I have a big imagination. BIG. Unfortunately, it’s most often put to use inventing incredibly detailed worse-case-scenario montages. My husband says I should be a horror writer because of the way I’m able to imagine a million and one terrible things befalling the people I love (on the plus side, I’m an excellent defensive driver). But when my imagination is not delving into darkness, it’s often found noticing a stranger or group of people and then briefly but vividly, imagining what their lives might be like. And frequently, I yearn for a taste of this imagined life that I have cooked up.
As a tween, I desperately wanted to be older and more physically developed. I was the youngest in my class, slightly built, and flat-chested until high school. Around 11 or 12, I would look around at girls my age who were starting to develop and imagine what a thrilling privilege it must be to get to wear a training (or real) bra. I imagined how sophisticated, mature, special they must feel, and I yearned for the day it would be my turn. Of course I never once considered that the girls with boobs could be anything but thrilled about the situation. That they might view their obviously changing bodies with mistrust, fear or even shame. I just wanted what I didn’t yet have.
When I was 22, a brand new college graduate, I took advantage of a now-defunct student work visa program and lived for seven months in the south of England. It was an exciting time, but also somewhat lonely. While I did make friends and was actually seldom alone, I was acutely aware of living in a place in which I had no tethers, no real legitimacy (not even a bank account!). Every morning on my way to my temp job as a receptionist (I got a lot of: “You have a lovely accent–are you Canadian?”), I would walk past a cute little nursery school just as mums and dads were dropping off their young children. The parents had cars, weather-appropriate raincoats, presumably houses and extended families in this city and nation of which they were truly a part. And I, at 22 and with the flimsy jacket and same few outfits and flat-share and the few pounds in my wallet earmarked for the pub that weekend–well, I envied them. I envied their settledness, their trips to the supermarket, their assuredness of their place in the world. I imagined myself in their shoes in many years’ time, with a house and a husband and my own tiny, adorable children. And I told myself that if I got to have all that, I would treasure it, never take it for granted.
And then I did have it, and I forgot.
When my first was born, I found new motherhood very stressful and very limiting. My daughter didn’t enjoy nursing as much as I thought she should, and during the seven months I stuck it out, feeding her seemed like a never-ending battle. And it was one in which all the responsibility rested squarely on my shoulders (or, other parts). During that time I relished taking our two dogs on their evening walk after my husband got home from work. I’ve always been an avid walker, so I had gotten to know vaguely who lived in what house on our long street (even if I had never met them), which houses had kids at home (very few), which ones had dogs (most). And in the fading light of evening, there was one house, in particular, I loved walking past. It was small, with white siding and blue shutters, and had a huge maple tree growing in the front yard, so close to the house that the tree’s lower branches almost touched the kitchen window. But it wasn’t just the house that I loved. I had gathered, through my walks, that the owner of the home was a single, middle-aged woman with a daughter away at college. And every evening, as I briefly gazed at this house, I imagined how delicious it would be to trade places with her, just for a day or two. To come home to a tidy, empty house and only have myself to worry about. No one to feed but me, no one to entertain, no one to obsess over. Just peace.
Obviously these types of imaginings–these yearnings to trade places with other people during stressful or uncertain times of life–these aren’t unique to me. Everyone does this. But recalling these times recently made me stop and think about what I would see if I were to peek inside my own lamp-lit windows one evening. Here’s what I’d see: two healthy, amazing children who are kind to others and generous with words of love; two well-fed and generally loved senior dogs, who no longer get walked as much as they should; a handsome, hardworking husband who gives his all to his family; a stocked fridge and way too many toys; and a woman who has everything she ever wanted (minus the peace and quiet), but sometimes forgets. My hope is that in remembering times past when I so desperately wanted to be in a different place, different body, different life, I can also remember not to forget how much I love the life I have now.