How A Long, Unconventional Journey Has Finally Introduced Me To Myself
It’s my first day of kindergarten and I’m shy, but confident.
Although quiet and somewhat reserved, I’m friendly and popular in school, easy to get along with and always smiling.
The teacher decides we should play a “game” to get to know one another, and asks us questions about our hobbies, favorite foods, our siblings, and so on.
“What’s your favorite TV show?” My teacher asks.
We go in order around the room, “Rugrats” being the most popular answer. I’ve never seen it because my family doesn’t allow TV except for educational purposes, so my television knowledge is relatively primitive, even for a 5 year old.
Instead of watching cartoons, my mom reads to my sister, and me so when my turn comes; I give the only answer I know.
“Barney!” I exclaimed confidently, my signature smile lighting up my face.
“Barney?” questions a chubby brunette named Maria two rows over, looking scathingly in my direction. “That show is for BABIES!” she chortles, the class joining in laughing at my apparent immaturity.
My face flushes bright red, as embarrassment fills my entire being. I feel like I’m in one of those dreams when you realize you’re naked in public, and everyone is laughing at you and there’s nothing you can do about it.
It’s the first time I’ve ever felt like an outsider, like I don’t belong.
It’s just a TV show, but for some reason it cuts deep and stays with me, as if it somehow opens my eyes to some greater difference between the world and me.
“It’s educational!” I shoot back, regurgitating my mom’s mantra, mortification manifesting as anger.
She laughs again, “That’s weird; what a nerd.”
My mom picks me up that day from school and I start crying hysterically in the car. “Why am I so different from the kids at school?” I ask her. “Why can’t I just be like everyone else?”
My mom doesn’t understand as I have plenty of friends. “Sweetie, it’s just a TV show,” she explains, but I know it’s more than that.
I pretend to be comforted, but this moment in time is burned into my brain, and I can’t shake the feeling that I don’t fit in.
It was a silly thing to happen, but it had more impact on me than I would care to admit. I decided that day I wouldn’t be so vulnerable again, that I’d never make another fatal social faux pas.
For the next 17 years, I attempted to prove Maria wrong and avoid that awful feeling of embarrassment.
Whatever social setting I found myself in, I changed myself to fit in. I was a social chameleon. I listened to the right music, I wore the right clothes, and I used the right lingo.
I never acted too smart because that made people uncomfortable.
I played the dumb blonde well and became somewhat of a party girl.
I was the girl who was always down, who never said no, because it made people like me, and therefore made me feel like I belonged.
Still, my journals I began keeping in 9th grade reflected my emptiness. I wrote constantly about how alone I felt even though I had more friends than anyone could possibly need.
I filled my time with every activity imaginable, grasping for opportunities to be accepted, desperate for approval.
I couldn’t be alone because I was so dissatisfied with myself, so I stayed as busy as possible. I suffered from insomnia, though, and the sleepless nights were the worst.
I was fully alone with my thoughts and the knowledge that I wasn’t happy being what everyone wanted me to be, but filled with the fear that if I let myself go, I’d be 5 years old again, standing in front of a laughing classroom of my peers, the “weird” kid who watches Barney.
Deep down in the core of my soul, I wanted to be epic, but I was afraid of standing out too much in a way that would draw negative attention. I wanted to do something big - I was discontented with normalcy - but normal was all I allowed myself.
It wasn’t that anyone pressured me to conform, but that I forced these changes on myself to give people what I thought they wanted.
I enjoyed making people happy (and the praise that followed) by doing the “right” thing almost as much as I feared rejection and disappointment.
I never shied away from a good argument, so people never saw me as a pushover, but I always felt awkward and out of place, and spent most of my energy trying to win people over.
On the outside, I was confident, popular, carefree, and on the path to good old’ fashioned success. On the inside, I was lonely, insecure, and unsatisfied with my future.
The further I went along the road so carefully laid out for me by society, the more internal anxiety I faced.
Eventually, I would grow tired of my charades and discard them, but the older I got, the harder it was to shake off the expectations I had set in other people’s minds, and the more consequences existed for not meeting those expectations.
