I’d like to think people change. That we have that talent. That capacity, as it were, for evolution.
But, do we?
I found these old journals of mine from childhood. They aren’t pure journals like the kind you write when you think no one will ever see this but rather the kind you hand in to your 6th grade or 8th grade teacher to grade. (Weird! How can your journal get graded?)
I sat in bed the other night reading them as my heart raced. I recognized myself in the old journals. I should have changed by now. I am 12 writing this journal and here I am the same exact person. How is this possible? I went to bed that night with the deepest panic imaginable.
What if we are stuck? What if who we once were is who we always are?
In the journals, I said things over and over about being tired and about procrastinating and about being disorganized.
My teacher, Mrs. Gimenez, who I had to hand in my 6th grade journal to, wrote:
Jennifer, How about slowing down your life a little bit and trying on a few new feelings? How would it feel to open your heart to a new person? You are a terrific person but somehow I get the feeling that you are doing a lot of RUNNING rather than feeling.. Love Mrs G 1/30/87
At the time of this journal we had lived in California a few years. My father had died and we fled New Jersey leaving the house in Pennsauken to my aunt and her two daughters much to my chagrin. My youngest cousin and I didn’t get along and the thought of her having my house (my house!) made me lose sleep at night.
That same cousin bit me in the leg in the laundry room and used to masturbate on the den floor of the house in New Jersey where my father had died. Curled in front of the television in her flimsy nightgown and Care Bear sleeping bag she would rock back and forth, rubbing herself. As I traced the purple outline of her teeth on my thigh, I watched her roll around on the ground, a mummy wrapped in polyester, pressing her privates. She would grind until she fell asleep. I never understood what it was she was trying to achieve, what it was she was trying to feel. At the time, I couldn’t feel a thing.
My teacher a few years later “Mrs. G” recognized that.
I could not feel myself crack open when the point of the iron landed on my head and spilt blood down my back. I didn’t feel the all that I was made of spreading onto the linoleum, the dirty clothes, the toys on the floor. Or my silent salute to the world as I closed my eyes and hit the kitchen floor with purpose. And certainly not the welt on my leg from where she bit me in a jealous rage after I wore her mother’s stockings to my ballet class.
Could she feel something I couldn’t? I wondered.
I tried the rubbing, the rollicking, the undulating and still, I could not feel a thing.
I hated that cousin.
Her body engorged and pumping, full of life. She had what I thought I could never have.
My teacher saw that in my journals. I remember thinking as I read her comments You don’t even know me!
But she did.
That cousin died 3 years ago. I tried to remember a time where we loved each other, where we got along or played as kids. I couldn’t. She left behind beautiful children whom I love. I did not love their mother, except maybe as an idea, after she had died. She was the same from the moment she could talk until she overdosed at age 34. People change, people change, people change.
I think we change them. In our minds. You know, after they die. We glorify them or we worship them but they are still who they were. Our memories simply slip into wine or nostalgia or sentimentality.
I fear I haven’t changed. It is a horrible and scary fact that has been keeping me up at nights, with wine and nail bitings and defeat.
I have been the same for a long time.
So, where does that leave me? Where does that leave us?
Mrs G also wrote:
Jenni, Do you think you could lighten up on yourself a bit? You are a wonderful person just as you are. I get the feeling that you interpret everything that is said as a personal criticism. It makes me a little uneasy that you are a little too serious about life. 1/23/87
It made her uneasy? It makes me terribly uneasy. Still does.
I think we can change if we want it badly enough.
My cousin didn’t want it. My father didn’t want it. God bless them and I hope they are somewhere laughing and doing the things they love and not regretting a damn thing.
I want it.
I want to feel. I do not want to be that 12 year old who doesn’t know how how to, who lives in a pile of papers and shit and tiredness. I am that 12 year old decades later except now I have no Mrs. G grading my life. I am here all alone drowning in my own changelessness.
Except I have changed. In small ways, at least.
I hope I am not the first to tell you this, and if I am, I hope it doesn’t come as too much shock to the system: There are no quick fixes. There are absolutely no overnight changes. Sometimes, and this sucks, people do not change at all.
