My parents visited me last weekend and told me I should go to law school. Grad school in general, but think about how practical law is, how applicable it is in all different industries. Everybody wants to be an entertainment writer but think about the opportunities you’d have if you were instead an entertainment lawyer. You’re a smart, clever girl who likes to argue and besides, wouldn’t you want to go to that school right by you, with the great law program? Don’t waste your time now on a job you don’t like, doing entry level work, when you could be spending it investing in your future. Your future. Your future. Your future.
I can feel myself drift away from the conversation — my mom sitting to the right of my dad, on the dark blue velvet couch in our apartment’s living room. I’m sitting across from them in a swiveling, black (faux) leather chair with high, wraparound arms. I’m trying not to swing, or shuffle, or cry while my parents pick apart my current living, work, living situation even as my roommates are a stone’s throw away.
“I wanted to be a musician,” he says, and as soon as he says it, his eyes furrow and I can sense his reminiscing in action. He’s glad he left, glad he packed up that dream and moved here and met my mom and raised me and my sister and now I’m here, sitting in front of him, and he is telling me that the dream is a side gig for early mornings and late nights, just as it was going to be for him until it never happened, and now he’s past 50 and only touches music when he jams to John Denver in the privacy of a Pandora playlist. He was my age when he had the choice to play music, damn the familiarity with poverty and the Communist government and the deep talent pool, he could’ve done it, he had a seat saved for him, and he kicked it aside and went east to go West, and now he works the 9 to 5 and takes photos all the time and maybe he dreams of being in a band, wearing a collared shirt and slacks and wielding a trombone and a shit-eating grin on a stage with a light on his face.
She was raised by professors and bore the burden of one-ness, a single flame coaxed and coddled and thank god she was so bright, otherwise what would’ve happened to her, to her sense of self, child of genius and bearer of none. She’s the hardest working woman I know but she looks at me and I can sense the disapproval; colored hair and studded ears and ripped up clothes and profane mannerisms. She likes my boyfriend but throws his name around as though he is to be my ball and chain. “You know, when Colin graduates, who knows what will happen then, where you will go?” I don’t know anything, including “us,” so stop projecting, please stop projecting and assuming and insisting that you know me when it’s quite clear that your idea of good advice is practical advice is one kind of advice that hasn’t always served me well. Practical doesn’t tell you to write for your rent check and here I am chasing leads. I’m running as fast as I can, Mama, which has never been that fast — my legs are too thick and my lungs are too weak, which always hurt me when I played the flute and the mellophone and I had to open up my diaphragm and when I did, it just made my midsection bloat more pronounced. Ribs push into the gut underneath and bra cups leave red welts from the pressure. I look in the mirror and cry, red pressure leaving scars on the soft soft skin.
I hold my breath and pray that I don’t burst into tears. High school again: dad dodging my looks, mom looking right at me, the whisper of “You can do better” hiding behind her words. I cry. I don’t cry. Three meals later. No meals later. Body, defeat, stamina, drive. I start one thing and swear I will finish it, see it through. I don’t, and then the will is gone.
They’ve never read anything I’ve written. Where would I begin to share… the late night breakdowns, romantic missives, meditations on mortality, exercises in futility. Cyclical crushes and drunken adventures. College boiled down into a blog, another tastefully-themed inward-pointing mirror with the magnification turned up just enough to be uncomfortable but not enough to be bracing. I am not bracing, I am tender and mild and teary and a flighty drunk whose aspirations consist of getting paid, getting laid, and maybe, somewhere along the way, I’ll write something worth something to someone who doesn’t know me, and they’ll tell me
You’ll make it, just give it time
You’re young and the world is big and bold and strange
You’ll find your path but know that you’ll wander without aim
Days and months and years fly by and you’ll think it’s too late
But if you really want it, go and get it, you can do it
Just don’t forget the dream
Keep it clenched in your teeth like a hard won kill
Whether it’s your PHD or MD or MBA or MFA or any string of capital letters worth a six-figure sum
Or a first run manuscript with your name on the cover
You can do it