Rites of passage


As the day comes to a close and I prepare for bed, I remember the first night I spent on my own, property of the U.S. Government, in a bottom bunk in an old, wooden barracks at Lackland AFB, San Antonio.

I had no idea what the next day or month or year would hold, but I had made the decision. No one made it for me.

As I reflect on that first night, I recognize now that I knew very little about what it was to be in relationship to other people. I did not know what it was like to have very many friends. Nor did I realize that most of the women that were my “flight mates,” who were in the same basic training squadron that I was in,  had their own stories.  Perhaps, some of them were running away from the lives they had before the Air Force, just as I was doing.

Maybe they, like me, were just as clueless about who they really were outside of a family that did not really know them, as we tried to live up to (and break out of, simultaneously) the expectations of what we were supposed to be as women.

Forty-four years ago, I had a difficult time falling asleep in the old barracks with no air conditioning on a muggy Thursday night in San Antonio.  Two all-cotton flat sheets, a wool blanket, and a feather pillow with a cotton pillow case were all that separated me from the lumpy mattress on the bottom bunk of a metal bunk bed. The newness of being solely responsible now for my own decisions had my mind racing, and I thought back to earlier  that morning…

I had turned 18 just thirteen days earlier. I was now considered an adult. I remember not wanting her to go in with me. I told her that I did not. It was my way of letting her know I was a big girl and to cut the ties.
I wanted my mother to drop me off in front of the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) in Los Angeles, California. We got there before 7:30 a.m. and all I wanted to do is get out of the car, say a quick “Goodbye,” and pass through the doors…by myself.
All of the rest of the memories of the morning are foggy now, 44 years later. what I might say could very well hold some inaccuracies. I do remember that it felt awkward.
Today was the day that I pushed my mother away, declaring through my actions, that I was an adult now and did not need her…nor want her. Of course, I never said those words. Yet, is that not what we all do at some point in our lives when we “grow up”?
I was her firstborn, but now I was leaving. Abandoning the family…abandoning her, a 39-year-old single mother of four more children, ranging in ages of 14 down to 4. My father had left her only a year-and-a-half earlier for a younger woman who was only nine years my senior.
Today was also the day that I felt my mother gave her final push to get me out of her hair. I was an adult now and did not need her. She did not need me either…nor want me. Of course, she never said those words either.
In some ways, it felt like an emotional stand-down. Two generations of women, who had not yet learned how to say, “I need you. I want you. I love you. I am going to miss you.” It seemed so much easier to simply push away or push back.
Forty-four years ago today, I left home–my mother and my four siblings–to join the United States Air Force to serve my country. I loved my country.
I would not do things much differently than I did, except….I would have told my Mom that I was and always would be her little girl who needed and wanted her, and would always love her.
(Original story–“My rite of passage into adulthood”–as written by me and posted at MyLot, 23 August 2017 10:23 a.m. PDT )
As I prepare for bed tonight, many years later, it is still my racing mind that keeps me separated from the sleep that has always proved to elude me.
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