I have never been one of those women who dreaded the passing of each year. I have relished each new decade and I expected my fourth decade to be no different. So, it was with great surprise that as the sun set on my birthday, I found myself unmoored. It was as if I work up a stranger to myself. Food tasted different, the air smelled different. Nothing was remotely recognizable. Things I’d counted on were suddenly lost to me. I could no longer write. Where before I could crank out one, sometimes two posts a day, now it was as if I had to pry every single word from my brain. Decisions just required too much effort and I couldn’t must up the emotional urgency to make them. Everything was familiar and yet completely alien at the same time.
I didn’t even recognize my own face in the mirror. Gone was the girl I had once been. In her place was a woman of indeterminate age until you noticed the white, Cruella De Vil streak, lines had appeared around my eyes and mouth, my eyes had grown tired and hollow. As I wondered what had happened to me, the sense of disreality only deepened.
Weeks later, I’m only just beginning to find my center again, but not in the way I’d thought it would be.
Losing My Way
As a child, I remember dreaming of being an astronaut or a ballet dancer. At one point, I planned to be a zoologist. Somewhere along the way, those dreams died and by the time I left my parent’s home, I was content to exist check-to-check and aspire only to a lack of responsibility. So long as I had food to eat and clothes to wear, I didn’t care about anything else.
I – of course – made all the requisite noises about ambition, goals and dreams, but I had none in truth. I’d sold them along with my self-respect in my early teens. I don’t remember the first time I sold my self-respect away, but I do remember the first time I chose a man over it. My very first boyfriend cheated on me and I took him back despite my better judgment. I did this not because he was genuinely sorry, nor because I loved him too much to let him go. Looking back, I see that he was my rebellion and my escape from my parents and I wasn’t willing to let that go any more than I was willing to be alone. We were both using each other. I was American and his traditional Korean family couldn’t stand that. He was everything my parents hated, foreign, older, a surfer and driving his own car. Two weeks after I told him to go to hell, I called him and welcomed him back.
The prospect of not having a boyfriend was daunting to me as well. I validated my appeal through male attention and I hated being alone. I would spend 2.5 more useless years with him and start a trend of serial monogamy in order to never be alone.
As I said before, this wasn’t the beginning of my descent. By the time I met him, I’d already mastered molding myself to fit into the crowd. I took no stances and deliberately refused to define myself in any way. Defining myself meant risking rejection and I was unwilling to do this. I craved acceptance by the “group” whomever they happened to be, even as I existed in a state of complete detachment from everything around me.
Given the circumstances of my upbringing, deep emotional attachment is a struggle for me. I don’t relate to the feelings that people discuss. I have two sisters that I know nothing about despite being raised with them. If you need more info than height and eye color, I can’t give it to you any more than they are likely to know anything of me. I generally feel isolated and alone in a sea of humanity that I understand at a visceral level I should feel more connected to but don’t. It’s as if I have a wall of glass around me and I exist in a transparent cage; one I feel acutely, but is invisible to everyone else
My descent into self-indulgent, self-destructive decision making has been slow, but inexorable spanning over thirty years. Perhaps, it should have been no surprise that one day I would wake up and no longer know who I was.
The Tipping Point
My breakdown came in the form of chocolate chocolate chip cookies. When I was a child, I spent every Saturday watching the cooking shows on P.B.S and baking. I loved to bake. I dreamed of the day I had my own family. I collected recipes from Ladies Home Journal along with sewing patterns and crafty projects. My own trousseau for my future. Somewhere in my teens, everything disappeared. To this day, I have no idea what happened to it all. By the this time, however, I was already on my apathetic path and I did nothing about it.
On this particular day, I stood in my rented kitchen – the 18th in 21 years – mixing a batch of chocolate chocolate chip cookie dough. I’d taken special care to acquire the best quality ingredients and substitute high-glycemic products for lower ones. My daughter’s father is diabetic and I’m trying to satisfy his sweet tooth while not contributing to the disease. I hadn’t taken this kind of interest in baking since I was thirteen years old. As I creamed butter and sugar, I became disoriented. Images of my childhood attempts at baking flashed through my mind and I remembered my collection. It had represented my hopes and dreams for the future and I’d let it slip through my fingers without a single thought.
I cried over those cookies thinking of the woman I might have been if I’d made better decisions. When the tears stopped I finished baking those cookies. Later when I ate them, I fancied that little extra kick of salt with the sweet was the taste of my own tears. As the cookies baked, I became overcome with the urge to do more and I made a batch of homemade iced tea, something I’ve never done. I even made homemade spaghetti. My family ate well that night and for the first time in forty years, I felt right with myself. In that moment, I understood I needed to figure out who I truly am under the accumulated silt of conformity.
Reclaiming My Identity
In the last few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time searching my heart and mind to attempt to connect the dots between this undefined woman I’ve become and the girl I used to be in a quest to determine what if anything still remains of her. I found a few things:
- I love mysteries still. As a child I read Encyclopedia Brown, Harriet the Spy, Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. I’m taking a class on Detective Fiction now and it’s been like rediscovering a comfort item.
- I plan to study Latin again. I loved it as a child and regret letting it slip away.
Not everything in my life has been bad. I found writing and Pit Bulls. Neither of which I would have sought out on my own and they are two things I hold very dear and both shape the goals I’ve set for myself:
- I want to get on a best seller list, preferably USA Today.
- I want to open a sanctuary for Pit Bulls and follow the footsteps of one of my heroes, Cleveland Amory.
I also have a bucket list started, something I’ve always resisted as it represented too much commitment. First on the list is attending the official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas. After that, ComiCon.
I still don’t recognize the woman in the mirror. She remains blurry and out of focus, but I’m hopeful that will change