The other day my mother held me as I thought about the failure that was my life. As I thought about how stuck I felt, how restless and out of place I was. She held me tight as if her arms could keep me from falling apart. Funny, usually I can trust my own arms for that. But as the tears fell, I could only recognize that I couldn’t hold it together. And maybe I didn’t want to. Being comforted in that moment was almost intoxicating.
I should have stayed in grad school, I thought to myself between the broken breaths and whispers that I’ll be okay. I should have stayed with what I knew, with what was safe. I don’t usually think about grad school anymore; it’s been almost two years since I left it behind. It’s the closest thing I have to a bad breakup, or perhaps an unresolved one. In those two aimless, wandering years, I’ve tried to reconstruct my dream from the ashes; tried to recreate myself into something better. But a few days ago and yesterday and even today I can admit with wet eyes that perhaps it was a mistake to walk away.
Because when life doesn’t go the way you hope, you begin to look back and question your impulsive choices. You begin to lose the bravado and wonder if just this once maybe you had it wrong. Maybe I gave up and ran away from the best thing that ever happened to me.
I’m surrounded by reminders of my failings. The books above my bed are the textbooks I poured over in class. Reluctantly and with my own sarcastic commentary. I remember the late nights and long hours spent sitting with a book in my lap and pen in my hand as I tried to keep track of the events, the people, the criticism, the schools of thought, the other books and articles and essays that contradicted that one sentence in an ocean of sentences. I was perpetually drowning in a historiographical maelstrom, and I loved every horrid, stressful, eye-opening moment. I was on my way to something. I was making something of myself.
I can barely open the books now. They are a shining monument to everything I could have been. It’s the worst sort of poetic justice, the emptiness I feel when looking at a book. Sometimes I pull one from the shelf and just hold it. I remember the words, they swirl before me like a montage of my greatest love. Because history is my greatest love. My passion. My only romance. I adore everything about it. The nature of it and the idea of it. To me, history is everything. Or at least it was.
Did I confuse my passions, I wonder. Was I blinded by the cleverness and brilliance that I found between the pages of the books? Was it history I loved desperately, or just the words that brought it to life? Or perhaps, history was the safer choice. It was something I could contain and measure. Something I could control. With history, I knew always what I could expect. I knew the rules, and I became bored with them.
I don’t think I’m made for rules. But then, I’ve never picked the easy path. I like to throw myself off balance, I think. I try to ruffle my own complacency. And perhaps that’s hurt me a few times. I rip what my heart has chosen to love away from my grasp and toss it aside, telling myself there’s something more. Something better. I’m not sure that’s true. Not anymore. But maybe there is something different.
I love different. It calls to the restlessness inside of me. It challenges me. It asks me to try and be everything I imagine I could be. It looks into myself and says, “There are no rules. There are no limits. There is only passion and creativity and being yourself.”
I’d love to be completely myself. I’m not sure I’ve learned how just yet.
Or perhaps I have and that’s a bit terrifying. The idea that you aren’t constrained to anything. That you can be a bit wild, a bit crazy, a bit whatever you’d like. The freedom in that is mesmerizing. I catch glimpses of it every so often, but maybe I don’t believe in it. Maybe I try to reach for it, but the unpredictability of it frightens me, leaving me broken down and helpless and my hands empty. Because something within me longs to reach out and take that freedom for myself. But the moment I do, there are no more excuses. There is just me and my dream and my future, and I can make it whatever I want. I can be whatever I want.
I can be the writer who walked away from grad school. I can be the woman who questions every so often the choices she made, but still doesn’t truly regret them because they brought me here. And even though I’m more unsure than certain, the feeling I have when I sit down to write – no rules, no grades, no restrictions, no professors to please – is the best feeling. The only feeling worth having. I wouldn’t trade it for thousands of dollars and a piece of paper with my named scrawled under a fancy title. Because a degree can’t give me the joy I feel when I find just the right word for just the right sentence.
Maybe sometimes when we walk away, we’re merely choosing a better path. We’re walking towards something we need rather than clinging to something we don’t. And maybe the doubt, the frustration, the distressing confusion means we’re doing the right thing. Because the things that are important, the things that are worth doing are never easy. They take something out of us. They cost something. But they also allow us to move forward, to grow into the life we’re meant to live.
They allow us to be exactly who we’re meant to be, and that is worth everything.
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