The time of abandonment came and went. It lasted only a year, but affected the rest of my life. Until recently, I’ve feared that I’d unwittingly do or say something that would cause friends to cast me aside.
My parents returned from Parsons, Kansas, a month before I began first grade. We then moved to the Missouri farm where I grew up. Right after I turned seven everything changed again. Something horrific happened in April 1943 that wiped away all memory of abandonment. One fear supplanted another.
From that time to February 1976—a period of almost thirty-three years—I had no memories of my early life. I did not plan to abandon it. But a new fear filled my life. The old fear went underground. Forgotten. Unseen but insidious.
For those many years, I thought I was simply a jealous being who wanted to be the center of everyone else’s existence. A demanding being who panicked whenever friends weren’t what I considered attentive enough. I feared being discarded but had no understanding of the why or wherefore of that fear.
The cats with whom I lived consoled me. Their unconditional love comforted even as fear nagged.
Noah, Eliza, Laz, and I
Then in February 1976, when I was thirty-nine, a Minnesota psychiatrist adroitly asked a question that unlocked my early childhood.
By that time I’d entered and left the convent, worked in three different states, gone to graduate school, and seen three psychiatrists: two in Ohio; one in New Hampshire.
The Minnesota psychiatrist was the fourth with whom I sought to discover the patterns of my life and the experiences that created them. The first three helped me, but something always eluded us. That something was abandonment at age five.
You wonder, “What did that fourth one ask that freed the past?” I can’t remember. I know only that sudden memory flooded back. I sobbed until I had to take deep breaths. Sobbed so forlornly that she rose to enfold me. She called that kindergarten year the “seminal experience of my life.”
Hearing that did not banish my fear overnight. What did happen is that I began consciously to explore that kindergarten experience and its implications. I began to see how it had tainted much of my life. Nevertheless, I’d forget what I knew and fear would inundate me again when I became overly stressed.
With this knowledge I began also to see why again and again throughout my life I abandoned friends. Work. Place. I ended my art lessons in high school. I walked away from the convent. I left New Hampshire. I decided to quit a freelance job because of minor criticism. I ended a relationship with two friends. I moved from Minnesota to Missouri. All done on the spur of the moment and done without explanation to those left behind.
It is not the leaving I regret. It is that I left behind hurt feelings and misunderstanding. I’d never learned how to leave without hurting others. I was never able to explain my actions. My childhood had provided me with only one way to handle an untenable situation—to turn my back on it and walk away.
I needed redemption from the past. And yet it rode me unmercifully for most of the rest of my life. Only recently have I known the peace of loving myself graciously.
My coming to that peace is the story of my coming home to myself. It is the warp and weft of all my future postings.