Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Year Was 1996

Seeing as it's March, the month of my birth, it might be worthwhile to think about aging and time and such.

The year was 1996, the summer of 96 to be exact. The day after I graduated high school, I packed my shit and left home, off to sunny California with my best friend since the fifth grade, my parents standing, crying in the driveway watching their youngest son leave in the car they'd bought him. There are two stories there, one about Jason and me, the other about my parents and me. I've been thinking on the latter, in large part because I have kids of my own now and secondly because I'm reading this book, "My Struggle," which over the last hundred pages or so has been about a parent's death.

This event was written into destiny years before, the year I left Indiana (the start of my 9th grade) it would have been made irreversible. But even before that, the day my dad joined the Army it was all but done. I wonder if my parents took for granted that some day they'd be done with the Army, that they'd settle down and their kids would settle down near them as well. I wonder if they knew or even suspected the impossibility of that notion, at least for their youngest son. I'd spent a life-time getting pulled around, living at the whims of others, not even of my parents' but of the government. At my first possible chance of choosing where I could live I reached for it. I couldn't leave sooner. I couldn't shape my life before that day. And yet my parents probably dreamed of us kids living "in town" while they lived out on the reservation. Or even less possible, all of us close together out on the reservation, just a field of grass separating one generation from the next. Dreams of cows and hay, pigs, chickens, and pickup trucks--dreams of grandchildren a stone's throw away. Dreams all crushed by the gentle hearts of their own children.

I didn't give consideration to what they wanted that day. I don't think I was especially cruel, just 18. In my head they were fine if I stayed, they were fine if I left. And so I left. I couldn't conceive of it being a big deal. Now, having  a one-year-old and four-year-old in the house, it is, of course, all these years later, incredibly obvious to me how stupid that thought was. Another 17 years down the road I can only image how much more stupid it will look.

That moment wasn't even the original inspiration for this post, my 37th birthday was. But my 37th birthday quickly took me back to that day. Having left home at the ripe age of 18 and some odd months, I've now lived outside of my parents' house longer than I lived with them, a division created on that day. And likewise, they've now been empty-nesters longer than I lived in their house. Being the younger person, the child who left home, I'm expected to have changed a great deal. But I wondered, how much have they changed? If I stood 1996 Charles and Barbara Kessler next to 2015 Charles and Barbara Kessler, what would I see? How much do these two living breathing people resemble my memories of my parents? I'll surely be asking these questions again in a few years--I expect a certain amount of vertigo when I reach the age they were when I left home, which will be quite a few years before my own children flee the nest. On the surface it seems like a real shitty deal for parents. So much is given. And so much is taken for granted. It can be no other way. What's below that surface? I suspect you never stop worrying. I suspect you never see them enough, they'll never be close enough. After holding on so tight for 18 years, a whole other lifetime is required to learn to really let them go.

Would it have hurt to stay another day? Another week? To live in their house as some kind of adult for a while? Probably not, but my heart was set. Even to this day I'm bad at those transition times. If I'm on vacation for longer than a week then the last few days I just can't enjoy fully. It's not the dread of returning, but the realization that the vacation isn't the real part of life, and the real part of life is beckoning me back. If those days had existed between graduation and when I left, I imagine they would have been much like those last days of vacation for me. While my body would have been there at their house, my spirit would have already been on the road. Perhaps no one would have enjoyed my time there. I don't know. But still, 2015 Shawn Kessler sure would like to send some flowers and a hug and a little note that read "I'm sorry" to 1996 Barbara Kessler.

Love you mom and dad.