To, Wherever I’m Going.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”, asks some 30-year old adult with the slim intent of getting a real answer.
“Everything,” 10-year old me would say as I sloshed the ends of my braided blonde hair under my teeth.
No matter the tone or sass I answered back with, though, it was true. I wanted to be everything. In high school, I often contemplated becoming a gymnastics coach, a famous actress, a detective, a novelist, or a wannabe professor that knows how to sails boats in her free time. Hell — in my 7th-grade yearbook, I wrote “I’d love to travel and take pictures for magazines” under the embossed Dream Job header just below my picture. The world felt boundless and infinite, no time to attend petty restrictions or limited needs.
But no matter which off-the-wall catalyst pondered, I had felt the strong tick to become someone I had never yet met. Of course, I wanted to make art and sail around the world with the love of my life, like any other person’s wild fantasy, but — ultimately — I just wanted to be someone I was proud of. A woman of her word, infectious with joy, with an impossibly dapper outlook on life.
Growing up, I was (and still am) surrounded by blue-collar workers. My father is a UPS truck driver, my mom and step-father own their own carpet cleaning business, my boyfriend is a wild-lands firefighter, most of my aunts and uncles have business in construction, and my cousins over 25 years of age work at Game Stop or gyms or restaurants or warehouses; so on and so forth. Not a single immediate family member that I'm in constant contact with has a college degree — and they would have never dared to entertain the thought. The very inkling of suggesting to be thrown into a bureaucratic, lawful system full of "pussy liberals" would have churned their stomach; famous words from my hardheaded cousin, whose name will remain anonymous.
Thus, when I graduated college with two liberal arts degrees, you can imagine what bluff pride was had in seeing their baby girl run away with a $50,000 piece of paper that confirmed I knew basic fundamentals of ethnobotany. Snarky comments would strike from their tongues at family reunions, claiming Natalie “doesn’t live in reality. But hey… we love her anyways! You want a beer?” The arts and sciences just weren’t something that neither my maternal or paternal lineages respectfully considered as a career. Neither was the thought of buying a $600 round-trip ticket to Ireland, because who the hell would want to leave the US — the greatest country in the world — anyway?
Then again, my mom and dad never had those opinions. They ached for their daughter to pursue her everything.
"You need to see the world, babydoll," my mom whispered as she sipped her last bit of red wine in her stuffy, one-bedroom apartment of 2006. The lights were turned off, and her broken AC fan was the only noise that swung seamlessly against the cool, dark forces of the room. We had just gotten over a fight, something that wasn't so foreign to us, as we ended our evening in an almost random talk about peripatetic roving. "I never had the opportunity to go where I wanted to go. I never became the person I wanted to be because of it", she whispered once more as she gathered a bottle of aspirin, patted my head with a gentle touch, and went to bed.
I don’t have the brightest idea of who I am, but I know who it is that I want to be. My childhood’s stark contrast to today’s lavish freelance photographer/writing lifestyle continues to liberate an identity crisis. Sometimes I feel weak and cheated by my very existence, probed with a desire to prove others wrong in a spiteful, unforgiving manner continually. Thus, at the same time, feel punch-drunk in love with the way my clothes reek of Caribbean gold and yesterday’s French espresso; or how my fingers ache with the possibility to write and live and capture and love and lose.
Fleeting pinches of sorrow often feels random, doesn’t it? But none of it is accidental — what ties it together is the desired life, and a life lived. I’ve learned not to question suffering, but wholly embrace it. To feel whatever needs to be explored with brutal honesty face on.