Blue Harem Pants

I spent most of my childhood trying to figure out who I was supposed to be.

The list of things I considered included marine biologist, animal trainer, gymnast, princess, arctic explorer, photojournalist, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I would flit from choice to choice, trying on identities like my mom’s old prom dresses, trying to figure out what fit.

I was outgoing but inside I wanted to be shy. Shy kids seemed so much more mysterious and interesting. I would try to summon the will power to remain quiet in a group but inevitably would end up telling strangers the names of each of my Polly Pockets.

I was good at sports but wished I were a ballerina. I took a dance class in fourth grade and my stocky, Norwegian frame loped awkwardly around to Aladdin’s “Never Had A Friend Like Me” wearing blue silk harem pants and a sequin belly shirt.

After the show, as I peeled off my sweaty costume, I knew that being a ballerina was not in the cards for me. A small voice in the back of my head – as well as the video of the dance my dad later replayed for me – told me to keep going, that this wasn’t exactly right. As much as I wanted it, it wasn’t for me.

I started to trust that voice, feeling comfortable and happy knowing that I could live in indecision, always knowing that I would find the way to my true self someday.

I trusted that internal compass through college. It was a beautiful, blissful time in life when I could float from one thing to the other and make great claims about who I was going to be in life without actually having to be any of those things.

I was stuck for four years in a happy state of purgatory with my mind focused only on acing history exams and trying for the lead in the college play.

And then suddenly I woke up on my 31st birthday and couldn’t really hear that voice anymore.

And then suddenly I woke up on my 31st birthday and couldn’t really hear that voice anymore.

Somehow it had gotten muffled in the LA traffic, the responsibilities of adulthood and the knowledge that a wrong decision will cost me a little more than it used to.

I’d lost my north star in the bright lights of the city.

Lately, I’ve felt that I’m standing in a clearing with a million paths in front of me trying, straining to hear that very soft voice – a little bit lonely, a little bit betrayed by something I thought would always be there. The longer I stand there the more I begin to think that maybe I’ve lost it for good.

As an adult I have found it incredibly difficult to hold on to that sense-of-self I had as a kid – the kind of reckless confidence that having my whole life ahead of me inspired. The older I become, the further I get away from that little girl in the blue harem pants who knew without a doubt when something wasn’t for her.

But sometimes, out of nowhere, above the clanging doubt and the screaming fear, something stirs. At those moments I stop, breathe in and for a second or two I listen.

And then I take a step toward the sound.

Maybe the days of easily bouncing back and forth from choice to choice are starting to end. But if I’m very quiet and listen very carefully that voice will keep returning.

I’ll be here waiting.

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