May 1, 2022 / Mia MacAllister

The sun may have melted the wax on Icarus’ wings but at least he flew.  I’ve spent so long adding extra wax that I’ve forgotten how to fly.

Recently, I’ve realized that I don’t feel very attached to anything in my life. If I suddenly woke up on the other side of the world, surrounded by unfamiliar people and living an unfamiliar life, I’d probably just shrug, check my calendar, and continue with this new purpose as if my old one never existed. There's not much in my life that’s ever been permanent. Before 2020, I’d never even slept in the same house for longer than 2 months. I’m an only child and the product of two messy divorces, so really, the idea of suddenly escaping my life and leaving behind all my baggage would be a dream.

I could be the poster child for only children. I'm much more comfortable living inside my head and watching others interact than interacting myself. It’s safer in my head. The only threat to my sanity is myself, and by this point, I’m an expert at avoiding the dark shadows of my brain. (Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself.) I spent so much of my childhood being shuttled between parents and cities that it’s second nature to just slip into the background and escape direct interaction.

I live in the waking and the dreaming, in a space where real life seems fake and anything outside of my room is too loud and sharp. My head has always been in the clouds, living out dreams and pretending they’re my reality. Good dreams, strange dreams, daydreams, even nightmares. Anything that can sweep me away from the safe monotony of daily life. Yet, unlike Icarus, I’m much too pulled down by gravity to even think about getting close to the sun. Just the idea of actually pushing the boundaries of my existence into something new used to put me in a spiral for days. It’s got to be the product of the impermanence of my early life. One of the court-mandated child psychologists said something along those lines after the first divorce.

Why would Icarus fly up to the sun when he knew that escape might be just beyond where he already was? It's so much easier to keep trudging forward and slowly watch the landscape change than to try reckless moves that don’t have any guarantees. So while I may dream of the perfect quick escape, pretending it would solve everything, I stay mostly in place in reality, constantly looking for signs to warn me of any upcoming bumps in the road and making small shifts to try and avoid them.

The first conscious move I made to try and restructure my life came about when I was applying to colleges for my undergrad. I had no clue what I actually wanted to study, just a vague idea that buildings were interesting—the older the better—and that growing up, I loved playing in the dirt and reading Percy Jackson books. So, like any other decently smart high school senior with guaranteed acceptance to The University of Texas at Austin and a clawing desire to leave everything behind, I only applied to competitive schools on the east and west coasts. But, like any decently smart high school student would also know, knowledge doesn’t mean anything to elite colleges without a drive to do something unique. This first leap for the stars outside of my backyard didn’t end up taking me very far. I got into some, was rejected from most, and ended up going to UT because it was the safe choice. Obviously.

It sounds selfish and spoiled, but when I received my acceptance letter, I didn’t really care. There I was, at what I thought would be the precipice of a completely new chapter of my life, only to end up going back to school at the same place where I attended preschool. I was terrified that the horizon I saw so far away was actually just a mirage, and I would continue this monotonous walk for the rest of my life. Born a Texan. Died a Texan. Lived not much at all.

Despite being told numerous times that going to college couldn’t just fix my apathy, I was still shocked when I didn’t immediately become a new person upon moving into a dorm. My depression packed it's bags and came with me, following me like that high school friend who just refuses to move past senior year.

Luckily, I did find archaeology, a subject that I am mostly passionate about and only occasionally makes me want to sleep for a week and skip my classes and responsibilities. I still very much exist primarily in that early-morning zone between asleep and awake. The only change is that, now, those dreams are more structured around a specific idea, rather than spastically flipping between anywhere but the real world. I’ve lost and found myself several times in archaeology. Through stories of ancient kings and kingdoms, I lose sight of the perfect person everyone expected me to be. Within the stories of long forgotten women and their constant strive for not only survival and change, I find pieces of myself, ones that fit into what I often feel is an empty shell of what a person should be.

One February day, I woke up and found that my dreams had been picked up and examined by someone else—someone important enough to make those dreams my reality. I received the real-world version of a Hogwarts letter in the form of an email saying that I have been accepted to the University of Cambridge for my Masters in Archaeology. For the first week, I thought that I’d finally cracked and stopped trying to live in reality at all. Yet I haven’t, and now I wander through daydreams of a future that is real and tangible. All I need to do is finish my present. A feat much more daunting than it seems, but much more possible than I once believed it to be.

Can I tell you a secret? Some days, it’s easiest to pretend to be better. It’s easier to pretend that I’m constantly present and I wouldn’t rather be at home, where I’m comforted by the quiet, rather than standing out in public and shamelessly working towards a future that actually excites me as much as my dreams. It’s when my faults are reflected back to me and I stop wanting to push forward that I know the meds aren’t working. Too much. Too little. Wrong combo. It happens in the early morning, while I’m attempting to convince myself to work. It happens late at night, when I’m woken up by my roommate and stay awake because of the dreams. There's no real telling what could fix me. But growing out of my back are small wings shaped by my determination to keep believing that my dreams could be reality. Maybe one day soon, I’ll follow Icarus and leap to the skies. ■

By: Mia MacAllister

Layout: Elianna Panakis

Photographer: Abby Burgy

Stylist: Walter Naranjo

Hmua: Kat Tyll

Model: Danielle Nicely

View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 18 here.
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