The night was cold and dark as I snuck glances at the clock. An hour passed, then another, and before I knew it my family had erupted into cheers as 2020 came into focus. It was a new year, but my problems had not left me.
I was keenly aware that my life was better than most. I knew others would sacrifice much to be in my position. I was the only daughter of two doting parents who gave me virtually anything I wanted. I had a job I was good at, went to a great school, had friends who loved me and a boyfriend who thought I was the prettiest thing since Venus — but, despite it all, I was unfulfilled.
Desperately, I sought after anything that would quench this unnamable desire I felt. I did not know what I wanted, or how to get it. All I knew was that something was missing from my life.
Then, the coronavirus hit the United States. One by one, all the open doors in my life began to close. I was no longer in a relationship, my friends moved back to their home states, school closed just before graduation and I was out of a job.
Everywhere I turned, newly depressed people spoke on life in quarantine, and bemoaned how they wished things would “go back to normal.” I realized grimly that life in quarantine was my normal. Sure, I had been able to go out before — my job had me attend many events, speak to tons of people and learn new things — but emotionally, nothing has changed. I was still tired, depressed and anxious, always looking for that thing which would fulfill me, and never finding it.
It was in this mindset that I began to clean my room at the start of April. My goal was to get rid of every childish thing I owned and no longer needed. I hadn’t looked at most of that stuff in years, but bringing it out sparked something inside of me, and I began to feel happy for the first time in recent memory.
I fell down a rabbit hole of childhood gems that I had long pushed aside for being too embarrassing. I listened to all the cringey “Twilight” audiobooks, listed to my beloved Bratz Rock Angels CD from 2005, played with colorful makeup, watched Disney movies and fully embraced my inner child.
Doing so, I remembered why I had neglected these things for so long. I was a nerdy kid — never the star of the show, never part of the in crowd. I was often bullied, and told that I was “too childish,” when I was, by all accounts, just a kid. There was a pressure to be more mature, smarter, classier and have better taste.
But as a child, I never accepted that things had to be so black-and-white. I knew I was a kid, and I was happy to be one. My childhood CDs actually had great songs that I still enjoy today — much to my surprise. These songs speak to friendship, communal responsibility, what it means to embrace your individuality without becoming self absorbed, and they encourage the listener to follow their dreams. In fact, most of the media I consumed as a kid focused on what it means to be a good person.
These things helped to shape me into the person I am today, but by ignoring them, I forgot them, and so forgot a part of myself.
I have read many classics, listened to incredible compositions and consumed fine art. I have learned new traits, sought after the finer things in life and held discussions around philosophy and theology. I am a smart, mature adult with class and good taste — that identity which so many wished I would adopt — yet, for all those studies, I was unfulfilled.
I had become too obsessed with reality and all the gruesome details of life. I became transfixed on centuries old arguments and the frustrating nature of politics. And because I was so focused on what was, I forgot to think about what could be.
A child’s mind is precious not just because it is ignorant to the troubles of the world, but because they see the truth in life — that all things are possible with hope, love and perseverance.
In January, I looked everywhere for that thing which was missing in my life — that thing which would dispel all negative emotions, and help me to rise in the morning. But now I realize that the thing I was missing was in me the whole time. It was hope in its purist form — hope that only children have naturally, but which should never be forgotten.