‘She offered me distant cities, food that I had never tasted and the echo of words in alien tongues, but I chose terraced streets, white satin and packed lunches. I see her still, shivering in a print dress, the lake reflected in her eyes. ‘I could be your muse,’ she said, as I snapped the sketch book shut, capturing forever the hope and challenge in her face.’
The Girl I Was – Andrea Stephenson
I wonder what the girl in this photo is thinking. She’s around four years old, on holiday in Blackpool, secure in the grasp of her father’s hand. I suspect she’s not really thinking at all, but simply enjoying the moment. Just look at those snazzy sunglasses, that colourful dress, the celeb pose, one leg in front of the other. She’s carefree and unselfconscious.
This girl is too young to know that others have dreams and expectations for her. In her pose, there’s not only contentment, but also freedom. She doesn’t yet have a concept of who she is or who she will be. She hasn’t made any important choices or compromises. She’s the girl that existed before should replaced could. Before the opinions and actions of others made her question whether she was enough. She’s the girl before disappointment, responsibility, grief. Before life is mapped out to a destination.
She’s the girl I was.
I’m fascinated by the lives I might have led. I believe that in some other place a clutch of other selves live all of our possible lives. I believe that every moment we have ever lived is still happening, somewhere. I suspect that one of the reasons I’m a writer is because I’m captivated by just this: who we are and might have been; the choices we made or didn’t make; the paths taken or ignored. Within all of these many possibilities, I think there is a childlike but steely little soul for whom any of these lives would have been the right one. The trouble is, that powerful little being is easily buried.
As I get older, I move backwards, becoming closer to the girl I was. No longer so distracted by forging an identity in the world, I can look back at myself with a sense of compassion. I can accept that I’ll never get to do this all again differently and know that I wouldn’t want to. I’m slowly re-connecting with the hopeful, confident little girl I was then. And one day, I hope to be able to nod my head in wise agreement with Maya Angelou, when she said ‘wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now’.
The Girl I Was is my most recent published short story. It was a finalist in the Aesthetica short story award and is available now in the 2015 Creative Writing Annual, which you can buy here. It’s a story about the lives we live and the way we lie to ourselves about them. This story is very different to Reckoning, the last story I had published, but both are concerned with the path a life can take.
In this new year, I’d like to propose a different kind of resolution: remember the girl (or boy) you were before you became who you thought you should be. Embrace her. Re-connect with her. And live as she would have lived.