Once upon a time, there was a blogger who went on a million bad dates, but she was a good sport about it, and she laughed them off, and she hoped for the best. And then, one day, Prince Charming came riding along on an Uber Luxe, and the rest was history..
Sounds like the synopsis of an unfortunate Tinderella web series that never makes it into the second season? Not exactly. This naïve spiel happens to be my own long-standing inner narrative – at least, up until this past February.
To my credit, I had always been a dreamer, someone who favors crafting colorful storylines in lieu of facing reality in its bleaker palette. When I was little, I would ease the misery of Saint-Petersburg winters by mentally beaming myself into the Southern California world of my literary idol, Sweet Valley High’s Jessica Wakefield. Jessica’s life was never short on fun and glamour and excitement, and I resolved to one day live up to it, IRL.
To some extent, I succeeded, racking up tomes of adventures in my debaucherous early twenties. Then I grew older and the fabric of my daydreams changed. I began wanting a career, a home, a person to, cough cough, “build a future with.” No matter how hard I tried to play it cool, chronicling my little dating failures in their post-modern glory, my inner narrator was always there – searching, hoping, working on the bigger storyline. The blogger stumbled and stumbled, but then one day her life came together in the most serendipitous way possible!
Unfortunately, IRL does not always collaborate with fantasies. My twenties were quickly running out. At some point, I realized that I was about to hit the big (silly, societally imposed) checkpoint that was my thirtieth birthday, and yet I was lacking anything substantial to present at the border. My life was all over the place, I was far from the professional success I wanted to achieve, and Prince Charming and his Uber Luxe were nowhere to be spotted on the horizon.
And then fate – God? Kismet?– whatever the force that messes with us from above is called, decided to nurture my narrative. It put together an assortment of what (I thought) I wanted, packaged it up all pretty, and delivered it at Amazon Prime speed, right in time for my deadline.
That’s right, our hero finally came knocking on the door. Forget knocking – he barged right in, swinging it off its hinges with his lofty statements and grand gestures. And then Prince Charming took the blogger halfway around the world on a beautiful vacation, and proclaimed his undying love! Oh, did we mention that she had just turned thirty? How’s that for a 2017 fairytale!
So happy I was to finally live out my bigger narrative, that I did not bother to look at the substance of it, to evaluate the actual person. I will not trash his character here – I will just say that, in moments of hunger, any food will do. I suppose that I was just that hungry.
Like any bubble that is built on nothing but bullshit promises and heightened expectations, my little fantasy exploded overnight. And, by that, I mean that on the evening of February 14th, our so-called Prince Charming was there, and in the morning he was gone, offering no real reason or explanation. Yup, I got dumped on Valentine’s Day, a narrative worthy of only one literary heroine – Bridget Jones.
I barely had time to process, because something else happened at the same time. Something that removed me from my egocentric problems and landed me in the bleak reality of Saint Petersburg, Russia, the same place where I had once built my California castles in the slush. It was a family matter, and it stripped me bare, leaving me in the most raw and eye-opening state I have ever experienced.
Far away from my fluffy little world, I reconnected with the life I had left behind at age sixteen. With my city, with family I had only seen during brief, festive visits, with friends who, by now, had all crafted their own storylines. I read stacks of childhood journals. I recognized the vulnerable, sensitive little girl I had been – and still am, because none of us ever really change. I poured thousands of words on paper, words that pierced my gut when I understood how quickly life is flying by. I mourned a family member. I mourned the passage of time.
I finally realized life’s Big Truths, the ones I always knew with my head but not my heart. That checkpoints are bullshit, and problems that mean everything at twenty-nine mean nothing at age fifty-nine, and even less at eighty-nine. That nobody actually gives a damn about what you do with your life, so you might as well live it as you please.
Yes, in my thirtieth year, I finally grew up.
Eventually, the hurricane passed, but the aftermath was not pretty. Weighted down by everything that had happened, I felt tired, defeated, bitter. Instead of channeling my Big Truths, I converted them directly to cynicism that I wore it like a badge of honor, priding myself on my new “realistic take” on life. I became paranoid, terrified of anything good happening to me. My unwavering, almost bullish positivity, the one that had always kept me going and laughing things off and hoping for the best, was gone.
I won’t even give him credit for breaking me – he had simply been the straw that broke – no, injured – the camel’s back before the camel’s journey through a long, harsh desert. The road was over, and this camel was tired.
As it turned out, this camel was also lucky. Lucky to have friends who recognized my shift in attitude. Lucky to meet someone with enough persistence and patience to ignore my consistent efforts at a one-woman How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days revival, and to stick around while the emotional rubble cleared. (Oh, fine, he had to do some of the clearing.) Lucky to be old enough, and self-aware enough, to recognize that cynicism is just nothing but a mask for cowardice. It is optimism – not to be confused with naiveté – that takes real courage.
The family member I lost this year was my grandmother, who also happened to be the bravest person I knew. A childhood spent at war, a loss of a parent at age thirteen, a move across the country at sixteen, a lifetime of hard work, passing of loved ones, and, finally, an extremely difficult but equally graceful death. And, throughout it all, she always maintained the most positive attitude one could imagine. An attitude that is, to me, is her legacy. In fact, the one advice I ever heard from her was “Always stay young – you know, in the head.” It was only after she passed that I realized what a challenge she was giving me.
A week ago, I turned thirty-one. This time around, I had no checkpoints. All I wished for myself was some of her optimism and courage. To face whatever fate (God? Kismet?) has in store for me, because we all know there’s more coming. To daydream, to hope, to craft my colorful narratives. To always stay young – you know, in the head.