Monday, September 15, 2008

Learning to Let go and Live

You know that person in high school who knew what they wanted and where they were going and had a Life Plan? The kind of obsessive person who didn't miss school because their attendance records might be considered when they applied to colleges? The one who participated in EVERYthing in the hopes of looking as well-rounded and accomplished as possible? The relentless one who never wondered, never questioned where they were going with their life, because they just knew? Remember that person? Me, too. That was me. And you know, I lived a charmed life. I truly believed that if you worked hard, you would be showered with financial aid and a school would try hard to educate you. I knew where I was going and what I wanted to do with my life. There wasn't any room for compromise, I had a tight schedule to keep if I wanted to graduate law school with suitable honors, plan the wedding, and pop some children out while keeping my fabulous career on track. In my defense, I worked my little butt off to make my life into what I wanted it to be. And for a while, it worked out.

Now, you've all been reading this blog for a while. You all know that that is now how my life has turned out thus far. For a lot of reasons, which stem from one main cause. I failed. I found my limits, and I couldn't move past them. I spent my freshman year of college working forty hours a week, doing my assignments, and trying to participate in my new sorority. And I actually made it through freshman year that way. I think I got four hours of sleep on a good night, and I learned the hard way that your body shuts itself off after about sixty hours without sleep, whether you want it to or not. Sophomore year, I moved into an off-campus house with my roommate from freshman year, completely ignoring the (logical, reasonable, rational) objections my family and friends made. For six or seven months, Reading, PA was my home. My financial situation was abysmal. My social life was nonexistant. I was still working forty hours a week, but I was taking more difficult classes. My roommate stopped being friendly and started being a little crazy and my living situation got terrible. Tense, angry, and miserable. I stopped going to class, I stopped doing my work, I stopped going to work when I could manage it. I shut down and started spending a lot of time in my room, because I was too afraid to come out. My professors, I think, noticed that something was not right. They gave me opportunities to make up work I had missed. I thanked them, and didn't. My life got worse and worse and narrower and narrower, and then the killing blow came--there was no way I could finish the year out at school. I needed an extra ten thousand dollars to cover my tuition before I could register for classes.

And so, armed with the knowledge that I needed what was (at the time) a year's wages in the matter of a few weeks, with terrible credit, no references, and no time, I cried, I begged, I pleaded, and I wrote some letters and essays. And in the end, I didn't get ten thousand dollars. What I got was one failure, two incompletes, a B and a C. What I got was a shaky, sobbing phone call to my parents, begging to come home because the idea of having to see or deal with my roommate filled me with such anxiety I was afraid to leave the room to use the bathroom in case she saw me and we argued some more. When I tried to send my landlady a check and a letter (she made me pay three months of utility bills at once, the week my rent was due, because she hadn't bothered to let me know what i'd owed her before and she happened to be my roommate's mom) explaining the many reasons I wanted to be released from my lease early, I got sucked into a rousing game of phone tag where I was told the landlady's local post office had collapsed and she had no idea what was going on, though I had sent the letter through a priority-certified service. And so, I did the irresponsible thing in the eyes of real estate law, and the only thing I could do and I ran home. Everything except my basics went into storage and stayed there. My dresser, my bed, and my clothes came to live at my parents' place with me.

I eventually got my old job at my old store back, but I was still miserable. I had failed. My life was ruined. I was worthless and stupid and probably a terrible person, to boot. I had spent my life leading up to this working for nothing. To say I hated myself would be wrong, at the time I was more interested in blaming circumstances for things I should have handled or been aware of. I hated the school, the landlady, the roommate, and most of the whole world. Not me, though. I had something better for me--contempt. I was so worthless, I probably wasn't worth hating. So I pushed my family away, I tried to push Jim away (he's a little persistent), and I was just broken for a while. I cried a lot for no reason, I had crazy bad mood swings, and I was just generally pretty rotten. But slowly, over time, I healed. Never really completely, I think, because I was still divided. Jim had moved to Reading with me, and when we moved back to New Jersey, moved back in with his parents. We were separated and it was terrible. I was trying to put myself back together, and my heart was forever torn in two. I started sleeping at Jim's place more and more often, alienating my parents even further, until having my bed in their house was a formality. And I was still torn. My parents told me I wasn't home enough. Jim told me I didn't see him enough. I muddled through a bad (though better than the previous by far) situation as best I could and I started this blog.

