You have to realize it out of nowhere: your uncle’s fishing story, the novel you forgot to return to the library, a picture on the internet. You have to wonder and laugh a little bit at yourself. You briefly imagine a future with it and you might shake your head and leave it to other people. It whispers in your ear at night. It curls next to your eardrum and blows so softly, so gently, that you have no choice but to entertain it for a while. It’s there. It’s constant. But it waits for you while you get on with the busy business of being alive. It makes very little sound so it’s easy to ignore.
But it doesn’t leave.
You have to come back to it. You are tentative at first. You are bashful, like a teenager courting first love. You blush when it looks you in the eye. It’s too beautiful, too unrealistic for you to ever begin to touch. You gather up courage to sneak a blurry cell phone picture. You tell your best friends about it and you play it off casually. They tell you to go for it. They ask you why not? You tell them they know why not. It’s your only answer.
You have to be filled with envy when somebody else makes eyes at your dream. It’s envy, not jealousy, because jealousy implies you could possess it. You are convinced you can’t. You have your reasons. You reassure yourself there’ll be something else — something more your speed. You wish somebody else well with your dream and you make yourself turn away.
You have to grow hungry. You starve over any period of time until your ribs burrow through onion layer-thin skin. You are translucent with wanting. You are miserable. There are days when you pretend to be happy. There are days you pull up each corner of your mouth until it’s pulled taut, like a tenuous wire. When people at dinner parties ask you questions, you answer with single words.
You have to understand. You must have that sudden moment of clarity. You see that you are so very old and also so very young. You see that you are constantly caught between thinking you have a lot of time and thinking you have little. And no matter how you see it, it’s telling you there’s something more. It might have changed or even become completely different, but the dream has been there all along.
You have to struggle. You give up pieces of the life you previously built up for yourself. You doubt yourself more than anybody else, more than your aunt with two sons at Ivy Leagues. You are your biggest cheerleader and your biggest critic. It might happen quickly and you might sigh in relief that it was so easy all along, if only you had been braver sooner. But more often than not, it will take years. You will cry and see no light at the tunnel’s end. You will rip your dream into tiny shreds and you will glue it back together over and over.
And when it kind of, sort of, maybe comes together. You will hold it in the palm of your hand, so magnificent you can’t imagine it ever fits. You have to smile, but you have to know this is not the end. You worked hard, but now you must work harder. It’s your dream and it wouldn’t be big if it weren’t difficult. This is not your happy ever after.
You are a work in progress. And your dream wouldn’t want you any other way.