Growing up sometimes felt like hell. Ok, that’s a little extreme, but things were definitely not harmonious at my house most of the time. For starters, I have four brothers and sisters, and both of my parents worked full-time, my father running his own farm, which is more like an all-the-time job for ten months out of the year, and a part-time job for the other two months (much like the career I chose, teaching), which meant that mom and dad weren’t home a lot, and we five kids helped raise each other. With ten years between the five of us, and growing up in a small Catholic town, there was always something going on. From pee-wee basketball practice to family gatherings and birthdays (we had 16 cousins that lived in-state whom we were very close with), to mass, catechism, school plays, doctors appointments, emergency room visits, and trips to the grocery store, Mom or Dad were always on the road. (And did I mention that my family lived on a farm six to twenty miles away from the towns we traveled to for any of these activities?)
We spent a lot of time in our 1988, light blue Dodge minivan, driving up and down the curvy roads (curvy because, although we grew up on the plains of northeastern Colorado, it was near the South Platte river). Many parts of my childhood were idyllic in ways: We lived on a beautiful working-farm (where I can still remember watching my father and his friends, and then later helping, work cattle right across the street from our front-porch), our parents were very loving and involved in our lives and kept us very busy as kids, and we had a yard and fields to play in and even a creek just down the little dirt road behind our house. Yes, those things were all lovely, but the circumstances also left us kids unsupervised a lot. It’s true that many children were and still are safe in these circumstances, most of the time we were, also, but there was something about my childhood that tipped the scales from lovely, to at times completely frightening.
One of my brothers has bipolar disorder, and perhaps other medical disorders, that make him unpredictable and unstable, and at times downright dangerous. As we got older and were left at home more and more without adult supervision, even when parents were home but in another room or on another part of the property, crazy shit would happen. I began to fear and hate being home, despite all of the wonderful parts of it there. I’ve shared about my brother before and I’m sure I will again, but that’s not exactly what this story is about.
In the midst of all of the chaos of my upbringing, something happened that caused 5-year-old me some turmoil, yet turned into the biggest blessing of my life: Z, my best friend, moved away. Little did I know at the time, she would be my Harmony Way.
No, that’s not an expression. Z moved HOURS away from me, and she landed on a windy dirt road on the other side of the Great Divide, tucked into the foothills, on Harmony Way. 1501 Harmony Way, the home that was my refuge for one month out of every year. And it wasn’t just the escape that made this home so sweet, but that Lindsey’s family were the kindest people I had ever met, and still are the kindest people I know, to this day. If it wasn’t for their unconditional love and outpouring of support for me, I would not be the semi-balanced loving, open-minded person I am today. It was like all of the love and calm that these people generated, Z and her mom and dad, and passed to me in that one month together, somehow undid the damage that my brother’s terrifying outbursts and toxic insults and physical violence did to me in the other eleven months.
Going from the middle child of five to “little” sister of one was like being an only child. I’m not just saying I was spoiled by them buying my favorite fruits and cereal and pot-pies for my visit, which I was, or that they spoiled me by making homemade tortillas and burritos every year upon my arrival, which they did, or that they treated me to camping trips where I didn’t have to fight over a fishing pole or be worried about my brother pushing me into a lake, but all of those things were definitely nice. I am saying that there, on my little slice of harmony, I truly felt listened to. I had a voice, and it didn’t have to shout over four others before it was heard. There, on Harmony Way, I my life was reshaped.
On Harmony Way, life was sweet. Z and I played outside with her ducks, chased lizards around rocks on the mountainside, and sipped sweet tea on the porch while we read books, uninterrupted, for hours in the sun. At night, we watched the stars from around the campfire. We talked about important things, we played games, we went for walks, and no one got upset and stormed off or started throwing rocks. We agreed on what TV shows to watch after dinner and no one so much as yelled. I didn’t have to think about the problems at home, and I got to explore my own interests and personality in a way I didn’t get to do at home. Being able to do that around extremely loving, kind, funny, thoughtful people was the most nourishing possible experience I might have never known I had needed if it hadn’t been handed to me.
People survive way worse conditions than those I grew up in. People find many ways to be balanced and healthy and happy despite toxic upbringings and unhealthy family members. People definitely find other ways, but there is no doubt in my mind that the path that lead me to where I am now began with Z on Harmony Way.