The following story is a guest post by Nicole, a late-wave Gen-Xer born in the latter half of the 1970s. Beyond sharing her very Gen-X name, she wishes to remain anonymous. To be sure, she has become a dear friend over the last decade or so.
Nicole’s story brings back a lot of my own vending machine memories. Specifically, I recall trips to the VA Hospital in Fayetteville, Arkansas with my dad in the late 1970s. The hours waiting in the VA were so long. We had very little money, but what little we had was enough to pay for hot chocolate and burning hot chicken broth out of a generic vending machine. There was also a long trip on a Greyhound Bus with my mom. It was 1973, and we were traveling from Southern California to Colorado Springs to see my dad. There would be many trips on Greyhound Buses for me. There would be many vending machines, but I’ll save those stories for another day. Please read Nicole’s post and share it on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you!
Of the hungriest, most tired, and most lonely of places I’ve been on this planet, standing in front of a vending machine is surely one. The presence of these machines usually means the people passing by are in some kind of transient situation or there is no place to get a hot meal anywhere nearby. In my young life, it often meant that love and connection were far away, too. I associate these large glass and metal boxes with Greyhound bus stations, hospital waiting rooms, and other places that make you want to run away
Of places I never wanted to leave when I was small was my backyard, where peaceful clouds hung in bluest skies over my candy-striped swing set. I used to run around on the sweet smelling grass and the earth would feel cool on my back while the sun would warm my blissfully closed eyes. Those days came to an end with divorce papers and cardboard moving boxes. I could not understand any of it, and I was trying to get ready for kindergarten.
From that time on, I have always had this sorrowful joy. And I’ve seen it in the faces of other Gen Xers too, and I think it’s for the same reason. I knew life was supposed to be beautiful because I had gotten a taste of it as a small child. Kitchens in suburbs where real food is cooked on stove tops are far away from the plastic wrapped food of vending machines.
When those backyard days were stolen from me, I became a survivor in every sense. As a child, I used to think that if I had enough nickels and dimes, I could create for myself a proper vending machine meal. A bag of sour cream and chive chips could maybe get by as a vegetable. On a good day, beef jerky could be the main course, and then a candy bar could be dessert. There is this lonely light that comes from vending machines, and there is a hum that comes from the soda machines next to them that I learned to find strangely comforting, because we have to find comfort somewhere.
There is an emptiness that comes from eating food with little to no nutrition. There is great fear in being on your own from a very young age. There is great loneliness when you have no place in the world because a broken home displaced you. There is a certain hunger that I think you can only really know if you are Generation X. Many Gen Xers will tell you that they had a good life until their parents got divorced – this was often a breaking dam that let an insurmountable amount of water flood into our lives. All the sudden, there were no boundaries between us and a world that was not a safe place. We drowned, or we somehow lived. And if we lived, there were days we wondered why.
Abandonment issues, absolutely. Anxiety issues, of course. And now that we are adults, we quietly and dutifully struggle from week to week to take care of our own families. We desperately try to shield them from the terrors we experienced. And we have to work hard at being happy because when you have almost drowned, when you know the weight of water pressing unmercifully on your back even as your lungs fill with water, it takes enormous strength and will to not just let go, to make your way back up to the surface. Some days I still have to work incredibly hard to swim back up to the surface.
What I believed as a small child was that God was in the clouds of those peaceful backyard days, I did not know that He was also in the water when the dam broke, that he was even in the lonely light of those vending machines. It may be that it’s time for me to somehow go back to those days of my grief and see how much God really was there, fully present and grieving my life even more deeply than I was, being the only parent I ever had, quietly offering me the instincts I needed to survive. I think that if I can somehow look back and see God in every frame of the story of my life, especially in the moments when I stood alone, hungry, in front of vending machines, it’s the only way I’ll ever really recover from a lifetime of being Generation X.
If you would like to submit a guest post for review, please email me, jenx1967 [at] gmail [dot] com. Posts must be of interest to a Gen-X audience and may not feature product pitches. Thank you!