I’d been eighteen for less than three days when I first said it out loud. I’d been thinking it for a long time, but eighteen is when it came to a head and I was forced to lay my cards out on the open. Saying this is it, this is why, can’t you see? This is why I’m leaving. Why I can’t stay.
I think it must have always been at the back of my mind, a voice I never managed to shut up completely -half for lack of trying and half because eighteen is when the voices get louder, not weaker.
I couldn’t tell you when it started -maybe when a High School teacher suggested I pick up Chinese as it would have been ‘a terrific advantage to my introduction to the job market’, and I had to push my nails deep into my thighs to stop myself from screaming. Could have been earlier, when I sang louder and moved faster and laughed harder than all the other kids at my school recital because I’ve always wanted to make an impression. Maybe somewhere in between, when my name was on all the boys’ lips even though I wasn’t the prettiest or the smartest or even the one who’d let them win at class games but because I was loud, loud, loud, and they had no choice but to remember me.
Somewhere along the line, recognition turned to validation and I wanted more, more, I wanted it all. I was powerful because I was the most, and I fed off it, I thrived off it, clutched to it like a lifeline and forgot how to live without it. Then I said it out loud.
Three days into it, eighteen was bad until it got worse. Eighteen was slammed doors and skipped meals and loud headphones and heartache like I'd never known before. It was a single phrase, uttered between gritted teeth then repeated louder just to see my mother cry. “I’d rather die than be like you. Do you hear that? I’d rather die than be ordinary, live a wasted life”. In the words of Avril Lavigne, anything but ordinary please -and say what you want but if there’s one thing Avril Lavigne knows how to do, that’s teenage angst.
Teenage angst, which is in great part what my outburst was about. But also: fear of being anonymous, being forgotten, being one of many. Interchangeable. If not her, a hundred others just like her. Fear of everything and nothing, of not leaving a mark, of empty days and drunken weekends and the monotony of tick tick tick, blink and you’ve missed it. My heart shrunk and twisted on itself, screaming not if I get a say in this. Not on my watch.
So I did. I left and I tried and I lived by that, anything but ordinary please.
Then I had a change of heart.
Last week, I read an essay by Zosia Mamet about success, in which she says: ‘We are so obsessed with "making it" these days we've lost sight of what it means to be successful on our own terms. Having a cup of coffee, reading the paper, and heading to work isn't enough—that's settling, that's giving in, that's letting them win. You have to wake up, have a cup of coffee, conquer France, bake a perfect cake, take a boxing class, and figure out how you are going to get that corner office or become district supervisor, while also looking damn sexy—but not too sexy, because cleavage is degrading—all before lunchtime.’
Safe to say it resonated. Deep, deep within, it struck a chord.
Then I went to Brighton, where rhythms are slower and smiles kinder, warm like the sun rays I soaked up sitting alone by the beach one afternoon. And I went to Italy, where rhythms are even slower and whatever had been worrying me in London suddenly seemed so insignificant, as small and artificial as all city life troubles do when examined from a solitary bench overlooking a lake in the north of Italy, swans and dogs making small noises in the water while German tourists take pictures of their gelatos.
Suddenly I was hit with a thought: what happens if I get there and nothing’s the way I dreamed it up? What happens then, when I’ve used up all my cards and every trick up my sleeve, but the promised land just won’t turn to gold. When there’s no promised land at all.
A change of heart, maybe in plans. Maybe.