When you’re a teenager, you think you know everything. You also think you are indestructible.
I look at kids that age, and I see children. But once in a while, I see one who also reminds me of me. A certain squint in one eye, a stance, a way of breathing. Not willing to wait, be held back; accept what she is told; that it’s for her own good, that she doesn’t know what’s good for her, that really, she knows nothing yet at all. Something about them, these individuals, these upstarts, calls me and makes me want to look away even while I am looking in, into them, into myself.
Who speaks to them? Do they have a net? Someone who will remind them of what’s important, of what must be held onto, even while they let them fall? A someone who plants a seed of meaning that might grow when there is solid ground once again?
Or is there a someone who rages at their impudence, their rush to taste all that waves at them from life? Who tells them always that they are out of step, that there will be Hell to pay; that they disappoint and embarrass with their refusal to just be children when they are already miles across the line from any “just”?
You can’t hold back the tide. Everybody knows that. Yet still, we have all tried to, somewhere.
When that damn breaks, it breaks. It just will. Go. Where it will.
I like the idea of a breakwater, maybe. A way left still for the water to go around. A buffer, not a bubble. Bubbles break. Then, they are no help at all.
Most people believe that if they are not controlling their children, they are doing them a disservice, being irresponsible. They think that whenever a child goes astray, the parents must not have controlled them very well, but often, the opposite is true. It is in that controlling that one such as I was ceases to hear anything at all that might be useful. She begins to know only that everything she wants is wrong, bad, and forbidden. At this point, who is she willing to be? If she is a strong willed one, she tries to put her will to conforming. Of course she fails. She never was a conformist, and it is not the trait that made her “good”. That was simply her own natural desire to please.
Now there is rebellion. Rejection. The only restoring of herself she knows so far—the move away from all restraints.
This child believes that she will die if confined. The only real strengths she has so far wither under the bindings of familial care, so it is with a kind of survival instinct that she separates herself.
I think of individuals, who in their quest for explanation, blame, or exemption, have made the statement that I chose everything I encountered.
At the risk of splitting hairs, I must qualify this. Ultimately, perhaps we even choose who we come into this world as. Some say we do. But it’s like telling a person they have chosen to have Cancer—another thing some actually believe.
What’s the point? All that matters is whatever choices come before us everyday. I was given new choices. I took them. Some lose their choices, along the way.
What else matters to me now is this—in trying so hard to keep something the same, in protecting those we love from all their own choices, instead of protecting in ways we really can, we do them a disservice, and ourselves as well.
We forget to honor in them their ability to discern, or even allow that ability to ever develop. Soon, choices are so much less about what is wanted or needed, but about just having a choice at all.
I myself clung to that; just having any ability to choose anything. Even if my choice was what my poison would be, even if my choice was who or what would control me, it seemed better than obedience to something I didn’t believe in at all. If I had to be untrue to myself, let me be the one who chose how.
Was this a mistake? Surely I paid an awful price for my choices. I had no idea, at the time, how long term the effects would be on me. Long after this chapter was far, far away, I would know the dents on my soul that I could never push out. My form is forever shaped by the things I’ve seen and known, and I have wished them undone so many times. I have wished for my innocence back, and grieved the losses that came from allying myself with powers that nearly destroyed me.
So I’ve had to ask myself, who would I be, had I chosen differently? Would I have found an easier way to move through society? Would I have come from my youth unscathed and unscarred by things most people are sheltered from in their young years? Would I have grown up not missing parts of my heart and soul?
Would I have learned to become the conformist I fought so hard against being? Perhaps life would have been easier, softer, and years later I would have paid with a simple and boring mid-life crisis instead of posttraumatic stress disorder. Perhaps when age caught up to me I would have been happy to have played safe.
I really don’t know. Regret is rather useless at this point. As one friend is fond of saying, “It is what it is.” Or, as my mother puts it, “You can’t unscramble the egg.” Well put.
When I see her now with that squint in one eye, I know there’s not much I can say about this. If there is, I’ve never figured out what it is. But my reaction is always the same; I’m drawn to her like I am to my own reflection the first time I see part of my life newly reflected in my face. You know, those feelings and events that take up residence there but sometimes take years or decades to move in. It has indeed taken decades for me to realize I am looking at me when I see her, that one with the defiant stance, the stare, the breath raging just beneath the calm of the skin.
What can I tell her? What would she listen to, remember, when the walls tumble down and she only needs to choose something herself, by herself, for herself?
I admire the delicate artistry of her new tattoo, chosen for great personal meaning and beauty, a symbol of her individuality and feminine strength. This is no peer pressure tattoo, but completely original, a collaboration between tattoo artist and herself, one of a kind.
The placement of the tattoo is significant, and affords concealment. Like carrying a secret talisman for life; one she can choose to share or not, but does not wear to the world. I can appreciate her choice to express herself with something so beautiful, yet so personal.
I make her tell me all her makeup tips, for I can see already that she has a talent for doing things her own way; ways that work better than the ways “they” say to do things.
I ask her, as I do each time, if she’s written anything lately.
I don’t encourage her to run off, like she is wont to do. I just ask her what she hopes to find. I talk about what it’s like to come home, what it really means to any person, “coming home”.
I ask her about her dreams; ask her what she would ultimately like to be doing, down to the last detail. I ask her about time; what time is it in her life? What would she like to have happen in the next year or two or three to give her the choices she craves? I know that for her, right now, it’s all about the right to choose for herself.
Mostly, I just listen, because I can. She is not my daughter. She is not my blood. I’m not compelled by duty to make her “shape up”.
She is just one of those kids I look at and I know, she’s not “just” a kid.
She is like water, unstoppable, flowing where she will. I don’t want to dam her up. I can’t. I don’t want to fill her up with fear, daring her to fail. And of course, I am afraid she will. We all have to fall down.
I want to be there when she scabs both knees. Girls like us always scab them both, because we run way too fast. For the sheer fun of it, for the chase, for the escape, for the momentum we can’t stop sometimes. I want to be there to tell her the scars will soften.
I tell her I like that she is herself, and not like everyone else. I don’t want to see her spirit broken, all though I can see where it might break one day; she will not settle for safety either. She will go places she ought to stay away from, just to know she went, just to taste her freedom.
I want to be there when she comes home, wherever she finds that home to be. When she does find it, she’ll know it, for herself and by herself, and she won’t wonder if someone else has made it up.
After a while she’ll lose her squint, but one eye will always seem to be a bit more open than the other, and she will have a crooked smile.
She will look and see and talk and smile with the side that is herself, and the side the world wants, so it can see her, hear her. And she will smile a lot. And when I see her, we will share our crooked smiles and say, “Hey, it’s good you’re home”.
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