Stages of Emancipation

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, November 08, 2010 11:00 PM

At this very moment, I am not filled with dread.

Which is saying something, considering I have been been bouncing between apathy and dread, quiet and fear, for a few months now.

Why? Oh, for different reasons. A few months ago, it had more to do with a heavy phase of anxiety and a swirling depression I could not pin down that stemmed from self-doubt and a serious reexamination of who I am as a person. Now, I am looking into my future - the act alone being enough to make anyone pause.

I have two paths before me. One has a job, the other a child's dream.

Ever since I was a little girl, when I made my future job list on wide-rule notebook paper and Scotch-taped it to my wall in my bedroom at my grandmother's house, I knew I wanted to go as far as I could on any route my education took me. "Go until it ends," I hear the voice in the back of my head say. "Go until there is no more path."

But the voice that says that is also the voice of a little girl who is reluctant to understand how the world works, and doesn't want to admit to herself that maybe following a dream for its own sake isn't really an option. Even if I knew how the path turns out, the decision would not be any harder to step off of it and potentially terminate all further progress to the end.

It's the cliche which we all know. You stand in a room, facing your former, younger, more precocious self. She looks at you and asks, "What happened?" And all you can say is "Life." She calls you a sellout, you tell her that you didn't understand how it was when you were her, and now things are different. She says you are nothing like her, you protest but inwardly agree. Then she says she's disappointed, and you can do nothing but shrug.

The road has diverged in my yellow wood, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not going to choose the road less traveled by. Yet I see more divergences in the road I am probably going to choose, and I see a diverse life ahead of me on this path. I see an opportunity to be young for once instead of the adult I've always been forced to be, and that's more exciting than any other prospect at the moment. A chance to be free and cultivate the relationships I've had to let sit and wither on the vine. A chance not to be a cynical angry person that my scholarship has almost forced me to be. A chance to work towards change instead of accepting how things became how they are now as a function of my degree.

That's just looking forward, though. Looking back, I see some of the darkest moments of my entire life. The moments when I've felt most alone, most betrayed, most inept. Not all of that was because of the actual pursuit of my degree, but it has all in some way or another been triggered by my being here. There are a lot of moments I can't take back. There are a lot of words for which I can't apologize. I have lost so much ground so quickly, only to clamber back up the path to get to where I stand, and even now where I stand isn't safe. Going forward, and away from this, seems like the only sane option. Yet running doesn't erase the past, and the suffocating memories that I associate with some of my time here have not destroyed me. Even before I step forward, no matter my decision, I know I have to make peace with myself, lest I regret whatever decision I make.

I don't have to be damned if I do or damned if I don't, but it's hard to see exactly how to go on without regrets. Making each step a sure one takes time and effort and patience, and I feel so short on all three. I feel like a tightrope walker. While I've never had a lesson, every step has, in its own way, been practice.

I have not gotten to the point of being able to look my former self in the eye and honestly say, "This isn't a compromise. This isn't cynicism. This is the best." Until I get to that point, I will still be an off-and-on ball of anxiety. But I think I'm getting there, which is the best I can ever expect.

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