“Who are you?” is never an easy question to answer.
I mean, how do I define myself beyond these fill-in-the-blank questions, beyond a selection of names, numbers and practical facts? How do I explain that who I am now is not who I was a minute ago, and yet there are parts of me still rooted in the days of childhood, the dawn of my life? There is no way to explain all the times my skin has cracked apart and the light has mended it with a golden thread. How can I say that I have been dipped into the darkness so much so that its stain remains; that I have loved as ardently as I have lost?
Who are you?
It takes a lifetime of soul-searching for some people to find out; journey upon journey through the world and through themselves. Some never do. Others still, drift in life, unaware. Yet, at times, it is quite by accident that the human essence bleeds out. In casual conversation, during middling days, boring car journeys as we experience time in the most unexceptional ways.
It was maybe a year ago now (and yet with everything that has happened, it seems so distant…). We were strolling around a deserted mall that Sunday afternoon. You could say that I was with “the girls” although most, if not all of us would object to calling each other that. We are not that to one another. I have another group of friends who are “the girls”, who I will go on dates with to trendy cafés, with whom I can be a little daring when it pleases me. But this group and I are like childhood friends. The fact that we have grown up together, seen each other everyday for 7 formative years, creates a bond that cannot be erased. However much we may lack a natural connection, there is something underlying, a common thread of Time that ties us all together. It’s hard to forget. To let go, because in so doing, we cut ties with parts of ourselves, the ones that reside in others. So we are not “the girls” to one another — we do not carelessly hang off of each other or exchange makeup tips; but we are friends. This is a label we hang onto quite possessively, protecting it from Time, distance and changes in who we are as people. We are not the girls we used to be. We do not slot as comfortably into each other, cannot bounce off the same experiences or share the same crucial opinions anymore. The conversation doesn’t flow as smoothly and we sometimes resort to small talk to fill in the gaps. They have grown so different from the 13, 16 and even 18 year olds I once knew. But it doesn’t matter. Some part of me recognises some part of them. That is enough.
So that drowsy Sunday, as afternoon was melting into evening, we roamed about an abandoned mall in a coastal village, still too full from the buffet lunch to form words.
It seems a miracle now, since I went back several times and never saw her again, but there was a woman with a jewelry stall in one of the building’s wings. She was probably one of these woman entrepreneurs, who have a skill and who are trying to develop it into a business. This could explain why she was there, alone, on a Sunday afternoon, and probably why I never saw her again. It’s a shame, because the jewelry she sold was just beautiful. Brooches, pendants, bright bracelets, earrings, shell necklaces and other kinds of pretty trinkets were all laid out on a table.
So, remember that part when I said we weren’t “the girls”? Well…we do love to accessorise.
I didn’t have any particular intention to buy anything; I’m not much of a shopper. A. and M. were picking out bracelets and the lady, previously overcome with ennui, was eager now to tend to 1,2,3,4,5,6! 6 young women flocked around her stall. The jewelry was pretty, in that way only simple things are. Dainty as a snowflake, light as a grain of sand.
And that’s when it happened. When some essential part of me showed itself without me knowing. I was eying the pendants and their myriad designs: stars, hearts, moons, circles, triangles, the tree of life… I was quite partial to the ocean themes; all these delicate pieces of metallurgy were gleaming like treasure from the sea. My heart was hesitating between two of these pendants. “Why not have both?” is an option I, for some reason, did not seriously consider. Back then, I was still on the fence about many things in my life.
“Anchor?” I asked, bringing it to the hollow of my neck, “or shipwheel?”
“Whichever one you like best.” M. replied.
“Yeah!” cheered A.
Let it not be said that my friends are not supportive. Now, helpful is a whole other thing. But supportive, still.
Y. still had this sort of aloofness about her but volunteered her opinion anyway, which goes a long way to show how she’s changed, actually. Before, she didn’t care to care for more people than she already did. Now there’s an opening for vulnerability, carved by the wounds of life. She’s softer now, but also a little worn out. Her answer didn’t much help,though.
“Whichever one you want. Take both, actually, if you like them both equally.”
Y. has always been the logical one.
But in my head, it was this dilemma. I wanted so much to decide, to not just choose the easy route by buying both (and yet, what’s so wrong with taking the easy way sometimes? Why does everything have to be complicated, so labour-intensive?). There were so many decisions I was not making in my personal life, and I wanted to get this trivial one right. So which one did I just have to have? Which could I bear to leave behind?
“Shipwheel. I want the shipwheel.”
And that was it: shipwheel. Nothing more, nothing less.
Like the cheesiest person, I wore this shipwheel pendant with my sailboats and shipwheel dress for far too long.
But why all this talk about an old necklace all of a sudden? Well, now this necklace lays in my hand, its clasp broken. I have been decluttering (again) and finding it has made me realise a lot of things about myself and the year that has passed.
Shipweels or anchors?
Do you want to explore and risk yourself out there? Or do you want to settle here, content but mostly unchanged? Back then, without even knowing it was a question, I had already chosen an answer. I was just a girl buying a necklace, how was I to know?
The symbolism I could not grasp then is not lost on me now. The fact that I ever stopped wearing it already says something. But so does the fact that I’ve found it again now, as I am rising back to myself. Still, fittingly, the clasp is broken and I wonder what it means for me.
I am unsure when it is that I will be at the wheel again. But I look at this pendant and somehow, I know who I am. I am the kind of person who chooses a shipwheel over an anchor, who fears stillness more than adventure.
Note: Behold now, the (not so) mighty shipwheel necklace I have just dedicated 1200+ words and several hours to. It has lost some of its lustre but should be good after some polishing and a new chain! Also, I’m curious to know, have you had any small moments like these, which later turned out to be huge life realisations? I’m always worried it’s just me 😂