How Did I Get Here?

I’m lying on my back looking up at the fluorescent lights and the acoustic tile ceiling at the gym (seriously, do they purposely make the lighting that bad so you look horrible and keep returning in the vain hope that one day you’ll catch sight of your reflection and appear normal?) when it hits me. I’ve been in this room, in some permutation, since I was 16 years old.

That was when the gym was a TJ Maxx. It was the only place within reasonable walking distance—a mile—and I applied there regularly for six months to a year before they hired me. The reason, the manager said, was because I was persistent.

Anyway, I always thought I’d move far far away from San Diego, never to return. I hated high school. I found the area to be dull. My family has no particular ties to the area, my dad being from the east coast. Growing up, we didn’t socialize with other families. We didn’t do community stuff. My roots were shallow. I always thought, One day I’ll move somewhere and it will feel like home. Because this area never did.

So as I’m lying in the gym, I wondered if I’d betrayed my 16 year old self by not moving away for good.

How did I get here?

I married my husband.

The Dilloways are fairly well-known in the area. Even now, when I whip out my credit card to pay for something, the cashier might say, “Dilloway? I know a Dilloway…” and if they know a Dilloway from San Diego, then chances are excellent that I’m related to them. Or maybe even 100%.

Those Dilloways were always doing community work. Coaching Little League, umping Little League, leading the local Scouts, showing up at community council meetings.

And their roots go back even further. My MIL grew up in El Cajon, back when it was farm country and she took the trolley to school at age 4. She and her brother had horses and shotguns.

Both my parents-in-law went to local high schools and SDSU. They’ve attended the same church for over 30 years.

Their roots run deep.

The other day, my husband and I were leaving my inlaws’ house and an SUV stopped going the opposite way, the driver waving frantically. He rolled down the window. It was a guy from one of the Little League teams, in town, who remembered my inlaws and wanted to come by and say hi. My husband hadn’t heard from him since high school. They swapped memories for a few minutes.

This kind of thing happens fairly frequently. People coming back to say hello, to say, “I wanted to tell you how much you meant to me and how much fun I had with you guys.” Sometimes, to my MIL, “I wanted to thank you for forcing me to be polite in your house and take off my hat because I got a job/impressed my girlfriend’s parents.” Because those roots, that sense of community, affected people in ways the Dilloways never knew about.

So now we live just a couple miles away from where I grew up. A couple miles away from the rest of the family. My kids attend the same high school where I went.

And somehow this place has turned into home.

Now I meet people in the stores who recognize me from places in our shared past, not just from my name.

And I’m still going back to TJ Maxx, in its new life.

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

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