In my old house in New York, there was a painting one of my parents’ friends had made in our hallway. It was a confusion of greens and blues in thick paint that caused ridges on the canvas, and from my low height, I always thought it was a throbbing tropical jungle, menacing and shut. On the very bottom, there was a squiggly green line, and the day I discovered it, I felt simultaneously chilled and triumphant: a dragon! A small green dragon swimming through the blue at the feet of the great jungle, a guardian or precursor of the terrors within. I thought I was the only one who could see him. One day, we moved house, I began growing, and the painting was eye level. From this new vantage point, I saw that there was no dragon, but rather, a loopy signature hastily scrawled by the artist. And so the painting was hers, and not mine.
When I was in first grade or Kindergarten, I decided I wanted to be a saint. I decided this the same way an ambitious sophomore would decide to go to Harvard: I knew the journey would be tough, but with some hard work and dedication, I also knew I could make it. I had heard enough about saints at church and at my Catholic school to know the basic idea: I had to be “good” to everyone, put myself last, be obsequious. Unfortunately, I also knew the majority of saints were unmarried—priests, or, when female, nuns. But I want to have a family, I would think bitterly. I had always wanted to be a mother, but suddenly my saintly inclinations had excluded me from the role. This conundrum worried me for quite a bit before I decided I would actually rather be a soldier.