Today I turn 38.
37 was a hard year, but a good year. It was a year of hospital beds and wheelchairs, of worry and mental illness, of fear and more fear. It was also a year of being ridiculous and silly, of finding drugs that helped more than hurt, of laughter and finding my tribe, and of being furiously happy and stepping out onto shaky limbs I never dreamed I’d reach.
I got this print last week. It’s the concept art from The Haunted Mansion. The girl in the final version they used looks very different – wan and bereft and abandoned. But this one was peculiarly contrary. It was perfect. When I saw it in the shop I knew I had to have it because it was the first time I saw a painting that seemed so perfectly “me.”
Victor stared at me, baffled, and pointed out how wrong that seemed. “It’s a girl on a frayed tightrope about to fall into the mouth of an alligator. That’s pretty fucking bleak even for you.”
But that’s not what I see.
I see a girl intent on enjoying the sun while it still shines, smiling vehemently, indignantly, and entirely celebrating a shining perfect moment even as alligators swim underneath. Victor said she seemed oblivious, but she’s not. She knows the alligator is there.
The alligators are always there.
They remind her to smile and enjoy those perfect moments whenever they arise, because life without fear is not a life fully appreciated. She smiles – not because she’s unaware of the alligators – but because she’s aware of them and because she knows how wonderful it feels when they release their jaws from your ankles.
If you look online you’ll find a lot of critics who claim that the original tight-rope walker’s too-open eyes suggest that she’s just bat-shit crazy…too numb with fear to even understand the danger. Her mind has snapped, and now teeters slowly, detached from reality. I can’t argue with that, because that fits with my personality a bit too comfortably as well, but I still prefer to see what I see…a girl who has won a battle. A girl who appreciates those moments between maulings. A girl who knows all too well the dangers and pain around her but who has made a conscious and complete decision to be furiously happy in spite of it all.
A girl who knows how to wield a parasol like a fucking ninja.
I see me. Proudly.
Happy birthday, me.
Look out, below.