For instance, in my case, I know that I'm defined by being a "good girl." I always have been. I'm not totally happy about that, by the way. I imagine that if I were not such a good girl, I would have had a lot more fun. The number of times I have acted outside of the box can be counted on one hand and I wouldn't even use all my fingers. I did skinny-dip once, but it was with my best friend, with no members of the opposite sex nearby, and under cover of darkness. I believe we also had our swimsuits firmly in hand underwater, ready to quickly slip them back on if we heard voices. Back home in Texas, I was too scared to go into the Meacham Ranch house that was purportedly haunted, despite the rest of my friends having a grand old time exploring it and the ghosts that they met there. The one time the police tried to pick me and my band-geek cohorts up (for toilet-papering a house), we convinced them to let us go because our parents knew where we were anyway. I did get drunk enough in grad school once to end up at the house of a guy friend. When he started to get a little affectionate (which would have been a huge mistake since we were slated to become housemates in a few weeks), I threw up on him. So even in a drunken stupor, I am somehow able to keep my actions in line with expected behavior.
Once middle aged, I think the wise thing to do is to simply accept our core-definition. While it might be momentarily exciting to try to crack out of that mold, to do so holds the potential to release a torrential outcome that we're really not prepared to accept.
(By the way - this post is completely opposite of what I normally believe. By next week, I will think these pompous pronouncements are complete crap and will once again ADAMANTLY disagree with the premise that who we "are" is set in stone by middle-age. I have no doubt I will be back to urging us all to throw caution to the wind and be unfettered by anything in, of, or slightly resembling the past. But for the purposes of this little story, bear with me.)
When Mare was visiting me last week, we drove out to Tuckahoe Plantation, on the west side of Richmond. This old house is where Thomas Jefferson spent most of his young childhood. It is also the plantation that was the site for a TV series (Legacy) that Mare was a big fan of years ago.
It was a very cold day, and when we arrived, the place was deserted. Mare had tried to arrange a tour, but was told that there were no guides available that day. We were told to feel free to wander the gardens and grounds, however.
I love old houses. I also love Thomas Jefferson. I was excited to be there, and Mare was over the top. The only negative was that we were disappointed we couldn't see inside of the house. I wandered around the windows and tried to peek in. I turned every doorknob to see if perhaps one had been inadvertently left unlocked. Around back, we found an entrance where the wooden interior door was open, but a thin glass storm door was locked. We could peer inside, and doing so we saw beautiful wood floors, a carved wood staircase, a gorgeous grandfather clock, and other antique furnishings.
Here is a picture of me at that door.
Mare wandered off to see more of the gardens. I pulled gently at the storm door. It was quite flimsy. Seriously flimsy. I could tell that with one sharp pull, I could have it open. I looked around at the empty gardens and empty parking lot. I jiggled the door again. I stood there in a deep quandary and let the argument inside me play out. I have always been a good girl. I've never really ever been "brave" enough to jump across that line. I tried hard to convince myself to do it.
"I am nearly 45. Just when am I going to let loose and be free? When am I going to live life? Seize the moment? Experience the thrill? Why do I continue to let myself be constrained by the edicts of society? Just what is it that is telling me not to break into this house? My own morals, or those of a society that I have forced myself to conform to?"The other voice said things like,
"Oh for god's sake woman. You have children! What? Do you want tomorrow's headlines to read "NASA scientist and mother arrested for trespassing on federal property?"I pulled the door a little harder.
"If not now then when? You are free. You are an independent spirit!"
"It's against the rules."I couldn't do it.
I walked away, pissed at and disappointed in myself, and mentally berated myself for ultimately being a coward.
At that VERY instant, someone walked up to me. She was a tour guide for the house, and had a meeting set up with a couple she was looking for. As I chatted with her, she waved at a young man who walked out of the house. Turns out he was the son of the couple that owned the house and who lived there.
"People live here?" I questioned the guide. She nodded, as a young woman came out of the house. "Oh yes, and they have both of their children visiting this weekend. It's a full house!"
Huh. In the meantime, my inner critic had slunk off, no longer berating me for being such a rule-following coward. Can you imagine if I'd walked in on this family? It'd be hard to convince them I hadn't broken in, what with the storm door lock being freshly broken and all. At that moment, I was quite happy with my core-definition. Good girls rule. In fact, the tour guide was as nice as she could be and ended up giving Mare and me a personal tour of the inside of the house as soon as her meeting was over. She discounted the price for us because she thought we were so nice.
I am still on the lookout for a moment to break away from my good girl persona. I think I trust myself a little bit more now, though. If it happens, I will know the time and the place. More importantly, if it happens, it will be because the good girl is willing to go along with it. Because as much as I sometimes want to move away from her, she's kind of nice to have around.