Holding my child in the night, wondering how I would be able to care for her, how I would be able to provide for her, how I could do all I needed to do alone, as a single parent, crying the silent tears that threatened to bring me to the edge of despair – all those feelings came rushing back to me last weekend when I saw The Pursuit of Happyness. The movie brought back all those overwhelmingly desperate feelings, those feelings of panic and fear and heartache I experienced after my husband left us and I was suddenly a single parent with a 2-year-old daughter that I was 100% responsible for, emotionally, physically, financially. I remembered trying to get medical coverage for her, and finding out that I made $11 too much per month to qualify for assistance. I remembered the times when I didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough food for both of us. I remembered buying big bags of potatoes and eating them night after night because they were cheap and went far. The calls from creditors for bills that my ex had incurred, telling me that California is a community property state, ma’am, and that I was responsible for his bills. No car; it had been repossessed a few weeks before he left. My daughter said that my pillow was "the crying pillow."
Watching the movie, all those feelings came rushing back, an assault to my present self, and I was enormously surprised at the strength with which I experienced them all over again so many years later. I thought they’d been buried, stuffed down, locked away forever. And yet, I found myself tracing the scars of my pain from back then, a bit startled to see the scars still there as I thoughtfully traced their outlines, feeling a bit dismayed that they hadn’t disappeared but remained as a reminder of where I’d been, what I’d endured. The bruises were still there, too, bruises that resulted from the beatings that my heart, my dreams and my certainty in life took. They were still tender. How could that be after all these years? How could those memories still hurt when I was so long past that time, when I’d made it through those dark times, and raised my child and gotten past all that hurt and have had a happy, successful life for decades since then? I was surprised when I found myself crying in the theater, watching the Chris Gardner character holding his child, crying his tears alone in the night. It was too, too familiar.
Of course, my situation wasn’t as desperate as his or as desperate as those of so many other single parents. But it was an experience that I thought wasn’t part of me any longer and so I was surprised at the emotions and memories that became so vividly alive for me again. It caught me off-guard. I had a similar experience when the movie Terms of Endearment came out. My mom and I went to see it shortly after I’d had surgery for cervical cancer. Bad timing. She and I sat there sobbing through the movie, relating so closely to the characters, knowing we’d had a close call. (The cancer came back a few months later; another surgery removed it.)
Maybe I’m not supposed to lock these memories away. Maybe this is a time when I’m supposed to remember, now that I’m at a safe distance from them. They are part of my story. They are part of my journey to who I am becoming. They are part of my tapestry, rich and varied, stronger where the torn pieces have been carefully and lovingly mended.