Awakening

If you haven’t read The Awakening by Kate Chopin, you should. But you probably won’t so let me give you a quick synopsis. A Woman, living in turn of the century New Orleans finds herself stuck with two children she cannot stand and a husband who pretty much ignores her. She hates her life because it wasn’t one that she chose. One summer while her husband and children are away she takes up a lover. Her lover leaves her, as most men do, and she is unable to return to society – so she drowns herself.

I read the book for some class in high school. No one understood it. They thought the main character was a soulless she devil who should have shut up and been grateful that she wasn’t a seamstress. Even at 15, I got it. I never wanted to be that woman. I vowed never to lock myself into a life that someone else had chosen because it was the “appropriate” option. Now, at 25 I’m realizing that I have spent all of my adolescence and early adulthood doing exactly what I wanted to stand up against.

I feel an immense amount of pressure to be in a romantic relationship that’s going somewhere and to have a career that’s on the fast track to take me places. But I don’t know where I’m supposed to go or, where that somewhere is. I never took the time to learn myself or what I really wanted from life. So here I am, working in customer service, online dating, and continuously floundering through life.

I’m terrified to pursue writing, or music, or anything that makes me really happy simply because I do not know how. I have spent my entire life following directions and therefore never learned how to take the lead. I’m lost.

I made it to New York – I did that. I live under a train and beside a Popeye’s in a less than desirable part of Brooklyn, but I made it. I view the wealth and glamour of the city from my fire escape but I am not a part of it. I’m still the same shy little girl who never got asked to play kickball. I’m just watching from a far, fantasizing that I’m part of the game. I know, it’s disgusting that I’m sitting here wallowing in my own self pity – woe is me and so it goes. But I’m trying to understand what’s behind it. Why didn’t I just ask to play with the other kids? Why don’t I just try? Why is my fear of failure and rejection so crippling that I have spent years attempting to settle into a life that wasn’t meant for me? We could blame it on me, being a millennial, an upper middle white class girl born and bred in suburbia – I never had to try so I simply don’t know how. That however, is just a piece of it. The simple fact is, I never knew being my own person was an option – so I just chose to ignore the urge. I pushed it down and stomped on it until it was nothing but a squashed little dream.

“You’re not traditional, Liz..” I can still hear him say it. He stood behind me, zipping up my bridesmaid dress, gently wiping the sweat away from my neck. “You can find someone else, you can get married, you can have all of this…but I just don’t think it’s for you.” Hot little tears welled up in my eyes and I stared at the ground and then back at him. “I get to have this…I get to be like everyone else.” It came spilling out of my mouth so fast, that I didn’t comprehend my own words. On the outside, I had been a perfect daughter, friend, and suburbanite. I deserved to have what all of the rest of them had – a shiny rock on my ring finger and a man who would take care of me and impress my family. Someone so smart, tall, and perfect he could distract everyone from all of my flaws. A man to make me a lady – a partner to ease my family’s fears.

I am coming to terms with the fact that I may never have that – because it is never what I really wanted. I will never be successful at working 9-5 pushing papers, processing orders, or planning holiday parties because it is boring and I actually hate it. This is my awakening. I am opening my eyes and greeting a new way of living – one that I alone have chosen. I am accepting that the life I want for myself is untraditional and that my path is unpaved. I am taking in and coming to terms with my own expectations of myself – I am getting comfortable with the uncomfortable and using my fear to move me forward rather than shying away from it. I will be a writer with a voice that offers support and ignites change – I will love late in life and know that when I do it will be on my terms. I want something different and that is okay – I am okay. I am coming late to the party but I have never been one to be on time.

 

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To New York, With Love

My love affair with Manhattan began as a crush. I became completely infatuated with the city after watching the Broadway musical turned major motion picture Rent when I was sixteen. Yes, that’s right. Something about extreme poverty and debilitating diseases seemed utterly romantic to me. After that I became obsessed with the humble beauty of fire escapes and neglected apartment buildings. I was absolutely certain that I would make it to New York one day, so I did.

I finally met New York when I was eighteen. Young and starry eyed I arrived at the door of my dormitory wearing a new outfit my mother had purchased for me days before. I settled into my tiny bedroom filled nothing but a single bed, one dresser, and a sink and knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be. For two memorable months New York was my man. In the mornings I would take the train to 23rd street and walk two blocks to the yoga studio where I worked. I would stare unapologetically at the people  I passed on the streets or waited with in the subways, pretending to be one of them. I would laugh with New York when the derelicts and ne’er-do-wells called me pretty and begged me to marry them. I would get drunk with New York, standing on the roof of my building singing to the city. I even fought with New York when I took the wrong subway and wound up in the wrong parts of town. And in the evening I fell asleep listening to the sounds of the streets below.

I didn’t want to leave him. But of course mothers will be mothers and mine was determined to make me finish high school and attend college the following fall. So I said my goodbyes, vowing that I would be back one day. And I was, for weekends, sometimes weeks. I came back to smell the city, visit old friends, and fall in love again. Every day I spent with him assured me that he was my dream, and that New York was my somewhere over the rainbow.

The last time I was in New York was almost two weeks ago. Now, I’m aware that visiting right before a hurricane was supposed to hit probably wasn’t a good idea but luckily I got out before the winds kicked up and the water came in. Regardless, New York and I found ourselves on different pages. The cab drivers overcharged me and the bank froze my account. Faces were cold and unfamiliar and found myself missing Columbus’ quiet streets and affordable food. I tried to party with New York but instead I took too much, threw up on my shoes and ran away from my French guide. It was like bad sex or emotional cheating. I woke up cold in the bed the next day hating New York and realizing finally that maybe we just weren’t meant to be together.

There was this guy, a real guy not a city, and it was kind of the same way with him. We made love happen in two weeks. Then he left (the way men sometimes do) and moved to Spain, then Germany, then California and last thing I heard he was living in a tent on top of some mountain in Oregon. Needless to say it didn’t work. But loving him felt like loving New York. I would wait to see his face appear on my computer screen the same I would wait to see that silvery skyline peak over my airplane window.

Then this other guy showed up completely unannounced. He’s actually quite perfect. You know, with looks so good they make you weak and a voice so powerful that the mere memory of it in your ear moves things inside of you. Things that you never thought would move again. This time it was two days. Two days of kisses and conversation that was so sweet it left butterflies lingering in the pit of my stomach. But he left to, because his life was waiting on the other end of some airport terminal and his goals were riding the conveyer belt at baggage claim, waiting to be picked up.

So here I am with this great sense that I’m not where I need to be. That this universe is trying to tell me that I’d better pick up and leave if I’m tired of being left. But then there’s this other thing idling above my shoulder. An eerie sense that perhaps I love the things I cannot have because I’m unable to see what’s right in front of me. Well, I”m not going to waste my youth dreaming of tomorrow because I’m unsatisfied with today. Or settle for a life that wasn’t chosen for me just because it’s easier to do so. Working on a dream is like working on a relationship and true love doesn’t end with an argument anymore than it can with one bad weekend.