A grown up is a child with layers on. Remove those layers and you will find a heart and soul, whose chief aim and purpose stays stable and leaves all else vulnerable to change.
Lucia Anderson and her sister Sophia retreat to the shade of an old willow tree, talking about Sophia’s newest girlfriend. Two retro foe-hawks of black-gelled hair spike the horizon—their nose rings and cartilage piercings sparkle in the blazing sun. In cut-off tee shirts and baggy gym shorts, both girls are tanner on their broad shoulders and backs from hours spent outdoors. The large tatted armholes, where sleeves use to be, allow Lucia’s hummingbird tattoo on her shoulder and “Serenity” tattoo on her neck to be clearly visible. Layers.
The sisters talk with strong-headedness, not because they are sisters, but because it is their inherited demeanor. They are tough girls— opinionated and stubborn. While other members of the dog park converse and mingle, Lucia and Sophia remain secluded in their own private retreat. Lucia’s dog Moose follows their example as self-proclaimed outcast, while searching for the acceptance of the other dogs with whom which he desperately tries to play. Layers.
With each anecdote, the sisters remove a layer of their protective coating, revealing their true spirit as animal lovers, a characteristic their parents had deeply engrained. Their family always had a variety of animals, from dogs to cats, chickens and goats.
“We really saw animals as gifts,” Lucia recounted. “Our parents always gave us animals as gifts, like if I did well in school or reached a new track goal, they would get me a kitten. We also got baby chickens and ducks for Easter…”
“Oh, oh, oh,” Sophia interrupted. “My favorite was when Mom got Dad that pregnant goat for Christmas! It was so funny. This fat, overly pregnant goat standing in the trunk of her minivan.”
The sisters relax and laugh. Their toughness has eroded. Their layers peeled back.
Most importantly, the sisters didn’t just love the fluffy, cute animals whose beady eyes could make anyone’s heart melt. They loved all animals— the ugly, the sick, the bleeding and even the dead.
As children, the two sisters would peruse the streets looking for road kill victims, slaughtered by the cars of man. With their bare hands, they would peel each animal from the concrete or side of the road to give it a proper burial. They would collect bugs from the outside and bring them into their home. They would rescue abandoned feral cats and feed them in their barn in Northern Maine.
Lucia loved animals so much that when her parents explained to her what meat was, she became a strict vegetarian at the age of four. Her parents believed this to be a just a phase, but Lucia has refused meat ever since.
When I asked Lucia and Sophia why they love animals so much, and more layers chipped away.
“I can relate to them more than people,” Lucia replied. “You can always depend on them, have faith in them, trust them. They are always happy to see you, as long as you take care of them. And you always get back what you put in. It’s a sure thing.”
With this single phrase, Lucia found the heart of the matter, the contents of her inner soul and drive. Acceptance. Her independent, exterior is just a layer to protectively coat the dependence on others for which she strives.
And what do I strive for? I strive for happiness. I was always a happy baby, with chubby cheeks and a smile that took up two-thirds of my face. My parents adopted me at birth from Palm Springs, California on a sunny, 117-degree day in July. Five-days-old they put me on a plane to return to the east coast, and I didn’t make a sound. Howling toddlers surrounded me while the plane took off and landed, but I lay comfortable and happy in my new parents arms. A week had past by with new family, and I still never cried. My parents feared that I was deaf. They took me to the doctor. He stripped me down from my baby romper and I bawled. My tears flooded my cheeks and my parents breathed a sigh of relief.
Layers. As long as I was comfortable and secure in my baby romper with my family, I was happy and nothing could bring me down. Not my older brother pushing me when I was learning to walk, or my mean babysitter punishing me in time out, or the pain of chronic baby ear infections—all smiles all the time. But, when you remove my family, my comfort clothes, take me to unfamiliar settings and expose me to unfamiliar people, my happiness drains, my tears fall and all I want is to put my clothes back on.
Twenty-one years later, I am still that baby at heart. My smile has developed in the same proportion, Julia Robert’s wide minus the luscious lips. In Richmond, at the U of R, I feel naked and out of my comfort zone, exposed to strangers who live a very different lifestyle than I. Alone and tearful I layer my insecurity with passion and productivity, waiting for the day to go home to the happiness I so desperately strive for in Richmond.
Whether it is acceptance or happiness or any other inner desire, we all have stories that have defined us from the start. We cover these passions with layers, protecting our innocence with a sheath of maturity. While all else changes, our chief drive from childhood remains the same. It’s just a matter of peeling back our grown up layers and finding the heart, the soul, of the child within.