Monday, February 10, 2014

The Little Mermaid

Though it may not have been the first lie my parents ever told me, the first falsehood that completely altered my childhood was this little gem: "You can be anything you want to be."

*Side note - that George Michael was singing "I want your checks" may be a close second.

In any event, I'm sure my sire-ers were well meaning. Certainly they had "you can go to any college...wear a side ponytail...be an astronaut" in mind.

But such a supposition serves as yet another example of how little these parent people knew me. Because, while they were planning any number of Barbie futures for me (airline pilot. vet. teacher.), what I distinctly heard uttered in the words of the adage was "You can be...a mermaid!"

And damn near immediately I set about the task.

Since the dawn of my time, I had been obsessed with the half nekkid lady/half dottyback (perhaps damselfish is appropriate here?) species of "Splash" fame.

Be it rogue eyelashes or shooting stars, not an opportunity passed where I did not wish, with every yearning beat of my disappointingly human heart, to join Daryl Hannah in her undersea adventures. And now - miraculous day! - I had the assurances of not one BUT TWO! of my sadly simple parents that I could, indeed, "be anything [I] want[ed] to be."

And, as what I wanted to be was a mermaid, I immediately began adding salt to my bathwater.

...

Every year, my poor parents would take my brothers and I to the beach. And, every year until I gave up on the prospect, I wholeheartedly believed that if I stayed in the ocean long enough, if I swam out far enough, if I donned the proper proportionate cockle shell nip covers and sang the appropriate magic words, that the seas would open themselves to me, and that I would be, in the least mafioso sense of the words, "swimmin' with the fishes."

I remain leggy and land-bound.

Yes, my venture-or lack thereof-into the land (*ahem) of "The Little Mermaid" was but the first of many such "you can be anything you want to be" disappointments.

There was that period where I desperately desired a unicorn. And also the time, after reading something about being able to do anything if I just had "faith the size of a mustard seed," that I prayed each day for a friend the size of my palm to appear. (I was, apparently, very affected by the story of "Thumbelina.")

But despite my earnest longing - and my wholehearted faith, which was, most certainly, at least the size of an appleseed - my unicorn never emerged from the wood. And Thumbelina? Well, let's just say that wherever she is, I'm still awaiting her phone call.

...

But the issue here isn't really that I lack a magical steed. Or a mini friend. Or a fish tail.

What I've come to realize is that this tendency toward wishing for the fantastic was an early indicator of all manner of things about my very being.

Some are good. And some are bad. And all are things my parents, in their practicality, were incapable of seeing, because they'd passed that Peter Pan Precipice.

They'd grown up.

Whereas I...had not.

In their land of bills and mortgages and minivans, things like unicorns and mermaids didn't matter so much. Unlike pilots or vets or teachers, magical horned steeds just weren't things one could or should want to be.

Such things were unachievable. And achievement...well, that was important to my parents.

I learned very early that I was expected to achieve. I grasped that lesson much earlier than I ever did the equally valuable lesson of how important it was - at least for a soul like me - to dream.

And I am a born dreamer. A born storyteller. An "Imagineer" (without the Disney paycheck).

...

As I couldn't seem to become a mermaid or find a unicorn, I drew them unceasingly. Or made up stories about them and wrote them down.

But no one seemed to put much stow in my stories.

And why should they? Tales of fantastical creatures in far away lands never did much for anybody.

Unless you count J.K. Rowling. Or Tolkien. Or Lewis.

*Ahem

...

I have often lamented that, despite showing very early promise in literature and composition, I was never sent to a creative writing class...

But then, I've also lamented the absence of fairytale beasts from suburban streets.

...

So what does it mean that, as a child, what I wanted to be was something fundamentally different than what I was?

And what does it say about what I was (am?), that I concocted these stories to fill the unfillable gap?

In ways indescribable, clear only in retrospect, these pretty little fantasies - at first so diametrically opposed to the physicality of "me" - actually served as the very first lights shined onto the soul of me.

Because I am a dreamer. A storyteller. And a believer.

In magic, in my parents, and, finally, in my ability to "be whatever I want to be."

And if I'm the one with the pen? Then I'm the one with the power. And, whenever I choose, I can be "part of that world."

Or any other world I choose.

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