I had almost finished a post when I heard the song.
My musical idol, Sara Bareilles, recently composed a new musical, “Waitress,” (think stage adaptation of the movie with Keri Russell) and the first single from the musical was just released.
“She Used to Be Mine” stopped the air in my lungs.
I listened, twice.
Then one more time.
Then, without another thought, I selected all, and hit delete.
I had been trying to write about Septembers. To explain my absence from writing, and how my heart triples in weight every year. I’ve been trying to write about it since August, but couldn’t get the words on the page. Then this song, this magical, melancholic, deep, raw, honest song, helped me find words for what has been stuck for so long, and I had not been able to find the words to say.
If you have seen the movie or know the story, you might be wondering/panicking how I could possibly relate — I am not a waitress with a super power for baking pies, nor do I have a horribly dysfunctional marriage (for which I am extremely grateful…although if the Pats go to the Super Bowl again this year, all bets are off). However, the main character finds herself in a position in life that she didn’t expect and didn’t necessarily ask for. She has to come to terms with the things that she feels like she has lost about herself.
It’s not simple to say,
that most days I don’t recognize me
Sometimes I feel like I spend most of my time hanging out with someone I don’t know. I move through life in this body that I don’t understand, with likes and dislikes I don’t recognize. It needs things that I don’t know, and notes my lack of comprehension 99.9% of the time.
This became even more clear when an invitation recently arrived in my mailbox. My high school built a new arts building, and they named it after the single most extraordinary teacher I have ever had — Chris Wagner, my art teacher. They invited all of her former students to the dedication.
(And yes, that’s the caliber of teaching I am referring to — they built and named a building, just for her. No big deal.)
My old self would have RSVPed the very first day. I would have been beyond excited to see the building, and many of my favorite teachers and former classmates. I would have dug out my Varsity Art t‑shirt for the event.
(We were State Champs. Admit it, you’re jealous)
Instead, I froze.
I let the invitation stare back at me from my desktop for months.
What do you say to people you haven’t seen in 15 years?
How do I respond to questions about kids and jobs and travel and life?
The response “treading water and staying alive” is a bit of a buzzkill to lively conversation.
(Although, I’d like to think that all participants of the event also share my proclivity for staying on the alive side of things…)
Attending social events in a body you don’t know, is a bit like constantly parading around with a new partner. There’s nervous anticipation of how he/she will be received by your community, and the unsettling knot in your stomach that you don’t actually know what she’ll say or how he’ll feel about the event.
It’s not easy to know.
I’m not anything like I used to be
Although it’s true
I was never attention’s sweet center,
I still remember that girl
The truth is that I’m not the person they remember.
Not even a little bit.
I don’t teach or sing, swim or run. I’m not making art, nor have I traveled the world as planned. I don’t have stories from my classroom, nor can I talk about this year’s Caldecott winners. I can’t honestly tell you the last time I picked up a viola.
In fact, the person they voted “most friendly” spends most of her time alone.
Its difficult to admit, but I’m not proud of this new person in my life.
I hope someday I will be, but I don’t think I know her well enough, yet.
It’s much like a canvas on an easel, waiting patiently for the return of the artist. But instead of a colorful and evolving composition, mine has been haphazardly smeared with a fresh coat of gesso to cover all that lies beneath. As if, with one quick swipe, all that had been growing was flattened.
And that feeling, of walking into the studio expecting to continue work on your life’s masterpiece and instead finding it dripping with thick paste, has yet to go away.
I want to tell you that it has. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’m ashamed that it hasn’t.
It has been 5 years.
Get a grip, Lydia.
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won’t ask for help
She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine
She used to be mine.
This person that I knew, inside out and upside down, used to be mine. For better or for worse, for awkward growth spurts and an unprecedented long run with orthodontia, she was mine.
I miss her.
I took a deep breath (or ten), put on my brave face, and went to the event. Buoyed by a dear friend and fellow varsity art team member, I nervously navigated the waves of familiar faces.
What a gift.
To be able to be there to honor someone who had indescribable impact on my life.
To give her a big hug and say thank you.
To see my beloved art history and math teachers, and give my theater teacher a big hug.
To joke about babysitting for my teachers’ children, and laugh about memories of trips abroad.
I almost let fear and expectation get the better of me. I almost missed an opportunity that won’t happen again.
It was a stark wake-up call. My life, is a gift to be lived — not placed on the bookshelf until it looks exactly as I imagined.
‘Til it finally reminds her to fight just a little
To bring back the fire in her eyes
That’s been gone but it used to be mine
On the surface, I’m not the person anyone remembers — myself included. But maybe beneath the thick layers of gesso and change, it’s still the same composition. Maybe if I scratch hard enough on those extra coasts of paint, I can still find that girl. Maybe, this is my chance to create something new.
She was gone, but I hope she’s still mine.