“Just as a flower does not choose its color, we are not responsible for who we come to be. Only once you realize this do you become free. And to become adult is to become free.” – Stoker (2013)
About a week ago I turned eighteen. I woke up ambushed by my mother and a singing balloon, and then I had to rush off to school. Before I did, my mother, as she does every year, made me pray to God and prostrate in front of my father, in return for which I received his blessings, as well as $20 and a banana. It was all done very hurriedly, and the fact that I don’t really believe in God anyway made me feel slightly guilty (although you don’t exactly have to believe in God to be a Hindu), but my mother had tears in her eyes, and as I went to school, everything felt sort of sad and bittersweet. I definitely didn’t feel anymore adultish, but there was the dread of an upcoming biology test hanging over me. At school most people seemed to have forgotten it was my birthday, which was depressing, but at the same time I couldn’t bring myself to care because I was too busy worrying about the bio test. When I got back home I had a mini existential crisis and cried a bit – maybe the four hours of sleep I’d gotten had something to do with it – and thought, “well, this is the worst birthday ever.” Of course the worst birthday ever was probably the moment you were first born – what a shock that must have been! All that blood and crying and screaming and everyone fussing over you. And I hate hospitals.
But during this mini existential crisis, I had the feeling again that my life was slipping away out of my hands like water and I was powerless to hold the moment still while I figured things out. There’s no pause button for life. It seems like only yesterday I was writing in my diary, “I’m turning eight tomorrow, but I wish I was still seven because seven is my favorite number.” The day before my birthday my parents had been badgering me again about going to medical school, becoming a doctor, etc, etc, and I had the same thought that I would never be free of them (which was what reminded me of the quote above), that I would always, always be stuck in what Sartre calls in Being and Nothingness “mauvaise foi” – bad faith, a sort of self-deception where you adopt false values and tell yourself you’re less free than you really are, forcing yourself into a life you don’t want to live. I did a hypnosis thing the other day and had a vision that I was at a great threshold and on the other side was a path lined with trees and flowers leading up to a little house on a hill filled with sunlight and books. I don’t know what I want to do in life, but there’s such great pressure to have it all figured out before going to college. I mean, I know I want to write, but I don’t think I’m good enough at it to make money from it or be remembered after I die. Of course, with discipline and practice, writing, like all art, can be learned and improved, but I won’t ever be as good as I want to be, and that terrifies me. When they tell me “you have to be a doctor” or “stop being so impractical,” sometimes I think I should just grit my teeth and resign myself to that fate. After all, anyone can grow to like anything with enough time & an open mind. And I have always wanted to help people. Doctors are for the most part financially secure and independent in their careers, and doesn’t everyone want that? And how many people living all over the world are living lives of necessity, doing the things they do out of sheer need to survive. In contrast, to live a life one wants to live seems like a selfish luxury, especially if this life involves doing something that is of no apparent contribution to society. When I had that vision of the threshold I thought of the fig tree in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, all the rotting figs dropping to my feet because of my horrible indecision, and yet, all I want is a little truth and purpose.
Increasingly I have had the impression that adult life is flat, stale, dull, that one day all the color will leech out of my life so gradually I won’t even notice it happening and I will fade into a grey, senseless middle age – the 9 to 5, constantly worried over trivialities, cynical and jaded, stuck in a loveless marriage with horrible, bratty children who are horrible and bratty because I’m too miserable to love them properly – until eventually I will fall headlong into the grave on my stupid face. Of course, this is all very bleak and overdramatic, and being middle-aged is probably not as bad as I imagine it to be. Besides, if this is my “ennui” stage, it means I’ve escaped the period of ignorant bliss and am now on my way to meaningful bliss.
Looking back over my younger years, I think I had this idea in my head of what high school was supposed to be like from all those books/movies/TV shows that I feel almost cheated out of the American Teen Dream™ – I’ve never been drunk or to one of those parties or fallen in love or even had a first kiss – but now I see it was partially my fault for buying into all of that. I think I will always be more idealistic than I should be, and that’s okay.
At the end of the day, I am glad to have parents who love and care for me as much as mine do. I have been privileged in many ways. In others, I have sometimes been unfortunate, but that’s life. Over these past eighteen years I’ve learned a lot and changed a lot, and I have so much growing left to do. I don’t know if anyone really does settle fully into their own skin. Although I’m sad to be leaving behind Neverland and Narnia, I’m excited for what’s to come – after all, the horizon is bright, the future lies ahead, and the threshold is mine to cross.
“Anne’s horizons had closed in since the night she had sat there after coming home from Queen’s; but if the path set before her feet was to be narrow she knew that flowers of quiet happiness would bloom along it. The joy of sincere work and worthy aspiration and congenial friendship were to be hers; nothing could rob her of her birthright of fancy or her ideal world of dreams. And there was always the bend in the road!
‘God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world,’ whispered Anne softly.” – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables