For the past couple of weeks I have been deep, deep, DEEP into the archives of my past lives. Although I realize that sounds weird, going through the accumulated archives (the intentional and the accidental) of my human existence, it really does feel like a series of loosely connected but wildly divergent experiences. I have found things from my infancy, my burgeoning adolescence, my painfully intentional embarkation into college, my initial departure for far off shores, and all things in between.
To say it has been a long strange trip would not only be plagiarized, but vastly understated.
Many of the true gems deserving of public display found themselves on my Instagram (because why shouldn’t Facebook, Inc., own my memories?) and there were heaps more beneath the carefully laid bandages I have strategically applied in order to preserve and/or to obfuscate the uncomfortable, precious, healing, and irreparable memories.
As I went through the boxes I was awed by the (embarrassing, silly, hopeful, ruined, strange, unfamiliar, heart-wrenching) notes, photos, accolades, and things… so many things. And as I sat among the things, things I would keep, give away, throw away, I thought aloud:
I miss this girl.
Now to be clear, I was a strange kid; too everything. Too tall. Too bossy. Too critical, Too worried. Too smart. Too too too. But looking back through time at all the things that were me, I suddenly missed my younger self in a way I had never really considered before. At least all those too’s were mine.
I hear all the time about people who miss their youth, but it is usually a ‘glory days’, cougar-y, broken dreams-y longing, which I have never identified with. As I looked back at my life what I missed was being the person in those pictures and notes and things, who was totally free to be herself. She was not operating from underneath the weight of a lifetime of labels assigned to her by other people. The girl I saw in all that stuff was not afraid to smile with crooked teeth, or laugh out loud, or stand up for what was right, or to speak up for herself. She was not afraid to be totally fashion/music/style challenged, she was just going for it. Not that she had a huge number of original ideas in any of those areas, but she tried them all on.
A lifetime of “you are so…” “you know how you are…” ” it is your style, way, personality…”
It dawned on me as I lugged boxes on boxes on boxes of things from here to there to gone, that the heaviest thing I was carrying around was something I haven’t put down since I picked up that first thing someone told me was mine years ago.
It is funny that I am thinking about this now, because right now I am faced with a real, conscious opportunity to think about where I am, what I want, and to truly remember who I am. And it is hard. It is hard to ignore the constant barrage of people telling you who you are, what you are good at (and not so good at) and how you should be and what you should want, need, care about. When you think about the infinite and incessant input a person gets in this regard it is deafening.
No wonder we just quietly take it on board.
Think for a minute how many times in a day or a week you hear someone say, “You are…” I have become acutely aware of it in my present work situation because it seems to be the primary operating system there to tell people how they are, who they are, even why they are. But it started a long time ago, the first time someone pointed out something about myself to me that I picked up and put on.
They are not all bad things, mind you, (you are so smart, so athletic, so tall -?-) but they become this fabric, this tapestry, that you slowly add to over a lifetime and you wear everyday, adding to it, good parts, bad parts, strengthening parts, sad parts. I remember things people said about me when I was really young, (mostly the good things); when I was discovering adolescence (mostly the bad things); and beyond (mostly the confusing things).
And when do you take it off?
In my case, I didn’t. In all the days of adding to this technicolor dream-coat of a life, I never took it off. Sometimes I held on tighter because I liked what it said about me, other times, because I felt like I’d be lost without someone else’s understanding of where I belong in the world.
Sometimes, I keep it on to hide because it is a whole lot easier to wear all those labels than to try to really show people who you really are.
But sitting in that filthy garage among piles of life sometimes less ordinary and other times so totally ordinary, I caught a glimpse of what that little girl way back then thought of herself. The fact was she didn’t think of herself that much. She thought about the wide world out there and all the cool things to do and see and taste and try (within reason of course – she was a Virgo then as now after all.)
And it was not half bad.
I walked away from that garage and another completed project, noticeably dirtier, a little sadder, and a lot freer than I had felt in a long time.
The next time someone starts a sentence with, “You are so….” I am going to do that thing someone special taught me in Hong Kong years ago: Look just beyond their left shoulder and continue on with whatever I might be doing, politely nodding and agreeing when they are done with their most current assessment of me.
And I am gonna leave that coat right there. I have plenty of my own stuff to wear, thank you very much.