I read somewhere, perhaps an internet forum for women who dread falling prey to sociopaths or pathological liars or narcissists, that you can only pretend to be someone else for three months; afterwards, the timer dings, your cracks show, and like a bloodied chick, you emerge once more from your false shell. Though of dubious origin, this statistic is comforting to me. I, like Barbie, cycle through friends and outfits and jobs and haircuts and breast-to-waist ratios, but eventually both the doll and I tire of being astronauts and nurses, and not “tire” as in “grow bored,” but “tire” as in “empty of energy to maintain the facade,” and return to our naked, plastic, smiling selves. But here’s the catch: you rest a little, catch your breath, put on the next outfit, and your three-months-limit is reset. On and on. Give-or-take, you can be four different people a year!
And I know naked-Barbie me. Inside the hot-pink box is a little girl with a grandmother’s hobbies. I respect Sundays as days of rest and no-plans no-work, and had a pandemic’s worth of empty space to amuse myself, and learned then of how limited the options I give myself are. Given a free afternoon, I’ll cram in the same activities I’ve gravitated towards since childhood: drawing, sitting on the porch or by a creek and watching birds, listening to music or watching movies, baking or exercising (depending on how much the old adolescent-anorexia-demon has crept back in), reading, engaging in something religious, or agreeing to whatever schemes family and friends have proposed. I am small, and boring, and find pleasure in simple quiet things; no shame in that.
But the narrator’s voice in between my ears lives on hyperbole, skips years forwards and back, screams and sings and praises and insults, invents lovely, blood-pounding fictions and demands I cast myself in them, be there instead of here. Perhaps I watched too many cowboy movies recently, or maybe I read “On the Road” too young and took it too seriously (a common, and egregious, mistake; there ought to be an age limit on that book), but Colorado, or anything west of Home, of Georgia, is often the setting my narrator insists on. That’s where freedom, wilderness, and true peace are, allegedly.
Sometimes my narrator parrots the sentiments of City Mouse. There’s hot, young, interesting people racing in sequins and high heels from club to bar to venue to apartments crowded with vintage tchotchkes and dripping canvases and exotic alcohols, and these kids are clustered in the urban centers of America, crowded together like jazz cats in the coolest animal shelter. They know the music, and they dance. They fall in love, not have-kids-together-love, but love like Kanye West said: got married in the bathroom / honeymooned on the dance floor / And got divorced by the end of the night.
I suppose people think of New York that way. I lived there for four months, and I did see bars and clubs, but inside them, I mostly worried about how much my drinks cost (seven dollars a beer at the very least!) and whether I’d have enough money for the subway home. When men tried to dance with me, I’d run away. And I didn’t go out often: my time was eaten by homework, work-work, movies, and crocheting. Still, my narrator insists I try again. That time didn’t count.
Then there’s the matter of the fickle poet, the teenager drunk on new hormones who still passes through my body sometimes like a ghost. I get emotional, not weepy, just overwhelmed. I transform into a Victorian dame who needs to lay down, or some old aristocratic author strolling through the autumn foliage, kicking dead leaves up like dust, and musing on life. But I’ve caught on to this poltergeist: it only returns to the room it rents at no cost in my gut when I have some big, ugly, boring, stressful task to do, right now. Sometimes I procrastinate on Instagram, sometimes by feeling emotions.
What’s tricky, these amorphous parts of me make moral arguments and accusations, some more concrete, others a general reminder that the world is scarred, bruised, crying softly always, mourning those who’ve died in horrible, violent ways, continue to die, and to heal all the pain this planet ever felt would take centuries, and the process is slow to start. I ought to be out there and doing something, but I’m not, so I lay down or take a walk and feel sad.
Which brings me to responsibility. I enjoy being Barbie sometimes (blondes do have more fun) but accepting a job as a nurse or an astronaut means doing the work of a nurse or an astronaut. And though the ads make it all seem like a blast, every job has big, ugly, boring stressful tasks, which I at first do eagerly, then as the months pass and I realize I’m no space girl or healer, I quickly tire of, and crave a change, a new direction.
When I was in New York, I checked my bank account balance and my heart nestled in my trachea, shaking and afraid. I was very much so in credit card debt. I expected to get a job, back home, in the summer, but what if what I earned didn’t cover what I owed? And I wouldn’t be able to save up money for school.
But I got a job that did pay everything off, and then some. I was glad. But now, I’m sitting on a task the job needs me to do, and I don’t want to do it. Everyone screamed at me: the little girl wanted to read, the narrator begged me for a bus ticket to Colorado, the transitory feelings made me lay belly-down on the porch and feel quite sorry for myself. I’m nearing the end of this Google Doc, and now that I’ve spent an hour typing this out, I have to make up an hour working later. That’s irritating, but that’s life. When I get my next job, it won’t be like this.