[Today's guest post comes from my favorite saucy vixen, AV Flox]
“I wish I could be as impulsive as you are,” he said to me. He said it with a slight smile, but it was an insult. It meant: you’re a child. You’re out of your mind.
We were sitting at a cafe overlooking the islands around Stockholm. I’d suggested going to a pier that night and sleeping under the stars.
“Your feet are planted so firmly in reality, you can’t walk,” I responded, lighting a cigarette.
He took a sip of his coffee: “Wake up and grow up.”
“Let go and live for a change.”
“Anaiis, you have to realize that your independence and self are not separate from cultural and social norms,” he told me, putting the small cup on the table between us. “You can’t go around thinking you don’t belong within the social and cultural borders that, unfortunately, do exist. You think you are above that and you’re not. No one is.”
That was our last real conversation. We finished our coffees in silence. Afterward, we strolled back to the house, where we dined – still in silence, without turning on any lights. When we were finished, I went upstairs and packed.
“I love you, but I hate the way you are,” he said as I pulled my suitcases down the stairs. Then he turned to the piano and started to play Beethoven’s “Quasi una fantasia.”
I left Europe that night, and Magnus with it. But I didn’t leave full of conviction that I preferred to be alone than entangled in someone who didn’t embrace the choices of life, the freedom that we have to sleep in a warm bed or a cold pier. I left crippled with the weight of having said too much and having wanted too much.
At every airport I walked, on every plane I boarded, as I made my way across two continents and two oceans, I looked at the people around me, moving like a herd through security and boarding lines. No one stared or even looked at anything for too long, or – heaven forbid – struck up conversations. No one invaded anyone’s space or time. In the elite line, we were all seasoned travelers. We knew the deal: how to open our carry-ons quickly, what to remove and how to set it on the tray and we did it fluidly, without inconveniencing anyone around us. In the plane, we were quiet, we buckled our seat belts, turned off our phones and pulled out our books.
We knew the rules and remained firmly within them.
During a brief layover in Houston, I found a cafe and sat down to read. A few minutes later, I was interrupted by the sense that someone was watching me. It was a little girl, seven or eight years-old, sitting across from me at one of the gates. I closed my book and smiled at her.
She came to me, messy brown hair and big green eyes, and a Cheshire cat stuffed animal in her arms.
“What are you reading?” she asked me.
“The Bell Jar,” I told her.
“What’s it about?”
The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath is about a young woman stifled by convention who slowly goes mad – how do you explain this to a child?
“Um. It’s the journey of a girl who is confused with who she is,” I replied.
“What chapter are you on?”
“What’s the girl doing?”
“Esther — that’s her name — is a model in New York and even though she has become friends with the girls around her, she feels all alone.”
“That’s sad,” said the little girl, “I’m not lonely, I’m with my mommy.”
Her mother seemed to materialize at the words, carrying a clear Subway bag with sandwiches inside.
“Alyssa,” she called, visibly unsettled by the sight of her daughter talking to a stranger.
Alyssa rose and ran to her, but in the middle of the walkway, she paused and turned back around.
The girl walked back to me slowly and handed me her stuffed animal.
“Don’t get lonely, okay?” she said to me. “Talk to the cat.”
In a sea of people who know where they’ve been and where they’re going, who have every aspect of their trips planned to the minute, people who get in nobody’s way and expect everyone to extend the same courtesy, a little girl handed a stranger her stuffed animal.
I have never believed children are born pure in the standard sense of the word, but I do believe they’re born free of the boundaries we impose on ourselves later as a society – and perhaps this does make children pure.
Or maybe a better term is “free.”
A child would not hesitate to pack up a sleeping bag and sleep on a pier under the stars with you.
Since that flight, whenever people asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I replied, “I want to be a child.”
So if you ever wonder why I share so much of myself with the world, from the sacred to the profane, the answer is that I think everyone could use this license to be who they are and enjoy what that means. We do live in a society with norms about what we can and cannot share, what we can and cannot do, but as Einstein once said: “if the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.” That’s what I want to do – I want to change the facts.
Your wants are beautiful, your truths are powerful. Maybe you want to sleep on a pier or share a fairytale kiss under every triumphal arch in the world. Maybe you dream of diving the wreckage of a galleon or quitting your job and starting your own company.
They’ll say you’re crazy. They’ll say, “I wish I could be as impulsive as you are,” and that you should grow up. Life isn’t like that – there are norms, you know. There are ways to do things. You don’t talk to people at the security line at the airport. You get through it as fast as possible, go to your gate, wait for them to board you, sit down and be quiet. You go to your job, bust your ass, go home, change, go to some social thing, entertain the same questions, go home, watch bad television and do it all over again. Polite, proper, efficient. That’s life, right? Then you get old and maybe play some golf, then you die.
The only way to remember who you are is to refuse to let anyone or anything dictate what you want. I write to share my triumphs and defeats and to remind you that wanting something other than herd-like, soul-crushing monotony is not only natural, but necessary.
And I’ll tell you something: for every e-mail I receive that says I’m out of my fucking mind, I have two more from people sharing their deepest desires. People that much closer to remembering who they are.
And every time, I think, “you don’t have to be lonely – I’ll be your cat.”
[AV Flox is a sex columnist for BlogHer and warrior for self-acceptance and the pursuit of our wants. When she's not chasing her own desires around the world (and live-tweeting her experiences at @avflox), she's editing the Los Angeles-based sex news blog Sex and the 405.]
[The "Remember Who You Are" archive is here.]