When I was 16, I had a traveling, imaginary audience—spies creeping behind doorways, acrobats hiding in trees, eyes staring up through the sewer grate. Any time I tripped or picked a wedgy or cried or danced or sang or loved with both hands there were hundreds of eyes on me—I was always being judged. “What is she wearing? Is that her boyfriend? Her friend is so much prettier than her! She is too fat to dance here. She likes that song? Yuck. I thought she was a bad-ass, why is she so pathetic? Poser. Loser. Retard.” I felt that I was never free from scrutiny. Imaginary or not, those critics are brutal.
Even under the microscope, I was very powerful. Most of the time, I wasn’t aware of that power. I had this way of influencing people, friends, enemies, loves, classmates but felt small and not like a leader at all. It’s like we never know how young and beautiful we are until we are not those things anymore. I see pictures of my teenage self…I was beautiful and young and in those moments when I could dodge that invented audience I had a freedom that I’ve never had since. There is something so cool about that.
All of this teenage duress is how we become our adult selves. Someone told me that a movie star in an interview said “Our teenage scars are the deepest.” I don’t agree fully, but the thought has major resonance with me right now…now, in the hot gut of my mid-life crisis. It is my teen self that is haunting me right now. Who was I then? And how the fuck did I get here? Is there something so wrong with me that I can’t get my life to work, to be happy, to be content…. My mom says Jesus is the answer; I say that’s not my path. I can’t find what I need in church or in men. It’s about me. I am selfish.
Part of life is questioning. As painful as it is, I like the challenge. I like to solve problems. If you never challenge yourself, you should move to outer space and float around on the moon with your lala dandy-ass thoughtless thoughts.
Struggle makes me interesting. Struggle makes me grateful and loving and compassionate. I judge others less and less severely being the monumental fuck up that I am. How can I judge you and your decisions when I make and have made disastrous mistakes?
I used to think and say that “the heart wants, what the heart wants.” My mom says this too…not sure if it came from our family or from somewhere more canonical, but it’s true. The heart is pretty honest. But, if we let our hearts lead, who the fuck can plan where that will take us? But is that right—is letting the heart lead our decisions, or lives, the moral thing to do? Is it mature? Is the heart the best guide? I can easily name times that my heart was wrong (our hearts were wrong). Or is giving into the heart just giving in to that un-self-aware (but completely self-involved) emotion-led teenage dancer who imagines herself being scrutinized with every step?