I’ve got Black Water by the Doobie Brothers stuck in my head, and I’m glad about it.
For at least the past five years, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am. Consumed by my roles as wife and mother, I can’t seem to recall who I was before, and lately I’ve become more and more anxious because I can’t envision who I am outside of these roles.
Just contemplating doing a “role stripping” exercise in a book I read recently prompted a nightmare in which I was cleaning my empty house. It was a place where I used to live with my spouse and kids and now I was vacuuming white carpet enclosed by white-painted walls and afraid to turn around because I was certain there was a malevolent presence lurking just behind me, laughing at my fear.
I don’t have to pay a therapist to analyze that dream.
This morning I was feeling trapped and lost and angry. I was letting my kids slack on their homeschool rather than inject their lessons with my irritability, and I was doing something I knew I shouldn’t: Looking at Facebook. I was surprised to find a message from a high school friend asking for the password to the private site where I put photos of my kids. I gave her the password and asked how her Facebook fast was going, and eventually we figured out we each had a few minutes, so I sent her my current phone number (we’d not talked with each other at all for four years and not in any depth for nearly ten). Moments later, my phone was ringing.
The conversation was light, just catching up, comparing notes on parenting, a little reminiscing. I talked to her toddler a little bit—“Can you say ‘Hi, Miss Charity’?” my friend asked him. “Hi!” he said.
We talked for about a half-hour and then her kids needed to go down for a nap and mine needed to learn about square roots and finding common denominators with variables, so we hung up.
An hour or so later I checked my computer again and there was a message from my friend. “Is it lame that I found our conversation very fulfilling? Almost like being a real person for a few minutes.”
“Lame or not,” I responded, “I found myself feeling the same way.”
And it was true. All of the working and worrying, all of the trial and error to figure out who I am apart from my kids and spouse, and what I’d never thought of doing was talking to someone who knew me before kids, before marriage, before college, even.
I have mixed feelings about my time in high school, and my friend and I had our ups and downs, but as we laughed together the deep, full-body laughs we’ve always shared despite the years and miles separating us, the image that came to my mind was riding in our friend’s truck under a starry sky with the humid Virginia air streaming through the windows and feeling like I was just where I belonged, in this truck, with these people, renting these cheesy horror films.
The fear and uncertainty of my teenage years was still in my memory, but it was peripheral. The freedom and belonging was what I breathed in then and again this morning more than twenty years away, and I got just a glimpse of who I am outside of my roles.
Then she dared me to listen to Black Water without getting it stuck in my head. I didn’t even have to listen to it and there it’s been since before lunchtime, making everything all right.
Do you have that almost-a-cliché friendship you can jump into effortlessly no matter how many years it’s been since your last conversation? Does talking to close friends from different times in your life help you see yourself differently?