Back then, I didn’t know that my life was supposed to be ruined. I’m thankful that I didn’t know.
The word “ruined” arrives often in my adult conversations. Mostly it comes from within the confines of white picket fences and air-conditioned living rooms—the gentle world I travel in these days. It’s a word I hear used to describe children with troubled pasts or women who have survived ordeals. It’s a word that settles like an ulcer at the bottom of my stomach, stinging with accusation even when it isn’t meant for me. What does it really mean to be ruined?
Waiting for me back in my grown-up home is a pretty stretch of yard, and an embarrassingly comfortable couch. I often check the thermostat and ask my husband if the temperature is good, to which he winces and answers the same way he always has. I’m constantly rescuing things too, from my pets to my up-cycled projects. Even my 40-year-old house is in need of plenty of work but is on the road to completion. I guess it has to do with the old promise I made with myself, that I will try to leave things better than I find them. It’s a tenet that puts me in unreasonably good standing with landlords and neighbors, but more importantly, it means my caring becomes a tangible actionable thing. It means my loved ones are warm at night.
After I settle into my childhood bedroom, I notice the flecks of red paint—the roses I painted around the borders of the room with a childish hand. I recognize the stickers peeling from the dresser mirror—evidence of happy days I hoped to remember again. I see the drawer where I used to hide my stories and my dreams of becoming a writer. Before I leave, I place one more memento behind. This time it’s my name tag from my college reunion. Maybe next time I’ll leave a copy of my first published novel in my old hiding place. Because that’s what I do.
I defy my ruins.