Real Simple

A few months back I entered an essay contest in Real Simple magazine. The topic of the essay was on the moment you realized you were a grown up. The prize for winning said essay contest is pretty sweet. The essay winner will receive 3 thousand dollars, two round-trip airline tickets to New York, tickets to a broadway show, lunch with the magazine editors, and the essay will be printed in the April edition of the magazine. I wish I could share with you that my essay was chosen but it wasn't. Even still, I am glad I entered and made an effort. I will try again.

Anyway, here is the essay I submitted. I have done some editing on this version and am aware it needs more but am done for now.

Congratulations to the winner!



A Life In Progress

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”

(Anais Nin)

I have been contemplating the moment when I felt like a grown up and trying to narrow such a moment down to one particular event or occasion and I can’t. In fact, after much thought, the conclusion that I have come to is that being a grown up does not happen in a single moment but rather in a series of moments that change you and help you become more of who you are meant to be.

As I looked back over my life, I began to see a common thread that linked certain events in my life together. In those moments where I had to make a hard choice is when the growing happened. These make me or break me moments have always lead to some unexpected opening and deeper understanding of the possibility my life holds.

Of course, this is not say that all the major moments of growth in my life have been sad or hard but, more often than not, it was the hard stuff that propelled me onward and upward. In fact, there are many joyful, more common moments that have also contributed to the evolution of my current self. For example: moving out on my own, graduating from college, getting married, buying a house, starting my own business, and having a baby. Though, the events just mentioned are big and life changing, there are three moments during one important phase of my life that stand out. Three moments in my life that have taught me some invaluable lessons and, ultimately, helped me to appreciate the beauty and pain of growing up.

My story of growth goes something like this:

I was young and hopeful and thought being responsible, working and living on my own made me a full fledged adult, someone worthy of respect and ready for whatever this independent life had to offer. I soon found out that being a grown up consisted of more than just living on my own and working to pay my bills. I was naive and not at all equipped to deal with the hard stuff that was to come.

This part of my life started out harmless enough. At the tender age of 19, I moved across the country with my family to the East coast. I was excited about the move to this new place. My life was wide open, and I was itching to get out there. Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to find a job and move out on my own. I was enjoying life and loved my job. I quickly made friends and found my niche. I met a boy, who we will call B, with golden hair and watery blue eyes who had a gift for playing the guitar in a mesmerizing sort of way. Life was good. I was in love. We eventually moved in together.

My big wake up call arrived a couple of years into our relationship. One morning, as I was getting ready for work, I had gone to the bathroom to give B a kiss goodbye. When I went to open the door, I found it was locked. I knocked. He answered but did not unlock the door. I knew in that moment something was not right. I asked him to unlock the door. He thought about it. I waited. I recall sitting on the floor outside the bathroom when he opened the door. I don’t know why or how I knew what to reach for, but my hand automatically reached around the cold porcelain toilet to grab hold of a needle and spoon. With needle and spoon in hand, I realized that B's heroin addiction was serious, more serious than I wanted to admit. Deep down I had known the truth but that morning I could no longer deny it. I went to work a mess. Fortunately, the woman I worked with at the flower shop was familiar with heroin addiction. In fact, she too struggled with the same addiction and had 20 years of sobriety under her belt. Her advice to me was to get help.

I went home that day with hope in my heart of helping my love get clean and of us living happily ever after. B went into treatment. I missed him but was relieved he was there getting help and relieved that I didn’t have to worry about him in that way. I could’ve left then, and probably should have, but I stayed. I stayed because I promised I would, and I stayed because I had no idea who I was without him. The relationship continued. When B returned home, I thought the hardest part was over. I was wrong and clearly didn't know much about addiction. As if this experience wasn't enough, I needed a harder hit to help me wise up and wake up.

Three years into our relationship things got worse instead of better. I found out I was pregnant. Things fell apart. I found out that the young man with the golden hair was not in love with me, well, not in the way I was with him. I struggled with the fact that B was not in love with me and the big decision of whether to have the baby or let it go. I let the baby go. I didn’t feel right about bringing a child into the mess I was in, and I certainly didn’t feel mature enough to handle it all on my own. I made the decision to move on. I moved over seas and back in with my folks. The move home felt like a regression and, in many ways, I think it was. In the end, though, it was a progression and leap forward in the right direction.

When I first arrived at my parents, I was a depressed, emotional mess and disconnected on every level. I spent a lot of time by myself. During those quiet moments alone, I was forced to have a good look at my life and the state of my spirit. I didn't like what I saw, and I hated who I was. In order to get back in touch with myself and to heal, I started doing anything and everything that interested me. For example, I took voice lessons, learned to scuba dive, and went back to school. I made every effort to revive myself through learning and it worked. Even though, the events of this time in my life sound awful, it really was the best thing that happened to me. In fact, I am grateful for the intensity of those experiences, for the love, the heartbreak, and the painful choice to have an abortion because it broke me down, and cracked me open and created an opportunity for change.

I think the best thing about the painful or difficult moments in life is that you learn so much in the process. What I've learned is this: Growing up is not so much about what you do but about who you become. Life is about learning the lessons that are presented to you in unexpected ways, at unexpected times and moving through and past the pain, discomfort, denial, despair, dissatisfaction with your head up and your heart open. It’s about looking at life as it is and loving yourself no matter where you’re at on the growth chart because there is always more growing to do. In fact, that’s what it’s all about. Being a grown up is about growing into yourself and peeling away the layers to see the starry essence of your soul. And during the toughest times, when I have felt my worst, is when I discovered my best because it takes guts and a mature heart to choose right. The good stuff is always hidden in the muck. You just have to look for it and hang on to it when you find it.

Marcia Tullous


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