“The only constant is change”
Ecological succession is a natural process, a progression.
I remember first learning about ecological succession in middle school science class. We were taught that all environments; tundra, forest, desert, ocean are constantly changing.
Over time oceans can become desserts or swaps becomes forests. It is the natural progression of life. I always found it to be very fitting that I learned about ecological succession in middle school, a time of natural progression, especially for pubescent girls. While my peers chatted about their first kisses, adorned themselves with makeup and tight shirts to show off rapidly emerging curves, I stayed in the background, hidden by baggy shirts and a tomboyish attitude.
I still spent my time in tree forts, exploring the woods behind our house, comfortable with the growing distance between me and my classmates experiences. This was partly due to the fact that I wasn’t allowed to do many of the things that other girls my age were doing; having sleepover parties, hanging out in the mall without an adult…all things that I wished I could do, but had to learn to not waste my time wanting.
My after school haunts changed when my mother and I moved to a different part of town the beginning of my 7th grade year. There were new woods to explore and new kids to meet.
To pass the time, my new friends and I used to walk through all the backyards in the neighborhood, oblivious of property markers or boundaries. This one particular backyard I remember led into a small patch of woods, cut in the middle by a narrow brook. We would spend time getting dirty, jumping across slippery rocks, making up stories about the creatures that surely lived in this patch of woods.
A lot was going on that school year. My best friend since elementary school moved away to another state. Her sister was being sexually abused by her mom’s boyfriend and when she mustered the courage to speak up against him, the family moved away and he went to prison.
My mom and I were constantly moving around. Although never to a different school, the different neighborhoods meant different kids…all with their own territorial dramas and suburban dilemmas to get re-accustomed to. My mother took back her on again, off again husband, Richard.
I remember Richard as being funny, interesting, and charming. He taught me how to catch fish and played the harmonica in his rusty pick up truck. Richard was also an alcoholic and out of work chief.
Their arguments were vaguely interesting. I would turn my radio up and get back to my homework. Another normal routine.
Some time in the winter he disappeared, took off again. My mom told me he left her a note. He ran off with another woman but promised to still complete her citizenship papers.
I was having a difficult time acknowledging that things change… even me.
That spring, I turned thirteen and started my period. The melting snow receded, revealing white shells at the edge of the forest. I almost walked right over the shells but my friend stopped me and picked one up. As she excitedly passed it around to the other kids, she exclaimed this was a sign this forest was once a river. I walked around the shells disheartened. I was tired of change.
I saw adulthood like I saw my mother; overworked, limited, bound to some invisible force … she was working full time and on her degree at night. The more I learned about it meant to be a woman, the less I wanted it for myself, I wanted to fend off the adulthood disease as long as I could.
I very rarely saw Richard drunk. I just occasionally heard him stumble home late at night. There were a few nights where I was a witness to the emotional and at times physical abuse. But I avoided talking about it or asking questions since I was trying to stay as far away from that adult world as I could.
One day in early spring, I came home from school to a barely legible handwritten note. The chicken scratch read:
I’m sorry. I still love you but I can’t do this anymore. Don’t worry, I wont mess up your papers.
It was a note much like many others he had left , only this time I was the first one to see it.
I called my mom at work.
“Did you have a good day at school?”
“yeah,. school was fine.”
“A lot of homework?”
“Richard is gone. There is a note.”
“Does this mean we have to move again?”
This was also the point where I remember bursting into tears at the mere thought of another move. This was the first time I let me mother see me react. I felt like so much was spinning out of control as I came face to face with the shaky balance between dependence on others and my need for independence. I was face to face with realities of the adult world…and it wasn’t pretty.
That was the last time. After four years of leaving and staying, of moving and packing, she didn’t go back to him. Little did I know, his departure, and my mother’s new beginning, left an opening, a space, for me to enter adulthood with less fear.
Later that spring, I took one last a walk to my usual spot. We were moving again, but it didn’t feel so heavy. I rushed to the spot at the edge of the woods where we noticed the pile of blanched shells in the woods a few weeks back. this time, the leaves were a deeper green, the spot, increasingly hidden by the growing foliage. I pulled some branches back and there they were.
The shells in the woods.