prose// coping mechanisms (come undone?)

sometimes I wonder if I didn’t do it to myself. the way I have always escaped to the imagination, taken the corners of my own mind as solace, only ever really trusted myself with the full color of my dreams. I wonder how fragile I have always truly been, within myself, the shell of a body where I can hide, the frightful attachment to fantasy that warms me. often, when days are hard, when I fail to meet an expectation, when I say too much to the wrong person, when I realize that I have again, been cast aside, I run back into myself and lay there, softly, tears just a familiar body of water I do not shy from. I craft a dream world, sometimes a painful one, other times a sad one, most times just another one. I imagine a future where I don’t look anything like myself, where I walk so much better, where I speak with smoothness, where I can pluck from any tree anywhere the fruits of piety growing at the edge of a long stem of life.

a coping mechanism perhaps: the tucking into the future, the placing all the eggs I ever tasted into one huge basket and naming it hope. I set everything afloat on the ocean of my heart and patiently wait at the banks of my pain for things to come back to me. sometimes, I think they are, God sends a tease, a moment where I think the plan has fallen into place. the plan where I get the job and house and the acceptance letter and the family and the magnificent leather couch I have been eying on Article for a month. The dream where everything lines up and I can do big and beautiful things and I laugh and look happy and so many people are proud of me. the dream where I cross the stage and accept the award, where I reach the riverside and there is my boat/ the dream where I touch a dozen glass tiles and pick out the perfect ones for the shower I have been designing in a home I built on land that is rich and serene in the perfect neighborhood in the perfect state without anything that has fallen out of place.

so yes, perhaps I did it to myself. somewhere, in the creation of a hundred fictitious me’s, all beautiful, all rosy-cheeked and capable and coated in success. I thought of a dozen possibilities, a thousand stories that I would gladly star in, me and myself, holding onto each other tightly. each time the road curved slightly I edited the story, found another pathway to the ending I thought I could run to, the future that was supposed to birth happiness, (the first apartment, a job that would pay me enough to eat joyfully and buy clothes I like). perhaps this is why right now feels like the longest mourning period I have ever been through. over the past month, I watched a dozen deaths. good women, soft women, kin women, fierce women, brilliant women, all washed away under the stinging clock of death. a dozen versions of myself have died, the pathways have shut, the roads have ended, and I have had to face the bitter and brutal reality that I will never be that woman I dreamt of all those years. I am confined to ordinariness, to mediocrity, to something short of what I had decorated my pillowcases with saltwater in honor of all these sad and long years. something inside me forgets it every morning when I wake up, like the passing of a person I know, the grief hits me, and the waves of pain wash over everything.

I don’t know exactly what to do about it. I don’t remember a time before this one, where the future was not the safest place I knew, where fantasy was not still the Toal realm of the possible (what isn’t possible when you ahem your whole life before you?). now, as I close a heavy heavy chapter, I am left with the aftermath, the tallying, the recognizing I did not do what I set out to do, that thing said not happen the way I wanted, that I failed myself in ways I didn’t think possible that hot august day when I moved into the Quad that crooked freshman year. I watch as others waltz by, on stilts their grandfathers passed down to them and I wonder how I was so foolish to believe that I could make it up the mountains I molded in my own speckled mind. people have been smarter than me, spent more time doing than dreaming while I always believed it would work out and here they were, always working it out in real raw time. I don’t know if I knew how to do that. I still don’t know if I know how to today. yes. after four ancient years here in this old and ghostly place I still do not know how to craft the perfect resume, how to write the perfect paper, how to nail the interview, how to take a standardized test with flying colors the first time. I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I jumped and the wings were not there. I have fallen so many times this month, I have rolled over and wallowed and wept and still, felt like nobody saw me at all. people here don’t know what it tastes like to be hungry for things you don’t deserve, and then, not ever taste them. I wonder about that, why I cannot be satisfied with the mundane, wither normal, with the typical life full of dullness and sometimes not at all the lofty heights people read about in board book and fantastical stories in the adolescent section of the children’s library. maybe I read too much. yes, maybe that was it. maybe I took too literally when people told me I could reach for the stars, that the sky was the limit, that I could do anything I set my mind to.

I set my mind to many things and they never grew legs. maybe I should have tried harder, pushed more, ran faster, given up more of the moment to hold more of the future. I guess that’s true too. I didn’t do my best. sometimes I wonder if I even know what my best looks like in the flesh. do I know Gratitude barefaced and dressed in pajamas? can I spot Humility when she is just a girl on the street making a left turn like everyone else on that same sidewalk? do I know anything at all? what are the thing is can say I have seen with real eyes and not just imaginative ones. things that are real and in the world and not just dancing around the horizon of my own….

so yes, I have mourned and grieved and sat in silence, unable to imagine another day rolling by without shame, unable to conceive of a tomorrow where I do not feel heavy and achy all over. when I close my eyes I see everything I should have done before me, piled up like an unclimbable gate that encloses a dream story I will never have. yes, it is too late for somethings. I am not a little girl anymore. I stand on the brink of the end of a whole chapter of youth, watching the weathered pages folding behind me and everything moves on.

when do you learn to lean into the path you have before you, and carefully fold away the aspirations you once had? maybe nothing better is coming. maybe this is the best I can do. maybe this is all I will have. I have spent the better part of 21 years waiting for things to arrive that will make right now less painful. I don’t think anything is arriving. I think that maybe the world is just dirt and water and a few things in-between. I can touch it I can feel it and you can only get where you want to go if everything falls into place in that glass-like order. and this is what has been so terrifying. to let go I think. to realize, that I will never get those wide-open dreamlands back ever again.

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