I am sick, with a fever and diarrhea. So I am curled up in my room and thinking about where I’d like to be. I’d like to be curled up in my beloved’s arms. I’d like to be nestled under blankets, hiding from our mind-numbingly wonderful children whose hearts are obsessed with play. I’d like to be in my fantasies become realities.
My reality is that I am in my bed in a modestly comfortable homestay in Guatemala. This summer will be spent traveling and learning, with the intention of crafting skills and connections that will serve me in my future career path – a career path which is starkly different from the one I had planned in my early 20s. I am turning 33 in 55 days. I have just finished my first year of graduate school. I am single, supported by student loans, and childless.
I messaged a childhood friend earlier, asking for a spark on how I could start this post. I told her I was trying to write a piece on the “perfect” life. “The perfect life?” she said, “What that?” We laughed. For most of us, the perfect life looks something like this: Find a career you love. Be the best at it, be happy every day. Find a partner you love. Buy a house, make a family, be happy every day. Get old, have enough money, die in your sleep – but before that, be happy every day.
Maybe the happiness factor is an exaggeration. No one really expects to be happy every day. But I think we do expect to experience a sense of calm and contentment once we’ve been able to check certain boxes (partner, career, family). It’s a bit of a pernicious fairy tale, one that’s easy to internalize. One that’s hard to live up to. And one that few of us actually get to experience.
I took quick stock of my friends list, reviewing all those who seemed to have found the “perfect lives”. What I found instead were stories of irony. Stories of survival. Stories of richness. The story of a friend who found her true calling, dedicating herself to midwifery – doing beautifully phenomenal work in the community, bringing back indigenous practices, and reminding women of the power and knowledge of their own bodies – only to sustain a debilitating brain injury which has rendered her unable to practice and sustain herself for over a year. The friend who, in her late 20s, found the courage to end an unhappy marriage. Who threw herself onto the dating scene, spending years choosing hope after every failed endeavor. Who finally found the LOVE of her life, fueling all who knew her with the faith that dreams do come true. Who, in her late 30s, got pregnant on the first try. Who, in her third trimester, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sheryl Sandberg, who obviously isn’t on my friends list, but who is responsible for beautifully chronicling her grief following her husband’s passing.
Fairy tales are important because they inspire our hopes, they inspire what is possible. There are boxes in my life I would like to check. I don’t know if I’ll get that chance, and even if I do, there’s no way of knowing that those boxes won’t crumble. My cousin Vysh recently paid me a compliment which, unbeknownst to her, may be the best thing anyone’s said to me. She told me she was thankful to have me in her life as a role model and reminder that the perfect “fairy tale” life doesn’t have to exist. If anything, this is what I can do. To inspire what is possible outside the fairy tale.