The Wasted Years

The wasted years

Waiting to escape my mother

She once stormed into my room demanding to know what I was doing.

“Reading a book,” I said.

“You never ask me before you do anything,” she said, her face tight with anger.

“I didn’t realize I had to ask you to read a book.”

It escalated from there, and before I knew it things were very bad and she was calling my father to come take me away. My father did not believe me. Who would? I have played these moments in my head many times. I can only understand them in retrospect, in the context of what I know about my mother now.

I lived with my father for a few months. He lived several towns away which made attending my high school very difficult. I relied on his girlfriend to take me to and from school as I was not yet old enough to drive.

My stubbornness saved me. No one can treat me this way, I told myself, even if the person is my mother. I clung to my pride like a raft as I floated through the wasted years.

Like others, I was bored in school, just waiting until I was old enough to go to college so my life could begin. I mourned the years that I could be learning and living while the years were happening. Helpless, only able to escape the years by living through them. Just coast through and wait to grow older, I told myself.

In the meantime, I was tethered to a small town where there was nothing to do besides drive around the nuclear power plant cooling towers that sprung like tubular sea sponges on the landscape. At school, we had nuclear meltdown evacuation practice in which we would calmly walk down to the auditorium and wait for the buses to gather us, despite our protests that we would all die before the buses arrived. “It’s better to have a plan that won’t work than no plan at all,” our teacher said. We disagreed.

On the weekends, my friends and I drove through the wooded area around the cooling towers, an area we called Hobbitland. We drank our wine coolers and blared our music, car windows down as we watched the towers churn white clouds into the air. Nothing to do except sink into the anger of music, music about death, angst and exclusion. Death as a beautiful thing. Music that was oxygen in the stifling small, dying town, its main street with stores half-abandoned and a steel industry that had left many years before. We drove up and down the broken main street until the police called it illegal to do even that.

The wasted years, somehow necessary to becoming who I am. When I finally was old enough to go to college, I vowed I would get over the state line, get away from the crumbling mother, the crumbling situation, the crumbling town. It was fire under my heels that sent me running for years.

I carry them with me as models from negative examples.

A stamp of recognition, in myself and others.

Ah, yes, you made it out too.

9 thoughts on “The Wasted Years

  1. Cruising through town reminds me of the small town I grew up in. We called it lapping – the slow circle around the town hall, up to the Jay C’s grocery store, and then back again. People who wax nostalgic about the simple, small town life probably did not grow up in a small town where boredom drove many kids to drinking, drugs, and sex. Fortunately, I did not have a savage mother like you did.

    1. In our town the turnaround points were the town diner on one end and one of the various fast food restaurants on the other end. Kids would rev their engines and do swirly paint jobs on their cars. It was like how I’d imagine a small town in the 1950s.
      Speaking of which, I recently read that the population of my home town is *unchanged* since 1940…

  2. I want to wrap you in my arms and hug you until forever. And then sit and talk for hours and more endless hours over tea and chocolate. I hate that you know these wasted years. It makes me so sad that you understand the pain and frustration of trying to figure out your path in life while figuring out how to navigate a mental illness that is not even your own…but as much as I’m sad that you had these years, they have helped to make you, you. I’m so happy that we’ve found each other because I find such crazy inspiration in knowing that you did make it through, that you have come out on the other side triumphant.

    This post struck a cord in my soul, and brought tears to my eyes. Change a few details here and there, change the dates a little, add in a little this, take out a little that – and I now understand a lot more why we are so similar in so many ways. I’ve been there. I am there. I understand on a bizarre level that not all can. The complex relationships and small town livings and just…WHOA.

    As much as it breaks my heart that you have gone through this, I truly believe that your experiences have helped to make you into the strong, confidant, caring, giving, loving woman who I’m so proud to call my friend. I love how even though you could have easily gotten discouraged, upset and lost – your determination and zest kept you on your life raft and made you stronger. You made it out. You’re a constant reminder to me of all of the good a person can become, even with all of the struggles life can throw you. You inspire me to want to do more, and be more…simply by being you. Thank you for making it out. Thank you for not only making it out but being a shining example of how to grow into a good person. Mostly? Thank you for being you. <3


  3. You had to go through so much. :-(

    Reading this makes me aware about how privileged I was as a child. Thinking about it further, I feel my brother and I were overprotected. It has its own negative effects, if you ask me.

  4. I read it again.

    I feel so inspired by you all the time. You came out shining from all that crisis that you were faced with so young.

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