I remember before my dad died how my parents went away on vacation. The funny thing about it was that he wore his I Survived The Bermuda Triangle tee-shirt. It wasn’t so much a mysterious triangle but a pocket of air that shook the plane. It took that pocket of luck, that sudden tumble in the sky to make my mother see that he was already dead.
She was boning the meat.
Even on the plane she had to lean over him, de-fat it for him: separate flesh from bone, cut it into bite-size pieces.
After the turbulence ended and the pilot said We are safely out of the Bermuda Triangle.
Everyone’d had a good laugh.
I wept when my mom told me the story.
My sister and I had been safely on the ground eating cakes baked with orange peels, taking baths in marble tubs at a friends. We had idea that our father didn’t make it out of the triangle. Even when we picked them up later that night we’d laughed at his I Survived The Bermuda Triangle tee-shirt.
We had absolutely no clue he hadn’t survived.
With a farmer’s tan and his bald spot burned, he had a week left. At most, two.
What I wonder is this: if people want to change, does that shift their trajectory?
Had my father, or my cousin, actually wanted it badly enough, could they be sitting in my living room right now? I don’t know. I am so much the same as when I wrote those journals as a kid that I want to burn them and hide the evidence.
Yet I know my will to grow is stronger than my will to relive Groundhog’s Day all the time. Have you seen that film with Bill Murray? It’s Grohndhog’s Day! Nothing ever changes.
That film scared me. It made me feel doomed. Like no matter where I went I would see Bill Murray on the street corner and he would tell me it was Groundhog’s Day yet again. And again.
The will to grow but must outweigh the need to feel safe. Doing what I have always done has kept me safe but who’s to say I won’t be safe if I let some parts go?
After my father died and we moved to California, we used to spend weekends at a beach in Malibu called El Matador. We’d eat avocado sandwiches filled with sand. The water was always cold and we’d get burned but we’d been happy. I don’t think I ever wrote about those beach trips in my journal to Mrs. G.
I only wrote was expected of me.
What I thought was expected of me was to be how I always had been: complaining, tired, witty, sad.
I made that expectation up. I decided that I would have to be the same, forever.. We all do that. That’s just the way I am!
I’d like to call us all on Bullshit. Even the great whale. Even the broken women. We get to decide. We are not doomed to live Groundhog’s Day for the rest of our lives.
You can though. It is entirely up to you.
I have had this tear in my hamstring and tendonitis in my left hip for over five years. Being a yoga teacher, this makes my job really really hard. I remember going to a physical therapist years ago and crying and he worked on me. When he walked out of the room, I said to my hips Shhh. Shhh. It’s okay.
I still have my hips.They give me trouble and I am still injured, but I manage. I make my way in the world like we all do unless we don’t and that usually means we are dead or we have completely accepted the fact that change is impossible.
I think it’s not. We have to want it.
We have to want it so bad that it overrides the taste or heroin or whatever else killed my cousin and father.
We have to want it so bad that it cleans up the papers on the desk and starts writing every single day no matter what the pile of shit says. And the pile of shit will talk. It will say things like You can’t do this. You don’t finish anything. You will never change. I mean, you haven’t thus far.
Here’s what you do when that pile starts taking. You light a match. Light it all on fire and watch it burn with a combination of sadness and elation. Mostly elation. Unless you don’t want to.
Unless you want to keep letting the way you have always been and the piles of shit run your life. Then don’t burn it. Let it keep you the same as you have always been. At least you will be reliable and predictable.
I don’t know. I say, to hell with predictable.
I say stand up and yell I feel, I feel, I feel. I say burn that pile of shit and say I am as capable as raw bone. I am the bead. I am bone to bead and beyond. And I will never stop changing.
All the things unremembered, shrouded in skin, sleeping in bone, will start to rise. They will rise, and, if you let them come to the surface, you will never be stuck. You will be the man walking on the beach with a drum from Africa, carved from love it will say on the bottom of the drum. You will be the great whale and the sun. And not one of them stuck. All of them changing and changing. As are you. Get the match. Be elated. Be a little sad, too. That’s okay. Just know that if you want to change it’s there for you waiting on the beach. A little drum from Africa. Pick it up. Play around.
Listen to the thump thump. Listen. That’s the drum. That’s your heart. That’s you.