As a child, I longed for adventure. Among my fantasy repertoire, I imagined I was a princess secretly placed with a normal family. Everyone around me knew this but was sworn to silence. As I walked to my elementary school, I interpreted the bored glances of commuters as a tacit acknowledgement of my importance and astounding beauty.
“They know,” I’d think. “They read about me in magazines and wonder what I’ll be like as I grow. They’re all so amazed by me. It must be hard not to act jealous.”
I assumed there were covert photographers around every patch of bushes, waiting to show the masses what everyday royalty looked like. One day I would come into my rightful position.
It was odd being so important without any outward evidence. My clothes were hand-me-downs, twice removed. I had crooked teeth. The regular jeering of my siblings didn’t inspire confidence. I had no logical explanation for the fact that every newspaper headline featured me, without my ever catching a glimpse to confirm. The newspapers delivered to our home and local Miller Mart were rigged, of course.
Loneliness and a keen desire to matter do funny things in our minds.
Once I grew older, my thoughts fixed on adulthood as the culmination of my hopes. I would become “somebody.” I would arrive. I would have the American dream in whatever form it took that week, month, or year. A lucrative career, a happy marriage, a buttload of perfectly behaved kids that popped out of the ground like Cabbage Patch babies instead of my vagina. Somehow, adulthood would afford me the clarity, direction, and magical provision I needed to make my life into one long, delightful adventure. The opposite of mundane. The opposite of basically all it had been up until then.
You may guess what happened next…
I found out I was a secret princess, switched at birth. I reclaimed my birthright and married a man I had known for a little over 2 hours. He found me unconscious in a Wendy’s parking lot, covered with jewels and silk, after choking on a slightly overcooked hamburger. Once he performed the Heimlich in as tender a manner as possible, I coughed up the offensive morsel, turned to him, and we made out like teenagers in an elevator. Life has been pretty peachy ever since.
I will now, in a slightly disgruntled manner, report the truth:
My senior year of high school was terrifying. The closer I got to graduation the more I internally freaked out. College applications loomed like waking nightmares, I was overwhelmed by the need to find a job, move out, and start a new life, and the hand I wanted to guide me was absent. I’d receive acceptance letter after acceptance letter to colleges I knew my parents couldn’t afford and shove them into the trashcan. The magic I expected to happen (things being placed into my hands, everything working out, suddenly knowing what I wanted to do/be, etc.), didn’t.
Just a month or so before the end of the school year, I passed my personal writing portfolio to my English teacher on a whim. After reading through it, she asked, “Where are you going to college? I showed it to my sister and we both want to know.”
“Nowhere? Or maybe the community college?” My self-doubt was so engulfing, I could only speak in questions.
“Nope. Not if I have anything to do with it,” she answered, stoutly.
A few weeks later I became a late entrance student to a local, but admirable, university on full scholarship.
“Ahh, here we are, adventure!” my subconscious mind grinned. “I’ll go to college, I’ll write a buttload of good things, get recognized, wham, bam, thanks for the Pulitzer Prize, ma’am.”
I was so burnt out on writing that, by the time I graduated, I could only stare stupidly at a computer screen for a few years afterward.
Depending upon whom you ask, a degree in English is idiotic and useless or the gateway into virtually anything related to communication. In fact, my former spouse told me everyone he mentioned my degree to laughed about it. (I am partial, but I beg the following consideration: How is proficiency in our native tongue, in the very thing the allows us to communicate, a loss or waste?) That aside, it left me with options. Too many. And, once again, no clear direction. I was stunned to realize that gaining a degree, the passing of time, even practice writing, hadn’t cured my distinct fear of failure and self-doubt.
I think a fair amount of our lives are spent wondering the questions: Who am I? What the hell do I want to do with my life? Do I have what it takes? Am I grown, now? When will I know that I’ve accomplished “it”? When will I feel satisfied and sure of myself?
The answer, usually, is in the mystical land of “Someday.”
There’s a problem with that answer. Someday is never now. Now is excused from the adventure. Now is too prosaic. Now is too hard, messy, confusing, and scary. Now is not enough. Now doesn’t look like a movie scene or a Tolkien trilogy.
When I said I would write “someday,” what I really meant was that I was scared to begin. I was terrified of rejection. I was afraid I would suck. I was too afraid to suck.
But writing wasn’t the exception to this pattern. It infiltrated my whole life. I lived as a victim to the illustrious and unattainable: a life of perfection, ease, and free passes to gifts I hadn’t earned.
Once I realized those things didn’t exist and that I wasn’t entitled to them (dammit), I admit I lost some steam. It sounds foolish. How can you give up on things you never adequately tried for? How can you be upset over things that were never real? But the mental power to sustain my disillusionment was substantial. False dreams are still dreams. They still shatter. The crashing still hurts.
I concluded that adventure wasn’t for me. Living small was the way to go. I wouldn’t call it that. I would say it was being “practical.” Tossing hope in the trash was a shrewd decision. Lowering my expectations for the people around me, myself, and my future was “embracing reality.” Only fools, naïve little babies, believed for better in life. Adventure was relegated to storybooks, and I would have to content my hollowed-out heart with that knowledge. Sometimes binge-watching Netflix shows helped. Sometimes they made the pain of my banal existence worse, by comparison.
I did what most people do, swinging from one extreme to the other before (hopefully), finding a middle ground, a stable and more thoughtful approach. One that confirms itself through a multitude of evidence in my life, now.
This is a blog post, not a short novel, so come back next week for Part 2. (Or don’t and spend your life wondering. You’re the boss of your own adventure.)