Halfway through college, I felt trapped in my own prison.
I had created an identity that wasn’t me and now I was stuck in it. People expected things of me. They expected me to graduate top of my class, get married, and live behind a white picket fence.
I couldn’t handle it, so I abruptly broke up with my boyfriend and started skipping class, although I kept it together on the outside.
I felt terrible for not living up to the expectations I had created, and I was terrified of disappointing everyone, so I distracted myself with “positive” experiences, avoided being alone, and kept my mind as busy as possible.
I desperately wanted to leave school, but I was terrified of what my parents would say. My dad had worked hard to pay my way through school and I was throwing it away.
I felt guilty, but my fear of disappointing them outweighed my guilt, so I continued to lie about my grades and activities, while I mostly spent my time reading articles on the Internet, downloading music, and avoiding facing the truth with alcohol.
It’s the summer of 2012, and I feel as hopeless as ever. I’m no closer to knowing what I want to do with my life, much less who I want to be, and I‘ve done a pretty good job destroying my GPA over the past year.
My dad offers to send me to Costa Rica to surf for the summer, and I jump at the chance to escape the hellhole that is college.
Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I’m actually alone.
I’m alone in a foreign country where I barely speak the language and don’t know a soul. I don’t even have a phone, so I’m mostly cut off from the world. There are no expectations here. If I want to surf or go to Spanish class, I go. If I don’t, I don’t.
No one makes me do anything, and no one expects me to be any type of way. I don’t need to fit in, or stand out. I just need to be.
At first, it’s hard. I’ve never spent so much time alone before. I explore the town, walking for hours without speaking a word. I’m forced to face myself—my true, human self, and not the character I made for everyone back home.
I meet a lot of people who show me it’s okay to reject the “tried and true” way of American society. Travelers come and go at the small apartment I live in, bringing interesting stories of how they rejected the status quo—and survived.
I envy them.
One day, I go surfing at sunset. It’s just me and a few rogue locals out in the water. After catching a few waves, I paddle out and sit on my board, watching the sky and the water.
Except for the distant crashing of the waves on shore and the wind as it blows around me, it’s silent. For the first time, I feel connected with the universe. I’m completely alone, but I don’t feel lonely. I feel content. I feel like I belong.
Soon after the summer I spent in Costa Rica, I worked up the courage to break the news to my parents that I was miserable in school, and it was a waste of time and money.
I had tasted freedom and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to feel like I had on the water that day, watching the sun set over the Pacific.
I wanted to wake up in the mornings and do something I enjoyed, not something I dreaded. I still wanted to do something big, something epic.
It wasn’t as easy being content with myself backs home as it was in Costa Rica. When I returned, I had to face the same expectations from society, my parents, and peers that I had before.
I realized, though, that I was the one who had created those expectations, so only I could change them.
I had to practice saying “no,” and cut people out of my life who wouldn’t accept that.
I decided to take some time off school and work while I did some serious soul searching. It was clear I wasn’t going to go to law school, so I needed to figure out my next move.
I spent a lot of time alone, pondering what I truly wanted out of life. Slowly, I began to know myself and learn to love myself in a way I never had before.
I stopped caring so much what people thought and started caring more about what I thought.
It took me 17 years, but I was finally able to tell Maria to fuck off (in my head) and let go of the mortification I felt that day in first grade.
I made a list of things I enjoyed doing, things I wanted to learn more about, experiences I wanted to have.
I read self-help and entrepreneurial books, and researched topics and careers.
One of the recurring themes I discovered was my interest in sex. Since I was young, I found sexuality fascinating and spent a lot of time educating myself, hiding behind the shelves at Barnes & Noble because I was sure I wasn’t supposed to be reading books about sex.
My sex education class in college opened my eyes to how differently (and positively) I perceived sexuality compared to my peers and made me want to change the negative stigmas surrounding sexuality outside of the norm.
As for skills, I was good at acting. I hadn’t done much film, but I’m a natural born performer and knew I could carry my stage presence to the camera. I’m business-oriented with an eye for branding and social media and, I would like to think, a good storyteller.
After months of thinking and researching, I jolted early one morning with an idea: I was going to become a porn star.
