Twelve school changes, between ten different schools and in six different cities. That was my Kindergarten thru 12th grade experience; lots of change.
I’m a child of divorce.
As a matter of fact, my dad has three divorces, my mom has two, and at 32 years old, I already have one. No I don’t plan on another one, thank you though. Sometimes I wish I’d get government assistance declaring that it is illegal for me, Jon Vaughn, to be married. In the event a woman marries me, she’ll get charged with manslaughter, hauled off to a women’s high security prison and forced to change her name to Butch. That’d take a ton of pressure off of me, yet if I want something different, something lastingly real, I know it’s up to me to make a change.
When I was about eight years old, my parents’ problems started to surface. The noise from their room caused me to cup my ear to their door and listen in on what they were saying. I never comprehended what was happening, but I knew it was bad. This continued for a while, and right about the time it seemed like it was becoming a normal way of life, my mom split. I’ll never forget the missing piece of drywall in their bedroom, the size of a baseball. I’ll never forget zoning out, leaving the house to watch a team of boys practice baseball at the nearby junior high, a game that I had no understanding of. I’ll never forget the coach, about two weeks later, asking me to be on the team. I’ll never forget playing in the game, everyone else’s last game of the season, which happened to be my first. I’ll never forget the feeling of being wanted during a time I felt like I was being forgotten. I’ll never forget my mom leaving with my siblings to visit my grandparents for a weekend, and then not seeing her again for close to three weeks. I’ll never forget the nightmares, the witch behind the door, or the screams; I felt trapped, helpless and alone. I’ll never forget finding peace in Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros.
Separation and divorce suck.
It happened to me. It happened to my daughters’ moms. It happened with their parents. It happened with my parents. It happened between my parents and my stepparents all over again. It happened to my grandparents, my daugthers’ great-grandparents. It happens to everybody around me. It is my plague. It is my polio that I’d like to find a cure for. Some people may nonchalantly call it a “lack of communication,” but in my opinion, it’s an inability to communicate effectively; the real shit.
My new stepparents moved in quicker than Columbia House would send 11 almost-free cassette tapes for a penny (I remember hiding the actual bill in the couch cushions). The shock of my mom leaving, the introduction to my stepmom, the introduction to my stepdad, the new siblings, the Mon/Tue/Wed with my dad, the Thur/Fri/Sat/Sun with my mom, the hour drive to and from school, it all seemed to happen overnight, with no explanation. Life as I knew it, ob-la-di, ob-la-da, went on.
When I think about all the immediate changes, I cannot ignore that my childhood may have something to do with how I handle relationships. It probably has a shit-ton to do with it; I just never wanted to pay attention. Building a lasting relationship has never been my cup of tea. One year I would make friends, the next year I’d move, make a new set of friends in a new town at a new school; and, do it all over again. That’s what I became used to. This is what was normal to me.
Adapting to new situations, new environments, or being around new people is an easy thing for me. When change has been the only consistent thing in life, it becomes more like an involuntary reflex to me. Accepting the present as it is, not as I think it should be, eliminates chunks of anxiety. I used to wonder where the dry-heaves would come from; I know now. I’ve had to ask myself, “Has change actually occurred or is the unknown convincing me of a false impression of reality?” If I’m not aware of how I’m feeling, my ability to change the situation positively becomes impossible. I will always know when I am happy, humorous and grateful for life. Those feelings are easy and it bleeds onto my family and friends. When the opposite happens, my unhappiness in the present or my refusal to accept reality, causes me to rely on time to remedy the situation magically.
That never happens.
It’s the suitcase that was packed for me when I was eight, this baggage I’d carry for years and keep packing more crap in it. To communicate fearlessly from my heart was like stabbing myself in my own belly. My last breakup had everything to do with ineffective communication, one that I expressed over and over again, desiring her naked words more than the awesome sex we’d have. These were the times that the elephant was in the room, the divide that kept getting larger, and I already knew from my own previous experiences, elephants will never forget.
What I’ve learned, through all of the failed relationships I’ve experienced since the day my mom left my dad, is that sincere communication gives any relationship a chance in hell, especially when you’re engulfed in flames. This isn’t the type of communication where you talk about sports or the weather or politics. You don’t talk about what Suzie did. You don’t argue about what is right or wrong. This is the type of communication that creates a sense of humility in one, and a sense of trust in both.
My mom called me, the lady up there in that picture, roughly nine years ago, and broke down crying. She apologized to me, wholeheartedly, about that day she left me with my dad for three weeks with no words, never stepping foot back into what I knew as home. I didn’t know this was something she carried. She apologized for all the changes and the crazy, inconsistent life she challenged us with, and the stupid mistakes she’s made. I didn’t realize I needed to hear the words just as much as she needed to say them. It was her heart that wiped the slate clean for the both of us. Her need for forgiveness was for us, and forgiving her, while she’s cutting into the bone of her own soul, became a very easy thing to do. It was sincere, honest and raw. It’s what proved to me that if she can do it, so can I, and so can my daughters. All of her mistakes now platinum; all the heartache made worth it; all of our future conversations, the real ones, more valuable than ever.
I may not have had ideal examples of marriage and communication as a child, but my childhood is making more sense now. When I recognize a negative feeling then it makes it that much easier to squash it. Sometimes the one you love the most pushes you away for a time. Sometimes it’s the growing space of separation, the elephant, being ignored. Sometimes it’s the neighbor’s dog barking. Sometimes it’s in an expectation that never got met. Sometimes it’s all of it, all at once. My desire and role in the relationships I cherish are measured exactly by how much “me” I’m willing to give. If they give more, I give more. If they give less, I’ll eventually give less. Fortunately, I’m good around new people so don’t worry about making the first move. I’ll be happy to do it.
If I pay closer attention to exactly what it is I communicate now, then whatever happened in the past has the possibility to be forgiven. The negative feeling associated to the events of the past can be made brand new, with a new room and a new view. Every relationship has the potential for greatness through forgiveness, humility and sincerity, even if that relationship exists with someone who committed manslaughter, lives behind bars, and whose name is Butch.
Thank you for reading.