My freshman year of college, I was a very busy girl. Life was a never-ending blur of professors and parties, bars and boys, forgotten work assignments and fudged time sheets. They say that college freshmen often overextend themselves and thus have a high rate of burn out. At the time, I scoffed at all those statistics. Convinced I had energy and ambition to spare, I was determined to keep going until I dropped.
Six months later and I was finally slowing down. Balancing class, work and my social life became increasingly difficult. I started gulping down a steady stream of caffeine pills and espresso just to keep up. I could feel myself cracking under the pressure, but I would not admit it to anyone, lest of all myself. Every time my body or mind demanded a break, I would chastise myself. ‘I’m a warrior,’ I would mutter silently, ‘A solider. I can do this.’ Then, I would schedule myself more things to do.
One night, after a particularly grueling day at both work and school, I came home to find my roommates in the process of throwing yet another party. Part of me wanted to fill my ears full of cotton and hide in my bedroom until daybreak. But the other part of me, the warrior, ruthlessly took over. Without missing a beat, I grabbed a drink and immersed myself in the festivities.
Countless cocktails and hours later, I informed our guests I would be performing a magic trick for their amusement. Gleeful and drunk, friends and strangers alike eagerly crowded around me. Someone shoved a deck of cards in my hand, and with an unsteady bow, I began my trick.
All eyes were on me as I shuffled my cards. My trick was a good one and my performance was polished. I added a bit of flourish to every hand gesture and before I knew it, I had the crowd oohing and ahhing in all the right places.
Suddenly, a hush fell over the crowd. Considering that the vast majority of people watching were drunk as hell, I considered this an accomplishment in itself. I mean, I knew the trick was a good one. But good enough to quiet a room full of rowdy college kids? Damn, I must be better than I thought!
A quiet, tentative voice finally broke the silence. “V?” it said, “Why are you crying?”
I looked up from my cards, confused. I blinked my eyes and thought, ‘Crying? Who said I was crying? I’m not crying. I’m just trying to do a trick…’
Still befuddled, I glanced around the room. All at once, it occurred to me that no one looked like a person at a party having a good time and watching a magic trick. Instead, they all looked concerned and worried, as if they had just witnessed something they wish they hadn’t. I reached up and touched my cheeks. Turns out, I was crying.
Finally, I answered, “I-I-don’t know.”
But the truth is, I did know. Simply put, I was scared. Scared of being pigeonholed. Scared of being typecast. Scared of everyone knowing what I was going to say before I said it.
That day, I woke up, went to school, and played a part. I was the slacker genius who never opened a book, yet still excelled. Then I went to work and became the ball buster who got the job done no matter the cost. After that, I came home to my friends and became the ever hilarious bitch with the guts to say what everyone else was thinking. My life had become a series of parts to play. I had to ask myself, at what point did my personality end and their expectations begin?
The greatest fear of life isn’t death. It’s the nagging feeling that everything you do and say is being scripted for you by someone else.
Over ten years later and I’m still scared.
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