We were clanking down the road in our loud, dated, muffler-dragging, duct-taped, ugly vehicle as we had done so many mornings before. I was squished between two car seats in the backseat with my left hand draped over Hannah’s side and her little fist curled around my thumb. Up front, Krystal was fidgety. The car thickened with panic just before Krystal turned to Mom about two blocks before we reached the school and asked her to stop.
“What?” Mom kept driving, confused.
“Just Stop, PLEASE.” she begged.
“Krystal, we’re almost there.”
With desperation and near tears, she pleaded, “I’m sick of them seeing me in this car, Mom. It’s embarrassing!”
We slowed to a crawl and finally, mom stopped the car. She leaned towards her oldest daughter to kiss her goodbye but Krystal was already halfway out the door.
“Mom. No.” She said as she shut the door and took off at a lightning pace in the direction of her Junior High School.
Mom watched Krystal growing smaller and smaller putting distance between them with each step she took. I watched Mom. Her emerald eyes flooded and she pressed her face into her hands. From the backseat, I reached for her shoulder and rubbed it gently. When Mom hurt, I hurt too.
“Why did she do that? Why was she so mean to you?”
She wiped her stained cheeks and found my eyes in the rearview mirror. “You will do the same thing one day when you’re older, Kayla.” and her head fell again. How dare she, I thought. How dare she think I could so easily disregard her feelings. That’s not me.
I moved up to the front seat and put her hand in mine, leaning my head on her shoulder. The heat rose to my cheeks as I stared out the window towards the space Krystal had occupied on the sidewalk moments before. I felt the anger flinch in my jaw. With a certainty, too fierce for such a young girl, I proclaimed, “I will never do that, Mommy, never. You can hug and kiss me in front of anyone, forever, I promise.” Her hands cupped my cheeks and she pulled my face to hers. She didn’t believe me. She appreciated I said it, but she didn’t believe me. Her lips touched my forehead before she straightened out her breath and started driving again.
Her disbelief only solidified my adamancy to keep my promise.
I have always been an observer. It is not out of curiosity alone, or simply to discover, but to make sound and definite decisions regarding my own future and who I want to be. Cautiously, but intently, I’ve watched the behaviors of others and waited for the consequences to be unveiled. Seeing the back and forth between people fascinated me. Everything is about cause and effect. There was and is an ever-evolving pro-con list in my head, and I have never acted on a decision without consulting it. Instances just like this one, are how the list has been shaped.
The ripple effect of one person’s actions has always been crystal clear to me. As a child, this caused me great anguish. I couldn’t fathom how people could do the things they did, knowing the outcome they’d have on others. I was unaware that many people don’t recognize this, they simply act and react out of emotion without ever considering what may happen to the world around them. I admit it is still a difficult pill for me to swallow, accepting this nature in others. As someone who analyzes every move before making it, to watch others haphazardly fly through life, acting on impulses, incites great stress in me. I judge them, then I beat myself up for being so judgmental. I’m sure I’ve missed out on certain fun or thrills because of my constant consideration. I’ve often envied the ability to “let go,” that “stop thinking and just do” kind of attitude has a certain life allure. I work hard to understand their satisfaction of acting in the moment, then, I watch them unintentionally but repeatedly cause harm to others through their lack of emotional control, and I’m back to square one. But this isn’t a story of judgement, it’s a story of self-discovery, of becoming.
Looking at my life, it is obvious to me how I’ve created the precise person I am and the world I have now. I can look back in time and pinpoint the exact moments I decided I was or was not going to do or be something. I stood by those promises I made myself.
I am proud to say I never once pulled away from my mother when she leaned in for a hug or a hundred tiny kisses, no matter the audience. The joy it gave her, and the satisfaction it gave me of being true to my word, were worth any embarrassment I may have encountered. This memory is a defining one for me. In a way, sitting in our clunker that day, I was already observing and teaching myself the laws of physics, of energy, of give and take. I was discovering my empathy. I was carefully and intentionally crafting myself into a person I could love and respect.