It’s been a good summer. I spent two weeks at Kansas State taking intensives. It’s easy to feel a little isolated in Muncie, IN, as a drama therapy student. Sally Bailey’s class in Creative Arts Therapies and Laura Wood’s Drama Therapy for Special Populations class were exactly what I needed to feel re-connected to the community.
But I was about to re-connect with a lot more than just the drama therapy community in Manhattan, KS. It got personal – in both classes. I ended up safely connecting to silenced parts of myself through intensive mask work. I was newly armed with the IFS (Internal Family Systems Therapy) method of looking at the different parts of myself: Exiles, that were hiding behind exaggerated aspects of my personality; Protectors; and Firefighters. When I returned to Indiana, I started reading old journals I had written, looking at old artwork I had done and photographs of myself as a child and teenager – like a detective hunting for the pieces of me that may have quietly slipped away during the times that ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ were present in my life.
So it was a thoughtful summer, I took the time to turn inward and do the necessary work, while attempting to be present with my family (husband, Michael and son, Pip – 10). All the while, on my desk sat the invitation to the class reunion whispering, “Is this the year you’ll go back?”
My parents had moved away from the town in Ohio where I had gone to high school two years after I graduated, and then life sort of happened – and 20 years flew by – and here I was. What would it be like to go back this year – especially now? “Let’s face it”, I told myself, “I was never popular – I played my role as the ‘Theater Geek’ on and off stage, and spent more time at late night diners after rehearsals and shows with kids that had graduated ahead of me than I ever did at football games or parties with kids my own age”. There were equal pros and cons to returning to the reunion. Ultimately, I created a third choice. I decided to make the trip to Ohio alone and set up lunch and dinner dates with the people I wanted to see, hoping that they wouldn’t require the small-talk that would be an obligatory part of a class reunion (since I am miserable at that). I would also take my mountain bike and visit the park that was my sanctuary as a teenager. I chose a convenient time for me to be gone for a few nights from my family and set out.
I FaceBook-messaged my childhood friend, Kathy, to confirm our plans to meet at her house – and make sure that I had her address. She had forgotten to tell me that she had bought her parents’ house – the house she lived in when we were growing up. I knew exactly where it was.
I felt the first small wave of emotion in my gut as I pulled into the driveway. The same driveway I had pulled into countless times on a bicycle, so many years ago. I looked at the backyard and I remembered the thrill of playing flashlight tag during late night summer sleepovers. I noticed that the garage door was up – inviting me into the only door to this house that I had ever used – the back door in the garage. I hesitated. I was about to meet her husband and teenage sons. Should I go to the front door? Would that be more appropriate? Had too much time gone by?
I went to the backdoor and knocked. Kathy was there in the kitchen. She swung open the screen door for me – its familiar creak quickly put my heart at ease. We stood there and looked at one another after a short embrace. I saw my friend standing in front of me, twenty years older than the last time I saw her. But standing in that house she was nine years old, and 12, 17, and 42 all at the same time – and so was I.
Our lives had gone in different directions before either of us had email accounts or cell phones. I knew that her brother, Billy, and mother had both died many years ago, of cancer – but I hadn’t been a part of that. They still felt present to me in the house, as if they would come around the corner or down the stairs at any minute.
Kathy’s house was the first house where I recognized, even as a child, that I was stepping into a different world. There were more kids in this family, and (this is important) they had HBO and were the first house to have MTV (you get the picture). This was where I navigated the border between childhood and adolescence with a greater freedom than I felt in my own home, probably just because the spotlight was never on me here like it was at home. Somewhere in the middle of our five-hour conversation she asked me if I would like to hear some of her son Billy’s original music, since he had recently received a music scholarship to college.
We went down into the basement, which was completely transformed, but via the dimensions of the space combined with the basementy smell – exactly the same. NO, the Elton John pinball machine wasn’t there anymore (her sister has it), and the 80s brightly striped carpet was long gone, but it was still the same to me. Her son, Billy, played recorded techno music tracks that he had orchestrated – while he accompanied on the drums. It was loud, awesome, and intense. But it couldn’t drown out the strains of her parents’ 8-track cassettes that kept coming back to me in that space. I was also hearing Harry Chapin and Helen Reddy (I know). And there was, of course, the Grease album. I had once choreographed the entire show in this very space. There was a very confident part of myself – alive and well – down in that basement in Ohio.
The parts of ourselves that other people carry – the parts of our stories that are shared – they are important too. I left her house that night with so much more than I walked in with. I was re-connected with a newly independent me, a part of myself that had nothing but hope for the future, standing on the border of childhood and adolescence. I remember that this is still a treasured part of me, pointing me in new directions with different borders.