One of my favorite parts of reading is, strangely enough, my ability to forget even the most important events of a book. It’s especially true for the minor details; I forget names, descriptions, and small interactions with sometimes concerning ease. It means that, given a year or so, I can re-read a book I deemed to be one of my absolute favorites and experience it almost as though for the first time again. My faulty memory aside, there are benefits to this that I’ve come to value particularly much.
I love quotes. I have a whole file of them, and I can waste away hours scrolling through other collections simply enjoying the way that words can fit so neatly together to create something beautiful, relatable, or funny. I enjoy the lack of context to them because it means that I can assign my own. There still exists the original intent, but like with most things in life, I can apply it to myself in ways that make sense to me and help me. I’ve lost much of the context for even my most favorite quotes, except for those whose books I’ve re-read multiple times, and I can both appreciate the beauty of the hole in which they must fit already and also add them into the puzzle that is me.
One such quote, taken from Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, is as follows:
“You have these lines you won’t cross. But then you cross them. And suddenly you possess the very dangerous information that you can break the rule and the world won’t instantly come to an end. You’ve taken a big, black, bold line and you’ve made it a little bit gray. And now every time you cross it again, it just gets grayer and grayer until one day you look around and you think: there was a line here once, I think.”
In case you haven’t read the book, I will withhold the context for this quote except to say that it certainly is not positive, unlike my interpretation. You definitely should read it if you haven’t, though.
I’ve read the quote a few times since reading the book, but it wasn’t until today that it slid neatly into an empty space within my head, and I think it only fit there because of my ability to forget its original position so easily. It is what sparked my writing this.
Lines are borders. They separate something from something else. They often contain a more negative connotation: these are the lines we cannot or should not cross. To cross a line is to do something that probably was better off left undone. But what about those that we allow to trap us?
The thing about anxiety is that I’ve surrounded myself with lines. There are the softer lines that I’ve drawn which tell me that to that direction lies potential discomfort. There are the darker ones which represent the borders to places of historical pain. There are those identifying boundaries of embarrassment and shame. There are the ones that I’ve drawn over and over and over again, reiterating, as fiercely as I can, that they must not ever be crossed because I very well may not survive the aftermath.
When I was younger, the world was full of the softest lines. I was often self-conscious, embarrassed, hurting, confused, and afraid. Many of these came from typical childhood and adolescent experiences, but many were drawn after surviving or witnessing something harsher and less forgiving.
I step, often out of necessity rather than choice, beyond one of these boundaries that I have drawn myself, and I survive it. My footstep smudges the marks I scrawled with such care and determination, erasing what I thought so critical to my own safety, and I survive it.
As I read the above quote, I reflected for a moment upon how I have lived the last several years of my life. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve done well, or right, or great. I have felt myself over the past few months descending back into places that I thought I had long-since escaped. I had scars reopened and felt the terrible, frightening, and sometimes comforting familiarity of the accompanying hurt.
I have, however, in spite of or despite or alongside or whatever else someone might say, accomplished things that I once imagined I never would. To many people, these accomplishments would be small: I spoke up for myself to a stranger; I spoke my truth to a loved one; I asserted boundaries that I felt protected me; I trusted a friend enough to be honest and open with them. I started a book club and, while most of the members have been long time friends or have become such, have struggled and often succeeded at working past the fear of abandonment, the concern over disappointing them, and the absolute terror of leading them in even a small way.
I am not bragging by sharing my successes, and I sincerely hope it does not come across as though I am. All I know is that all of these were once lines drawn in the sand. No doubt out of fear, I etched these marks and contained myself within them with the thought that I could not possibly move beyond.
And yet, I did.
There are lines that I know must have once existed, based on what I know about myself and my personality. I can no longer figure out where they were, though. Would I have been ok with X as much as I am now? Could I have done Y with as much ease as I do now? I don’t know. I don’t think I could have. It’s easy to alter the color of our memories to fit what we want to think in the present, and I could be doing that to make myself feel better. I’d like to think not, though; I’d like to think that I have made strides to be different. Maybe I have not managed to be better, but provided that I am changing, I think someday I can get there.
An aspect of both particular interest and interminable frustration to me is that crossing the delicate lines appears to strengthen the darker ones. I suspect it is yet another attempt to keep myself safe from the potential of getting hurt: surviving the fading of a boundary I once thought so important is far from easy and comfortable. It comes with its aches, pains, and scares, and it is difficult to consider braving an undoubtedly more hurtful process. I settle into complacence at my small success, and it is tragically easy to remain there, safe in the knowledge that I took one stride toward betterment.
I’m turning 24 in a few weeks, and I am a vastly different person than I was this time six years ago. Though it may not yet be as spacious and open as I’d like it to be, the area in which I occupy is nonetheless far more expansive than it once was. It only got to that point because I was forced to smudge the lines around me. It only happened because I allowed, regardless of the reasoning, those lines to go gray and dull.
I am hopeful that in time, I will have a more thorough understanding of which lines truly keep me safe without stifling my potential and how they differ from those which I have drawn in a misguided but desperate hope that they will protect me from the world. I never could have imagined I would be where I am now. There isn’t much about my present that I can say I am proud of, but there are aspects of it that I am content having acquired. I think back on the younger version of me who thought she never would have the bravery to let pieces of the world into herself, and I am glad that she was wrong. It is an ongoing, difficult, and often terrifying process, but I hope that the momentum of erasing my lighter lines can push me into battling the others.
Fear is entwined within the etchings, but once a line is crossed, you can never truly go back to where you once were. You will always have the knowledge that you did it once and survived it. I encourage you to assess where your lines were and where ones might once have existed but have since faded. See many of these lines as something to overcome rather than barriers to places better avoided. Some do genuinely keep you safe from harm that you should not push yourself to experience. Others are there out of fear of possibilities and the unknown. You’re the only one who can decide which is which in your own life, and it is a little bit comforting to me to know that everyone else is on the same journey as me. We may not be headed to the same destinations or walk the same paths, but we all are going somewhere new.
Much love and thank you for reading my ramblings. 💙