On the way back from work today I noticed a girl running along the pavement on the other side of the road. She was young, tall, blonde and slim – I am none of these. She was moving athletically, with long strides; clearly she was very fit. And I wondered whether I would, if I could, change places with her.
I doubt whether she would have agreed to the exchange…
I decided that I wouldn’t actually want it either because I love my family and friends so much. But it made me think vaguely about the other people I have half-wished to be, in the course of my life.
The first one, I think, was my friend M – who’s now tragically suffering from Pick’s Disease, a form of dementia. When we were girls, she seemed to me to be blessed by fate in a way that I was not. (In fact, now that I’ve lost the melodramatic tendencies of my youth – or at least some of them – I see that I too was quite blessed in various ways: interesting family, lasting friends, robust health, reasonable looks and minor but useful talents. But then I was embarrassed and self-conscious and full of doubts.) M’s family were very intense, very talented and very hardworking. They resembled each other strongly, with neat features, straight thick hair and smooth, pale, peachy skin.
When I was at university I used sometimes to walk along behind some young man – just in the course of events, you understand, not in a stalkerish way – and think how wonderful it must be to have such a small bottom. It was in the days when boys tucked their shirts or tee-shirts into their trousers. I thought I was plump in those days – though in fact when I look at photos of myself I was perfectly fine – and was always self-conscious about my body. How I would have liked not to worry about how I looked retreating; or indeed advancing. Generally speaking I thought that having a lean, rangy body must be such a treat and I would have quite happily changed with any of them – at least for a while.
At teacher training college I got to know another friend, also an M. She is just so lovely: totally confident in the nicest way – she just never sees any reason why she or her friends and family shouldn’t succeed in whatever they aspire to. She’s energetic and has lots of good ideas and enjoys life. I always think that it would be easy to be her. And yet she’s had her troubles too; in fact her husband suffered from bi-polar disorder and then cancer and she was widowed quite young.
And every now and then I see people on buses or moving along the street and I walk with them in my mind for a while and wonder what it must be like to be them. I’m sure that some of their lives are more interesting, better-paid, more enviable. But I think now that - though there are certainly adjustments that I wouldn’t mind making to myself and my life - I’m reasonably happy to be me.
Which is just as well.