Raleigh Half-life

by - August 31, 2017

I have been looking forward to this year of my life, particularly this fall season. I am 36 years old and have been in Raleigh for half my life. Fall always signifies change is coming that I can feel deep in my bones. I still remember picking up a maple leaf on the back side of the student center, just outside a c-store, and saving it as a remembrance. I don't know what year it was or what I was trying to remember. Perhaps it was when I had just ended my first ever dating relationship or perhaps it was just a still moment by myself, but I remember the feeling inside. There I was alone with myself, melodramatically observing how things constantly change around me, but if I quiet my soul, there I can still find me. I can catch a glimpse of the same girl I've always been -- still with a quiet heartache and a permeating peace over the continued loneliness inherent to humanity.  

Eighteen years ago I embarked on a new life in Raleigh, NC. It was sometime mid-August, and Park Scholars checked into the dorms about a week early and headed off on a freshman retreat. My roommate and I met back in the spring and decided rooming with someone who seemed tolerable was far better than leaving it to chance. All I had to go on was her thick mountain accent and the church plaid skirt she wore to the banquet, and that her dad looked like a bear of a man who used very few words and her mom was southern sweet and pregnant. It turns out you should never judge a Jeccabear (as she calls herself) by her plaid. I reflect on her because she was there for this pivotal moment in my life and many more to come. She and I met at a crossroads in both our lives, on the edge of becoming, in the process of stripping away childhood, still unsure of who we really were. She's one of my few current friends that has a pretty good idea who my parents are, saw my brother and sister when they were still kids, saw me through my first breakup, and stood by me at my wedding. In some ways, she has seen the child me and the adult me, and I believe she knows the essence of me. This is different from family, because as much as we give each other room to grow, I think we always see the child version of our siblings. It takes a lot of work and a lot of new interaction to see who they have become, but this isn't a bad thing. No one will ever understand our responses to the world in the way our siblings do. However, a longtime friend who has lived with us along the cross-roads can help us to grow and evolve while simultaneously holding us to our true selves. 

We had awesome loft beds and I drank a lot of root beer.
My kids started back to school this week in second and fourth grade, so I have a few more quiet moments to myself to check in and see if that girl is still there. As I move farther away from childhood in distance and years, I find it odd that my childhood still looms so large. How I interact with the world around and within my relationships stems from childhood experiences and how I was raised. Maybe it is large because the essence of who we are doesn't change that much, and childhood is that essence with the very first layers of social conditioning upon what all else is added over time. Childhood is our initiation into the world, and all our first interactions... first disappointment, first heartache, first physical injury ... are the truest to who we are. How we were taught to mitigate those first experiences is formative to how we move forward and handle future challenges and conflict. Our convictions and passions evolve, but how we felt in those first moments and what we then did with those feelings reveals our intrinsic nature and wiring. It's why no one will "get us" the way family gets us. 

Raleigh isn't just a place where I've spent half my life. Chattanooga is the box I came from and the place where I was assembled, but Raleigh is where I started working on building new parts, even reconnecting some of my own wiring, and figuring out how to run this mess. Sometimes what I've become doesn't seem to match the picture on the box, and that's disorienting. I'm sure we all feel that in ourselves, even folks who never left home. Painfully though, I catch myself being me in a way I haven't been for years. It's like one of those accidental selfies, bad angle and no make-up, when you didn't expect to see yourself on the screen, and you say "Awww shoot. That's me." Or maybe you use more colorful language. It's when you think you've been rewired and fixed, and you think you've stuffed parts back in the box but then they are suddenly back on full display. It's when I've determined not to be a face-picker but travel back home and sit up on my pink childhood sink and murder my pores one by one under the cruel vanity headlights. It's when I've convinced myself that the high school comparisons are a thing of the past and end up down some Facebook rabbit hole wondering how everyone stayed so close to each other but so many of my old friends are completely off the social grid, and what's wrong with me that I never see old high school friends? Was I a total jerk? Did they all hate me? Or when I fall into that panic of what will I be when I grow up? Wait... Girl, your ass is ollllld. It's not always painful. Sometimes I get delighted to find aspects of my personality are still intact, even with the ways parenthood can totally twist me up.

It's good to peel back layers and see who's still there. Obviously we need layers. As with onions, it's grow or rot. I've put on a lot of new layers in Raleigh, and I can grow bitter or I can grow sweet, but I can't turn into a rutabaga.

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