The question "where are you from?" almost ruined any chances Devin and I had of a bright and happy future, before it had even begun. We met the first Sunday of August at church, and had exchanged some silly, pleasant small talk. At a gathering that evening we sat next to each other around a table playing Rummicube, at which time I devoured an entire plate of brownies. Rude, I know, greedy, I know, gluttonous, I know already, I know - but listen, I eat when I'm nervous. Then, the next week, we were sitting next to each other on the back porch at another activity and I was eating my third bowl of apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream. (I know, but please remember that I was nervous.) We had been again making some silly, pleasant small talk, when he decided to ask. "Where are you from?" I stammered. I stuttered. I shuddered. I couldn't think. Where am I from? Born in New York, raised in various other states, my parents in the process of moving again, I didn't know where to claim. He took this response to mean that I was not interested in him, and consequently did not ask me out on a date for over nine months, and it took a car door slamming shut in his face to wake him up. That's kind of another story though.
Looking back now I see my life as a series of stages, and at each stage we lived in a different place. To me, a childhood belongs in the cool shady open summers of Michigan. The self discovery and awareness of middle school belongs in the crowded sweltering tropical heat of Brasil, and so on. I know that in the future whenever I think of myself as a young mother my mind will go to Peoria and a cozy little place on Donna Lane. But if I had a small sticker with the word "home" on it that I could put wherever I wanted on the map, my heart would tug on my fingers directing them towards a dot in Indiana labeled Muncie. My high school years. I came to Muncie as an awkward, uncomfortable, timid, strange little waif of a person, and left it - college bound - confident, bold, comfortable, ready to take on the world and win. (ok, maybe only slightly more comfortable and confident. Forget bold. I've never been bold.)
At church here I get to work with the teenage girls. On my way home from our midweek activity, this time a barbecue cooked and served by the teenage boys, I could still hear the voices and laughter of this young group of people echoing in my head, reverberating within my soul, awakening the sixteen year old girl that still lingers inside of me. I drove down the darkening streets, forgetting to worry for a minute about Devin at home with both babies trying to put them to bed as I thought back to the faces cooking, serving, eating, talking, laughing. I see mirrored in their vibrant, eager faces those of the now adults, then teens of my own youth.
It is to those beautiful faces of my youth that I owe such a large part of who I am now. When I think of the group of kids that I got to run with at that critical age, the adult me is overcome with gratitude on behalf of the teenage inner me. I would not be here if it weren't for what those kids in Muncie made of her.
For those brief fifteen minutes each week, driving home, the skies slowly turning grey, Justin Bieber playing on the radio, I roll my windows down. I'm alone for the only part of my week, and in the afterglow of the time recently spent with young people I find myself emerging from a cocoon of diaper cream, mortgage payments, runny noses, weeds, leaky roofs, flooded basements, crumbs and choking hazards, and I feel sixteen again. And my entire soul is filled with gratitude towards and a longing to see again those laughing faces: Sarah*, Al, Hannah, Angie, Anna, Nicole*, Ryan, Sam, Mark, Josh, Dan, Jacob, Liz, Esther, Rachel, Bethie, Ben, and all the rest.
Then I pull into my driveway, open the garage door, and slide back into maturity and step once more into my place as wife and mother. I am ready for another week as the adult me, because I got to spend a few minutes visiting with the girl, and her friends, who made me the woman I am.
*Includes all Sarahs and Nicoles.