For my mother
“When you’re young, you think everything you do is disposable. You move from now to now, crumpling time up in your hands, tossing it away. You’re your own speeding car. You think you can get rid of things, and people too—leave them behind. You don’t yet know about the habit they have, of coming back. […] You can never get away from where you’ve been.”~ Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
In a few days, I ‘ll shuttle through another birthday, another twirl around the sun. I am twice the age of the woman I was in the [above] photograph.
It seems impossible, but it’s true.
I look deeply into that face and wonder how it is possible she felt so useless, so small. When I look at her now, she seems impossibly and incandescently beautiful. How come I never saw that?
My mom and I talked this morning and I mentioned how much happier I’ve been since the age of 40. Adult life before 40, was, for me, pretty miserable. I was happy as a child and teen, but for most of my twenties and thirties, I fell into a deep well of despair. It’s hard to believe, considering all that I accomplished, but it’s true.
I didn’t love my girl. I didn’t love that fundamentally-flawed, fucked-up, fragile, handle-with-care girl.
In my private moments, I seethed. A sloth in love with my couch, I ate myself into oblivion, worked a job I hated (even after getting my master’s degree), and felt isolated by longing and an affinity for sadness that I can’t really explain. Genetics played a role, I’m sure.
I realize, only now, what a lost soul I was in those days.
“But you seemed so sure of yourself then,” my Mom sighed.
“Bullshit and bravado. All sheen and no substance.”
The Road Not Taken
We discussed the limited options Mom had as a young woman. (Basically, marriage/motherhood, or a career as a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher.) Cha-ching.
“I look at what some of these young women can do now, and I find myself wishing I could’ve had even half of those choices.”
“I know you don’t think so, but options were limited for me, too, Mom. Each generation may gain freedom in one way, but you lose it in another. There’s always a choice.”
And there’s the rub. We all make choices. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we make them consciously. Sometimes, they feel like they are made for us. Sometimes choices come with the so-called ‘turning of the wheel.’ We decide to go out one night, and therefore, meet our future partner. We fall in love over calamari and beer with slices of lime.
It’s a crap-shoot. Sometimes there’s nothing but a windfall of nothing. And other times, you find yourself in Wonderland.
“Live out of your imagination, not your history.” ~ Stephen R. Covey
So, as I light imaginary candles on my cake later this week (no need to set the house on fire), I know I must continue to choose to be happy.
For many years, I didn’t think it was a choice. I thought happiness just happened. But in the end, our joy and freedom and creativity come from us. We wake up and we choose to love the arch of the sky just as the sun reappears. We rub the leather of our impossibly tiny baby shoes, treated to a physical object that testifies to our power to change. We read old poems over the phone and realize that the agony we felt had a purpose.
If only H.G. Wells had been right. If only we could go back and warn ourselves: Danger. Danger, Will Robinson.
But if we did that, we (as we are now) would not exist.
Every wrong turn, every lost opportunity, every moment of red-faced shame, every single one – built us.
I built this nest with my own hands. I built this body and this face through what I’ve seen and what I’ve done.
I may have bruises and bumps and a few scars, but the house of my spirit is mine. I forged it. I earned it.
I look at my young face and I send as much love as I can muster, crossing and swirling and marching back in time. I send her my regards and my condolences.
I realize she’s got a good map and she will find her way here.
How do I know?
Every leaf and every feather and every piece of string I left along the way.
© 2014 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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