Normal people simply don’t wear stripes with polka dots. Too late, I remembered my mother’s words. New town, new house, new kid on the playground—again. Working little knitting needles back and forth, making a long strip of nothing, I pretended not to stare at the groups frantically embracing the freedom of sunshine while the outer classroom wall warmed my backside.
Pulling more yarn from my oversized pockets, I realized I had settled onto a pile of dirt. Stripes, polka dots and grime—great way to fit in. I won’t care, I promised myself, and I won’t cry.
As an adult, I look back on all the times we moved into a new home, State, neighborhood, and school. I realized that memories of this move stood out. It was the first time I had consciously decided not to try to make friends or adapt. What would be the point? We were transferring mid-year, and my new classmates would already have formed their tight little clicks. Besides, even if I made friends, we'd never be staying long enough to keep them.
Breakfast had been sad. Daddy was scowling, his uniform so creased with starch it looked unbearable.
“We’re nomads,” I accused, brave for once, saving all my fear for the class of fifth graders.
“We’re military, Kathleen,” was his curt reply. No smiles. No sympathy. Around the table were the tolerant or sullen eyes of brothers and sister who had also lost friends and schools to the constant travel, and Mama, determined to act cheerful.
Sitting against the school yard wall during the lunch break, I reluctantly remembered the scene. Misery doesn’t love company. It prefers to wallow in the belief that its own is unique and precious, shared by none. Unequaled. A hanging thread on the hem of my dress distracted me from thoughts of eggs gone cold amid the silence of unspoken complaints. I pulled the tread, watching it unravel like my past life. The hem parted, drooping like my spirits as the bell clanged, signaling the afternoon’s confinement.
Students were filing inside when I heard the raucous sound of laughter. I erected a glazed wall between my eyes and the students before glancing over. No one caught my gaze, but somewhere between knowledge and suspicion, I always figured the laughter must be at my expense. Quietly joining the end of the parade, I left morning behind.
What can we say as adults about our childhood memories? By the time I graduated high school, I had been in sixteen schools. We traveled more than most military, I think, since Dad was helping set up nuclear power plants. That doesn’t take long. Get it done and move on. We saw most of the country, though, and learned a great deal. As Mom said recently, we were all changed, but not damaged.
Life is full. Some people learn that earlier than others. Insecurity, loneliness and pain can’t occupy the entirety of a human existence. They only serve to illuminate the intermediary spaces. Like a puzzle, I filled my box with pieces, and my self-portrait developed: music, books, writing, crafts, humor. As the picture began to unfold, people gravitated to it, some interested to glimpse details, some willing to share their own.
I love to count my blessings. I just think we should remember our trials, as well. They help make us who we are.