I’ll admit it. I was that goody two shoes, teacher’s pet, never-put-a-foot wrong kid in school. Never wanted to let anyone down and kept my mouth shut if I didn’t agree with something. I was the perfect conformist. And I feared nothing more than making mistakes and looking like an idiot. After hours and in my free time I was a tomboy who did none of the typical little girl things. I remember grabbing my mom’s kitchen knives and practicing knife throwing in the backyard and practicing how to fall so I don’t get hurt. Because, you know, falling and accidents are inevitable so I might as well learn how to be ready and avoid excessive damage, or so my kid self reasoned.
Nothing seemed worse to me than being ‘that kid’. You know the one. Always in trouble at school, back chatting teachers and bunking class to go smoke and slack off somewhere. It was a cardinal sin in my eyes and I was super judgmental of that. But then, just when I, in my ignorant childish mindset, was convinced I had it all figured out, life happened, of course.
Me, I ended up becoming everything my kid self disliked and wouldn’t want to ever be. I dropped out of high school (not by rebellion but life circumstances), had a child out of wedlock, did stuff I never thought I would while trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing now that my life plans failed (in my mind, dropping out of school meant I was doomed for life). I went totally off the track I was taught is okay. My twenties were spent trying to figure out who I was and where the lines really were drawn for me. I swung between them like Tarzan on Red Bull, for the most part. I’m not afraid to say this now because I’ve grown past it all in recent years.
Stories of the prodigal son rang through my ears several times in my life. The only perception I ever had of him was that he was messed up and failed at life, but at least he got it right in the end and his dad loved him enough to forgive him and welcome him back. Today I understand the story completely differently. I became the black sheep. I am the prodigal daughter. And I’m proud of it today. Because if I stayed home and feared the world out there and how I would deal with it, if I didn’t completely stuff up and see the evils of this world, if I didn’t lose everything and fight to get it back several times over, I would never have been truly grateful for all I am and how incredibly blessed I am today. I would have been the quiet, submissive housewife who never lived and has to keep telling herself she is living the upright way and is impervious to the temptations of the world. I wasn’t impervious, nobody is. I’ve dealt with idiots, psychopaths (not just in a matter of speaking but actual people who were diagnosed as such) aplenty, but the funny thing is, that didn’t break me. Every bad thing made me see the good and beautiful in life more clearly. And I’ve gone from resenting and hating those who harmed me, to feeling truly sad and sorry for them now. Most importantly, I now know my own integrity and character, I don’t assume it because it has been through trials of every kind. I know that even in the midst of pure evil, I still seek out the good and try to nourish it.
The muddled greys of my twenties, of “you should be” vs what I felt I wanted to be, have now become starker, clearer contrasts of black and white. I fight harder today to defend the innocent than when I was a kid, because I’ve seen and understand the true harm out there. I put my foot down now when I get crossed and speak up when I know that things need to be corrected in a situation. I walk around with tattoos and biker boots and don’t care if it’s not ‘appropriate’ to others. What’s not appropriate extends to how you behave, how you treat others and just as importantly, yourself. It takes nothing from my intelligence, my dedication or my character to bear ink on my skin or dress the way I do. And this is what makes me fearless today. Not stupidly fearless, but fearless of being true to myself, of being compassionate wholeheartedly and not holding back that compassion and sincerity.
My one tattoo I have right now, I’ve had for 3 years. The words “Live brave, Die Free” are etched on my forearm for the rest of my days and today I can finally and proudly say I embody that mantra. I got it at a time when I was in a very long relationship that I knew wasn’t right for me, but I was too scared to leave. A time where I was nothing like what I wanted to be, because I couldn’t speak up or stand up to the world around me. I got it on my forearm then, because I wanted it to be right there, staring me in the face every day, challenging me, reminding me to ask myself how close I am to being myself.
My only wish is that someone told me long ago that it’s okay to make mistakes, to get bruises and scars, because it shows you’ve tried, you’ve lived. But then, I know I would not have understood. None of us ever do until we’re there ourselves. You can’t describe standing on top of Mount Kilimanjaro to anyone and have it make nearly as much impact as if they trained, prepared and climbed it themselves, reaching the summit and taking in the sunrise knowing this was their own accomplishment.
Don’t fear your mistakes, they’re helping you figure out your True North…