Monday, March 31, 2014

"I'm Going to the Peace Corps, Dad"

I have written a lot this month about my childhood, stories from my years in West Point, New York; Savannah, Georgia; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; and Leavenworth, Kansas.  Today, on the last day of the month, I look back to see how far I've traveled.  I am surprised at how much I remember, how many details I can still feel if I stop, close my eyes on today, and open them to two decades ago when I was a happy-go-lucky, child-of-married-parents kid.

My childhood definitely came to a screeching halt the day--the moment--when my mother took me to lunch to tell me that she and my dad were divorcing.  But I wasn't ready for adulthood.  I was 17.  Even though that day, Martin Luther King's Day in 1994, was on the homestretch of my senior year in high school, I wasn't ready to grow up.  I fled high school, my parents, and all that I knew to spend four years at Seattle University, a small, supportive school where I found my niche in student government and academics.  Still, I was uneasy about my relationship with my parents, both of whom remarried just two years after the divorce, after my sophomore year.  (When people asked me what I was doing that summer, I joked: "Become an alcoholic."  It was a tasteless joke, but I knew how tempting it was to numb the anger and hurt and jealousy with something easy and cheap like alcohol.)

After college I spent 6 months volunteering in Calcutta, India, and traveling around India.  The flight alone was significant: a long, international trip from my home, a smugly developed country, to one of the poorest areas of a still-developing country. It was the beginning of the separation between my kid self and my adult self, and it was where I began to emotionally heal from my parents' divorce.  Being around people with so little made me realize how much I had.  My richness, not just financially, smacked me in the face.

After I got home from India and thoroughly showered off the grime of Calcutta and diseases to which I had been exposed, being careful to keep in me the joys and sorrows experienced, I had a number of odd jobs as I applied to the Peace Corps.  It was around this time that I began to think of myself as a real adult.  Of course, irony is involved...I was living off and on with my mother and her husband at the time!  But repairing that important relationship was of great solace to me and helped me ground myself before launching off once again.

I went to lunch with my dad (clearly, my family discusses important things while eating lunch) while out in Washington State, teaching campers how to ride horses at an electricity-free camp in Stenwood.  He sat across from me.  My dad, my hero, my big supporter and cheerleader.  My dad, an Army general, self-proclaimed president of the ogre club (consisting of guys with daughters who wanted to keep them safe from Everything).

"I'm going to the Peace Corps, Dad," I said.  He stopped chewing.  When I said I wanted to go to Africa, he had to put his fork down.*

It was at this very moment that I started walking across the bridge to my own adulthood.  It was at this moment that I stopped asking him (and everyone else) what he thought about every little move I was going to make.  It was at this moment that I took into my own hands life's big decisions, including the ubiquitous "what's next?" question when you're a career-less young adult.

On the last day of the month, the last day of our challenge, I'm so grateful for this March and the lessons I learned walking through my own childhood.  But I know that there is still plenty of steps to take if I take the time to go back and walk over that bridge to adulthood again, appreciating again the challenges and joys, the times I tripped and the times I soared.

*  He recovered quickly.  He was able to finish his lunch.  I've been lucky to have such great parents, even though they are divorced.  My dad was worried about me going to Africa (I actually ended up going to much-safer Thailand, which was not yet full of protests like it is today, where he went for work and I served as his cool is that?!)  He has always signed his letters to me, wherever I am, "I'm proud of you, Kate.  Of the person you are, and the person you are becoming."


  1. Dear Blog readers...while these slices are wonderfully and beautifully written, they don't begin to scratch the surface of the author. She is kind, loving, generous, thoughtful, strong (in so many ways), loving and beautiful. Her choice to join the Peace Corps is only a teeny tiny testament to that.