15: Letting Go Of The People I Won’t Become

 

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The celebrity

How alluring to a 10 year old. It seems so silly now, so ill-informed. Like wanting pancakes suffocating and falling apart in syrup for every meal of every day forever and ever. Fame must feel like that. Gorged on fake sustenance that only makes your stomach hurt. Sickly sweetness you’re unable to leave because everyone else wants to find their way into its sticky clutches so badly, like flies on tape, struggling in a slow death but happy to be near the light. Children make promises to themselves to find fame. Adults throw away everything to pin down its slippery shape. Ghosts refuse to leave it behind and cross over. Cross over to what? Do you think there’s fame in heaven? There can’t be. There are no journeys or stories in heaven. Heaven is the final destination so there’s no traveling, no moving forward, no time. There is infinite time in heaven, which means it doesn’t even exist. Fame is born of conflict, of others not having something you have — recognition. There is no conflict in heaven, so there can be no fame. This is how we rationalize obscurity to ourselves. Those who aren’t famous. Heaven on earth is being unknown. Free to do what we want.

 

The beautiful victim

How alluring to a 17 year old. Do you think you are someone who looks like someone who would have your name? Or do you think you just look like someone who would have your name because that is your name? There’s a way of living where you only know how to accept love when it comes in the form of pity or, closely related, admiration for your strength to survive the things of which you’ve been a victim with grace. And there’s a way of living where you only know how to show strength–and only accept strength being shown–when it manifests itself beneath someone else’s boot, be it the universe or the people who live on the other side of the world or the neighbor’s dirty soles muddying up your path in life. Are you only a victim because you say you are? Or are you a victim because that is what you seek? Who forms your identity to yourself? You or other people? Why can’t you be strong and loved and beautiful on your own? Choose your own name?

 

The mother of six

How alluring to a 22 year old. There’s an ancient story of a fisherman who steals the skin of a sealwoman while she bathes naked in the water. He promises to return her skin if she lives with him for seven years. The sealwoman agrees and follows the fisherman to his home. The sun sets, day in and day out, the way it always does and the way it always has, and somewhere between a sunrise and a sunset, the sealwoman has a child. The sealwoman is happy but her body starts shriveling, disintegrating, peeling, cracking away. (Like the sanskrit word kriya, a spiritual cry for help made visible through a physical reaction.) She does not belong in this world. On the seventh year, the fisherman refuses to follow through on his promise. He is afraid. He doesn’t want to be alone. That night the child hears a noise outside their home: It is his mother’s skin, calling to him. The child reunites the mother and her skin. Now knowing what she must do, the sealwoman breathes into her child and, holding him tight, dives into the cold water.  Deep beneath the place where air has a say, she finds her family and introduces her son. Her skin is fully healed, her body whole. Here they live forever. Most versions of the story don’t say what happened to the fisherman. But in this story you’re not supposed to care.

 

The girl with the cool sleeve tattoos

How alluring to a 26 year old. One in seven of the twenty-one percent of Americans who have tattoos regret theirs. Among the reasons: They don’t like being marked for life, like animals notated in a crowded pen. The permanent mark is supposed to make them an individual; instead it just contributes to making them just another number. People with tattoos look just like other people with tattoos. It, in fact, does the opposite of what they think it’s going to do. An individual expression that makes you not an individual anymore. Regardless, there’s something appealing in being marked for life. There’s something appealing about having to see, everyday, something that made a lot of sense to you when you were a person you don’t even recognize anymore. Scars don’t have to be things we treat with kid gloves. They can be colorful and significant for the beauty they bring to our lives after the pain is gone and the puncture healed. Sometimes they’re the only reminders we have of the people we once were, the people we left behind. Hopefully, we’ve left them behind.

 

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