to be absolutely anything.

A piece by Lucia Zheng

art by Mia Gleiberman

I still remember a time when I was told, “you can be anything you want to be”. And I, like every other 5 year old, acted accordingly. In a blissfully unaware state. I think back then, everyone had a little more fire to them, a little more of a kick, a wildness. There’s a purity, a release, I still see in young children that I convince myself I once possessed also. A way about their laughter that seems so uninhibited and freeing, a true expression of their minute by minute emotion. Something unguarded about the way they talk, unguarded and slipping directly from the horizon of their conscience to the outside world. How they give and receive easily, cry easily, play contentedly. How they dream as if there is nothing that could stop them.

I smile wryly when kids tell me they want to “cure cancer” and “be superheroes”. Internally, I ask myself when I became so cynical. I insist that I’m just “realistic”, but I can’t help thinking about how far I’ve slipped from that place where everything was possible. When life lost a little bit of that spark, that magic, which I had hoped to retain, but never bothered to retain for fear of appearing “childish”.

I can’t exactly recall when it happened. Somewhere between running around chasing each other on the playground, playing lava monster, and being a serious, coffee-drinking, kale-eating high school student. As I’ve gotten older, the years seem to fly by faster. Birthdays, driver’s licenses, graduation, the works. And the harder I try to grasp onto the remnants of the open possibilities, the more they fall through my grasp.

All those events, insignificant at the time, that knocked me out of my idealism, are filed away neatly, under a folder in my mind I’m afraid to wander into. Because as I grew up, the world only grew bigger and I got smaller, I began to develop my own unique strain of realism, in which I was much more afraid of the world, than the world was afraid of me.

When I began to fear the darkness and nightfall of the city, which I used to love so much for its bright, glistening lights, I now hated for its danger and evil. Checking my watch, feeling the tick towards 9pm, the time after which it’s not safe for women like me to be wandering around, exploring. The little girl in me is angry. She wants to shout and scream and tell the others we shouldn’t be limited by men with a vicious stare, that we should cower at a mysterious face in the peripheral. But I’m broken out of it when I hear a “Slow down. Where are you going? Why don’t you smile for me?”. Because then the little girl shrinks. And the woman in me feels the fear. Knows freedom has burden and responsibility. Knows to walk away quickly, clenching the insides of my palms.

So I recoil in these events. And I continue to grasp at the remains of that time, when I could be anything I wanted to be. Because perhaps, I will always be somewhat at war with the child, that stole my heart and ran with it. ♦

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