When I was a little girl my mom played an incredibly cruel joke on me. I was desperately lonely as a child. I had two half sisters who were at least a decade older than me, and with whom I did not live. My mother had been pregnant before me, but her other daughters never survived. So it was just me. Me, my mother, and my stepfather, both of whom were a decade or more older than all of my peers’ parents. Because my parents were small business owners, they were also gone a lot, especially early on because my mother was building her brand. I was the absolute definition of a latchkey kid. My mom determined by the time I was seven or eight, I was fully capable of being home alone for hours at a time. I was bored, lonely, and starved for attention.
One day my parents said we were going for a drive. We squeezed into our tiny hatchback car and meandered along the town streets, and eventually made our way out to the country. My mom said she had some very important news she wanted to share with me. I was nervous and excited.
“You’re going to have a little sister,” she said.
I was thrilled!
Then she continued, “We’ve already put in the papers for the adoption. And guess what else? She’s black!”
This floored me. My mom refused to even buy me a black Barbie (“Why would you want that?”). I couldn’t imagine her and my stepfather adopting a black child, but I was over the moon at the idea. Just recently a classmate of mine had gained a sister this very way after his parents adopted a girl from Somalia. Her entire family had either vanished or been killed in the Somali Civil War. I was sure that my parents had done the same–had seen the devastation, desperation, and starvation in Somalia and were adopting a child who otherwise might not have a chance to survive*.
(*Disclaimer–I was a child with a naive view of the world, and now know that transracial adoption is always incredibly complex and sometimes extremely damaging to the child.)
I screamed with delight. I asked what her name was. “Sasha,” my mom said. I loved her name. I asked if we were going to share a room. “Maybe,” she said coyly. On and on this went, and my joy became infinite. In that brief moment in the car, I imagined having what my friends had–siblings to share and fight with, family dinners that were always boisterous, car rides that weren’t spent staring silently out the window, whispering ghost stories to each other at night, picking each other up when we fell. To me it seemed magical.
I snapped out of this daydream when I realized my parents were laughing. They were laughing at me.
“Sasha is a dog,” my mother said through tears. “We’re adopting a puppy!”
I didn’t laugh.
I hated that dog for its entire life.
This story is a snapshot of my relationship with my family. With the exception of two aunts and a few other family members here and there, I did not get along with or feel comfortable around family. I was always different.
When I was 12 and told my mother about my stepfather’s sexual abuse, I became even more estranged from the core of my family. But I still needed people. I needed support and laughter and kindness. That’s where my friends came in.
I have spent the last fifteen years cultivating friendships that will hopefully stand the test of time. I walk amongst my chosen family as the unvarnished, flawed version of myself, and they still love me. And when I need to get out of the house (or out of my head), they’re available to help.
So this weekend I tried a new thing with a new-ish friend.
I went to the Garland Theater for the very first time. The Garland is a Spokane treasure, and has been around since 1945. It has served as the city’s discount theater since 1988, and has an eclectic and dedicated following. Attached to the theater is a cocktail bar called Bon Bon. When Bon Bon first opened, it was the first vintage cocktail bar in the city, and it was ahead of its time. In fact, I celebrated getting my MFA there over six years ago. However, I’d never been in the actual theater.
My new friend Amy texted on Friday and asked if I wanted to go to Atomic Blonde. I happily agreed.
Amy and I met through work last year, and we’ve been spending time together since. We’ve shared stories about the fucked up things our mothers have said or done to us in the past, and their lack of recognition of that fuckery today. Amy moved away from her family and stayed away for a very long time (over a decade, if I remember correctly). She, too, forged her own way in a city full of unknowns and found her own chosen family. Returning to her hometown last year to reunite and take care of ailing family members was a difficult choice, one fraught with the pain of the past.
While our families and our relationships with them were different in the details, the experience of separating from family united Amy and me.
I didn’t know what to expect of The Garland–I thought it might be cramped, maybe a bit smelly, with raggedy old seats and stained carpet. Much to my surprise, the theater was gorgeous. And HUGE! The place can seat 500 people. It blew my mind.
Amy shared pieces of her own history of the theater with us. I was glad to visit The Garland for the first time with someone so familiar with this city–a city I once hated and have now come to adore with a ferocity that causes me to sometimes be irrational with West Siders. Plus, the movie was super fun. It didn’t make a lick of sense, but Charlize Theron sure was a badass, and the cinematography was stylish and gritty.
This last week was a difficult one. My wife and I were dealing with our former foster son’s father, who accused us of hiding or stealing money. It was the first week of school, and most of my classes are overloaded and I’ve already had discipline issues. And Labor Day weekend marks the one-year anniversary of my breakup with my mother.
Somehow Amy knew exactly what I needed–to escape. What better way to escape than to be swept away by the magic of movies?
One thing is for sure, I’ll be going back.