Having never watched porn, it’s almost crazy that I even came up with the idea. Being an avid reader of Vice.com, I stumbled across a few articles and interviews by various porn stars, which piqued my interest in the adult industry.
I was fascinated with the way girls had used porn as a platform to move into other industries and with the idea of actually experiencing the sexual acts I had only been able to read about.
Reading books is great, but hands-on-learning is my passion. I could only learn so much about fetishes from a book. I wanted to delve into the fetish, to witness it first hand, to understand it fully.
Since I had never paid attention to porn, I didn’t really have any feeling one way or another about what the women were like or how they were treated. From the interviews I read, they seemed to be normal women who liked doing a lot of the same things I did, and they seemed to be happy in their profession.
I was envious of their ability to travel and start their own businesses without having to take out loans and their freedom from a typical 9-5.
When I talked to people about it, they seemed horrified at the idea that anyone would do porn and seemed to feel pity for the girls, equating them to last-resort hookers.
This difference in perception interested me, and I started to consider why this inconsistency existed and how it could change.
I saw that many porn stars only flaunted their sexuality. They portrayed themselves as sexual beings that existed solely for male pleasure and had few interests outside of that.
They weren’t “real” girls, but a chauvinistic and shallow male fantasy. They had no depth, much like the roles I had played throughout my life to fit in.
Just like I was trying to be what my peers wanted, many porn actresses were trying to be what men wanted.
There were outliers, of course, and those are the women that truly interested me, but they seemed to be outnumbered and therefore less impactful than their shallow counterparts.
They are seen as the exception, not the rule. For instance, everyone knows Sasha Grey, who defied the porn star stereotype, but there’s only one of her.
I started to wonder what would happen if someone like me performed in pornographic films. I came from a good family, a good community, and a good school.
I was educated and talented and socially competent. I didn’t have any life-changing trauma that could be blamed. Besides that, I had always been a tomboy and not one to use my sexuality to get anything.
I was highly sexual, but I wasn’t an exhibitionist. I didn’t particularly crave crazy sexual experiences except for the sake of the experience themselves. I defied the stereotype in every way.
I saw that many people view porn as a last-resort, an indication that a woman has nothing else to give but her body.
I wanted to challenge that, to exemplify that a woman can be openly sexual, but so much more.
I knew I had other skills I could showcase as part of my brand such as DJing and writing, and I wondered what would happen if I tried to do those things as a porn star.
It would help some, but the stigmas and negative expectations would create setbacks as well.
Although many have attempted it, no porn star has ever truly gone “mainstream.” Sure, some are household names, but they are known for porn, and have found themselves pigeonholed in that label.
Was it possible, I wondered, to become a persona that would defy the misconceptions of the masses? If so, it could change the world by affecting how society views sexuality, especially in regards to women.
I became so curious about these things that I began mapping out a strategic business plan of how I could build a name that would allow me to experiment with all my interests and to challenge social perceptions while being myself.
I’ve always been daring, but impulsive I am not. I am calculated and logical. Everything I do is thought out, no matter how insane it seems to everyone else.
Ironically, “Carter Cruise” is the first true “alter ego” I created, but also the first identity that encapsulates all of who I am. Carter Cruise isn’t a porn star, or a DJ, or an actress, or a writer.
Carter Cruise is me, everything I am, everything I hope to be, and even the parts of myself I’m not so proud of. There are layers, to be revealed when the timing is right, but it’s all here, inside of me.
I don’t want to be a fantasy woman. I know that would make me just as unhappy as all the other personas I created in my past to make the people around me happy.
I want to be real and raw and open. I want to make people question their realities at every turn and be a constant reminder of how limitless we can be if we allow ourselves.
I want to live a life worth writing about. I want to live a life that other people are afraid to live, to be unabashedly myself, and to inspire other people to be the same. I don’t want to pick and choose who I am or what I do to fit some label or identity.
I want to be it all, do it all, and I want to show other people they can do that too.
