When I was a teenager, I used to dream of becoming famous. I pictured my face splashed across the pages of People or Seventeen and I imagined how it would feel to be adored by millions of fans. My young mind believed that my future happiness depended on whether or not the world knew who I was.
My fantasy usually involved me playing the piano on the concert stage, probably because this was the one area at which I excelled. I couldn’t dance, sing or act, and no matter how much time I spent in front of the mirror tweezing my eyebrows, exfoliating my pores or straightening my perpetually frizzy hair, even then my teenage sensibilities were developed enough to realize that I didn’t have what it took to become a fashion model.
But back then I believed that my fame as a concert pianist was the only way I would be noticed. And I had to be noticed because I believed that in order to find someone to love me I had to be extra special. If I became a celebrity, someone was bound to think I was deserving of that love.
My fantasy always played out pretty much in the same fashion: I would have just finished playing a note-perfect performance. A warm yellow spotlight would be focused on my white organza gown that floated like fluffy meringue across the concert stage. As I took my bows to a thundering standing ovation, I would suddenly lock eyes with a handsome, intelligent and witty man, and the two of us would fall instantly in love with each other. We would marry, have four beautiful children and live happily ever after.
So I practiced the piano for hours each day, thinking that for this dream to come true, I must work diligently. I kept meticulous scrapbooks documenting all of my successes and they grew thicker every year as I won piano competitions and performed in more recitals that I can remember. I believed that all of my musical accomplishments would lead me closer to turning my dream into a reality.
I kept the fantasy alive for as long as I possibly could, or at least I did until my senior year in high school when I lost the fight with the raging hormones that surged through my body. At age seventeen, I confused lust for love and fell for a twenty year-old boy who was exceedingly handsome, but who turned out to love alcohol more than he loved me. Having had lots of practice as a co-dependent with my own family’s dysfunction, I turned it into my mission to fix him.
But like an old Polaroid photograph that fades over time, the image of my once vivid dream of becoming somebody famous disappeared into nothing but yellowed paper. He and I stayed together for five mostly miserable years until I finally grew up enough to realize that I deserved better.
But our dreams often have a way of manifesting themselves in ways that we don’t expect, and about eight months later I found my future husband in a Santa Monica restaurant where he was a cook and I was a waitress. In my stained green uniform and smelling of french-fry grease, I locked eyes over a sizzling grill with one of the cooks, who just happened to be a handsome, intelligent and very funny man. He barely spoke English, was undocumented and uneducated, but he held all of the other criteria of my girlhood fantasy. So I took a chance on him, and he took a chance on me, and surprise—this part of my dream did come true.
We married and began our lives together and I never did become that famous concert pianist as I once envisioned. But I realized that maybe that this dream of fame was not what I really wanted after all. Instead, I became a piano teacher and started having children, and I can honestly say it’s been a very good life.
I even have documented proof that my life has turned out well for me. We’ve made it a tradition in our family to take a group photograph every Thanksgiving to send out with our yearly Christmas newsletter. The annual photos hang in sequential order along the hallway wall, where each year we add the newest one. As we’ve grown and changed (and we have changed a lot over the years) our history together has been authenticated in one smiling face after another.
This past Thanksgiving, our family once again gathered in our backyard to take a photo. We dressed up, combed our hair and fixed our make-up. It wasn’t the paparazzi snapping photos as I once dreamed of as a teenager— it was just my nephew trying over and over again to capture that one perfect shot. It certainly isn’t easy getting everyone to smile at the same time—especially a wiggly seven year-old, but we managed to find one or two acceptable photos, so it looks like the tradition will live on for another year.
I’m awed by the love that is evident in these annual photographs: A dark-skinned man, a light-skinned woman and four mocha children are all smiling together in one single moment in time. They are clearly devoted to each other. They don’t realize it, but they are without a doubt as stunning and perfect as any celebrity. Not one of them is admired by millions, or even the least bit famous, but that’s all right, because they are absolutely adored by each other.
And that’s the kind of fame that comes only in dreams.