When I was five, I fed pellets to the baby goats and bunnies in the traveling Petting Zoo. At seven, I got my picture taken in the atrium with Santa when he visited from the North Pole. I told him that I believed in him even though vicious rumours were starting to spread around the playground at recess. Many Saturdays from fourteen to seventeen, I escaped my family there.
I logged serious time and covered great distances in that mall, trekking back and forth in search of the ever elusive purchase that would take my worries away. The lighting was dim and there was plenty of white noise: voices echoed off the brown tiles, neon store signs buzzed, enhanced with Muzak for the soundtrack.
The colour-coded floor map helped me figure out how I’d managed to get lost between Eaton’s and Simpsons at opposite ends of the mall. There was a large red dot on the lit up purple quadrant that said YOU ARE HERE in capital letters and I found this comforting. Standing before that store directory, I could pretend I was a cartographer, an explorer: I was Magellan, charting my course through the straights of year-end sales, searching for a passage through adolescence, a safe harbour.
If anyone had told me then that I’d grow up to dislike shopping malls, my home away from home, I would have laughed and spilt my Orange Julius drink.
Every new year, I think about that map while I make the big To Do List: an oppressive number of items that have to be accomplished in the coming twelve months or else. I am prone to magical thinking; I thought there was a key to communicating with my mentally ill mother, a formula for success, a plan for life that would guide my way.
“Write it down and it shall come to pass,” says the same voice that adds item #14 (Learn to swim) to this endless stack of self-improvement goals. It’s a Biblical and judge-y voice. Thou shalt get it together. I’d like to say that during an epiphanette (a moment of mini-revelation), I tossed out the list and said, “Let’s see where the year takes us!” But no. This ain't no ABC Afterschool Special. I put the list away, though, because I got stuff I gotta do today, and this epic list was starting to impinge on a perfectly grey January morning.
Cue the slow-awareness-dawns-on-the-protagonist music.
This is what I noticed: I always need to know how to get from where I am to where I want to go, that this constant desire—a yearning that increases at the start of the year—to situate myself somewhere, to find my place in the cosmos, can wear me down. This is what I've decided: depending on the day, I am a dust mote or star dust. And when I forget where I came from, or worry too much about where I'm going, I listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson: "The universe is in us."