looking ahead: a retrospective
there are certain things that we expect from our lives, from ourselves, that color our choices and actions. as children we look to the future as an endless fountain of possibility and we proceed accordingly, making plans, sketching dreams, making mistakes and learning a continuous stream of lessons might not make the journey easier but definitely the wiser. i think of myself as a little girl and the way i lived my life; i was the little girl who wanted to be a ballerina, who played elaborate games of 'pretend' with my friends that allowed me to act out what i thought it meant to be a teenager, or, eventually, an adult. i drew pictures on reams of paper that jammed my desk at school to overflowing, i wrote sweet short stories that got pinned to the wall in elementary school. i was poked fun of by the bully boys and i was constantly embattled with my gal pals, i was enchanted by my teachers and sought to be the ringleader of mischief and entertainment in places like brownies or the library club.
i'm not sure if i had any ideas then of what my life would, or could, be like. i was lucky to grow up having things i needed, and often things i wanted. i never knew what it meant to be prejudiced about anyone's skin color, religion or sexual preference. i was taught to like baseball as much as the symphony, and i was addicted to books and television. nothing was off-limits, and i was never made to believe that because i was a girl, or half-jewish, or anything, for that matter, that i couldn't be or do something in my life. but when i told my mother i wanted to be a ballerina she had me point my toe out for her. "oh, you can't be a ballerina," she told me. "your toes need to be in a straight line."
i cursed my ineffective toes, and thought i'd prove her wrong. i read every book on being a ballerina i could get my hands on, and i latched on to concepts like that ice skating developed the wrong leg muscles, so i refused to join the rest of the kids on the field trip on the ice. by around junior high it became painfully apparent that my body wasn't built for dancing; few people's are, really. by junior high many realities became painfully apparent. i had hoped that starting a new school would help be create a new identity--maybe even discover an identity because i wasn't sure i'd ever had one. for as much fun and artistic and relatively carefree my childhood had been, it was also very much about conflict. fights with my friends went on for weeks, and my diary was filled with angry passages about my difficult relationship with my father and new stepmother. my mother had happily remarried and found herself first living abroad in india, and then settling three thousand miles away in los angeles. i never blamed her, but i missed her, and i was in search for some one to help teach me to become a young woman.
i don't think i've ever known anyone who delighted in their puberty or junior high experience; mine was no exception, though i'd sooner not apply the word "normal" in this case. my stepmother announced one night after dinner that it was time for me to get a "bobby-robert-allan" which was her translation of "b.r.a." into an anachronism. she dragged a horrified me to the mall where i was fitted for one of those juniors numbers with the sporty tennis rackets on the front. that summer i took it to camp and found i was the only one with that sort of undergarment; the next summer i defiantly left the offending piece at home, only to discover i was the only one without
a bra. i went through a stage where i refused to brush my hair until it became a tangled mess so extreme that the hairdresser had no choice but to rip it apart with scissors. i shaved my own legs in secret one weekend afternoon with a pink daisy razor i'd nabbed from the bathroom. i would show up to have lunch with my aunt in these ridiculous get-ups that i thought made me look mature and sophisticated, but i'm sure i looked nothing short of ridiculous. i had a difficult time making friends, and also keeping friends.
when things began to get particularly uncomfortable at home i decided what i wanted was to move to vancouver to live with my maternal grandparents. i'm sure i concocted the scheme late one night as i lay huddled under the covers listening to the top 40 countdown on my favorite a.m. radio station, and i honestly don't remember the conditions under which it was presented to my father. he said he'd have to tell my mother this, and when she found heard she and my step-dad re-arranged their entire lives in order to have me come live with them, instead, in los angeles. it was the fist of many monumental sacrifices they made for me, for which remain truly grateful.
though i was escaping a household in which i was very unhappy, leaving my dad and toronto was not an easy thing to do. it was never what i'd imagined i'd do, it wasn't an action that seemed mapped out for me on my life's journey. but living there had become a charade of threats, incentives, and armchair psychology, and so i left. that crossroads in my teenage years marks the first sign post at the junction of "what" and "if"; i was no longer going to the school i was planning on going to, i was going to have to face the daunting task of making new friends, of living in a new country, of swapping a dad and step-mom living space for a mom and step-dad one. they say you should never look back, and i'm sure i did, a little, but i plunged ahead then, just as i plunged ahead after high school when i left los angeles and my uncomfortable college plans for life in new york.
it's funny how you find yourself in a situation and you say "i never would have guessed a year ago that this is where i'd be now," and i think i've said that a million times over in my life. there are wonderful elements to my life that ring familiar--i still write sweet stories that i post on the internet rather than on the classroom board, i've been bullied emotionally by the boys i've dated, i've been embattled with gal pals but also have shared adventures with my dearest and closest friends who know me inside out and stick by me no matter what strange intersection of life plans i find myself in. i am still the ringleader of much mischief, and i am still enchanted by my teachers, but i don't have the boyfriend i thought was standard issue with entrance into your twenties, i don't have the body of a dancer, and when i made that wide left from toronto that led me to los angeles almost fourteen years ago it created a canyon between me and my dad that neither of us seem able to cross, or even just meet in the middle. it's not exactly what i'd imagined it would be; nothing really turned out the way i'd planned.
i'm not the world's biggest fan of actress kim basinger, but i will concede that when she was interviewed on inside the actor's studio
she said something rather profound that has stuck with me since. she said: "if you want to hear god laugh, tell her your plans." so i've learned to face change rather than hide from it, i've learned through both studying improvisation and just the school of hard knocks that it's best to live in the present moment. i've learned gratitude, the power of self-expression, and that self-discovery is mastered over a lifetime and doesn't happen instantaneously in a junior high school cafeteria. i have to believe that my future is an endless fountain of possibility, and i have to believe that any day down the road i will turn my head and glance back, and then look straight ahead again and say: "i never would have guessed that is where i'd be now."