The straggling Thursday morning traffic provided an unpleasant soundtrack to her life. It was hellishly hot and she’d gotten out of bed briefly just to open the window, hoping for some fresh air but all she got was more sunlight and the noise of the outside world. Not that it made much difference. She still lay sprawled on her bed, staring at the ceiling, feeling the sweat pooling on her skin. The cars passing by her apartment only barely managed to get her attention. Whether they were there or not, she would be thinking about how pathetic she was.
Supposedly, everyone reached a point in their life when they felt lost. She was at the right age for it, but she’d underestimated how long it could go on for. In her mind, people had this feeling and struggled for a while before they found something that worked well enough and they went on, like a hobbling machine that could roll even though it was bumpy. She hadn’t been able to get there yet. She wasn’t sure if she’d be able to get there.
Of all the advice she’d gotten on how to deal with this problem, none of it seemed applicable. They told her to go with something she was interested in, or to go with something easy at least in the meantime, or to go for something that suited her lifestyle. It didn’t make any sense to her. She had interests but they didn’t fit into the world of careers. There was nothing she did that sounded like a job to her. She had trouble finding something easy to do while she tried to figure it out because she was unmotivated; didn’t have any energy to give pursuit as well as she should have and it showed in her unsuccessful attempts. Her lifestyle right now was empty and stagnant.
She felt utterly pathetic.
On her bedside table, her phone beeped. She turned her head and stared at it before lazily moving to pick it up. It provided her with a message from her father, asking how her day was going and if she was free for dinner that night. She rolled her eyes. He knew she was unemployed and whenever he asked what she was doing with her time she always said she wasn’t doing much. It should be assumed that she was free, but she considered pretending to be busy just so she didn’t have to go to dinner with her family.
They weren’t doing anything on purpose to annoy her, and they were supportive and welcoming to her every time they got together. She just wasn’t capable of handling their scrutiny, as light and innocent as it may be, when she felt utterly demoralized and deflated. They were all going on with their lives, they had careers and were making little families of their own, and they hung out with friends and pursued hobbies. Her father even volunteered at a homeless shelter three times a week.
But there she was. Lying on her bed on a Thursday morning, listening to traffic, letting the heat smother her, with nothing to do and no inclination to move.
Her savings were going to run out soon. Last year she’d come into age for the trust fund her parents had set up for their children before her mother died. Her siblings had taken only small amounts from it thus far, but she was starting to drain her own share the longer she went without an income. It was a pressure she was well aware of every time she went looking for a job and every time she questioned the purpose of her newly acquired degree. It seemed like a good idea when she was getting it but suddenly she didn’t feel like she could go down that path anymore and that freaked her out more than a little.
She thought of her mother.
As a child, there was the usual time when everyone would ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She had plenty of answers for that question, ranging from astronaut to zoo keeper. She was an energetic kid with an active imagination and it showed. People laughed with amusement as she got excited about all the careers she wanted to pursue, because it was great to see a kid with so much eagerness for the dreams she had.
But her mother sat her down one day after school and asked her not what she wanted to do as an adult but what she wanted to do right at that moment if she could do anything in the whole world.
It had made her think about what she was already doing. She wasn’t limited by the fact that she was just a kid because her mother had said there were no restrictions. So she’d thought of how she played with her dolls, the way she sketched princesses and superstars and witches, and the times her mother let her pick out her own clothes. She’d said that if she could do anything in the whole wide world she would just keep doing that all day long. She didn’t think of a career when her mother asked her that question, she thought of her passion.
She couldn’t do anything half-heartedly. She was either all the way in or she did nothing at all. Right now she was on the wrong end of that scale and it was digging into her heart deeply.
A car outside was playing music as it got stuck in traffic. Their windows were obviously down because of the summer heat. She frowned, recognizing the song from her when she was a teenager, but she couldn’t quite grasp the memory. After the cars were stood still for a while, the song carried on more clearly. It was some Green Day song, of that much she became certain. Probably the title was in the chorus, so if she could just make out the words a little better –
The cars rumbled again as traffic broke up and they all continued on their way.
