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Dancing Elephants Wearing Tutus

We moved around a lot (a lot). By the time I was ten years old, I had lived in five states, and that’s not including the time we spent living on the road, traveling throughout the midwest, cutting the United States literally in half. I’m often asked if this vagabonding was due to some sort of military obligation and the joke I always make is, “No, my parents were just really bad at making decisions.”

Regardless of the reason, that was my childhood, and a lot of weird *things* came out of that:

I start a lot of things and have difficulty finishing them.

I never feel settled (stability is a myth)

I have a difficult time connecting with people (you never know when I’ll, or they’ll, need to skedaddle, so we may as well prepare for our tearful goodbye right now).

I feel as though I live every day on the balls of my feet, ready to fly off to the next place my parents need me to be.

This is not a sympathy or blame piece pointed at my them, by the way. They were, in many ways, great role models. Plus: I can say with pride that I have been to nearly every state in the union (I’m coming for you, Alaska)! That’s an incredible gift to give a child, and one that shapes a wide and varied perspective. So thank you, if anything.

With any good thing a parent gives their child, an unintended negative consequence often arises, and moving throughout the country – attending many different schools, acclimating to many different climates and cultures, meeting many different people – is no exception.

I graduated (magna cum laude, whatev) from The New School College of Performing Arts School for Drama a month ago, and have since entered a phase I’ll call Hypo-Intenso-Transitional Mode. In less than a month, 1. a year long project that ate up all of my free time and headspace came to a close, 2. I relinquished my role as a student, 3. close friends moved far away (I told you not to get too close), 4. I lost my job, 5. I moved. Backpacking on all of this nonsense is seasonal depression and an existential psychological restructuring that even my therapist is a little stressed out by. I, and everything around me, is changing; it’s moving, and I’m terribly uncomfortable. And a little sad.

Yesterday, June 12, was hard. I hate to admit it because part of me wants to appear iron-clad and invincible, but it was. I had to admit that I don’t really know who I am or who I want to become. It turns out there are more decisions to be made than simply what job I might want to fill. And all of those decisions can no longer be delegated to my parents, or to my teachers, or to my flawed administration. I am the CEO. The new, unqualified, terrified CEO. Who is also working pro-bono.

I don’t get to default to what makes me feel good. If I want to be well-rounded, experienced, comfortable, intelligent – an adult – I have to choose what is good for me. Growing up means choosing the kale over the ice cream even though the ice cream sounds better. Sometimes though, I don’t even know what the kale is. What if I’m actually eating cyanide pills that I think are harmless kale leaves? I can’t be an adult at all if I’m dead! Oh my god, I should have just eaten the ice cream when I had the chance!


The title of this post is “Dancing Elephants Wearing Tutus” which, at this point, sounds abhorrently misleading. The reference I’m making comes from something a best friend once said to me, and which I am now damned to think about every day because of how accidentally profound it was.

Third Grade, Missoula, Montana. House #3. I am putzing around the frozen playground with the one person in my class who will putz around with me: an equivalent nerd named Greyson who spends most of his time quoting Josh Nichols, something I found endlessly hilarious at the time.

Something happened. Maybe a kid got hit with a ball, fell off the monkey bars, or maybe this eight-year-old asshole named something like Tyler started spinning the origin tales of his knee scabs. Whatever it was, I started feeling woozy. (Something else my parents gifted me: neurally mediated syncope.) Greyson knew this embarrassing secret and started doing his best to mediate.

“It’s fine. Don’t think about it. Let’s go this way. THIS way!” (That’s the best Josh Nichols impression I can write, but assume it’s more vibrant.)

I keep hyper-ventilating, my vision fading fast; I’m basically a goner. We start stumbling back into the school towards our classroom where I can at least pass out in private, and Greyson says, “Think about something funny. Think about – dancing elephants wearing tutus.”

And I laugh. What a futile, weak attempt. The kid doesn’t understand how powerful this condition is, how uncontrollable its effect on my body and brain it is, how even the slightest mention of blood or medicine or doctors can send me –

Wait. I can see.

I feel stronger.


I’m okay.

– dottie

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