When I was 19, I faced a serious episode of depression that I feel lucky to have survived. Occasionally, I'll flip through my old journals and read passages from those dark days. They mostly read as the angsty ramblings of a lost teen, but occasionally, those echoes of my own words seem to haunt and penetrate me. One passage reads:
"I keep trying to believe that there will be a time in my life when things are better, when the pain will stop. I close my eyes and try to escape to a little house in the mountains somewhere… a relationship with someone crazy enough to understand me and sane enough to function. A little brown-haired daughter with eyes like mine, climbing trees, and picking flowers. A job in the arts that I can actually enjoy, that actually sustains me. I want to find comfort there, in those thoughts, but then the realization hits that it's a dream-- that I'll probably never have that life."
In the six years that have passed since I scratched out unheard cries for help onto the pages of my journal, I have been through what feels like every circle of Hell. Extreme poverty. Homelessness. A nightmarishly abusive relationship. An unplanned pregnancy. Loss of contact with three of my closest family members. The near-loss of my sister to a serious illness. Divorce. Hopelessness. Years of journal entries all yield the same message: "Where is the life I dreamed of?"
Just a few days ago, I was moved to tears while recalling that passage from my journal. I looked around myself with the sudden realization that I have absolutely everything that I had ever wanted-- that my life did get better, and that this isn't just a dream. The life I now lead is exactly the one I had craved, but viewed as unattainable. It was, I realized in a moment of lucidity, a perfect day.
There were three of us, walking hand-in-hand through the park, just a few miles from my "little house in the mountains somewhere." My partner--"crazy enough to understand me and sane enough to function"-- was making corny puns while we discussed philosophy and politics. My child, my joy-- "a little brown-haired daughter with eyes like mine" squealed with delight when she discovered a lone clover, weathering the chill of winter. She picked the little treasure and handed it to me.
My little family of three spent the rest of the afternoon walking and talking. We took turns carrying my daughter on our shoulders. We walked across the Tennessee river on a footbridge and meandered through a series of public art displays. My daughter gave a rolling commentary on everything we passed, bringing the magic and delight of a young mind to a wonderfully perfect afternoon. "I love you both!" she said excitedly several times, clearly thrilled about our simple evening out.
There was nothing amazing or remarkable that made it all a perfect family moment. No miracles, dramatic emotions, or wild adventures. The afternoon was spectacular because it was, ultimately, ordinary. It was the simple but wonderful life that I had imagined for myself, rolled up in one afternoon that I thought I would never get to see. The trivial, mundane bits of familial bliss that comprised that evening stand out in my mind not as "just" a good day, but as a fragment the life I so desperately wanted.
Our greatest family moment, to date, hasn't been a terrific vacation, a major milestone, or a moment of much-anticipated good news. It was, instead, the simple realization that I am living my dream, and that the two people who love me the most are living it with me.
Do you have the life you've imagined for yourself? What family moments exemplify your fantasy-life?
Juniper Russo is a freelance writer living in Chattanooga, TN. When she's not homeschooling her dinosaur-obsessed four-year-old, she writes about a diverse array of topics including activism, health, and parenting.