Five years passed by under the English grey skies.
Not much changed. Life carried on at the usual pace, just in a different country. By then, I had had all sorts of professional experiences and had settled for a job as a receptionist in a Leisure Centre. Everyone I worked with was nice, and the money was enough to pay the bills, to buy the odd dress and drink every other night. I laughed often. Yet, there was this growing emptiness that I couldn’t control. I could not sleep. I suffered from insomnia and I cried often. I remember one night I laid on the floor wishing that life could be taken from me. I did not want to commit suicide. I wanted to lay down and wait for my life to be taken from me. I wanted something to come and take me away from this planet.
On the eve of my birthday, on the 8th of August, I called my father in Portugal. He seemed to be the only person who always had the right words. So I asked out loud, “Where is the girl I dreamt I would be? What have I done with my life?” I tasted my own salty tears and snot. It was an unfair question. It sounded like I was asking him, but really I was asking myself.
“You are only going to turn 25!”
Precisely! I thought. My tears became more intense. Maybe it was because I was born in the 80s. And like many, I had been a child who climbed trees, read adventure books and dreamt of being some sort of female Indiana Jones – a Lara Croft with smaller boobs perhaps. I used to imagine that one day I would explore the Grand Canyon, cross the big US of A and sail the seven seas. I imagined I could be like the Jack in Titanic, someone who roams the world and who sometimes dines with the finest people and attends other parties with the plebes. I knew I had it in me. I knew I was meant to travel the world.
Society convinced me “real life” is not like that. Society convinced me that travelling is for rich people. Society convinced me that kids who know violence, alcoholism and hunger are predestined to work in factories or as a receptionist. Society convinced me my value as a human being depended on the numbers in my bank account. And the worst of it is, I believed it. And because I did, the 24-year-old version of myself had nothing to live for. No beat to dance to. The life I was living was a facade.
I wasn’t happy being “normal.”
I wasn’t happy being told who I was, or that the things I wanted the most were wrong. I was not happy that no one supported my dreams, that they told me, “You have to be realistic.” I tried since the age of 15, since my parents got divorced, to be a sensible young adult and to do what I was supposed to do. I had worked in restaurants to pay going to school, and to pay the bills at home. At the age of 18, I decided it was too hard to be busy 365 days a year, and I was going to quit school so I could have days off. When I saw the “queima das fitas” – the graduation ceremony – on the year I was meant to graduate from the university, I stood against the wall and cried as I was laying on the floor and there were no tears left to cry.
Those ten years were a constant fight. And the biggest fight was not that others could see from the outside, but what was happening from within. The fight to be someone who I was not, to be accepted and loved by others.
The cherry on top of that bitter cake was the age of 24. When romantic love had failed me too. I learned I couldn’t make someone love me the way I was, and I certainly couldn’t pretend to be someone else. I was physically healthy, but that was about it.
Dad didn’t help that day. He had no words to silence all the pain and suffering I had harnessed inside for all those years.
There was at least one thing I could do. Luckily, at that stage, it didn’t matter if I failed.
I had failed already.
(To continue next week…)