My parents split up when I was five. The truth of the matter is that I really don't remember much from that age, so I guess it was better than if I had been, say, 15. Whatever hostilities were present have been swept into the cobwebby corners of my brain that house unwanted memories. There are some that lurk around. Some positive: my parents in their Star Wars Halloween costumes, sliding down the stairs on the Naugahyde sofa cushions; and some not quite so happy: getting violently ill from tomato soup (I wasn't able to eat it again until I was 20), hitting my head on a concrete step badly enough to require stitches, the giant, scary tortoise walking down the street. That last one might have been a dream. Anyhoo, I do have one memory from that time that has stuck with me all these years. It has absolutely nothing to do with the divorce, but that sets up the story.
My mom, younger sister and I had just moved to a new town. We had rented one side of a newish duplex in a development of block after block of the exact same buildings. I had begun kindergarten back in our old town, but due to the split, I was starting again in a new school. If I had been more prescient, I would have seen the foreshadowing and realized that this was to be the first of many school changes. They totaled twelve by the time I graduated from high school. But I was just five, so the subtleties were lost on me.
My first day at the new school, my mom walked me to the bus stop and waited with me, waving goodbye as the bus pulled off. At five, best friends are made over milk and cookies, so I had secured a pal who lived in my same neighborhood by the end of the day. When it came time to take the bus home, I assured the teacher that I knew where I was going and that I had my new buddy to help me. Imagine that sort of thing nowadays. The bus ride home was fun, I laughed with my new friend and we bonded over a discussion of the relative merits of wonder woman vs spider woman underoos. As we came to our development, I began to notice that the streets all looked the same and I got a little scared that I wouldn't know which stop was mine since I didn't even know what our street name was yet, but my new friend assured me that we were okay.
When we came to her stop, I got off with her, because I didn't know what else to do. We said our goodbyes and I looked around at the rows of duplexes that all looked exactly like ours and I had no idea where to go or what to do. The only thing I could think was that my best bet was to stay put and hopefully someone would find me. Meanwhile, my mom was waiting at my bus stop and when I wasn't on the bus, she panicked. She asked the bus driver about me, who, of course, had no recollection of one kid among the many she saw each day and couldn't tell her if I had been on the bus, let alone what stop I had gotten off at. My mom ran back to our house and hopped in her car and started driving around the neighborhood. I honestly don't know how long it took for her to find me, but I know that it felt like an eternity.
When she finally found me, she was fit to be tied. As she jumped out of the car to come over and hug me, she yelled at me for getting off at the wrong stop. That memory has haunted me ever since then. I never understood how my mom could yell at me for such an easy mistake. I think I have always harbored a little resentment about that. I was just a kid. I felt ashamed and hurt. And probably angry.
Now I am a parent in my own right. There have been plenty of times where my daredevil daughter has teetered precariously on the edge of a staircase or toddled faster than seems possible much closer to the street than I am comfortable with. And I have yelled. I yelled not because I was angry, but because I was scared. So scared that I couldn't even think. In those moments, I had a completely visceral response to my child's danger. And I finally understood.