“What do you want to be when you grow up, little one?”
An incredibly unfair question this had been, really. No, of course I had not yet understood the coldness of searching for employment. Gritty newspapers, reddened eyes. Scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through job listings. For those mysterious, towering adults, their inquisitiveness had only been a form of small talk (what else do you discuss with a three-year-old?). However, to me, the topic was nothing less than a matter of My Life Purpose, something which, at the time, was born from a desire that I had spent plenty of past-bedtime hours fantasizing about, eventually convincing myself to be confident of its reality. Little known to them, I had already begun living with a permanent, crippling addiction to dreaming. What was even less known: how serious I had intended my answer to be.
“Famous,” I had said, clumsily wiping my nose with the back of a chubby hand.
“A famous singer.”
My parents and many of their friends can attest to the little shows that I would throw, watching me toddle wide-legged over to my pastel bedroom to dig through the treasure chest of dress-up clothes and return to the dinner table dressed-to-the-nines. I felt so, so complete, to be with my oversized lavender hat, bubblegum-pink feather boa, and gaudy, plastic jewelry to dazzle my neck and fingers. It was as if destiny itself was sewn throughout, woven between sequins, and it was satisfying, righteous.
To Mom and Dad, my enthusiasm for performing was adorable. How fearless I was! They would giggle, delighted that such a show-stopper had graced their presence to entertain them and their peasant guests.
“Alright, Leksi. Sing us a song!”
I would. Goodness, I would. It was horrific. My immature vocal chords could only struggle forth so many notes. This handicap, along with my dramatic will to impress my audience, resulted in a shallow, crazed monotone. What made it even more ridiculous was my faux pax refusal to choose pieces expected to be sung by my age group (“You Are My Sunshine,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” etc.) and instead singing original work by improvisation. My songs in themselves had the ability to cause cringes, with lyrics mostly consisting of the absolute epitomes of all magical, abstract things that I could come up with — moons, stars, and fairies — in repetition.
It must have looked like some kind of ritual, and I think that is why my parents would laugh, shake their heads in embarrassment, and say “How about you sing ‘I’m A Little Teapot’ or something?”
When I denied this request, the grown-ups would still politely pretend to enjoy it all, swaying their heads and clapping their hands.
This wish, goal, didn’t leave until I was fifteen. By that time, the powerful blaze that existed when I was younger had been well extinguished, but amongst the dead, ash-black ruin, a single faded spark still fluttered, blinking in and out, displaying a miniature sunset of its own. Like a doubting Christian searches for answers, I desperately pursued for a hope, scanning through talent agencies and sitcom tryouts in Dallas. At last, I settled upon entering to audition for one of those on-screen, reality TV talent shows that I had always secretly loved. It was there that a Californian, silver-headed producer licked his thumb and forefinger and, with mannered grace, put out that last flickering ember in one, sweeping pinch.
Despite all of this, few things have ever remained so maddeningly compelling to me than the greedy idea of being remembered. It is a drive that has become habitual: a tattered, embroidered aphorism that was never taken down from the front door. Yes, I have grown out the hall-of-fame aspirations, but I still find it romantic, fulfilling, to imagine a place for myself in someone else’s universe of thought. However, I would happily take the position of the old sofa in a quaint living room, when in my younger years, I would have accepted nothing less than the elegant, blasting flat-screen. I would rather be the handy pair of scissors in the drawer of the apartment kitchenette, the patch of fresh sage in the garden of a close friend’s heart. I wish for my name to bring a few moments of warmth when it is said aloud, thought of. Perhaps I am even delirious enough to envision that I might be appreciated when my name isn’t known at all: the door-holder, the small-talker, the girl at the bus stop who was familiar with your hometown, even the blurred image, who, when you were running late to work, stopped to help you pick up your spilled and chaotic files off of the pounding linoleum. It is selfish to think these things, I know, but sometimes I find it exhilarating to depict myself as the ghost of a good memory— among the heroic, who only dwell phantasmagorically.
There are moments, in reflection, that I recognize my current self in the personality of my younger self. Can you relate to this phenomenon? Do share in the comments.