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Once upon a time, I stood in a boxing ring. I wore leather gloves flecked with red. I threw jabs and overhand lefts and body shots into the soft bellies of men. I got brain surgery; I stopped boxing; I lost heaps of hair on the left side of my head. As a freshman in college, I would carry on conversations, trying to ignore the fact that I had (and will always have) four titanium plates and 16 screws on the left parietal lobe of my brain.
Once upon a time, I stood in front of the graduating class of Columbia and gave my valedictorian speech – secretly, a goal I’d held tightly to since childhood. Those 13 letters I rolled around in my mouth like a silver dollar. Val-e-dic-tor-i-an. I poured over the speech, perfecting each line, worried that maybe no one would care what I had to say. But there was laughter. And applause. I was sent out into the world with a purpose. I had written a book. It had been published. Things were beginning for me.
Once upon a time, I got married and moved away from Chicago. I stopped writing as much and played the role of wife in small-town suburbia. I felt caged, condensed, lost, irate. I fought about anything and everything. I dreamed of Chicago. I ached to write but had nothing to write about. I went to Paris and London and crept back to personal training, that safety net I love and have always loved.
Once upon a time, I taught a grown man to read. I watched his mouth form the familiar shapes of our hard language, while struggling to drag his pencil across the page in a constructed sentence. “Why is this so hard?” He would ask. Flipping through our books and lessons, I would shrug. “I have absolutely no idea.” How I miss him.
Once upon a time, things stopped making sense. The veil was lifted. I started to want different things and see the world for all its hatred and beauty. I had an affair; I ended my marriage. I lost my home, my personal belongings and my animals. I moved back to the safety of the only city I have ever truly loved and crawled into my little cave in an amazing loft with two warm roommates. To begin again. There, over the course of a year, we created things individually while living collectively. I went to Switzerland on a writing project. I returned to the world of writing. This time, nothing would stop me.
Once upon a time, I worked with a man on death row, trying to stop his execution and promising I would find a way to tell his story. He was executed, despite maintaining his innocence for over 20 years. His blue eyes still haunt me. I will not forget him.
Once upon a time, I dated for the first time in seven years. I was shocked to see how things had changed; how much I didn’t get it; how confidence could wane or thrive, depending on who you were talking to. For the first time, I understood the term “mixed messages” and began to feel more and more like a loner every day. I was okay on my own. I stopped wanting attention.
Once upon a time, I finally sold the book I wanted to sell. I got the agent I wanted to get. I became a nonfiction writer. I was beginning to lead the life I’d always wanted to lead.
Once upon a time, I met a boy. Not any boy, but the boy, even though I haven’t always believed in such things. And though we will not live forever, and although my grandmother died, and I live 400 miles away from my parents and best friend, and although rent is too high and being a freelancer is hard, and there is no good gym to save my life, and I want to do too many things… I know we will live happily. Not happily ever after, because life is no fairy tale. But, I will live the life I want to live with the man I have always wanted to live it with, because together, somehow, we make our own family.
I will continue to read and learn and do and act and react and laugh and love and eat and sleep and do all the things a human being is supposed to do. But I will always question the system. I will not follow the rules just because I am told to. I will never believe all the propaganda. I will not follow the traditional roles of being a wife or even a mother, if that opportunity arises someday. I will make my marriage limitless, my life limitless, and I will not cleave to any one way of being or eating or working or loving. I will change, and change often. I will love and be loved. I will help others. I will allow myself to be helped.
And I won’t forget to dream.
To read more about Rea Frey and why she is so Cheeky, please click here.