The Girl I Mean to Be (or: unavoidable angst)

I’ve been trying to write this entry for a long time, but every attempt came out sounding stupid or ridiculously angsty. But just now, a friend posted a quote in her Facebook status that said exactly what I was thinking:

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” (E.E. Cummings)

I think about growing up a lot (hey, I wrote a play about it), and lately, especially, I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve been changing. I was told, when I went to study abroad in England, that I would come back a different person, and innumerable people observed how much I had upon my return. But I couldn’t feel those changes. They were all good changes, as far as I was told- that I was more confident, more “myself,” more mature and independent- but I didn’t feel any different. Now, though, the changes are almost as palpable as if I could see them in a mirror. It’s hard to name them, but they’re there.

My entire life up until my senior year of college, I feel like I was the same person. That sounds dumb- of course I was the same human being. But I mean that I feel like my personality was the same, I held basically the same beliefs and reactions to things and outlook on life. Of course, there were subtle things- a different political view here, the courage to do something there, but not much changed from the cradle to last summer, I felt.

Then I began my senior year, and suddenly, it was like I had a new set of eyes or a new brain or something. Perhaps this was a result of England; I returned in June of 2011 after living in a foreign country where I started out knowing a single person, cooking for myself and making more independent decisions than I ever had. I do know that the refreshing thing about living abroad and only knowing one person was that I didn’t have to be the person everyone knew me as. So, yes, perhaps my life in the UK was a warm-up to the changes I would soon be going through.

Here’s the thing: I’ve always been a good girl. Always. I was a good student and dedicated teammate, friend, actor, you name it. I was the reliable one, the quietly determined one, the one assigned to motivate the not-so-motivated in classes. I was the kind of student where, if I forgot to do my homework, my teachers called my house, sure that something traumatic had happened.

I liked being this person until last year, when something began to needle at me. Sure, I was good- but why was being good the thing that kept me from being normal? Because it has. I am a strong believer in the universe giving me back what I put into it, which in part means (to me) that if I behave badly, I will be punished. Low test grades, not being cast, and any other bad outcome that can’t be attributed to something concrete, are, to me, a sure sign that I’ve wronged the universe in some way.

While this belief keeps me in check, it’s also an extremely frustrating way to live. I’d watch my fellow students and friends live normal lives- going to parties, doing regular college stuff- from afar, knowing that if I indulged, I would be paid back in negative full. Everyone else, though, seemed exempt from the universe’s wrath. And I was jealous. I worked hard to be good and keep the universe happy with me, but my peers seemed to do whatever they wanted and remain on the good side of everyone and everything.

Additionally, I’ve recently become aware of how much I live my life for other people. In some ways, it’s not a bad thing- I make decisions or act a certain way to make my parents and teachers proud of me, and to be a good example for my sister and younger friends. In other ways, though, it’s really held me back. I highly doubt my parents would be shocked or disappointed to hear that I had a drink or went to a party (correct me if I’m wrong here, Mom-who-is-reading-this-right-now 😉 ), but still, the need to be the good daughter I’ve always been holds me back from doing that, even though other good daughters around me are doing just that and turning out just fine. Last night, my friend asked me if I would avoid getting married just to spite everyone that’s doing so right now, and my answer was no. Among other things, I wouldn’t not get married just to stick it to someone, just as I wouldn’t get married solely to please someone. The latter may have happened a few years ago, though. That’s the kind of person I was.

I graduated college with a lot of regrets. While I’ve been assured that I’m not as weird as I think I am, I have a hard time believing that. As I’ve mentioned, after many years of being terrified of alcohol, I’m still scared of it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable around it, and my refusal to drink it gains me the label “cute” or a “Good for you.” To be honest, these two reactions fill me with anger and confusion, because they’re always spoken almost pityingly and I don’t know how to respond. While I do, in part, not drink so I will be “good,” I absolutely don’t do it to be “cute.” There is nothing cute about my fear of adult beverages, but to go into the why is yet another abnormal move. I feel like I can’t win.

But I think it all goes back to the idea of the quote: I need to have the courage to recognize the person I’m becoming and have the further courage to become that person. In many ways, the way I think of this is having the courage to be a “bad” person (or, as I tend to term it, a “real” person)- swearing, not feeling fear or shame if I order a drink, etc., but that’s not the extent of it. I also need to be able to stand by my personal views, whether they be a lifelong decision to not drink (or the opposite) or be the rare Democrat in my home county of Republicans or writing something that people will be shocked even entered my good-girl mind.

I don’t want to keep living my life for other people. I want to live my life with other people and have them accept me for the person I’ve had the courage to become. I don’t exactly know who that person is yet, but information is coming in rapidly and I’m trying to figure that out as quickly as I can.

“I am coming to realize that I should like to feel special. That I should like to make my mark upon the world. And that I don’t want to have to apologize for it.”

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray


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