|Lost and Found|
Tuesday night, I left work around 5:30 to take the subway a few stops to connect with the commuter rail, which takes me home.
I stepped on the orange line and found an empty seat next to a middle-aged black woman, but the seat was full of Doritos crumbs. Normally I would just stand, but it was warm and I was tired and wanted to sit. "Oh my", I mumbled to myself, as I brushed the Doritos crumbs to the floor, which I noticed was already littered with larger Doritos chips.
"Yes," said the woman. "A girl just got off and was eatin' those things, spillin' them everywhere."
"Kind of a mess," I said, as I settled in beside her.
"Her tax dollars are used to clean this train," she said moderately sarcastically, pointing to a sign on the train that said the same thing.
I smiled. "I doubt she pays taxes, if she left it like this - she was probably a student."
"Ohhh, girrrrl, you are probably right!" And we laughed together.
Strangers don't usually talk to each other on the train; most of the time the protocol is that you don't even make eye contact. You stare intently into your book, or at your reading device or phone, or off into space or at the floor like you are deep in thought. The orange line in Boston is no exception; it is one of the "rougher" lines in the city, but I have been in the city for OMG about 15 years now, and *knock wood* I have never had any problems with it.
And here I was, after a long day at work, chatting with this beautiful woman of color, over crumbs of Doritos. I was on that line for only 7 or 8 minutes, but in that time, we talked about that nameless child, leaving her crumbs all over, which inevitably led to the discussion that revolved around how so many younger people these days do not respect other people and/ or their surroundings.
She told me a story about what she had seen just a few stops earlier: an early teen girl mouthing off to her mother, loudly, on the train and how the mother was just too tired to argue and let her get away with it. I raised my eyebrows and said that I would have never had the guts to do that to either one of my parents - I was mouthy in my own home as a teenage girl (Lord, how I was) but out in public, my mother would have only had to turn and give me one second of...THE LOOK...and that would have not only shut me up, but shut me DOWN.
We laughed together - she was 50 years old, she said (did NOT look it!) and had kids that were 19 and 20, and they are all trying to figure out where the line is drawn nowadays, between her children respecting what she says, and her trying to respect their space and decisions as young adults.
And that reminded me of a story that happened over half my life ago, which I told to this complete stranger (a shorter version), and which I would like to share with you.
It was late August, 1993. I was 17 and it was a week before I moved to college for my freshman year. I was going to a college 200 miles away from home to study music.
I never had a job while in high school, but I babysat every day after school and most Saturday nights - and my parents were happy enough that I was doing that instead. I made a lot of money that way and saved it like crazy. Anyway, because I didn't have to get up early for a day job, I spent my last high school summer sleeping late and hanging out with my friends every single night.
My mother knew all of my high school friends; she had worked on many of the school musicals I had been in, and was a kind-of stage mom to most of my friends. She knew these kids, and knew they were good kids. I did not drink or do drugs, and none of these kids did, either. They were all silly but responsible kids, like me. I mean, we all crashed at my house after the senior prom - boys and girls - and she was fine with it - in fact, she INVITED it, since she at least knew where we were and that we were all sober and safe.
And so she gave me a lot of freedom that last summer, to stay out late with them and spend my last childhood days watching movies and hanging out around bonfires with them in their families' backyards.
Sadly, my parents' marriage was breaking down by that point, and my relationship with my father had deteriorated badly - partially because (in retrospect) we were so similar; partially because I was closer to my mother and it was hard not to take sides; partially because he was not at a happy point in his life.
So (sorry, Dad, but here it comes) often he would give me a 10 PM curfew those nights, but he was in bed by 9 most nights - and I knew it - so sometimes I had the chance to stay out a little later than that, knowing my mother would cover for me if I needed her to.
But she only covered for me - again - because she KNEW these kids and because I was honest about where we were and what we were doing. She only asked that I let her know if we changed plans or locations, and to let her know when I came in at night, even if she was already sleeping.
And so it was less than 6 weeks from my 18th birthday, and one week from college, and I was trying to stretch those last moments with my high school friends as far as they would go.
So, one night, about a week before I went to college, we were all over to a guy's house, talking around the bonfire that his parents had built for us in the fire pit in their backyard. There was to be a meteor shower that night, but we lived where the lights were too bright to see it. We all decided (and there were at least 10 of us together at any given time) that it would be really cool to go down to Highland Park - a park about 10 miles from where I lived, but it was out of the suburbs and into the city - where city officials had invited residents to come and watch the event.
We all jumped in cars to go, but I knew it was my responsibility to let my mother know that we were going somewhere else. I didn't want to call her - I was too afraid the phone would wake up my father - and so I asked my boyfriend to stop at my house on the way to the park so I could tell her where we were going.
I quietly crept into my dark house and up the stairs to wake her and tell her where we were going.
She told me she did not want me to go.
I didn't understand. She never said no to things like this. Here I was, doing the responsible thing in telling her we were even going in the first place! I could have just gone and she would never have known! I was angry at her, and now I was angry at myself for doing the right thing!
I was SO angry. I argued; she just quietly repeated what she said. Meanwhile, keep in mind, she never even sat up in bed, lol I swore at her and probably called her all kinds of names, probably cursed our family for generations to come, and reminded her that in ONE WEEK she wouldn't be able to say ONE THING about where I was going and what time to be home and who I was going with!
She did not budge. She didnot want me to go, and that was that.
GOD, I was so, SOOO mad. In LITERALLY one week, she would have ZERO control over me! Forget it; I was going and that was that and there was nothing she could do to stop me. What was she going to do? Ground me??
I didn't go.
I walked out of the house, SOBBING all the way, and tearfully told my high school sweetheart that my mother did not want me to go, so I had to stay home. I kissed him goodnight and he drove away without me. They all went to the park that night and saw the meteor shower without me.
To this day, I don't know why I didn't go. There would have been NOTHING she could have done to stop me - and she wouldn't have done anything to try to stop me, either. I knew it then and I know it now.
But, no. I sent my friends on their way, that mean old witch went back to her dreams, and I cried myself to sleep.
"It was out of respect for your mama," the woman beside me on the train told me. "Your mama told you that she didn't want you to go?"
"Yes," I said, laughing a little. "God, I was so mad!"
"She didn't say you can't go?"
I furrowed my brow. God, you know...I don't remember that. I thought hard. I can still see her laying in the darkness in her bed, the streetlights shining into the room. I remember swearing and stamping my foot - really throwing a tantrum. She was facing me...but did she ever actually say "You CANNOT go"?
It took me back, just a little. I had never really thought about it - I only really remembered that she didn't want me to go ("Why not??" "I just don't want you to go..."), and that even though I was SO ANGRY about it (and was only a week away from college!), I did not go.
"You know," I said to her, thoughtfully. "I don't remember her saying "You can't go." I only remember her saying, "I don't WANT you to go." "
"So you didn't go. Something to think about, all these years later," she said, her eyes smiling.
That was two days ago, and I'm still thinking about it. I honestly don't remember the exact words, but the sentiment was that she did not want me to go, and so I didn't.
I'm 36 now. My parents no longer tell me what to do, but I still go to both of them for advice - and I take their thoughts seriously.
Still respectful - and grateful for it - after all these years.
"There's no handbook for raising kids," my father said to me once, when I was much younger.