When I was 8, I saw a pair of white gloves in a toy store that sang to my soul. They were long and satin and gorgeous, and I knew immediately that my life would never be complete without them. So when my mother wouldn’t buy them for me, my mission was clear: make her life a living hell. I begged and I whined and I sulked, and it soon became clear to my mom that she could either buy me the damn gloves or live the rest of her life being tortured by a freckled pain in her ass. She chose wisely.
Every night I’d put the gloves on very carefully—pulling them slowly up past my elbows—and I’d slip into my black mary janes that made the most satisfying clicking sound on the tiles of my bathroom floor. I’d spend long swaths of time click-clacking around that bathroom with those beautiful satin gloves on, and I felt positively regal. The fact that the bathroom was so small that I could only take a step or two in any direction, and that I was in my pajamas so I looked like I’d just fled the “special” ward of a hospital, stepping back and forth in place and gesturing wildly with my gloved hands—well that never occurred to me. It all just felt so right.
That memory has been hovering over me lately, and it’s made me realize 2 things: 1) My inclination towards madness is nothing new. And 2) What if I was willing to be a bit more like that little idiot, tapping back and forth in front of a bathroom mirror for no other reason than the fact that it made me happy? Ok the second one isn’t so much a realization as a question, but whatever.
I didn’t want those gloves to impress anyone—I didn’t even care if anyone ever saw me in them. I wanted them because for whatever childish reason, they tapped into some part of me that felt true. I wasn’t looking to post them or tweet them or poke them, and I wasn’t looking for anyone else to validate my love for them. And neither was I trying to further a career or fill some gaping emotional void. I just wanted them for the sake of having them—to feel the satin over my forearms and touch the sink through the fabric and hear all those fancy sounds that my shoes were making. Whatever that experience amounted to—feeling like a princess, feeling important and sophisticated and charming—it was both a means and an end.
And it makes me sad that I don’t think that way anymore.
As an adult, things are different. I’m tethered to responsibilities that I didn’t have as a kid. Not just physical and financial demands (though those are certainly substantial), but ones of personhood and meaning-making—the questions that no one can answer but me. Am I living the life I want to live? What does that even look like? Am I running out of time? Could I be doing more? What terrifies me and excites me and holds me back and lets me go? Which things do I find beautiful? Terrible? Necessary? Irrelevant?
If youth is about having the space for those questions to marinate unarticulated, growing up is something a lot less passive. It’s an active pursuit, and it takes muscle and persistence and the willingness to reach for answers despite knowing that even if you find them, they’ll probably only lead to more questions.
The problem is that when I stop reaching for answers—when I become complacent or lazy or paralyzed by fear—that’s when I am the furthest away from that little girl in the bathroom. Because then instead of questions, all I can hear is one resounding, demented answer: RESULTS! Results are what will make meaning for me, and the pursuit of those results will take the place of seeking answers to those important questions.
If I get published, I will feel worthy. If I have a man who loves me then I’m ok. If I make X amount of money, then I have X amount of value. If I achieve Y, then the fear that I am not enough will go away. If I can fix that relationship, then I am lovable. If I move into that apartment, my world will be complete.
And once I’ve decided what the results of something should look like, I’m screwed. Because what inevitably happens is that I start clinging to that pre-ordained image of what it will all look like—and I grip it until my knuckles are white and my palms ache and I can barely breathe. And then I’ve placed myself in a world consumed with fear and guaranteed to disappoint. Because here’s the truth of it: clinging will always fail me in the end. The tighter I clutch something, the less hold I have on it. That’s the great paradox, right? It’s only when you stop caring about what comes next does what comes next end up being so beautiful.
So I’ve decided that I’m going to try to be more like that little insane-asylum escapee—the girl marching in place to the beat of her own clicking heels as she adjusts the satin gloves that she’s pulled up over her Scooby Doo pajamas.