The morning I left Germany with three kids, $200, and seven suitcases, the rolling green hills of northern Germany looked like swirls as tears welled up in my eyes. I sat in the back seat of a small yellow Passat with baby Jeremy strapped into the only car seat that would fit in the car, three-year-old Melissa nestled right next to me, and five-year-old Stevie sat on the other side.
I knew I had to do it, I had to leave him. Even my best friend Kirsten said so when we walked around the block one night after he’d yelled at me for over an hour. Is that what guys do after being in the military for so long? Maybe they’re just used to yelling. I wasn’t sure.
Melissa clung to a small blue bag that held her beloved doll dishes. Stevie looked out the window. Perhaps the reality hadn’t sunk in for him yet. I blinked at the backs of heads—my husband, and one guy from the barracks who was driving us to the Hamburg airport.
Sadness, relief, and ohhh my gosh, what am I doing, filled my heart and head. But then that glimmer of hope came, a new life. We’ll be okay. Then the scariness and the sadness would set in all over again.
I can’t look back, only forward.
That’s what I thought as I got the kids out of the car, and tried not to look at Steve, whom I was leaving, or see that he had tears in his eyes as he hugged the kids. Damn him for not getting his act together, for having an affair with that German girl, and for treating me like crap.
Seventeen hours and two tantrums later, I trudged through the gate of the tiny Eugene, Oregon airport on July 1, 1986, holding a blonde curly-haired sleeping toddler, and saw my mother for the first time in more than three years. She still had her trademark waist-length hair dyed auburn red and wore a bright-colored 60’s style blouse. Her long-time old hippie friends, Jann and Bill Chrysler, whom I’d known since I was a child, stood next to her, both wearing bell-bottom jeans and leather jackets. It was after midnight, but after 17 hours of traveling with three small children, time and space didn’t exist anymore. Jeremy felt heavy, like the weight of the world and I felt as if I was ready to pass out any moment. But we were finally here.
Melissa, still clutching her beloved blue bag, yelled, “Gwandma,” her small voice echoing through the hallways of the almost empty airport. She ran through the gate and into my mother’s outstretched arms, where she stayed. Mom held her close as if they were used to seeing each other every single day for the past three years. Even in my delirious and tired state, I realized Melissa hadn’t seen her Grandma since she was five months old.
Melissa, whose hair was long and straight just like Mom’s, held her face next to her Grandma’s, and I saw their eyes were the same gray-blue color, and their smiles matched. It was an immediate connection. Bill grabbed Jeremy from my arms and I breathed a slight sigh of relief as I grabbed Stevie’s hand. He looked like a space cadet, his dark hair bedraggled and sticking up in all directions.
I hugged Jann and Bill and trudged outside behind them and Mom who still held Melissa. Bill threw our suitcases into the back of his old pickup truck parked right outside the baggage entrance. Mom finally put Melissa down next to her small, gold-colored car and hugged Stevie and me. Then we piled into Mom’s car.
It was the first time I’d ever ridden with Mom in a car because she never had a driver’s license until she moved to Oregon in 1977, and I’d stayed behind in California.
The kids almost immediately fell asleep in the back seat as we drove down Highway 99 towards Newport. We followed Jann and Bill for a while, but then Mom fell behind because instead of driving too fast, she drove slowly and deliberately, holding a lit cigarette out the window of the car.
I was too tired to argue with Mom about smoking in the car. She only smoked one cigarette though, and I was thankful for that. She put the cigarette out in the car ashtray and fiddled with the car radio while telling me that she tries not to smoke much in the car and at least opens the window.
“This is a healing place,” Mom said as we pulled into Newport, Oregon.