I’ve left home before. A few times actually…
Once for a job selling turkey legs at Disney World. You know, those gigantic hunks of meat that the guests walk around eating like barbarians throughout the parks. Not only did I sell these, I saw them as they came into the park’s kitchen, all slimy and covered in blood. Following all strict protocol, my rubber gloved hands placed these bloody beasts onto massive baking trays to prepare them for consumption. I stood there at my register, in my space suit, arm’s length from Space Mountain and front row to the best people watching you can ever imagine. Guests traveled from across the world, some specifically for a turkey leg, I kid you not. So that’s what I did. For three long months, I was working at the happiest place on earth, feeling a little bit less than happy.
I missed family, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing there at Disney, in Orlando, so far away anyway. I went there for an opportunity, in hopes of being a princess… and instead of a tiara, I was handed a name tag reading “KYLIE- Rockford, IL.” and a pair of non-slip shoes. Nothing about this experience was what I had expected. I cried almost every day, ate my emotions away, and called into work as much as I was technically allowed to.
So, I came home. I quit my job at Disney and came home. My family was supportive of my decision to take the opportunity in Florida, but they also didn’t hate to hear that I was headed back to Rockford. I felt like I gave it a pretty good shot, but again, I didn’t feel that I was working toward anything larger. There was no light at the end of the tunnel for me there. I didn’t have any hopes or aspirations to become chief astronaut turkey leg seller. So, it only made sense for me to leave.
There has always been a feeling here in Rockford that there are the people that leave, and there are the people that stay. And when I first came home, I felt that maybe others thought I had failed. I tried to go, but did not succeed, and here I am, back at square one. For me, it was nothing like that. For me, I had one more experience under my belt. I tried a path, and it wasn’t the right one for me, so I came back to the drawing board.
I’ve always wanted “more” as I think we all do. I’ve always dreamed of traveling the world, having homes in different states, different countries even. I want to connect with people, on a large scale. I want to make a difference, a difference that I can feel, that everyone can feel.
I tried another path, again not having a clue what I was doing at age 21. I moved with a girlfriend to Chicago. We found an adorable apartment, and by adorable I mean ridiculously tiny, but it had granite counter tops-adorable. After a few months of barely making rent, I started driving back to Rockford every weekend just to make the cash we needed to keep our little closet in Wrigleyville.
I learned a lot about life, and how naive I am. I learned how much attention a pretty girl wearing heals can get, and how much I didn’t care for that kind of attention one single bit. I was exposed to a lifestyle that, at first glance can be extremely attractive, yet turns out to be extremely unsustainable and unhealthy. I was working at a club as a bottle service girl, wearing tiny dresses, extensions, and fake lashes until the sun came up. Many times, we would leave work at 2 or 3 am and head to the clubs that stayed open later so that we could get some partying of our own in. You can imagine how exhausting and damaging this lifestyle can become, even for a 21-yr old. Drugs were always tempting, just to stay awake sometimes. As I sat on the floor of a service elevator, applying makeup and lashes in front of a broken mirror, I watched as the dancers got changed into their tiny, fancy lingerie. I would glance at myself in the mirror and think, hm.. I look beautiful… Tan skin, long flowing hair, perfect lashes, tiny black dress with just enough cleavage to hopefully get an extra tip, and as I zip up my black leather knee-high boots, I struggle to hold back tears. I choke down a red bull, pop an aderall, and just like that, I’m ready to go.
And that was the life I lived. Taxi to work in sweats, change in the elevator, try my best to make friends to cope with the nervousness of being in a new place, drink red bull and take aderall to stay awake, then drink whiskey and vodka to calm the fuck down. The days I didn’t work, I would lie around in pajamas, eating everything in sight just to fill the uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. I quickly realized that I could not maintain this lifestyle much longer. Although many might say that this is a pretty common life for a young 20-something, it was not okay for me.
6 months later, back to Rockford I went.
I cannot ignore that the time I spent in the city was sprinkled with amazing, unforgettable moments that made me who I am today. The girlfriend I lived with taught me so many lessons about life, of which my favorite being that I was capable of ANYTHING. Any concert we went to, we ended up backstage, or on stage, any celebrity that was in town, we ended up meeting or going to dinner with, any sports game we wanted to go to, we somehow got in free, any crazy idea that we came up with, it ended up coming to life. And this wasn’t just happening in the city, it seemed to carry over into other parts of my life. I began to realize the opportunities that life presented rather than the obligations it held. I had friends and family members that opened my eyes to a magical world of possibility. It was the most incredible feeling I had ever had. It was a feeling of power over my own reality. This is when I realized each of our abilities to manipulate life into whatever we want it to be. We create our own limitations, and with the right attitude, anything is possible.
The conversations I was able to have with many successful individuals from all walks of life, including actors, musicians, and pro athletes, allowed me to blur the line between “us” and “them”. I learned a valuable lesson throughout these experiences, and that is that we are all the same. We are all human. We all want to connect, to be heard and seen. We all want to express ourselves creatively. We want to grow, expand, and progress.
Here comes the next move…
This same opportunistic friend of mine, that I had been living with in Chicago, received news that a popular television show was holding a casting call in Chicago… Abc’s “The Bachelor”. This wasn’t just any show. It was my favorite show. For 11 years, I had watched every single episode. You could consider myself, and most of the women in my family, obsessed. So, of course I decided to go. From what I had heard, the show was prepared to choose 25 lucky women and I was up against a whopping 200,000+ girls from all over the world. I walked in feeling powerful and ready. I have never been particularly confident in myself, in fact I’ve struggled tremendously with my self-esteem, especially in my teen years, but for some reason today I was feeling extra confident. It’s as though my friend and I had built up a momentum of getting what we wanted. With her by my side, I felt like I could do anything. So, we waited, and waited, and finally, I was asked to go in and complete the interview process. I wanted this so bad. I didn’t know what would come from it, and to be honest, the last thing on my mind was love. I wanted travel, experience, opportunity, exposure to the world. So I spilled everything I had. I opened my heart and I made myself vulnerable. I then received word that I would be going further in the process and to wait a while to hear from them.
Throughout the next few months, I found out one step at a time that I was going to be on the next season of “The Bachelor”.
Long story short, or shall I say short story short… I lasted one episode on the show. I did not receive a rose during the first rose ceremony, and I was shocked.
All of the speed, the adrenaline, the momentum and anticipation that had been building for months, came to a screeching halt. I thought to myself… I should’ve known. Who am I to think that I should make it far on national television? Then the real insecurities came in… Maybe I’m not as pretty as I thought I was. Maybe I don’t have the dynamic, contagious personality I thought I did… Maybe these other girls ARE better choices than me.
And in my exit interview, as I stood there crying like an exhausted, cold and confused child, I thought to myself… I’ve let down my family, and I’ve let down my home town, Rockford, IL. Only now can I see that thinking I let my family and my home town down by being sent home from a reality show based off of the idea that I’m supposed to find my soulmate and run off into the sunset with him, is completely and utterly absurd. But, as Steve Jobs would say, “You can only connect the dots looking backward.”
So, there I was, in a whirlwind of emotions and what seemed like a blink of time, on the plane… once again, headed home to Rockford.
With all of the circumstances considered, and the timeline leading up to this experience, I found myself in an extremely confused state of mind. In the last 2 years, I had broken up with my first love, fallen for another, moved twice, experienced a sliver of fame or a tease at it, starved myself to skinny, then overate my way into 20 lbs heavier, reevaluated my view on life a time or two and wound up right back where I had started, single, confused, insecure, and in Rockford, IL.