Tiger, Tiger

It’s been nearly half a decade, but 2010 still stands as one of the best/worst years of my life. It was the year I graduated college, began my first real job and moved across the country (and back again).

I come from a small town. An insanely small town. A town that would barely take up the full head of a pin if you were to mark it on a map. And it’s an idyllic place, the sort where you can keep your car doors unlocked and the worst crime spree we ever experienced was when a classmate of mine started stealing change of out said unlocked cars. There was a murder a few years ago, but since it didn’t involve anyone who actually lived in town, we didn’t think much about it.

(Of course, we’re still talking about it, so take that with a grain of salt.)

And so when I decided to move clear across the country in my senior year of college, it was a big deal. I hadn’t really spoken to anyone from my high school in a few years, but suddenly there was a Facebook outpouring of questions and support, which was rather lovely. I was completely exhilarated, and there was no room in my head or my heart for practicality.

Which is probably why, just before I left, I managed to give myself a second-degree burn on the arm with my flat iron. Of course it hurt, but it was a little bit worth it when, later that night, I was with friends at a diner and the waiter asked if I’d been clawed by a tiger. It became a great joke with my friends – the night Your Gal got clawed by a tiger.

The Scab, as it came to be known, accompanied me to LA, and its sheer size was enough of a curiosity that it helped break the ice with my coworkers at my new internship. They were (and remain) a great bunch – funny, sharp and immensely creative as well as being kind and welcoming. I’ve lost contact with most of them, but they remain 90% of the reason I was sad to leave.

Which brings me to my first High of 2010: moving across the country, by myself. And the low? The resulting raw homesickness, abject fear of your terrible salary and mild-to-moderate emotional breakdown that made me move right back six months later.

There were other highs – seeing my writing garner positive comments, meeting people whose work I so admired, being recognized for being a hard worker and a leader. Lows came, too – the first car I’d purchased by myself having issues right after I drove it off the lot, realizing that the salary negotiations you see in the movies are kind of bull$hit and finally understanding that there are truly people who just don’t want to be good.

I graduated college. I fell in and out of love. I discovered Yogurtland.

And I felt fear. When I realized I wasn’t ready to be on my own and more than 3,000 miles from my entire support system, it was the first time I really, viscerally felt fear.

Through it all, in hot and sunny Los Angeles, people continued to be fascinated by the scar. When they asked, in that forthright, charmingly gregarious way of musicians and artists and Californians, I told them I’d been clawed by a tiger; we’d laugh and I’d tell the real story of my bumbling.

When I moved back to the East Coast, it continued to be a conversation piece – I was job hunting in the heat of summer, and it was always exposed when I went to interviews. It was with me when I ended up stranded in a strange city for the day with a direct marketing company, on a “practical interview” and in four-inch heels; it was with me when I found a job that seemed perfect for me.

It was with me when I realized that said perfect job was a ticking time-bomb. And it was with me when I reconnected with a friend from college, who over the past five years has become someone who understands me better than I do myself.

The scar was there when I realized I couldn’t live with my parents anymore. It was there when my brother and I began to grow apart. I carried it with me through four car accidents that year.

And then it began to fade.

In the successive years, I’ve made friends and lost friends. I’ve reached a level of professional success and satisfaction that I couldn’t have conceived of when I was that small-town girl. My life is my own to guide, and thankfully, luckily, blessedly (and despite my insecurities) I’ve realized my instincts are good. And that they’ll take me as far as I’m willing to go.

As I’ve become more confident, more grounded (and, hell, more adult), the scar has faded. I’m not sure when it disappeared to the point where even I’m challenged to identify it, but it’s happened. And I’ve barely noticed. It will always be there, I’m sure, because that’s the nature of a scar.

It’s also the nature of fear. And while I’m long since past feeling it every day, that fear that came with being an adult, that crept in when I realized I wasn’t invincible, that I could fail, it’s still there. It’s always going to be. But I have the tools to deal with it now. I don’t need my tiger to start a conversation, or the funny anecdote to hide behind. I am who I am, and the core of me probably isn’t going to change. I’ve made my peace with that.

And I’ve realized that’s what’s important.

Trust yourselves, chickadees, and the rest will follow.

Love,
Your Gal

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