When I was ten, we moved to a new neighborhood, where I became a virtual prisoner. Mom thought the world was unsafe. She was terrified that I might smoke. Or curse. Listen to the wrong music or read the wrong book. Fall in love and get married. Fuddle her dreams of a college graduation.
I wasn’t allowed friends. I wasn’t allowed to go out after dark, even after I’d learned to drive. I had to beg and plead to participate in any school event. I never asked to date, because I already knew the answer. I either did my homework or sat in darkness, listening to a handful of vinyl records over and over again.
I tried to be the perfect daughter and disrupted my life over and over to be just that – only to be told I’d never measure up to the perfect son. And, by the way, I was growing fat. And my un-trimmed eyebrows would look better if I didn’t trim them.
At various jobs, I tried to be the perfect employee, only to be told I did exemplary work but would never receive more pay or be promoted.
I tried to be the perfect wife, which meant working full-time, preparing two full meals a day, keeping the house and yard, caring for pets, and feigning energy for we-time. Keeping everything running smoothly was impossible, and impossible equaled failure.
I spent most of my life trying to be what was wanted. Sometimes I’d feel as though I was almost there; but then the very people pressuring me would simply change the finish line. It became farther and farther out until it vanished beneath the horizon. I wish I’d simply run the other way, causing it to vanish sooner.
I’m now nearly sixty. Officially a senior. Society dictates we cling to our youth. But life is better with gray hair and wrinkles. There is no pressure to be pretty. Or sexy. Or particularly accomplished. For the first time in my life, no one expects anything of me. My lack of perfection is of no interest to the world.
I find myself standing in an open garden. My tree-of-life stretches wide its branches. Climb and explore! At last I can think, inquire, investigate, and be free of socially-induced self-criticism. It’s as close as I’ll come to being a child again.
Now the world ripples toward me, but bounces away again. The unmown fields hide undiscovered creatures and secretive wildflowers. The air is filled with newly discovered music and celebratory bird-song. I stroll paths leading nowhere and everywhere, while the summer sun warms my face and the winter wind singes my nose. I greet both with equal relish.