Most people seem to worry about how little time they have to make their impact on the world. I worry about how much time I have to leave no impact at all. Beyoncé once sang about wanting to leave her footprints on the sands of time and like most self-absorbed millennials I like to relate all Beyoncé lyrics to my own life. It’s as if I went to a beach when I was sixteen years old, accompanied by all my friends and the boy that I loved. We had a great time. We drank cheap vodka, smoked Richmond Superkings and listened to MGMT on repeat. I was content with the way things were. Things weren’t perfect, the boy I loved didn’t love me back in the way that I wanted him to, but in some ways I was happy. We were all together and that was enough. Well, I thought it was. As time went on my friends decided they wanted to explore the rest of the beach and see what else was out there. I volunteered to stay and look after the bags. Eight years have passed and I’m still here, standing on a towel. My friends’ footprints cover the beach for miles and miles, some of them have ventured onto beaches in different countries, some aren’t even on the beach at all anymore. They still come back to visit me and we hang out like we used to but it just doesn’t feel the same. They talk about parts of the beach that I’ve never been to before and I find myself withdrawn from the conversation. The boy I once loved visits very rarely. He hugs me from behind and presses his left cheek against my right one and I wish that he wouldn’t. They all have new bags, filled with bigger and better things than the ones I volunteered to stay behind with. There’s no point in me guarding their old ones anymore, yet I remain stuck on this old towel. Nothing is physically keeping me here, there have been plenty of opportunities for me to leave and follow my friends along the beach and occasionally I take them. I walk for a while taking careful steps, beaming at the footprints I leave behind, but then night falls and I get scared. I realise I have no idea where I’m going or how I’m supposed to get there and the comfort and the familiarity of the old towel waiting for me, in the same spot that I started from, always calls me back. So I return again and again to my self-made prison. And I just don’t know why I can’t bring myself to leave. I do know that it’s dark, it’s cold and I fucking hate the beach.
I’m not sure what I imagined my life would be like as a young adult. Maybe the problem was that I didn’t imagine it at all. I don’t mean that in a grim death kind of way, though part of me is still convinced I’ll die young. I’m not cool or accomplished enough for the twenty-seven club, so if I do die young it will probably be the day before my twenty-seventh birthday or the day after my twenty-eighth. Death doesn’t scare me, I’m a firm believer in reincarnation. I don’t believe in any of that ‘if you’re a bad person you’ll come back as a dung beetle’ nonsense. I just believe that when you die your soul leaves your body and goes into a new-born baby, or maybe it drifts up into a womb and latches onto an embryo. I’m not sure about the logistics. I refuse to accept that this is the only life I’m going to live. I like to think of it as the free trial that I’ll forget all about once I’m re-born and living the middle class dream. I swear if I’m not reborn middle class then I’m not coming out at all. Some poor working-class girl will spend the rest of her life with her cervix dilated to ten centimetres and the words “Not today Satan” projecting out of her vagina. Death doesn’t scare me at all, but life terrifies me.
I guess I thought that things would just fall into place. I probably read too much into one too many of those inspirational quotes that went viral on Facebook. Quotes like “If you don’t know where you’re going then it doesn’t matter which path you take; you’ll get to where you’re supposed to be in the end.”. Well fuck you, Lewis Caroll. My life hasn’t felt like a path at all, it’s felt like one of those rides at those gypsy fairs that pop-up in unused carparks every summer: cheap and faulty. The safety barrier is broken and I’m not just screaming because I want to go faster, I really want to get off. I specifically remember feeling #woke when I was seventeen and Robert Pattinson quoted Gandhi in the 2010 film ‘Remember Me’: “Gandhi said that whatever you do in life will be insignificant. But it’s very important that you do it, because no one else will.”. I’m going to feel pretty disappointed when my soul is just about to leave my body and Gandhi doesn’t appear to tell me how important and original he found all those hours that I wasted, lying in bed till four PM hating myself. In the remixed words of RuPaul Andre Charles: “If you can’t sabotage yourself, how the hell you gonna sabotage somebody else? Can I get an Amen up in here?”.
Whatever I did or didn’t imagine, it certainly wasn’t this. Twenty-four and still living at home with my mentally unstable mother and the dad I have no relationship with at all. Sleeping in a bare room that had its carpet ripped out and wallpaper stripped after my fourth failed attempt at fleeing the nest. Stacking shelves in ‘Home and Bargain’ for minimum wage, envying the school kids who come in to buy snacks at lunchtime. The ones who attend the same prestigious grammar school that I once did. Wanting to whisper, “Don’t fuck it up kids, let the uniform I’m wearing be a warning to you all”, as I hand them their change without receiving a thank you. Disengaged and disinterested with my university studies. Not making the most of the opportunity and beating myself up over it relentlessly. Repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
But what if I don’t want to feel bad about it anymore? What if I’m not actually meant for anything more than stacking shelves? What if I’m not actually worth more than minimum wage? Maybe if I finally accepted these things then all of the guilt, the frustration and the regret would just go away. I used to describe myself as being depressed or as having depression, but what if I’m just a miserable person and that’s just who I am and always will be? Maybe this whole time I’ve just been grieving a life that I thought I was entitled to and its finally time to take the seventh step: acceptance.
In a sick way I think the thing that I miss most about being sixteen was being in love, specifically being in love with someone that never loved me back. Because then at least that’s sort of a confirmation. Confirmation that I’m just not good enough. Someone else believes it, so it must be true. It’s like definitive proof. But without someone else here to confirm it, then maybe it’s not true and I am good enough. And I am capable enough. And I’m strong enough. And I’m smart enough. And I’m pretty enough. But then if I am all of these things, then why do I feel so bad? Why can’t I get off the fucking towel? Why can’t I just take responsibility for myself? Because I don’t want to. Because if I am in fact good enough to get to where I’m supposed to be, what if I get there and I’m still not happy? What if enough is never enough?