In the summer of 1985, I was newly married and five months pregnant with my first daughter. I was traveling out west to Colorado for the first time with my husband and my father. The circumstances of that trip are another story for another time, but the actual trip itself, a twenty hour car ride through six states was a defining and ultimately paradoxical signpost towards my journey of brave. It was a journey that would take over three decades before I would reroute myself . . . right myself . . . into who I needed to be.
Traveling in my father's car that summer was predictably miserable in the leather seated August heat and his insistence that we drive straight through . . . which would have been okay if three of us were actually driving. But he decided from the word go, in his typical misogyny, that an eighteen year old pregnant girl couldn't be counted on as a driver. And then there were two. Except that after the first eight hours, he reclined in the front passenger seat, turned his head towards the window, and refused to move again for the next twelve hours. In two words, my father was a bully and an ass. By contrast, my husband was deferential . . . observant, but silent . . . intelligent and analytical, but shy . . . and in his defense, young and caught by surprise in the chaos of extreme dysfunction I had learned to survive in. Looking back now, I can almost feel sorrier for him than me . . . but I was angry.
Caught between my new husband's passive disenfranchisement from the world and my father's toxic and aggressive narcissism . . . I fought back . . . for the life of my child . . . and perhaps from the first vague realization that my semi-conscious choice of someone polar opposite from my father had only decreased my power base. If you weren't fighting for me, you were fighting against me . . . and mine.
It was two to one now. I fought them both.
I pleaded. I rationalized. I insisted on driving. I demanded the car be pulled over. I spewed invective. I talked incessantly to keep one or both of them awake. One was stoically silent behind heavy eyelids. The other fought back harder with sarcasm, returning my invective . . . shutting me down and shutting me out with his eyes stubbornly closed. Both seemed blithely unconcerned for my distress. All of this I remember. But mostly I remember the final minutes in bearing down on our destination of Colorado Springs, and the incidental passing of Castle Rock - - like a moment just between time and space with an illusion of normalcy. . . or maybe a welcome distraction in my exhausted futility.
It was a strange volcanic formation perched high upon the top of a mountain and visible from the highway. I was fascinated, perhaps feeling like the danger had passed, compartmentalizing -- an expert skill for victims of prolonged trauma -- and curious about the world passing me. "Is that a natural formation?" I half-asked out loud. "Well, nobody PUT IT up there." My father shot back derisively, condescending, laughing at me. In the larger scheme of things, there were much worse things he had said to me . . . had done to me . . . In a normal situation, I might have laughed at myself, shaken it off. But I was stung; he made me feel small and stupid, dismissed and unimportant. Maybe I remember this mostly because it was a culmination of a lifetime of this dynamic. I needed it to stop. There was someone else now that I needed to fight for. I would stop the cycle of powerless-ness . . . someday.
Life had the funniest way of coming full circle. If you wait for it, search for it, pray for it . . . need it badly enough to heal, you will find your power in the world in the most serendipitous ways.
* * *
In 2009, my oldest daughter lived in Chicago with her husband and baby daughter. Brittany and Jeremy had both graduated from Moody Bible Institute on LaSalle. Jeremy had begun working at a Starbucks in the city while he was in school for Christian Counseling, first as a barista, and then working himself up into management. By the time he finished school, the salary he was making for a 22 year old graduate was nearly enough to make him complacent in his passion for the hearts of people. Brittany wisely recognized the peril in the demise of his dream and pushed him to apply for Denver Seminary. It was a fight . . . a partnership . . . and a win . . . that I had the deepest admiration for. In the spring of 2010, they moved to an apartment in Littleton, Colorado. They bought a house in Englewood, and had a son. And then another daughter. And then in 2017, they bought a bigger house . . . In Castle Rock, Colorado.
That same summer of 2017, my husband and I separated after 32 years of marriage, and I went to Castle Rock to visit, just a few weeks after the break and the move. The strange rock for which the town was named was familiarly visible above the highway that wound into their new mountain community. It loomed menacingly beautiful and I couldn't articulate. The children were brilliant and busy and consuming . . . and there was a new blue-eyed baby to rock and comfort and to grow . . . a home to come together . . .
and one that had fallen apart.
Autumn came and with it new beginnings for me . . . a move of my own . . . the challenges . . . and the healing . . . that come from being alone for the first time in a life . . . A long winter in a new city . . . in a new job . . . and trying to reconcile where I belonged in the spring. Maybe it was that angst that sent me back as soon my job in education fell off for the summer. The day after I was finished, I flew high back to Colorado.
And, as rocks will be, it was still there . . . with its fluttering memories.
I wanted to love it. I wanted it to mean something different. I wanted it enough that I could finally tell my daughter the story she had never heard. And as it were, Brittany and I had come to a place where we were doing some healing in our own relationship. My background and history . . . my broken relationship with my own mother had left me floundering in my understanding and ability to mother my adult daughters . . . especially at such a time in my own life. I needed to understand what they needed from me. What could I offer them in addition to the heartbreak? And here my own daughter modeled it for me . . . mothered the mother. I told my story and she listened attentively and discerningly and offered a sage solution:
Rename it. Climb Castle Rock and rename that memory.
You can do that? You can climb it?
Of course you can. Let's do it together.
And so we did. That Sunday morning on Father's Day 2018 . . . 32 years after the offending car ride, I conquered that mountain and that memory. It wasn't exactly my gift to him, but as my funny, tiny daughter said . . . I was flipping Gary Lee the bird . . . My f%&k you from the top.
And so I have renamed the memory . . . not forgotten it . . . because every happy ending needs a sad beginning . . . a reason . . .
Rename the memory . . . because the beginning scenes will fade. . . and what is left is power and perseverance and people . . . the ones you make room for because their love . . . and loving them . . . Makes you feel powerful . . .
Own the memory on your terms . . .I own the rock now . . . It's mine. I have embraced the love and energy of its new memories . . .
Get new people . . . ones who belong to you . . . deserve you . . .
I will remember . . .
A little boy dressed in blue who badly wants to climb, too . . . And he cries and then starts smaller until he is ready . . .
A little girl with a secret smile sitting next to her little brother on the mountain steps . . . because one day soon . . . for her ninth birthday . . . her mommy and daddy will take her to climb . . . She cried, too, so she won't hurt his feelings . . .
A white-haired, sun-kissed baby girl who cries hard because she just wants down . . . and a good daddy who carries her and ignores her cries to tumble down the mountain . . .
A daughter who made the journey up with me . . . One careful step at a time . . . She has been with me since the beginning of the story . . . She is the reason I climb.