Let me tell you about my dreams. When I was younger I dreamed big- I was the kid who was convinced that she was going to the Moon someday. People had done it before, I reasoned, so why not me? And I dreamed of exploring under the sea, discovering new worlds, travelling further and deeper than anyone had before.
I was a kid. I dreamed big. I wanted to see everything and learn all there was to learn.
It felt possible.
It’s not unusual for dreams to shrink. It’s not even always a bad thing- 30s me appreciates that the Moon would be a wonderful place to go, but that there’s also more to discover here than I could ever have imagined. And 30s me also points out that I get carsick if I so much as look down to send a text when I’m in the back seat, so interplanetary travel would probably be less wonder and more days of constant throwing up for me. Not to mention my fear of heights.
Real life might shrink your dreams, but sometimes it just makes you realise that maybe you wouldn’t have liked their reality anyway.
Some of my dreams today are big and wonderful. Some of them are small. I’d love to live in a tiny flat all on my own in Dublin. Just one room would do- I don’t mind, as long as there’s room for a desk and something comfy to sit on as well. A bedsit with a nice window and maybe, if I was lucky, a great big old lazy cat to sit on the windowsill.
That one, though? On days like today, that one feels impossible. When I remember that I’m barely getting by in a job that, while it’s enjoyable most days, barely pays the bills and leaves me exhausted after only a few hours. Days like today when I fell home from work and straight into bed, when I woke up a few hours later feeling dizzy and only then remembered I’d forgotten to eat when I got home. When living where I do means anything social is a two-hour commute away, not to mention paying for buses.
Times when I can’t help but think that I never knew where I’d be at this stage in my life, but I know that this wasn’t it.
This isn’t it.
Do you know what I mean? Where the chasm between where you are and where you want to be feels like it’s always just that one step away, always just that one bit too far. And when where you want to be feels like such a simple goddamn thing.
The sheer unfairness of it all. The constant work for no reward, or work that is its own reward, and you love that, but it doesn’t put food on your table or pay your rent or make your life one jot easier in any way. And that doesn’t stop you doing it- you love it, remember, and you believe in what you do- but you wish that you could get something back from it. Something that’s just for you.
And then- oh, then- then you are reminded of the thousands and thousands of people who have it worse. And for a while, you feel guilty for wanting what you do, and for not being grateful that you have food every day and a decent internet connection and a job to go to most days, and you went to college and don’t even live in a country where that leaves you with decades of debts.
But then you stop feeling guilty, and that guilt turns to anger. Because it’s not your fault, and it is not acceptable that these things- something to eat and somewhere to put your things and a job that can send you away without notice where you’re paid less than you were in your first job out of school- are considered something to be grateful for, and not a bare minimum of acceptability. Because you’re tired of hearing that asking for something in return for your work- for your hours, time and effort, little slices of your finite life- is called entitlement, and wishing for a place to live and maybe even being able to go away on your time off is a thing that in your fourth decade of life feels impossible.
And you remember that none of this was inevitable, that it is a result of choices made by people who’ve never had to have impossible dreams of tiny bedsits they’ll never afford and who have plenty and just want more. And yes, it’s a result of choices you made as well: choices that were constrained by the practical, the possible, the bearable, the narrow path where you can just about pay the rent and spend time working in your spare time on the things you care about when you’re not too goddamn exhausted to even start. But that that’s a hell of a way to have to do things.
And you know that not every day feels like this. Some days feel possible. Some days the future feels like it might be okay. But it’s been a long time since you have slept a night without waking, afraid that you’ll never get out. A long time since you learned that pressing an almost-burning hot water bottle to your chest helps to soothe that fear. A long time since you didn’t have to do that.
You know what I mean.
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