Lying in bed last night, sleepless again despite a purloined Sonata, I started fantasizing about different jobs. This is a sign of stress for sure; I’ve been both indulging in escapist fantasies and taking what I think of as flight naps, where I fall deeply and profoundly asleep purely to avoid the noise in my head. I always have complex, wandering dreams, at least one of which involves me needing urgently to wake up and being unable to do so. Yesterday when my alarm went off, I was so incredibly tired it felt as though my head were literally filled with sand, too heavy to lift. I called off work and spent the day feeling hot and guilty, and hence, the night tossing and turning and imagining alternate realities for myself where I had a new job, a new schedule, a clean slate. Maybe under different circumstances I could be a better kind of person, one who balances her checkbook and takes her meds and works diligently at all times instead of trying to gauge how much is enough to get by. One who draws a line and cleaves to it, even if the line leaves me and my self-worth lonely on one side and the object of my desire on the other.
The geographic cure is so tempting. Who would I be in Brooklyn, in New Orleans, in Galway or Madison or back behind the bar? Freelancing? Would I be thinner, more self-confident, better pedigreed, the kind of person who spent 20 minutes on her hair every morning? Would I be less the kind of person who can spend the day staring at the ceiling and not feel as though I’ve missed a thing? And if I were that person, what would I lose? What ineffable me-ness would be snuffed out, and who would know but me?
Maybe what I need is a temporal cure. To be me again at 21, and get out of bed and find some help and graduate. Or me again at 14, and not skip school and smoke my first cigarette. Me at 23, to keep my hand from blocking my lover’s lips when he said I think I’m falling in love with you. Thirty-year-old me, who gave up a growing freelance business for the velvet handcuffs of health insurance and a 401(k). Freshman year me, who maxed out her first credit card on Christmas gifts and Thai food and never paid it off. Every day me, who eats pasta and watches Treme instead of going to the gym. Who browses classes online–improv, Spanish, creative nonfiction–and fritters the registration fee money away elsewhere every time. Who started a blog instead of kickstarting her life.
I tell myself, the world does not owe you happiness and health and success. You have to reach out and grab for it. What you have is a gift any sane person would thank the heavens for every day. Once I waitressed 70 hours a week in a trashy marina bar situated in a trailer park in central Ohio, and but for grace that could have been my whole life. One summer I worked the midnight shift in a junk mail factory in an industrial park, shimmying paper off the conveyor belts until it cut through the duct tape I’d wrapped protectively around my hands to slash my palms anew. But for chance I could be there still, my jaws aching from the gum I frenetically chewed to stay awake. When I was 17, I thought I was pregnant by a long-haired boy who drove a fast car, and I would have had that baby. What regrets would I have then? Would I ever miss the New Yorker, or Ethiopian food, or the version of me that knows enough to know what she is missing?
I think I was that girl even then, that I would be her no matter where I was, but I can’t remember. Young me shimmers just out of focus, amorphous. I should forgive her, I know, absolve her of responsibility for mistakes she didn’t know she was making and thank her for the chances she took that delivered me here. If only I were the kind of person who discerned the path easily, who stepped nimbly ahead instead of longing for what might be along a different route. If I’d taken myself in hand, loved myself a little more, given myself the leeway I gladly cede to those around me, who might I have become?
Who would I be if I did that now?