The way shadows fall on the places where I once dressed and played and slept – they’re unfamiliar. The bed is soft and covered with a floral bedspread; I crawl beneath it, turn off the lamp and lie on my side facing the window, I watch the clouds as they scuttle across the moon. I think of all the faces beside me; the pile of photographs from my life that spans decades now and my own face looking down at me – unseeing in its picture frame. It’s a young face, barely 21 and so full of hope and faith and excitement for the future.
I used to find her difficult to look at. Firstly as a critical young woman, always finding fault and seeing nothing but flaws and then as the years went on, I would look at her and feel like I’d failed her in so many ways. Or maybe I felt like she had failed me, I’m not quite sure.
All I know is that as the years went by the weight in my chest seemed to grow heavier with each passing day; a deep sadness that I felt it would always be my responsibility to carry. The weight of all my bad choices and the mistakes I’ve made and the times I didn’t value myself enough and the regrets I have and so much more. Sometimes something sad would make me cry far more than it reasonably should, but I always knew it wasn’t just about what I was reacting to in that moment, but all the sad things I carried that were trying to get out.
I thought I would feel this way forever. I thought it was simply the weight of growing up and life’s responsibilities and that everyone carries sadness like this. Only some carry more, and some carry less.
Returning to Australia – coming home – always seems to intensify the weight and I was preparing for the worst this time; I’m older, my lines have deepened and I’ve changed more in the three years since my last visit than I’d changed in all the years before.
I close my eyes and I can’t help keep thinking about all those little girls and the women in those pictures and about the woman I am now and the one I still want to be. Sleep evades me and so I let the thoughts rush in; about the past and all the things I plan to do with my life. And I think about how I got to this point.
Despite three years of peeling back the layers of my life, there were still some places I was afraid to look at too closely. I was so conscious of all the bad in me that I’d failed to look for the good. But I know differently now. I grew tired of returning to Australia and a scent or a song or a movement in the shadows reminding me of who I used to be and of everything I’ve ever done wrong since I was a child. And suddenly I woke up to the fact that I always thought I’d messed up and made so many mistakes because I’d always believed I was a bad person.
I hadn’t seen those mess-ups and mistakes as simply being evidence that I’m human. It’s so easy to assume that who you are is wrong and that you’re a bad person who is occasionally ‘good’.
What a terrible place to exist.
Now I believe it’s the reverse that’s true; you’re actually a good person who sometimes makes mistakes. Maybe if this was what we were taught from the beginning, then we’d strive to live up to that expectation instead.
And whilst my new-found belief in my own goodness – my own humanity – is fragile, it does feel like something firm I can hold onto; that whilst I may have done bad things, I’m not a bad person. Mistakes have been made, but valuable lessons have been learnt too, they’re what shaped me into the woman I am today, they’re what got me to this place.
So I forgave myself – not only for my mistakes but also for thinking so badly of myself.
Three years ago, when I last came home, I couldn’t picture this scene. All I’d hoped for was that the heaviness wouldn’t continue to grow increasingly heavy, but I never expected it to subside enough that I’d actually feel free.
You may wonder why you’re here. Perhaps your first assignment is to believe in your own goodness and then to act from that place.
© 2019 Esther Zimmer