This isn’t a cry for sympathy. Please don’t send condolences. I simply must sing from the confines of my gilded cage and need someone to listen, hear my song, perhaps shed a tear from the beautiful agony of it.
How do we stumble into the pages of someone else’s storybook? I failed to pen my own plot twist and ended up in the wrong final act. I fell asleep for a thousand years under a tangle of thorns and awoke in an unfamiliar kingdom, betrothed to a stranger, a mother of two. How did I get here?
Did I simply succumb to the collective fairytale dreams of the world around me? Were the children, the nice home in the suburbs, and the pets all somehow etched into my DNA but omitted from my neural pathways? This wasn’t a conscious decision, a chosen path, but I somehow thought I could stay my course whilst wandering this one too. Sadly, I was so very wrong.
I know I’m not alone in this dystopian existence. So many women find themselves here. Dreams of a brilliant career dashed upon the shores of other’s needs. Visions of where we would go, what we could accomplish, ground out under the tyranny of tiny feet and silent partners. We’re fed a fantasy that if we just push a little harder, lean in, we can have it all. Yes we can, but not our sanity too. Especially when anything goes off script.
The first 30 years of my life were completely centred around academics. I lived for learning. If I wasn’t climbing a tree or a rock, my nose was in a book. Sometimes I read books in trees or on rocks too. I wanted to keep learning forever. I wanted to teach others the things I’d learned and get them equally as excited. I wanted to discover new things and understand how everything worked. And somewhere, deep in the dark recesses of my mind, I’d occasionally nursed a small diffuse fantasy that it might be nice to share some of those things with my own child. It was nothing too urgent, nothing I felt overwhelmed to have, just a premonition drifting quietly through my synapses.
I tried to juggle. Tried to be the mother I needed, the outstanding teacher I’d worked so hard to become, the researcher my inner drive demanded, but the wheels fell off and I descended into suspended animation. I relinquished the helm, sunk deep into the hold, and re-calcified as a barnacle on the ship’s side, completely bound to go wherever it chose.
Now we’re adrift in the doldrums of a loveless marriage, trying to claw together enough kindness and respect to do what’s best for our children. There are no happy days of sunlight and laughter; no joyous family outings. Everything is strain and anger, resentment and heartache staining every lip and fingertip.
Now my academic career is abandoned, wrecked at the bottom of an ocean of tears. Three degrees of higher education are completely useless for keeping house and home. Those around me hold my bright badges of honour in contempt; the ultimate privilege, a Fendi bag for my brain. And I am the worst kind of human for wishing for the life I abandoned.
I peck around this self-constructed gilt cage trying to scratch out pieces of an existence that once was. Reading and writing when I can, I slip into worlds far distant, become someone I could have been. I clasp the bars I locked and pocket the key.