I went to Sunrise Valley for one week in 1990. Some might remember me- a girl who abruptly showed up on a Monday and disappeared on a Friday. I was dressed in TJMax clothes to replace my hand-me-downs which were either left behind or worn too thin. Clothes that I had worn exploring the woods, watching my grandma cook, hugging my father, and playing with my cousins.
I had never shopped in a large store before. The lights were so bright and the the racks of clothes seemed to go on forever. I felt disoriented and so I hid in one of the racks, quiet as a mouse. I sat there for what seemed to be a long time. A woman found me tucked away as she was thumbing through the clothes. She looked concerned and took me to the front where they called for my mother. She eventually came, not looking concerned. She had not noticed that I was missing. We finished shopping and headed home.
The teachers must have sent a note home to parents asking them to include me on their children’s valentine’s list. On Wednesday, like all of the other kids, I had a paper bag on my desk filled with valentine’s. I did not know these people- their kindness felt unexpected and strange. I was still unsteady and traumatized from the recent events. I was embarrassed because I did not have anything for them.
In a short period of time, anxiety had become a companion who guarded me closely- snatching words out of my mouth and placing insane thoughts into my head… Were they making fun of me?
I had become a quiet child. This would be my 4th school of my 4th grade year (would attend 1 more school that year). The only person I knew in my life now was my sister. Everyone and everything around us was strange and felt wrong. I kept telling myself that it was temporary and we would go back home. I was observant and cautious. I was ready to make an escape.
We walked in a single file line down colorful hallways towards the gym. We played. We walked back to the classroom. That’s all that I remember of that school. A colorful hallway, a gym, and a bag full of valentine’s.
I would see that school again four years and five schools later. My mother would divorce & remarry my step-father and we would eventually end up back in this same place. But, I would not make the connection until years after that. When I was 9, I only knew that I lived in Virginia and my mother never told me that we were moving back to the same place we had started. I would finally open up to a few friends about my experiences and we would have this profound, mind-blowing experience of this shared memory.
I had become friends with kids in that class who remembered a girl who showed up during Valentine’s day. It was like walking into a thrift store and finding something that had been stolen from me years before. This belonged to me.