chapter seven: grow up

I remember being small. Bits of it, at least. At five, I truly believed I had the whole of life understood, and perhaps I did. I told my mother that I had already learned everything I'd ever need to know, and perhaps I had. I told her grown-ups made everything too complicated and that kids were just as smart. I knew how to love. How to make my bed, pick out clean underwear, make toast and express my thoughts. I had it all figured out. From that point forward, life has been a process of forgetting everything I knew then and learning it again.

I had a pair of brown huarache sandals that I refused to accept growing beyond. I dragged a purple pleather bean bag under my favorite tree in the front yard, a maple I named Sally, and read storybooks to myself all afternoon. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the sound of ten thousand maple leaves rustling against each other, making sounds like waves - my landlocked ocean of fresh green and speckled light. My big toe looped under a worn strap of leather, I'd lazily swing the sandal back and forth as I passed hours alone in the shade. The shoes were broken in and required exactly zero effort to put on or remove, which is why I was reluctant to let them go. I hated the fuss of socks and the tying of shoelaces. I didn't want to be encumbered against choosing to be barefoot at any given impulse - blades of grass cold and damp underneath my toes on a whim. I'm still like that. I still wear the same pair of sandals every day, even when it's cold. I bought a pair of huaraches a year or two ago, just like my childhood ones, and my large feet filled and stretched them past sensible use in a week or so. Just as I intended. I still occasionally step on the brake in my car before I notice I'm barefoot.

I developed an odd ritual before I turned ten. I stored a piece of quartz in a small box my mother kept in her well edited collection of trinkets from Iran. She was never quite sentimental, but held onto a few things from her home - mostly gifts. It was wooden, footed, and had an embellished top with a tiny knob handle. It wasn't big enough to hold anything more than a bracelet or, in my case, a magical crystal. At sunset, I would remove my crystal and carry it ceremoniously to the front yard. Holding the quartz above my head, I would dance and twist in the fading light, paying homage to pink and orange clouds ablaze on the horizon. Once it started to get dark, I'd lie on my back in the grass and thank something unknown, someone unnamed, for the day and my life and the sun and the clouds and every color in the sky. I called this devotion "Cloudmania." I don't recall that I gave myself rules about the frequency of my ceremony or what had to be done to bring it to completion. There were no prayers, no penance. It was instinctual, genuine and fluid. It was my religion. At thirty-one, I have more pictures of the sunset on my phone than every face I recognize combined. I pull my car over for any sunset that warrants true reverence. I stand on the side of the road and stare upward, motionless, in awe. I have tried several religions in the past twenty years, but I am pious only to this one. 

My mother made most of my clothes through elementary school. She was incredibly gifted with a sewing machine, and having made her own clothes in Iran (out of curtains and spare fabric), she wasn't troubled by piecing together my brightly colored tops and soft cotton shorts. For special occasions, I would wake up to find a new dress on a hanger, displayed on my doorknob like a fairy had left it in the night. Looking back, I'm sure my mother finished them after dark, hours past my bedtime. Hours after she was done folding laundry, washing dishes and watching my father doze off to sleep. She loved me. English was her second language but eyelet and lace, ruffles and zippers were her first. One day of the fifth grade, I wore a yellow tank top and purple leggings from my handmade collection to school. A popular girl, Meghan, informed me that her clothes came from Limited Too. I didn't know about Limited Too. I hadn't noticed that some clothes were purchased and some were made, but Meghan had made a point to inform me. She knew my clothes weren't from the mall. In that moment, clothes became complicated. I unlearned things: having clean clothes is enough. Being comfortable is enough. My mother is devoted to me. I adopted new complexities: My clothes should be like everyone else's. My mother is withholding. Why doesn't she want me to be happy? Why does she want me to be different? I am now thirty-one years old, in therapy once a month, still trying to untangle these knots. If I follow the thread all the way back to the first time I rejected my mother's identity, it leads to Meghan. Thanks, Meghan. You owe me fifteen hundred dollars.

I've been told that traveling through life is a process of growing up. Life is supposed to be about burning away your downy baby feathers, searing your skin until tough and brown like a rotisserie chicken. Being skewered through the middle and roasted is, apparently, a good thing. I sincerely tried. It didn't work for me. Underneath all of my mature resolutions, practiced responses and professional emails, I still long to be the tender, overflowing person I was at five. My heart, my motivation is still the same, and losing awareness of my essential self has proved to waste the most time and cause the most pain in my "grown" life. I think I'd like to stop being grown-up-me. She is full of projections and excuses, reasons and reprimands. She can hardly admit what she wants, and I've realized that my desires are, at their core, simple. 

There are things I've resolved to never grow out of: 
I dedicate myself to very loud music. To licking cheese dust off my fingers after the chip bag is empty. I devote my future days to weaving weeds into fairy crowns, blowing the seeds off dandelions and always stopping on road trips for snacks. I want to feel loved and sense that I am invited to love. I vow to spend my nights out pretending to be occupied with the tiny straw in my drink, swirling liquid into a whirlpool while I meditate over the particulars of what it would be like to kiss the cute guy across the bar. I won't kiss the cute guy (too many problems follow), but I promise to never stop thinking about how it might feel. Why was I ever eager to forget the most delicious moments of life that amount to nothing but ignite everything? I pledge clear nights to stargazing and wet ones to drawing pictures in fogged windows, telling my secrets to whoever sits there with me. I consecrate myself to the tingle that runs across my shoulders when someone lightly plays with my hair, and I swear to play with other people's hair lovingly, unrushed. I promise to care for my friends (human, plant or animal) and care about being cared for in return. I will never denounce Sade or Mariah Carey, and I promise to get a lump in my throat every time I hear Killing Me Softly. 

I will try to lie in the bed I leave unmade. To find myself in the messes I can't clean. To lock my keys inside and break in through the back window. To ding and dash, truth or dare, kiss and tell. All literally and metaphorically. 

Growing up is not an emotional goal, but a biological inevitability. I am happy to watch my hair grey and creases form at the corners of my eyes if I remember to remain vivid on the inside. Staying open, curious, genuine and fluid is the goal.