I am somewhat astonished to think how fast time has passed, and to think how old I am. I remember when the park on which my house sat was wilderness to me, and when all it took to look and be “cool” were Adidas track pants that made a sweeping sound when you walked, and when New York City was the fancy. I remember when I was in the fifth grade I had a dream one night that I lived in small Manhattan apartment with a big window and a cold brick wall. I had a husband and one child — a girl with thin, messy light brown hair that grew just past her shoulders — and I walked the same parks, and drove the same streets, and saw many of the same people I did when I was a kid. I was 28 years old.
I built a little slice of my identity in childhood atop that dream, and 17 years later, I’ve built a little slice of my identity atop the fact that the dream did not come to fruition, and I am glad for it. Freud asserted that dreams are a representation of unconscious desires, thoughts, and motivations. Cinderella voiced this in layman’s terms as “a dream is a wish your heart makes.” By those standards, one might suppose that the images I saw in my dream were manifestations of my deepest hopes, but 11-year-old me was not particularly hopeful about any of it.
For most of my childhood, I was fed an idealized image of my life that I viscerally rejected in the same fashion a toddler might reject a spoon full of pureed grossness. This image consisted of me being in my mid-twenties, married with two kids, living in New Jersey, and within a stone’s throw of my parents’ house. It’s not that those things didn’t sound good in theory (mom’s spaghetti & pizza all the time!), but that the application of those things didn’t make sense for me. I was five when I first stated that I wasn’t sure that I wanted kids, nine when I realized that I would need to think twice — three times, even — before getting married, ten when I concluded that I couldn’t settle for New Jersey when I hadn’t explored a life anywhere else, and eleven when I was first confounded by how all of this planning for the future made no sense. I felt that there was just no way that I could decide in childhood who to be in adulthood when I didn’t know a damn thing about future me, about what that person would like, or be like, or act like. I was a work-in-progress, and I would cross those bridges when I got to them.
But the truth can be a little unsettling for people. Not having a solid plan for the future either seemed foolish, or was very hastily and presumptuously associated with having a plan to not do anything at all. It was only natural to me that I started lying to myself — and everyone — to avoid rejection. So I started making tiny changes to the plan idealized for me and started, quite assuredly, calling it my truth. I’d choose the city over NJ, have one child instead of two, and I would do it all in my late-twenties instead of my mid-twenties. It wasn’t the life I truly wanted, but it was a life that would be accepted by others. It seemed, at the time, better than the nothing I had actually come up with in all of my non-committal glory. I talked about this new image of my future often, thought of it frequently, and sometimes I was so preoccupied with the thought before I fell asleep that I dreamt about it.
Those dreams offered me predictability and an illusion of stasis. It meant I didn’t have to look far for a support system, or search endlessly for a place to call home, or spend decades creating meaning or purpose for my life that I could have just gotten by enduring several hours of labor and several months of sleep deprivation. Most importantly, it meant never having to say “no” in the face of so many yeses, or having to say “yes” in the face of so many nos. I carried that dream with me for longer than I’d like to admit, even when it became painfully obvious that my life was headed in a different direction.
Now here I am at 28, and out of the three overarching images I dreamt of myself at this age (New York City, husband, child), I have only attained one of them. If you asked childhood me, they would say I have essentially attained nothing. But if you ask me right now, I would say that I’ve actually attained everything. I didn’t get the childhood dream, but I got what is best suited for me. I pursued, often fearfully, what feels right to me, and as such, have gotten so much more than myself or anyone could have imagined for me in childhood. The best of those things are true happiness, self-confidence, and an overwhelming sense of freedom. That means more to me than finding a home, or a husband, or a child, which most everyone does — easily.
I am not afraid to say what I feel now, or pursue my vision of happiness even if it looks wildly different from that of others, or just be myself regardless of who may like it or not. I feel confident in who I am as a person, confident in my life choices, and confident in my ideas for the future. I feel free, and happy and so, so proud to say that I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. I may make a modest living for myself working as a school counselor, I may ball-so-hard when I open my own practice, I may even say “fuck this shit, I’m out” and go become a college professor, or a professional climber, or a marathon runner, or go back to college and turn that minor in Geology into another BA. I have no idea — I am not going to marry myself to a future that is not even guaranteed. I don’t have a five year plan that involves anything other than not dying, but Alex and I have discussed some of the thousands of possibilities: I may be the glorified version of who I am right now; I may be pregnant; I may live in Germany (or The Netherlands, or Colorado, or still in Washington); I may be a mother of a little girl with thin, messy light brown hair that grows past her shoulders; I may be the owner of two insane Boston Terriers that never stop running around. The freedom of those thoughts — the freedom to know that I can still choose, that nothing has actually been chosen yet — makes my heart race, and my eyes widen, and my heart expand with sheer elation.
When I used to think of my future, I just saw myself, vividly, with what I described in my dream. It was all very specific, and actually made me feel quite desperate. Now when I think of my future, I see myself, vividly, alone in the middle of a room with a montage of images from all of my potential futures streaming onto the white walls from a ceiling projector, and I’m dancing to “Ice, Ice, Baby.”
Infinite freedom. Infinite possibility.
I will, until the day I die, have time to make decisions (and revisions, which a minute will reverse). I’ll never have the ability to un-make any of them.
Sometimes I miss being 14. Sometimes I miss being unmarried, just so I could still experience marriage for the first time. Sometimes I miss the last weeks of living in Georgia, and the feeling of so much potential ahead. Sometimes the thought of having something is better than actually having it, because it is something to look forward to. One day, I know I am going to miss this. I’ll miss the time where I had so many big decisions left to make, and more time than I ever realized in which to make them.
I think I am just going to enjoy all of the confusion, and excitement, and the staggering freedom to dream some of life’s biggest dreams. No need to have it all figured out at 28.