Does a stepparent relinquish their title, and the unspoken rights, responsibilities, support, care and concern, (often included in the character description) if the relationship ends in divorce?
And what the hell happens in a Girlfriend Mom situation… I don’t know either.
I no longer wear the sash and crown, but there are certain habits and emotional bonds that were formed during my halcyon days as the reining Girlfriend Mom, that have stayed with me nearly three years after the so-called divorce. The role will forever remain in my heart as the most unexpected, and enlightening that I have had the privaledge of playing. And I played Leper #2 in the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar in theater camp.
It was because of these unique relationships, (that seem to be defined, and then redefined every few months) that I took SN (the daughter) on a road trip last Fall from Portland, Oregon to La Jolla, California for her college graduation gift.
A few family members and friends thought it was strange that I was taking a trip with my ex-boyfriend’s daughter. These were some of the same people who thought that it was weird that I still saw the kids. SN’s mother thought it was a wonderful opportunity for her daughter and thanked me. I didn’t need to be thanked because it was my absolute pleasure and joy.
I wanted to make the trip more than SN. I knew firsthand how life affirming such an experience could be. I made the same excursion when I was her age, after my college graduation. After four years in Manhattan, side-stepping dog poop on the sidewalks on my way to class, knocking into Wall Streeter’s as they hustled to the subway, I hit the road and drove across the country over the summer.
Ever since I was in high school, I wanted to drive across America. I read Kerouac’s, On The Road, watched both Easy Rider, and Lost in America, and the idea of living moment to moment; no plans or schedule was alluring and sexy.
I imagined driving through towns with populations under a hundred. I fantasized about having to get a waitress job in a honkey tonk (even though I’d never waited tables before) because I ran out of money. Perhaps I’d get hired to wax surf boards in a shop along the California coast, even though I’d never set foot on a board. I romanticized the road because I’d been dodging crack dealers on my way to my dorm. Anything would be better than that.
I’d learn how to ride a motorcycle. I’d pick up hitchhikers bumming for lifts. They’d teach me about the world; sharing their wisdom gleaned from years living according to their chakras and not in the chokehold of societal expectations, norms and conventions. These free spirits would regale me with pearls from the backseat of my car, while chewing tobacco, and using an empty Coke bottle as their spittoon.
To be twenty-two.
I used the money that I’d saved over the years in a giant pink piggy bank that my parent’s had bought me when I was nine years old, to fund my trip.
The bank lived on the bottom shelf of my bookcase in my childhood bedroom. It was so big that I doubted that it would ever be full, but I dropped coins into the slit on its back every chance I got.
My parents told me (although it was couched as a suggestion) to wait until the pig was full before I uncorked its underbelly. They assured me that it would be more exciting and gratifying than if I withdrew money every time I wanted another Bonne Bell 7-Up Lip Smacker, which was often.
What ten-year-old girl is going to understand the concept of saving, patience and restriction? It was friggin’ Bonne Bell. Yes, I dipped into the bank on more than one occasion.
As I got older and more disciplined, it became easier to resist the urge to crack open the swine before she was up to her snout in metal and couldn’t take one more thin dime. She did taunt me, especially when my babysitting jobs dried up in the winter of ’83 but I stayed the course.
By the time I graduated college, the bank had been full for several months. I suspect that my parents dropped a few shekels in while I was away at school.
Soon after graduation, I went into my bedroom, closed the door and pulled the weighty bank off of the shelf. I plucked the stopper, emptied the contents onto my medium pile chocolate brown shag rug, and began the laborious task of rolling the coins into their respective denomination wrappers. This was long before the coin machines in local supermarkets. I rolled until I lost feeling in my fingers.
It was mind-numbing and it required a gross amount of concentration and counting. Anyone who knows me, knows that I find counting mentally exhausting.
As I sat with my legs crossed hunched over mounds of coins (as a Pilates instructor I shudder at the visual) I kept having to remind myself of how many nickels were in a two-dollar wrapper. The whole ordeal made me dizzy.
As the rolls piled high, forming miniature pyramids on my rug, my anticipation increased—How far would the money take me? Would I have to get a job bartending?
When the wrapping was complete, I went to the bank and cashed out. If memory serves, I had over six hundred dollars in dusty and sticky pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. I found several half dollars and a handful of silver dollars. I vaguely remember getting those as birthday presents from my grandfather. At the time, I couldn’t get over the fact that a dollar could be a coin.
I also found a peso or two in the mix, which was odd because I hadn’t been to a country where the local currency was a Pesos. Dad?
I had money to make a childhood dream come true and nothing felt sweeter. I was rich!
Once I climbed behind the wheel and was on the road, I tossed my shoes into the backseat of my Honda Accord and crossed over the first of many state lines. I felt as if I’d been infused with a dose of freedom. I hadn’t done a lot of traveling up to that cross country point and I was captivated by the enormity of the country, and awed by the vastness and the quiet. It was eye opening in ways that I had only read about or seen in the movies.
I imagined my foot glued to the gas pedal, never to return to New York. I’d only driven 700 miles from home, but I was convinced that I belonged on the road, and that I would be happy wandering for the rest of my life.
To be twenty-two.
Decades later, I hoped that SN’s experience would be as thrilling as my first time was. I’d play the part of the wise hitchhiker, imparting sage advice, only without the tobacco. I was anxious to see the roads of my youth, and to be seeing them through SN’s youthful eyes.
To be continued…