There is inexplicable wisdom in a moment of discovery, that split-second when you’re forced to come to terms with what you wish you were, and who you’ve turned into.
A few nights ago I laid awake in my bed, and remembered the many nights in the past thousands of miles away in a bed smaller than this one, when I did exactly this. Ten years have passed since I was thirteen, once a doe-eyed young dreamer with dreams so large I worried they would burst out of my being. I closed my eyes and it took mere seconds to conjure the memories of a place and time that is now long gone; the green-colored walls of my childhood bedroom, two single beds pushed together to form a queen with a sleeping figure lying beside me and the sticky, humid air replaced by the cool air from the ceiling fan. There were so many nights like this one, filled with endless wishing, wanting, hoping.
I desired for the world, of places and strangers which filled the cavity of desires to the point of bursting. I desired for grasses that were greener than even my imagination could conjure, of moments filled with love and laughter so contagious they could barely hold me. I often hypothesized how things would play out, and was obsessed with the idea of becoming somebody great. Of becoming somebody. Somebody. I was thirteen; I believed I was invincible. I was naïvely teenage; I thought the world was just waiting for me to happen. I was young and hopeful; I felt fearless.
Time and again I return to Tomer Hanuka‘s words, and weep at the poignancy and truth behind them. In explaining his artwork, which was chosen as The New Yorker’s cover for February 2014, he had said, “I have this image of myself in my first rental apartment, sitting on the edge of the bed and staring at the window. You encounter the world as an adult for the first time—I think that’s what the story was about. That’s a powerful thing. Every window you stared through before was your parent’s world, and now, suddenly, you’re in a city. You’re washed with optimism and a sense of freedom—you’ve just been liberated and that’s amazing. And then you realize you can do very little, and it’s terribly disappointing. But the heartache and all that, that comes later.”
The other night it hit me how far I’ve come since those days of wishing and wanting; living the dream, am I not? I chuckle at the thought of how things have turned out, and wondered if that thirteen year-old girl would be proud of herself, because on the surface everything sounds good, don’t they? It’s easy to put up a front – haven’t I become something of an expert in that? Still, the other night it hit me just how much of myself I have lost, and continue to lose, in the process. Enveloped by the darkness in a room that I call as my own, a bed that is no longer foreign, and in a place that I ought to be ecstatic to claim association to – so similar, yet so different.
As a child, I had all these ideas; very little translate to my present-day self. Sometimes this realization stirs me awake with a flux of mixed emotions; past and present, and where I fit between them. The past was a modest bedroom in a small country in Southeast Asia, one that’s often overlooked and forgotten by the rest of the world. It was a tiny fleck against the vastness of the world, this present, I’ve now come to know. My life and self could so easily have turned out differently; the dreams and wishes of my thirteen year-old self could have gone on unfulfilled, defeated by the depths of reality. A large part of me is grateful, how could I not, but in trying to come to terms with the disconnect between wishes and reality, my cavity of desire is now filled with a kind of sadness that is hard to grapple with. What I have lost in the process and all the ways I was wrong and mistaken when it comes to my naïve imaginations and desires. Sometimes I remind myself that I am twenty-three, other times I remind myself that I am only twenty-three. It’s okay to realize things didn’t turn out as I thought they would. It’s okay to realize that I am not who I thought I would turn into.
The realization that adulthood is no longer somewhere in a distant future I wish I could conjure but is instead here, this present, startles me. Some nights I lie awake and puzzle at the discovery that I am now twenty-three, already twenty-three, and more broken than whole. It breaks me to have turned out this way.