Getting a new lease on life.

On a day-to-day basis, I look like this:

Clearly I don’t care about your opinion of how I look. I walk around, sans make-up and having barely pulled a brush through my hair. And yet, all I hear on any given day are cat calls from dudes who think I’m hot peoples’ opinions of how I look.

Most of the time, kids at school – and I use the expression because my classmates are a decade younger than me – say that I look “haggard” or “tired”, which really (let’s face it) mean the same damn thing. And I’ll admit, in the beginning, after one of my perky, 16-year old schoolmates made that kind of remark, a  list of excuses would instinctively run through my head:  I don’t have anyone to impress. I don’t have time to look like a cover model every day. The Filipino heat and humidity aren’t make-up friendly. I have a man who thinks I’m hot even if my hair is plastered onto my forehead, I have dried drool all over my face, and I smell funky – and by the way, I was much much much hotter than you when I was your age.

I kid. (Um, kinda.)

Now, none of the comments bother me. I just say, ‘Wait till you’re a mom,” shrug my shoulders, and laugh it off. I see what I must look like in their eyes: harried, tired, and past my prime. Really, though, I wouldn’t trade places with them for a million doll- Wait. No. What are the conditions of this deal? How long do I have to change my identity? Can I get the million dollars untaxed, and in a Swiss bank account?

Lately, Rob and I have been talking about buying a car, and the damnedest thing has been happening. All of a sudden, I’m fantasizing about styling my hair and buying a stay-on version of my favorite lipstick. I want to actually wear my closet-full of cute custom-made clothes instead of waiting to show them off States-side. I want to invest in a jewelry-making class because I have an idea for some kick-ass earrings. I want to get a pedicure every two weeks and my hair done every month.

Yup, that’s all it takes: A car. Then, all of a sudden I’m back to my old, fierce fashionista ways, 24/7/365.

*****

A funny thing happened the other day as I was writing an email to a friend. I realized as I was typing that I’ve been haunted by the damnedest fears for the past year. All I’ve ever heard about the Philippines are stories about crime, malice and retribution. All I’ve heard are how Filipino people are always poor and needy and dying and desperate and uncivilized. How Filipinos don’t know any better than to be racist, judgmental pricks. How Filipinos pretend to be better off than they really are, so they can look down on everyone else. I didn’t think any of this affected my opinion of the Philippines or of Filipinos, but as I wrote to my friend, I realized that the opposite was true.

I am more guarded these days. I am more weary of people. I am always anticipating the need for muscle and brute strength. I am always fearing for my physical safety and always assume that people want something from me. This fear has changed the way I act, the way I see people, and the way I see the world – and not necessarily for the better.

The craziest part of all this, I think, is that I’m an uber-liberal New Yorker. I was born and raised in the city that never sleeps. I’ve dated hoodlums, drug dealers, and thugs of all stripes. I’ve cut people and been cut. I’ve walked in [insert scary New York neighborhood of your choice] by myself at two a.m. I will kick your ass for looking at me the wrong way when I’m having a tough day. And now I’m scared?

Fear is an awful emotion that makes people do unthinkable things to each other. And because I understand that, I’m forced to see past it and actually do something about it. My solution? Reclaim the fearless and brazen parts of me that were extinguished a year ago, when I made my way to the Philippines.

Step numero uno is getting that car and getting back that old feeling of freedom that used to course through my veins like wildfire. It’s something that’s been gone since I stepped off the plane and started depending on my little brother to drive me around. It’s such an integral part of my personality that I just haven’t been myself without it.

Step numero dos? I’m not sure, but I’m working on it. One success at a time, one day at a time, one step at a time. It goes a lot faster than you’d think.

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