In an old house overlooking a lake, in a small town that should have, by all accounts, been lonely, the empty space was not sad. The remote, Southern town we inhabited for a short time was where I found the first true friends of my childhood. I haven’t spoken with them in some time, but their voices and laughter warm me when I think about our connection. The innocence of those relationships is marked in my memory for good. I ask myself if I can even remember a time when forming bonds was that simple. What kinds of connections are without pretense in our adult lives, however small?
We moved away, and found more people that looked like us and came from the same places we did. I found curiosity, freedom, and loneliness. I hid myself from scrutiny of high standards in all of my new environments and grew amongst friends united by the same inexplicable restlessness all growing children face. But I couldn’t hide forever. Even now, I feel invisible watching eyes disapproving of mysterious things I am supposed to accomplish, but don’t.
Eventually, I found resources to teach myself I was enough just as I exist, and that I didn’t need “proof” or “evidence” to believe it. Then what happened? They weren’t exactly…enough. How do you overcome a lifetime of internalizing the need for that proof? And where did it start?
It helped to find community. It helped to look around and see facets of my identities and experiences I didn’t have to carry alone.
Do we search for community because we wish we had it when we needed it the most? The child in us needing to be seen?
If that was true, the child in me should not have been surprised to feel complicated emotions while watching the effervescent “Barbie” movie. The intensely cheerful opening scenes gave me no indication of the dramatic journey to come. I realized much later that some of my sadness opened because a part of Barbie “died” when she found out the truth about the real world, the same way girlhood and childhood dies for us.
I feel that word death in my body, because usually, the end is heartbreaking. I realized that my heart breaks for the girls in us who inevitably learn the world is not safe for them, and especially the girls that have to learn it alone. And sometimes, the myths of not being worthy begin. Something gnaws at us about someone else becoming President, or a Nobel prize winner, but not us. We forget how joyful our place was in the world, and the way we celebrated each other. There is no turning back after the spell breaks.
The truth is that many of us “think about dying” and it can seem impossible not to be overwhelmed by our surroundings. But we can remember there is strength in numbers. There is strength in expression. There is the power of humans and their imagination to heal. That is a leap we often forget.
A line describing the contradictions and joy of the human experience was written for Barbie and Ruth:
“The real world isn’t what I thought it was.”
“It never is. And isn’t that marvelous?”