Author’s note: I apologize in advance to any who will read this. The emotions in this entry are as raw as the words. I did not go through any filter or editing, so it is badly and hastily written. I was on the verge of deleting this and writing a better, more carefully prepared essay, when commenters began telling me not to delete it. They liked what I’d written the way it is, and the rawness apparently made it feel “real”. With my self-esteem slightly boosted, I decided to keep the entry and instead write this pre-note of warning. If you are looking for something wonderfully written, I would tell you that this is not it. But if you feel like deciding for yourself, the entry is found after this jump.
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When I was five and my eldest brother was nine, I looked at him like a big and powerful tower. I lived on the faith that I would grow up to reach that stage someday, and little five-year olds would look up to big nine-year old me. Somehow, I reached twice that age without really knowing what it feels like to feel “big”.
Life seems pretty straightforward when we’re young. We know who the good guys and bad guys are, we know what we want to be, and we know what we have to do and not do in order to get there. Everything seems laid out and fun so we envy the grown-ups who live in the real world and take charge of their lives. We all know how that turns out.
For the first time in over one year, I am back in the small, modest place I came from. This is the place where I formed all my expectations of life. Now that I’m back here I can’t help but remember them and compare those expectations to what I really found out about the world.
I was thrown into the huge chaotic cities of the Philippines. My version of the real world. Like any person dreaming to succeed, I did what I could to adjust. I went with the flow and I got used to what this life really was like, forgetting what I used to think it was like.
I used to think that by the time I get there, I’d have the instructions for what to do next. Maybe some grown-up in a business suit was supposed to be at my high school graduation or my eighteenth birthday, handing me an Adulthood for Dummies textbook. This would tell me about the formulas for success, how to lose the high school awkwardness, what to say to the cab driver, the waitress, or the secretary.
I thought I would know these things, but (spoiler!) I don’t.
I thought you didn’t have to work so hard to find true friends; I thought they would find you. All of my young life my best friends just found me effortlessly. Like in the movies, we could tell who the good ones were from the bad ones. The filtering wasn’t so painful before.
Now I just seem to learn the hard way. Some people just have great intentions but terrible execution. Others just can’t seem to forgive you for not following the script in their head. People aren’t honest, and that’s probably one of the things I hate the most about the real world.
I had always thought life would make sense. And given the way that people here look at and smile at me, and the way they say my name with delight, I had always felt like an important person, like I am looked up to, admired and envied. Back in the real world, I’m kind of ordinary. “Your friends from home said you were special? Fall in line.”
I’m not whining for an easier life, but I am of course disappointed. I was a little girl in love with a big world, and that big world let me down by turning out to be something else. Yes, it is still filled with adventures, some magical moments, and many new things that I can still learn to love, but I wish I had the time for them all.
Before I know it, I’ll be growing older again and not finding those things that I thought I would find, not reaching those dreams I thought I would reach.
My dad pointed out today that I turn nineteen this year, and I responded with dread. It’s not so much the fear of getting older as it is the fear of getting older without getting better. I don’t want to grow up and become good enough, because little me is sleeping soundly tonight on the faith that today me is great.
I am ten years past my deadline and I still don’t know how it feels to be big.
I look at the new generation of high school kids here in Bahrain, and I don’t know what to tell them. I could send them out in the world with the same lie that I was given, the Yes, you’ll figure things out and life will be good to you. Or I could tell them that it isn’t that easy and the world isn’t that simple.
Maybe I’ll tell them the first one. It’s what they want to hear. It’s what they need to hear. And maybe hearing it will make them believe it, and believing it will make it come true. Maybe they’ll get a better surprise than I did.