Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Alone, But Not Lonely?

I've always been a loner of sorts.

It's not that I don't like people. I do. I love my family and friends. I'm a toucher and a hugger. I like that intimacy between me and other people.

But I also like being alone. My earliest memories are those of being alone, as early as age 3 or 4.

After my first sister was born, we moved to a second floor apartment on the then transitioning Hammer Field, also known as the Fresno Air Base, in California. In it's heyday, the airfield was used during World War II. When we moved in, the air base had been abandoned and leased to the city of Fresno and others. Aside from the stark apartments and their inhabitants, the entire facility was essentially empty and unused.

The rows of two story apartment buildings were constructed on raised cement block foundations with large access openings near the ground. Some of the openings were covered with sheets of plywood, but the wood had rotted away from the hinges on many of the covers and left the plywood sheets dangling or fallen to the side. An invitation.

I spent a lot of time underneath those buildings, mostly by myself. I'd crawl in through the square opening on my hands and knees and make my way around the perimeter of the crawl space and sit quietly in front of a grated vent, undetected, watching moms and their kids walk by. I was so small, I could sit upright without my head touching the floor of the apartment above and I would sit cross-legged for what seemed like hours, doing nothing, just watching. Sometimes I'd do nothing more than close my eyes and listen to myself breathe, embracing the quiet.

I was never afraid, although I probably should have been. There were probably any number of critters that I could have encountered but never did: spiders, roaches, snakes, mice, rats. I never met one.

Looking back now as an adult who has raised two children of her own, I have to question my mother's judgement allowing a barely 4-year old to wander around an apartment complex alone for long periods of time. I realize that things were different back in the day, but, still, I spent an incredible amount of time outside, alone, without any adult supervision.

But that was my mother. I always said, from the time I was 18 or 19, my mother did not like being a mother. "I loved being pregnant!" she would say many times over her lifetime. She just didn't like what happened afterward. It's work. Babies cry instead of talk, so they cry often... when they're hungry, tired, need their diaper changed, need to be held. The demands never end. And my first sister cried all the time. Or at least so it seemed to a 3-1/2- to 4-year old. There wasn't such a thing as disposable diapers. Cloth diapers fastened with diaper pins were the only thing available and changing them created a massive pile of laundry. Receiving a coveted diaper laundering service as a welcome-new-baby gift was the bomb. And on top of it, she'd have to chase around a toddler!

So my mother was busy. And she was busy with very unglamorous work. She didn't like it. And no one was paying any attention to her because she wasn't pregnant. She was angry all the time, so it wasn't hard to know how she felt. Even at barely 4 years old, I could sense it and I made myself scarce as often as I could.

Oddly enough, I don't remember resenting it. My mother yelling, my sister crying, my father chastising my mother, the radio blaring in the background was a constant. The house seemed in constant chaos to me and escaping to the quiet of the crawl space under one of the buildings was a respite I sought, not for play, enjoyment or exploration, but for sanity.


Anonymous said...

I think you have broken your writer's block. This is one of the best posts you have written. Thank you.

Terri said...

Thanks GG. And thanks for reading.

gina knuppenburg said...

What a breakthrough. Love this Terri.

Terri said...

Thanks Gina. I think there's more to come.