I’m having my house painted. I’m so excited. I’ve actually never had someone else do it for me, and I’ve only painted myself once. It feels like a declaration of making it mine and not a stopover point. The reality is I’m not sure if this house is a stopover for me or if I’ll be staying long-term, but I’m gambling that in either case a fresh coat of paint will be a good decision. My house is 100 years old this year, and she has plaster walls with cracks, joints that don’t necessarily connect and holes where past residents hung pictures and hardware. She is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.
While taking down my hallway pics, I stopped to look at my photo of the Eaglettes, my high school dance team. Those young faces in that picture bring back memories of a time when my adventure had not yet begun. I know how they all turned out, and it’s interesting to gaze upon this picture knowing the struggles, hardships and gifts that each one of those young women would experience. For some, they knew exactly what they wanted and got there quickly. For others of us, it has been a journey that may never end. At that moment in time we had no idea what life might be like. We just knew how to take a choreographed dance and practice it until it was charmingly and imperfectly ours.
I would love to have coffee with that young girl with curly hair that was straightened into the perfect coif in about an hour’s time and with half a can of Aqua Net. I know she would be nervously trying to figure out who I want her to be because that’s what I always did. Not knowing the rules of life, I was constantly trying to figure out how to be good and right and please anyone I perceived to be in authority. My young, hollow view of life consisted of a single desire to fit in and be liked.
The first thing I’d tell her is that she’s NOT fat. The insensitive criticisms from the men in her life and the expectations of the women she respected about the size of her body will skew her perception of herself for most of her adult life. And digging out from that belief will prove impossible. So telling her she isn’t fat probably wouldn’t work anyway. Perhaps the better approach would be to ask her about her interests and her desires. Maybe we could talk about what she wanted from life which I know would be a career and the opportunity to live in a number of exciting cities. A discussion about her dreams and aspirations might crowd out the obsession about being too large for society’s approval.
What I’d most like to give her is the opportunity to be heard. I remember feeling like I was always listening to understand what was normal in order to mold myself to those expectations. What a gift it would be to speak freely and openly and explore what I was thinking without judgment or correction. I now know that’s the way I process things and am unapologetic about it. I have to meander through the maze that is my mind until I settle on what I believe is truth.
Although she is smiling in that picture I know she is depressed. It would be decades before a good friend will encourage her to talk about her depression and will hold her as she cries. In the moment captured here, she’s still trying to smile through it, get over it and otherwise pretend that darkness does not exist. I’d like to ask her about it, normalize it and tell her that some of those other smiling girls are feeling the same way. How powerful it would be for her if I could introduce her to meditation or yoga so that she doesn’t abuse alcohol later in life to self-medicate. I’m not sure she’d be open to it, but it would be nice to plant the seed.
I’d love to tell her what she has to look forward to in her life. I’d let her read me some of her poetry and tell her that one day she could be a writer just for fun. I’d encourage her not to be afraid to pursue her dreams of being a journalist. She doesn’t know how much courage and guts she has. I’d tell her she’ll become a teacher of sorts through her work and her writing, and she can use all of her hardships for gain. I’d like to encourage her not to limit her dreams to the ones she sees modeled in rural Louisiana. While she dreams of cities and adventures she reads about in books, she really doesn’t know that she’ll get to choose where she goes. I want her to know she has the power to choose her life… and change it if she doesn’t like what she chose. There’s no shame in that.
I’d reassure her that her stubbornness is a virtue, and she needs to protect herself with boundaries and not her will. She won’t know what boundaries are but I’ll suggest a book or two or tell her to write it herself. After all, she’s curious beyond belief. Her time will be better spent researching how to set boundaries than how to lose 10 pounds or catch the right husband. After all, she’ll probably be chasing those two goals the rest of her life and will one day realize they weren’t worth all of that effort anyway. Oh, yeah, and I’d tell her to get some good conditioner to let those curls go. She lives in humid Louisiana, and she may as well go with the flow.