As children, we’re taught that whenever we feel afraid, sad, or angry, we should go to our “happy place.”
Our happy place can be anywhere we want it to be.
The only requirements are that it make us feel safe, protected, and at peace.
I had a wonderful childhood.
Unlike other children who visited their happy places in stressful times, my nana suggested, no, ordered me to go to my happy place whenever I was bored.
I guess she figured it was easier to keep me out of trouble by having me exercise my creativity.
“Bella,” she’d say, “take a trip. One of those magical ones you always tell me about.”
And I would oblige.
There was no limit to where I could go.
It was one of the few things I could label infinite.
The greatest thing of all is that I could “travel” whenever and wherever.
Unfortunately, my nana didn’t count on the fact that so much boredom inspired travel could lead me to be deemed, “inattentive,” “distracted,” and my favorite, “seems to be in a world of her own.”
Come report card day, when my mother would enter the house shrieking, my grandmother would say, “What do they know, these teachers who teach children to be robots? They kill their imagination; that’s what they do. Don’t you listen, Bella. Never believe there are limits to what you can do.”
I heeded my nana’s advice and as I grew older, my happy place acquired a fancier name: my alternate reality.
Happy place or alternate reality, its purpose remained the same: transport me away from whatever situation I was in and deliver me to a place where I could exhale.
Different circumstances prompted me to take off to faraway places.
The death of our first dog, my first kiss, the first time I had my heart broken, a fall out with a best friend, my nana’s passing, the news my mother had breast cancer, daddy’s first heart attack, learning I was pregnant.
These were times when my imagination acquired wings and I flew to exotic places; faraway lands where people were happy; where people danced and laughed.
They were places filled with delicious food, dreamy men, and hypnotic music that lulled me to sleep.
The realization that it was time for my trip to end was always a sad event.
I found it heartbreaking to say goodbye to warm beaches in Barbados, to the snow on the Viennese Alps, to the party scene in Ibiza.
And each time I visited my alternate reality, I was tempted to stay longer; to share in the company of a magnificent lover, a kind and compassionate friend, or an intellectual stranger I met in a coffee shop.
My visits afforded the possibility of being anyone.
A Hollywood actress, a famous writer, a poet.
Yet one thing never changed, the feeling of well-being that comes from captaining one’s destiny.
Far from being in control, it was more the knowledge that no matter what, the outcome would always be favorable.
It’s been years since I learned the effectiveness of this coping mechanism.
I’ve come to accept that no matter where I am, no matter how content I think I am, my alternate reality will always be a special place.
My happy place.
A place where I can reinvent myself; be who I want to be; dress, act, and do what I want to do.
I can dine with a best friend, make love with a perfect lover, sleep cuddled in my nana’s lap.
I can stroll through the streets of Paris, visit Rome and throw a coin in the Trevi fountain, travel to the outback and eat shrimp on the barbie.
No one can stop me.
Only I can impose limitations.
I can go anywhere I want to go, as long as I remember to come back.
To my reality.
Whatever that happens to be at the time.
And that’s okay because, no matter what, I can always return to my happy place.