December 10, 2009

how far we come

While looking for an unrelated old email in my email archive, I just came upon part of a long dialogue I had several years ago with a friend from high school, one with whom I have been in and out of touch since moving to Portland. (More in than out these days, for which I'm grateful). This email was a response to a very unexpected message I had received from him; in it, he wondered at what point people become who they are, and whether I had been headed down the path I ended up on as early as high school, when we knew each other. His message, at the time, was extraordinary to me, in no small part because I had had a wild crush on him as a teenager. Reading my response, now, is equally incredible; I don't know if I could write something so eloquent and self-assured anymore.


What a nice surprise! And on a day where I am feeling under the weather and a little bit blue, with the worst cold in ages, not to mention horseback riding-related bumps and bruises on important body parts (foot, elbow, tailbone) from being thrown off and trod upon. Ouch, oompf, ugh. But other than that list of ailments, I am indeed alive and mostly well -- as are you, apparently, thankfully.

I believe the last time I talked to you was over coffee and a meal at some diner somewhere -- Towson Diner, probably -- with RF and maybe JA, several years ago in a summer during college. I don't remember what we talked about or how we all ended up in that same place together, but I remember it was pleasant, there was some interesting discussion. I remember R didn't feel he had a place in the conversation, and was sullen afterwards. Oh, those days.

...

I remember knowing that you wanted to get into business, and your reasons for it, and I remember it resonating with me then how different we were; I never would have spun my life in that direction. I was in awe of you, though, although I wouldn't have wanted your goals myself -- I rarely ever reached for one singular goal, and I always had a certain envy for those of you who did. It seemed more admirable than my comparative waffling around.

What I know about my seven-years-ago self is that I didn't have the damnedest idea what I wanted out of my future. I wanted to ride horses and read poetry, drink coffee, have stimulating conversation, move to a new city on my own. I wanted pretty hair and a boyfriend, nice clothes, self-possession. If someone had swooped in on me during my senior year and said "AT AGE TWENTY-FIVE YOU WILL BE AN OPERA LIBRARIAN" I probably would have fallen on the floor laughing. But I ended up in the place I set out for too, though my place is broader and vaguer than yours.

Also, (even though I have them) I continue to want all of those things.

What can I say about it? I was always the way I am, I think. For me I think it's a product of how I was raised. I was always bookish and imaginative, immersed totally in the world of the lonely only child, full of made-up people and fantasy. Also there was an intense focus on play within my small family unit: my best memories of childhood involve afternoons of Around the World with my mom, or sledding, or pretending my bike was a horse. I now have the benefit of understanding how this shaped me, in watching my mom with my two young siblings. Last week she encouraged them to ditch school for a day so they could go to Lexington Market and see the circus elephants. (Surprisingly, they are such "good" kids that they didn't bite! They didn't want to miss school. "Who are these alien children?" my mom asked. She went anyway, with another mom).

Also money was a non-issue. I mean, we were never well-off and I was always wanting things I now know we couldn't afford. But money was just not something I understood as a consideration in life. Maybe not entirely to their credit (I made a lot of my own otherwise avoidable financial mistakes), my family shielded me entirely from the concept of having or not having enough. We did things or we didn't do them, and money wasn't ever brought up as a reason. So I never thought of it as key to any sort of success in life, and I couldn't understand why other people seemed so wrapped up in it. Even now I'm not the kind of person who could take a job I hated in order to make tons of money. I guess the way I see it, my happiness has never been for sale.

This is turning into a long-winded autobiography, which is not what I set out to write, nor what you're expecting, I'm sure. I guess it's my best attempt at explaining why I'm where and who I am. I should warn that it also seems to imply some sort of self-possession, and I'm not sure that's accurate. Yesterday I mentioned your message to my best friend, and said to her, "What if he finds out how crazy I actually am...?!" There are a lot of things in question in my little blue life. I can't imagine myself married, for example, even though I have a boyfriend. I'm just not that settled, and it feels impossible that I ever would be. I'm always amazed at those people I know who are, at our age. It seems like you all found something I am still looking for. Or maybe I would just rather have a dog.

ok, I promise I am wrapping this up. I am really flattered that you seem to think I have ended up in an enviable place, and I'm so glad you decided to write -- it's good to hear from you. I appreciate the opportunity to assess my life in a different light. And I'd love to keep up the conversation. What else have you been up to?

Also, if I had it to do all over again, I would go about everything with more kindness and cheerfulness. Who says there isn't time?

sorry to be so incredibly long-winded (blame it on the cold meds?),
jess

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