I envy people with awards. With trophy cabinets and framed bits of paper.
I imagine them being acclaimed scientists or sports people. I imagine them opening up their trophy cabinets or standing in front of their mantels when even a morsel of self-doubt enters their minds, and reaffirming that they are brilliant. So brilliant that people gave them bits of paper and statues of people stuck on miniature platforms to congratulate them on it.
But I know that this is not how it works. Self-doubt negotiates with anyone. There is no one who is immune.
The awards turn against the people who have won them, convincing someone that they were never brilliant or that they have fallen from the brilliance they once had. Or that they could have done so much more if only they had worked harder, or sacrificed more, or been a more adequate human being.
Awards can be a representation of our limits just as much as our achievements.
And I get that. It’s just that maybe it would be easier to doubt my achievements than the fundamentals of my personhood.
But then again, I don’t have a mantel.
I imagine myself without a mantel in my adult years. I see myself at thirty-five waking up and regretting all of my tattoos, and my decisions, and not spending money while I had it, or not saving money while I had it. I imagine her staring at her empty walls, and cabinets full of things that aren’t trophies. This future version of myself has forgotten what it felt like to be me now, has forgotten why she did all these things.
She no longer likes the bus, and is stuck in a job she can’t leave because she’s forgotten how to move. She failed to travel like she said she would. She lives inland in a place she doesn’t like, and she’s stopped cooking. She’s forgotten how to speak, how to change, or think. She lives with her shoulders hooped from spending twenty years carrying around her regret and frustration.
She is stagnant water, but she doesn’t miss the ocean like she used to do.
Do you think that a lion likes to run? That a bird enjoys flying? You’d think that they would.
In England, it’s hard to look out of windows when you’re in the back seat of a car. In Australia you can see in all directions. In the English countryside there are hedges. I rode in the back seat in England, and was vexed by this.
We stayed in Braishfield, and I missed home. Homesickness wrapped itself around my heart, and nearly equaled my fascination with the world. I missed the cliffs and my little town, and the headlands, and the coast. I’d spent so much time before we left wearing long sleeves in the summer, and talking about how I loved the cold. And the moment inland hit me, I wanted expanse. When we came back it was like reuniting with an old friend. We came down the coastal road, over the bridge and back to the Pacific Ocean, blue and white and endless and it felt like home.
It was just getting to be late spring when we got back and I watched the summer roll in like a sandstorm and embraced it when it came.
We read this poem in English class at one of those critical moments, and I read it over and over again because I thought it was beautiful and I listened to my peers read it over and over again because it said something I needed to hear. “Go for it,” this poem whispered like it was speaking directly to me, “Go and see what’s out there, go for it.” I sat there in English class listening to this voice, and imagined myself going for it.
Later I started to imagine the woman who regrets, but in the beginning all I had to dream of was a person that I loved, the person I had cultivated and cared for over the previous months. The part of me that had missed the ocean, that had loved the summer when it came; the part of me that had noticed when the buds began to bloom and missed California and was fueled by hope and determination. Sitting in English class I imagined her flourishing.
And she was happy; she was the person brewing in me.
All I am looking for is a space where she can grow; where she can learn how to be a real person, and I can learn how to let her. The woman who regrets and the woman who hopes are nothing alike, and I’ve got to start making investments in the woman who hopes.