You've followed me through the trials and tribulations of the search for a house, and the search for moving, we don't need to discuss those again. Fast forward to the present, to a little house in Royersford, that I share with Jim and Mike and Colleen. Not perfect, but good. Not where I wanted, planned, or really meant to be, but still safe. And talking to Mom a little while ago, I realized that for the first time in two years or so, I am comfortable with where I am in my life. I am okay with who I am. I am not perfect by a long shot. I still am not where I want to be, but I have set out realistic, achievable goals that (hopefully) won't burn me out. I have a family here with me, rather than being a hundred miles from my support network. For the first time in a long while, I am comfortable. I feel like my life is worth something. Like I am contributing, and like there is somewhere to go from here. I don't look in the mirror and see a failure, or an idiot. I just look in the mirror and see me.

I guess what I'm trying to say, through all this drama, I have learned a thing or two about Life Plans and plans in general. I have learned that I, too, am human. I can fail. I can fall on my ass--and fall hard. But I can eventually pick myself up. I can come back from losses, from anger, from pain. I can come back stronger and more determined. And I can learn to let go of the Life Plans, of the desperate need for perfection, and I can live my life. That life can be messy, and it can still hurt, but it can make me happy, too, and it can be worth some small measure of goodness. I am slowly, a little at a time, making peace with myself. I'm still a little fragile, sometimes, and still defensive. And I'm still not sure how I'm going to make everything work. And, looking at the pieces of me, they don't fit in the picture quite the way they used to. I will never "come back" to who I was. I've lost my innocence and my niavete and a few other things I will never get back. I'm not so optimistic, not so driven. I'm more timid, more shy. I'm less comfortable in new places and situations, because they are so ripe with potential for failure. I'm more indecisive and much less likely to blindly jump into a situation. But, at the end of the day, I'm still me. I've come back around to somebody I recognize, somebody who feels pretty good to me.

I was thinking about all this today, when I was looking in the mirror. I found my first wrinkles today. Wrinkles ("fine lines") were definitely not part of the Life Plan yet. Twenty-two, and already I'm finding them. In a few years, it'll be gray hair, and the dye will be for a different type of vanity. Looking in the mirror will be more aggressive, less passive soon--hunting for signs I'm too old for my years. But it won't be the end of me, or the end of the world, to stop looking like a teenager. And do you know how I could tell I'm doing all right? Those wrinkles? They're laugh lines.


Galad said...

Wow - what a road you've taken in the last few years. It sounds like you have learned some valuable lessons, perhaps most of all about yourself.

If you've already learned at 22 that life may not follow your plan, but you can still be happy, that's huge. I don't think some people ever get there.

Thanks for sharing your insights and keep laughing.

Rose Red said...

gee, I'm not sure I can add to what Galad has already said (but I'll continue anyway!). It takes some insight to look back and recognise what went on in your life and to learn from it. Good for you that you've done it. (And I can also tell you from experience, law school is not all it's cracked up to be!)
Thank you for sharing this - and also for your always funny and/or insightful comments on my blog too.

Donna Lee said...

That's my Wood Woman. It's hard watching someone who carries a large part of your heart around go through such turmoil and not be able to do much more than 'be there'. I know that you had/have to work through these things on your own but I wish you had said more so I could help a little. I remember telling you once that people who had perfect attendance and got straight A's had it harder than more average folks because when the sick day or the B came, it was soooo much harder to take. I think you're doing well and I am so very proud of you.

btw, meh on the wrinkles. I checked this morning and nope, still no wrinkles. Sorry.