She lay back again, only just realizing that she’d lifted her head to listen. She knew that song, it was something about novocaine. That modern punk rock scene brought so much style with it and it surrounded her completely in her teenage years. For a while it was the cool thing and then it was more of its own thing and she hardly saw it these days anymore but she knew it retained a lot of its classic quality that didn’t have a negative connotation. Some styles became disliked once they went out of fashion but punk rock had a certain charm to it.
Here she was, wasting her time thinking about that stuff again. Maybe it was because she was thinking about what she’d told her mother when she was little.
If her mother were here right now asking her that same question, what would her answer be?
She got up, dragging her feet as she made her way to her desk. She was still wearing the clothes she’d slept in, with the extra-large shirt almost exposing her shoulder and her pants falling off slightly if she moved too fast, which was fine because she was not interested in moving fast. At her desk she stared down at the papers that were scattered around.
Every now and then in the past few years she would pick up her pencil and find some papers and just doodle. They were people she didn’t know, people she’d seen, members of her family, and friends from school. Their faces had enough detail to show something of their humanity but it was their bodies that she focused more on. She sketched clothes, all kinds and shapes and styles. She showed what someone would look like with that outfit or if their shirt looked a little different from something they already had. She made things that went with their personalities and the impressions she got from them as she interacted with them or observed them. On these pieces of paper were entire worlds for people who would never see it.
She never showed anyone these sketches. They were just random little things that lay around in the background of her life.
With the tip of her index finger she traced a sketch of her brother in a three-piece suit. She’d thought it would be good for his award ceremony at the end of the year. Beside it she’d begun to make the structure of a tuxedo that he could use for his wedding next month. These were just thoughts she’d had, things she made up when she was bored and didn’t want to stress so much anymore.
The pages had been piling up in the past few weeks as her empty life seemed to stretch on. She was an intelligent person with a lot of energy somewhere deep inside her. She had a lot to give to the world. Why couldn’t she go anywhere?
She laid her hand flat, trying to block out the image but it peeked out between her fingers and she felt the texture of the paper on her skin. Maybe it was all she was capable of doing with her time anymore.
Switching to auto-pilot, she sat down at her desk and picked up a pencil. Turning over a piece of paper, she settled right in to a new sketch.
Her mother, the way she looked when Tiffany was a young child. The dress she’d worn when they went out to dinner on her birthday. The smile she’d given when her daughter told her what she loved most about her life. She drew those eyes that showed so much love and kindness.
The sketch was more about her mother than the clothes she was wearing, and she set down the pencil so that she could wipe the tears from her eyes.
Soon she was cradling her face in her hands as she cried. There were a lot of things she missed about those childhood years; the innocence, the effortless happiness, the courage with which she explored the world she’d been given. But what she missed most of all was the mother who’d taught her about how she was going to make this life her own. She shared with her everything about herself and her own dreams and passions. She told her about every mistake she’d made and how she’d fought to make it right and to find herself and her family. She gave her daughter a nickname and opened for her an identity that was entirely her own if she made it that way.
She lowered her hands to see her mother’s face again.
Her mother had told her that she could do anything she put her mind to. Her mother had supported her dreams and her interests. Her mother showed her the value of keeping her head up and taking every step that was in front of her.
Her mother had believed that she could do it. Why couldn’t she believe the same?
She finished the sketch, giving it the love and attention it deserved as her heart smouldered.
When it was done, she held it up in the air. The sunlight fell on it perfectly. It felt just right.
That was her mother.
She placed it back on the desk. Slowly, she took up the pencil again, and the tip hovered over the bottom of the page.
In her mind, her mother was asking her that same question again. It trickled through her memory and rested there. That was when she knew her answer had not changed in the slightest. She didn’t want to be an astronaut or a zookeeper, not if she could do anything at all in the world. She wanted to be her mother’s daughter. She wanted to do what she was passionate about because it wasn’t impossible like she’d been telling herself it was.
She signed it: Tiffany Hwang.