A strange memory came to me today. I don’t know why, but it did.
Between my husband and my partner, I lived alone with my daughter. I was a single mum on benefits with a failed business and a failed marriage behind me, living in a rough part of town in a little house with peeling plaster and a damp problem. I had no career, no relationship, and no sign that any of that would change. All I had was me, my daughter, and my love of writing.
One day I was walking down the road when I spotted someone I used to be friends with. Or, at least I thought I did. The man I saw seemed to see me on the other side of the road, then turn and walk away. I thought it couldn’t have been my friend. He and I had been close, and whilst we hadn’t seen each other for a decade, we had certainly been good friends. Had it been him, he’d never have turned away from me. Would he?
Yet I was certain. I watched him walk away, such a familiar walk, and I felt sure. So I founds him on Facebook. I messaged him. Asked if he’d just been on my street. The answer came back in moments. “Yes.”
There was no “Oh it was you!” or “How have you been?” There was no hint of friendliness towards me.
At first I wondered, had we perhaps not been friends as I thought? Had my teenage attitude, no doubt shitty at times, been in fact far worse than I’d realised? But no… no we had definitely been friends.
He’d walked away because he didn’t want to know me. Not the me I was then. I was an embarrassment. I was shame. I was disappointment.
I’d heard it so many times from those older than me. “You had so much potential.” “You could have been something good.” “What a waste of a brain.” “It’s such a shame this is all you are now.”
I got it, I saw what they saw, but at the same time I had never been happier in my life than when I lived in that falling down little house. I’d had a career and a marriage, but I hadn’t been happy. At that point I had nothing but my daughter, but I was truly happy. I saw what the saw, but I figured, they didn’t know me, they didn’t understand. Older people want you to be something for them, so you can fulfill their image of what you should have been, rather than the image of who you truly are.
It hit me like an icy prod in the chest. To the friends I’d had in high school, I was the one to be ashamed of. The one they thought “What a waste” about. I was the one they avoided speaking to in the street. I was just the single mum on benefits who wasted her life whilst they went off and became doctors and teachers and lawyers.
All I had was my daughter and a dream. A dream and a desire to write and work, and I worked hard on my writing, I worked hard on what would become my first novel. No, I had no money, but yes I had happiness.
But happiness was irrelevant. I was a failure.
Things are different now. Not wildly different in some ways, but they’re different. They’re still doctors and lawyers, teachers and dentists… I’m not rich, I’m not widely read, I’m not married. But I’m earning money from my writing… my books are published and being read… and I’m in a healthy, happy relationship. I still have a my dream and my desire, but now it’s coming to fruition.
I can’t yet stand up and say “HEY! LOOK AT ME! I DID IT!” and see the surprise on their faces.
But I can say I’m doing it… I can say I’m working on it… I can say I’m nearly there.
But one day, maybe one day soon, I’ll see someone I used to know walking down the street. Maybe even that same friend.
And he won’t turn away from me, embarrassed and disappointed. No. He’ll say hello. He’ll ask how it’s going. He’ll tell me he read my latest book and he loved it.
One day the older generation won’t talk about what a wasted potential I was. How disappointed they are that I never did anything with my life. They won’t have to offer my mum a sympathetic smile and remark that at least my brother is doing well.
I don’t want to live in the reflection from others. I want to just live for me. I don’t want to be successful for others, I want to be successful for me and for my children. Because it comes down to what I want to do and be with my life, not what other people want me to do and be.
I want to say I did it. I made it. I worked my arse off day in and day out, until I was so tired I’d cry myself to sleep, and it was worth it.
I want to make my family proud. I want to live my dream. And I want to stick two fingers up at the people who thought I was a waste. Because I’m not a waste. I’m not a failure. I’m not an embarrassment.
I am a writer.
Have you dealt with this in your life? How did you cope with it? What did you do? Have you been able to prove people wrong or are you, like me, still working for that?
We’ll get there. You don’t fail until you give up.
Get in touch and let me know what you think. All my contact information is on http://www.jjbarnes.co.uk and you’ll find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You’ll also find links there to my podcasts and the novels I’ve written. So check it out! I’d love to hear from you.