post. Her page is in lockdown so that there will be very little opportunity for gossip and zero opportunity for a frontal assault. Even her friend list is hidden. She'll accept almost anyone but it won't get you very far.
I watch her on the two B3 videos we have so far. I watch her being someone she is not being at home and I think I get it. This kid, this girl, this young woman is aching to be. When you are known as who you are, defined from kindergarten or even preschool on, that is who you are and if you protect yourself, make a blank slate, even if that slate is nice, caring, and pretty, but lacking in sharp edges of any sort (except for the unexpected edges that jump out when someone's being bullied and you are scary enough that no one messes with you or yours) then you're just a canvas with all this stuff bubbling up waiting to be.
NYC? That place where everybody's allowed to be weird? Of course she wants to be there.
I do not regret bringing her here. I think raising her in the structure of a mostly unchanging town where the people are mostly good and well meaning was the right thing to do. I think she has a solid foundation from which to launch herself into whatever environment she chooses to set down her canvas and begin painting. I think her canvas isn't nearly as blank as she lets on.
I do wish I could take her to a production of Our Town. I wonder if she'd work out she'd danced in that town hall.