Haley and I are almost birthday twins; her birthday is the day after mine. This gives me a strange opportunity in my life, a way to remind myself of what I was like at her age, whatever that age has been. When she turned, say, twelve, I thought of myself at twelve (my ugly duckling phase, but at least I had braces by then so the popular girls could stop calling me "monkey girl") and compared it to how she was at twelve. It is also a way of measuring my success at mothering: if she was doing better than I was at that age, I felt like I had succeeded a bit.
When she turned 18, she wrote a post on her blog with eighteen facts about herself, to remember what she was like. Reading it made me think: what was I like at 18? If I had put together such a list...I can’t be sure how I would’ve written it. I know what I remember but I can't speak anymore in the voice I had then. At just-18, I was leaving the rebellion of my adolescence behind me. I’d just broken up with a boy who changed my life completely (he influenced the mighty change of heart I had that year in ways he never imagined or intended) and was smack in the middle of the Thing I Don’t Blog About. He and my friend Jennifer were leaving soon; they’d gotten jobs working at the Grand Canyon, but as I already had a job (I was working at WordPerfect then), I didn’t go with them. (Sometimes, looking back, that decision seems like my one lost chance at an adventure. How would my life be different if I had gone?) I liked drinking soda—Pepsi even then, and we’d go at least once a day to the gas station for drinks. When I was mad I’d get in my car (a salvaged Toyota Tercel) and drive as fast as I could with The Cult turned up as loud as I could stand. I hated Chinese food and seafood. I was just learning that I loved my sisters and my mom. I was stretching my financial wings by buying books and I was reading everything by Margaret Atwood that I could find.
I’m not sure what 18-year-old Haley would think of 18-year-old me. From music to clothes to our general life outlook, our barely-adult selves would be so different; I’m not sure she’d see beyond the freakiness. Not because she’s judgmental or shallow—she isn’t—but because it takes a similar weirdness to know that the black clothes and the white-blonde hair and the pissed-off attitude were mostly just armor. You have to have been in the same battles to be able to spot the person hidden under the outward display, and she hasn’t fought in those wars. I did everything I could, in fact, to keep that darkness from conscripting her. No, I don’t think she’d understand who I was at 18 because our adolescences were so different: a measurement I am relieved by. She has had her struggles, but she didn’t get lost in the dark. She’s done all the things that normal high school kids do: chemistry class and field trips and yearbook days, dances and football games and the ACT. She applied for scholarships and earned one.
Tomorrow she’ll graduate.
I didn’t do any of those things. For senior year, Jennifer and I went to the local community college instead of high school. After the fiasco of my junior year, that was the only option I had, but it meant I couldn’t graduate with the class of 1990 because the college schedule was longer than the high school’s. I did go to one horribly awkward formal dance during my sophomore year, but I’m like Iona from Pretty in Pink: living with the side effects of never going to prom. Not that I suffer daily from the things I didn’t do in high school, but it’s sort of like when people talk about TV shows from the 70's and 80's (I watched almost zero TV as a kid): I can’t relate, exactly, to the common experiences of the majority of Americans.
And I wonder. What would I have turned out like if I hadn’t crashed and burned? What if I’d continued on the course that I set for myself back when I was ten or eleven: graduated with straight A’s from high school, earned a gymnastics scholarship, lived away from home and had adventures before I got married? It’s hard to tell; the landscape would probably be different (spouse, residence, career maybe), but the location I’m at (mom, wife) is the place I always wanted to arrive. Would going to the prom or walking across a stage for my high school diploma make this place any sweeter? Or would the hollow spots I have, no matter that I love my family and my life, be smaller? The version of myself who didn’t crash and burn—the one who managed a lifetime of being normal—is a shadow I catch in the corner of my eye sometimes. I wonder what that would’ve felt like. But the crashing and burning, no matter how awful, is still dear to me. If I had the chance to go back in time and prevent the crash, I never would. It changed me; it gave me knowledge I couldn’t have achieved through normalcy.
And yet I want nothing more than normalcy for Haley. For all of my kids. It’s a situational irony I can’t resolve: I know the knowledge I gained through darkness and difficulty is immensely important, but not important enough that I want my children to experience the darkness. And Haley turned out pretty normal. Not bland or cookie-cutter or average; she is uniquely herself and she stands out in a crowd. But she isn’t instantly aware of the bolstered nakedness of recovering weirdness. She doesn’t carry the memory of darkness and I confess that despite the weight of it in my heart—despite the necessary salt of it—I hope she never will.