My goal for revisiting the house on Mohican Road was to connect with my childhood and trigger memories. I started Monday morning with a common childhood breakfast – Quaker instant oatmeal. The hotel even had my two favorite flavors, Maple & Brown Sugar and Cinnamon & Spice. I had a bowl of each for good measure! Then I got into my rental car and made the short drive to Stow.
As I drove through the center of town, I began to recognize street names I had not heard since I moved away from Stow in 1975 – Gay Road, Graham Road. Emotion began to bubble up. Then I drove by Highland Elementary School where I had attended kindergarten and the first half of first grade. Memories started coming back.
I drove down the hill on Kay Drive where, as a preschooler one day, I had reached over from the passenger seat and turned the car key to the “off” position while my mom was driving us home. I had been curious what would happen to the car. Yes, memories were coming back.
When I reached Mohican Road, I didn’t need a map to know that I needed to turn left to get to my old house. But, with no conscious thought, my hands turned the wheel to the right. Apparently I wasn’t ready to go there yet.
I explored the other direction. I passed three streets before I reached the end. None of the names sounded familiar. But by the time I turned the car around, I remembered Kenwood Drive. I made a left on Kenwood Drive and drove up the hill back toward my old school. I recognized a house I had visited many times. I had a friend who lived there. We used to ride our bikes down that hill yelling, “Burnin’ out the woods!” I had not thought of that phrase in forever. I reached the top of the hill and noticed the street sign, Rose Drive.
A most interesting thing happened, that street name triggered a warm feeling. I remembered walking past that spot with two friends on the way home from school. We were talking about football, specifically Joe Namath. Turning on to Rose Drive on Monday, October 30, 2017 marked the first time in my life I remember experiencing a positive feeling about my childhood.
I turned left and rolled slowly toward the path that lead up to Highland. I had walked it many times as a child. I gazed across the field of grass and focused on the scene. I was surprised at how connected I was becoming with a childhood I had forgotten. I did a three-point turn on Rose Drive and turned right on Kenwood Drive.
When I reached Mohican Road, I turned left toward my old house. As I neared the stop sign between me and the house, emotion surfaced again. When I saw the house across the street, tears erupted. I pulled over and let my emotion out. What began as anger soon gave way to sadness. I sat in the car and cried for the little boy whose spirit was nearly suffocated by something he didn’t know how to process. I mourned the loss of a childhood I should have been able to enjoy.
When the tears stopped, I got out of the car and began walking. I walked the route I had just driven, up Kenwood Drive toward the corner of Rose Drive. I appreciated the beauty of the fall leaves and the patches of blue sky visible between the clouds. I greeted a few residents who were out on a morning walk. As I walked up the hill, I was aware my emotions were changing. The heavy sadness was lifting, and gladness was emerging.
I turned back when I reached the corner at Rose Drive. I realized there was nothing more I needed to see. Something incredibly powerful had happened during my visit to my old neighborhood. That coating of shame, sadness and fear had melted from my memories. I was actually feeling joy!
As I walked back down the hill, a phrase repeatedly echoed in my mind. “Trust your gut.” Many times I’ve wondered if the picture on the puzzle I’ve pieced together is real. It’s a common dynamic among sexual trauma survivors. “Am I crazy? Am I just making this up?” The evidence is overwhelming, but doubt still lingers. If you have been there, you understand.
I did not hear an audible voice in that moment, but the effect was equally as powerful – assurance, peace. My faith gives me confidence that the phrase was prompted by a Spirit infinitely more powerful than mine.
When I got back to my car, I decided to swing by Highland Elementary School before leaving town. I drove to the school and parked, then took a few pictures from the street out front. I followed the concrete walkway to the entrance and slipped in with another visitor as they were buzzed in. (I’m sure I violated security procedure, but I doubted “I went to first grade here forty-two years ago and I want to come in” would gain me entrance!)
I walked into the office, introduced myself, and said, “I went to kindergarten and first grade here forty-two years ago and I just wanted to come in.” The office staff verified that I had violated security procedure, but they were gracious. I mentioned the names of my teachers, Mrs. Saltis and Miss Wise. The office staff did not know of them. But a long-time teacher had walked into the office behind me, and she had Mrs. Saltis as a kindergarten teacher also!
We talked. She reminded me of an annual field trip that class took. It was to a farm just a few blocks from the school. When she described it, my memory of going there and petting the animals surfaced. I remembered how much I had enjoyed that experience! We chatted for a couple more minutes, then I mentioned I had a flight to catch in Pittsburgh and needed to head out.
I have always felt weak. Core beliefs that have plagued me since early childhood include “people want to hurt me” and “I’m powerless.” The last time I had walked out the door of Highland Elementary School was the beginning of Christmas break, 1975. I did so a wounded little boy, feeling dirty, shameful and afraid. But on this day, I walked out feeling joyful, confident and whole.
I don’t know that I can adequately describe how good it felt to reclaim my childhood the morning of October 30. I was almost giddy. Like Ebenezer Scrooge awaking on Christmas morning, my perspective had changed and something inside was very different.
On the way out of town, I stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts to pick up a few donuts and a hot chocolate for the road. The friendly server working behind the counter greeted me with the customary, “How are you today?”
“I’m good. Actually, I’m very good.” And for the first time in a very, very long time, I truly was. And I know I’m going to be.