I had a dream a few months ago. At first, it was your typical anxiety dream, but then it took an interesting and unprecedented turn:
I'm standing in front of a large group of teenagers in an auditorium. I have the sense that I'm the new kid in school, that people don't know or don't like me. I'm making some kind of an announcement, and while at first I can't hear myself speak for all the jeers and boos, at some point, I win the crowd over, and they begin to applaud and cheer. Next scene, I'm being approached after school by a pretty girl I've already picked out in the crowd; she's inviting me to some kind of an event, like an art opening. The scene changes and we're there. The room has a reddish glow and people are lounging in velvet armchairs and couches. Smoke fills the air and at first, everything's blurry in the haze. I have a growing awareness of myself and the people around me. I have a sense I belong there even though it's an unfamiliar place. It dawns on me slowly as we're walking through the space that I'm not in my everyday body. I'm young, maybe late teens, and I'm thin and spare, taller, stronger. My clothes are form-fitting, but not tight, the cut androgynous. I run my hand up my neck and notice my hair, which is straight and cut very short, with a fall of hair over one eye. Cut to the next scene, and I'm in the cab of an old pick up, my pick up, apparently, the same girl next to me. We're parked, slouched in our seats, smoking cigarettes. As I exhale and see the smoke rise and disperse before my eyes, I feel something that in life I never feel, a sense of relaxation, ease, that I'm in complete and utter control. I am perfectly confident that whatever I want to happen next, will happen. That by virtue of who I am, what I am, everything will come easy for me. It was the most beautiful feeling I've had for a long time, and lasted long after the details of the dream began to fade away.
When I first became a parent, other parts of me were sidelined, subverted. I think it happens to everyone. Just like, when you settle down with a partner, the single individual is swallowed to a certain extent by the "relationship" individual, the parent self overtakes to a certain extent the childless self. And in mostly good ways, I think. Parenthood taught me to be more selfless, taught me to put things in perspective, taught me to find happiness in meeting someone else's needs, taught me the depth and force of love. I was forced to drop bad habits, lose a lot of vanity, rearrange my priorities. But an essential part of myself was also starved for a time, and it's been a struggle trying to balance that part with the part that's been forever changed, that's gearing up to change again.
It's worth noting that I had this dream at a moment when, between the demands of my pregnancy and toddler, I felt riddled with anxiety, compromised both physically and mentally. Gratifying, really, that I could give myself a subconscious vacation from all of it, be young, fierce, stylish, fit, rebellious, open.
I rarely have lucid dreams, those dreams in which you can be who you want and control the action. So that, in and of itself, is noteworthy, too. But the dream was revelatory to me for reasons beyond this. The person I was in this dream, I know her very well, but I've never been her, in dreams or real life. I've been attracted to her, looked for and recognized parts of her in other people, in characters in books and movies, and I've written about her in countless stories throughout my life. She's a reoccurring theme, you might say. What this dream brought to light for me was that she's not what I always thought she was: something outside of me, some fantasy, some ideal, but rather, she's a part of me, some potential I can reach. And if that's the case, then at this moment, she's the most repressed she's ever been. Right now, she's my opposite in almost every way. Finding some way to reach her, integrate her with my mom self, my partner self, may just be the key to everything.
But how? The physical changes are obviously beyond me now, if they weren't always, and kind of beside the point: I'm never going to be 19 again. I'm probably not going to ever cut my hair that short or start smoking again. My piercings will stay closed. When I get my body back, if I ever do, I'll never have that body type, and I'll probably revert back to the nondescript jeans and a v-neck t-shirt look I've sported for a good ten plus years now. But her look and her attitude symbolize a kind of freedom for me that I don't have now, that maybe I've fallen short of ever really having, despite my attempts every ten years or so. The kind of freedom I mean is freedom from self-doubt, freedom from pressures to conform, to please. Freedom from fear of loss, of failure. But that kind of freedom requires power. The power to be your authentic self, and be that self even in the face of disapproval, discrimination, rejection.
In my efforts to find connection to other moms in a new town, I've found myself trying to send the message, Hey, accept me, I'm just like you. Which just isn't true. I mean, I'm not the counter-culture queen, not by a long shot, but there are aspects of me that set me apart from a lot of folks I've met here. And I've pretended, and in a few cases, even tried to care about things I have no interest in (particular TV shows, cooking projects, warehouse shopping, to name a few). So what to do? With a few new friends I've tried the "coming out" routine, not the obvious coming out, as that happens as soon as I mention Karissa, but coming out as a lover of obscure things, outsider art, underground music, challenging reads, foreign films, complex questions. But, as I observed in an earlier post, the extent to which I can really convey things about myself is sorely limited when my attention is divided as is the extent to which many of my acquaintances care, when what they'd prefer to do is dissect the latest episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County.
I've already begun reassembling myself by reconnecting more intentionally with my pre-parenthood friends. With them I share a common language, taste and experience, enough that I don't have to fight to be seen. In just the few weeks that I've sought out kindred spirits and cut ties with ill-fitting "frienemies," I've been so much happier. And as I've noted before, being back on a college campus this fall will give me ample opportunity to connect with more like-minded individuals, so it's something I continue to look forward to. But it's far from enough, and in fact, may not be the answer at all. Surrounding myself with trusted friends is not unlike building a barricade between myself and a world I find strange and unwelcoming at times. I have to take some kind of action, set things in motion. To put it in the simplest terms, I have to be myself, my whole self, which means I have to feed and nurture all the parts of me. At this point, I don't know how to do this. But at least, I realize something has to be done.
We all carry around "otherness." Our children see it eventually and watch us very closely to see what we do with it. Do we hide it, and simply show others what we think they want to see? I want my daughter and my son to learn early on that you can't please everyone, and moreover, you shouldn't want to. I want them to be whole people, integrated, expressed. I can't stop their pendulums from swinging wildly at different points in their lives, but I can hope they return to the center.
Since I dreamed this dream, I can see her very clearly, the other me, I can see everything she represents, see her staring at me, from the shadows, James Dean pose, cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth, and I get the message finally. She's daring me to be her, in some small way, everyday. She's daring me to be fully free.