One day I was in a car with friends when we stopped at a light in front of a local book store. “Didn’t that used to be a restaurant?” asked one friend. “I think so,” said another. A third then reeled off three different types of restaurants that had occupied the space before the current business.
I’ve lived in Salem for 22 years and during that time that store has always been a book store.
When people do this, I feel like Jason Bourne—awakening to find I have no past. Before I bought my house in Salem, I had lived no place longer than 4 years. We moved eight times while I was in school. A couple times we moved after only a few months.
The worst moves were the last two we made as a family. The first time, I was 14 and had just graduated from a two-year middle school. I’d bonded into my first group of really close friends. Leaving them was like an amputation.
We moved across the country to a small town in Ohio. Rather than moving on to high school, I was thrown back into junior high because the only middle school in town included ninth grade. Most of the girls in the very cliquish school had already known each other for two years—many of them had been friends since elementary school. I was an outcast, fitting in only with the rest of the outcasts.
Three years later I was looking forward to my senior year. I had found a group of girls I really clicked with. I was beginning to trade sidelong glances with a couple boys. I had already ordered my yearbook and had my class ring. Then my father announced we were moving back to California.
The high school I left had a student body of about 800. The California school had a student body of more than 2400; my new graduating class was larger than the entire student body of my previous school. As I went from class to class, I never saw the same faces twice. I saw my brother in the halls once. He gave me a half wave of recognition and the quirked smile of a drowning man who sees his fate and is wryly resigned to it. Then he disappeared into a sea of anonymous faces.
My brother was in the same situation I’d landed in three years before. He had been about to move into high school with a couple of close buddies, when he was wrenched away from them. It was unfortunate that, being teenagers with different personalities, we had drifted apart. I had already suffered the loss he was about to endure. We could, perhaps, have helped each other through this one.
I gritted my teeth and finished school. I went through the graduation ceremony only because I knew it meant something to my parents. It was meaningless to me. I didn’t know any of the students and didn’t care. I never bought a yearbook or another class ring. What was the point? I didn’t belong there.
When I moved out at 20, I was glad to be on my own, mistress of my own future. I went through a lot of apartments, but when I bought my house my roots sank into the ground. My brother, too, stopped moving as soon as he was able. He’s been in his home for almost as long as I’ve been in mine. Neither of us is willing to give up the friends and sense of place we’ve established.
People say kids are resilient, and to some extent that’s true or none of us would survive. And there are times when a bread winner has to move–and move long distances–taking his or her family along. An economy during which jobs are in short supply is one of those times. These moves even kids can understand, if the situation is explained to them, even if they don’t like it.
Often, however, the command to relocate comes from a corporate office, made by executives only looking at the company’s bottom line rather than the effect the move will have on the family group involved. It’s not unusual for employees to understand that, if they do not make the move, the health and vigor of their careers will suffer. The economy and the American focus on corporate climbing being what they are, many, if not most, choose the job and hope the quality of family life will survive.
It’s not unusual, however, for a person to decide to move across the corporate chess board on his own, driven by the dream of becoming a knight or even a king. Although his dreams and plans figure prominently, or even primarily, too often his spouse’s and his children’s dreams, needs, and desires for security are not considered or respected. And when they are not, there will often be a price to pay in a trail of lost and broken pieces.