I want to challenge myself, to embrace that human emotion we call fear. I want to let it crash down on me and consume me the way the waves do until you think you might drown because you can’t take anymore; but then the set is over, and you get back on your board and paddle out to deeper waters once again, just to throw yourself back in minutes later in the hopes of catching that perfect wave.
I’m 15 years old and I’m sick of being afraid. I’m so afraid of the ocean that I won’t even go in past my ankles. One day I get so fed up with my fear that I decide to learn to surf. The first day is a struggle.
I can barely paddle out past the waves, let alone catch a wave. The waves crash on me over and over again, holding me under the water and scraping me across the ocean floor.
Finally, after another long and arduous battle against the water, I make it out past the break, and I sit on my board and cry.
My whole body aches, my eyes and mouth burn from the salt water, and I’m terrified of sharks. I want to go home. I never want to surf again. An old man surfing near me paddles over and asks why I’m not going for any waves.
“I’m scared.” I tell him. Mostly, though, I’m sick of fighting the waves, just to wipe out again.
“I think there’s a wave coming for you now, can you feel it?” He asks.
“No,” I respond sullenly.
“The ocean always gives you what you need, you just have to ask for it,” he says. “Close your eyes, and listen.”
Humoring him, I close my eyes and put my ear to my board, the sound of the ocean slapping against the sides.
I feel the water rise and fall beneath me and soon begin to recognize a rhythm in the way the water moves, as if the waves are dancing to the song of the ocean, the moon leading with the pull of the tide.
After a moment, I’m surprised to find my mind empty, my fear subdued, and my body relaxed, the tension from wiping out and being bashed by the waves releases in the ebb and flow of the water.
“Look,” he says, “here it comes.”
I open my eyes as he points to the horizon, imagining my perfect wave being delivered as a gift by the ocean. I feel it before I see it, the energy of a building set coursing through my body, like goose bumps on my soul.
The old man turns back towards me. “This is your wave. What are you waiting for? Paddle!”
Without hesitation, I turn my board towards the shore and begin paddling, using all my remaining strength to drag my arms through the water. I feel the board pick up speed as a wall of water rises behind me, but I don’t feel fear like before.
This isn’t just any wave; it’s my wave, a perfect wave the ocean made just for me, and I’m not fighting it or frightened of it, but connected with it.
I push myself into a standing position, and for the first time, I glide along the surface of the water, my heart pounding in my chest, but my mind is quiet. Everything is quiet. It’s just me and my wave and this perfect moment in time I will never forget.
It’s the only wave I catch that day, and I spend most of the next week being beaten down by the waves as I struggle to paddle out, but somehow, it doesn’t matter.
I don’t care how many times I wipe out, or how much salt water I gulp down because I’m intent on chasing that feeling of catching the perfect wave.
I know it’s worth it, that all the achiness and burning and disappointment will all disappear the moment I finally catch it again. It will be different from before, unique, but still mine, the wind rushing past me as I race towards shore, carried by nothing but the energy of the universe and my own intent.
Most days, I’m scared. I’m scared shitless. Sometimes I want to run away and not look back. I want to go back to my little beach in Costa Rica and forget that I ever did porn, pretend that my naked body isn’t plastered across the Internet forever, inviting spite and hate from thousands of people.
I want to forget that I’m taking a huge risk, that if this doesn’t work out I’ll disappear into history as just a girl who did porn, and I won’t have changed anything.
Sometimes, still, I wish I were “normal,” even though I know I’ll never be satisfied that way.
Some people say I’m crazy. A risk-taker. Immature. Naïve. Out of control. They think that I’m rash, that I can’t possibly understand the consequences of choosing the life I have. I don’t blame them - it’s not their fault. Everything is impossible until it happens. Nothing exists until it does.
Or maybe they are right; maybe I don’t fully understand it, but I know what I do understand, and that is the slow and agonizing death of living a life of mediocrity, of being average, of letting society make the rules for me, instead of reinventing the game for myself.
Like so many entrepreneurs, there is no one for me to emulate, no shining beacon to follow in the darkness.
There is no path, no playbook. It’s just me in an endless ocean of possibilities, clinging to an idea I hope will carry me to my destination. So I take a deep breath, feel the rhythm of the universe, and I wait for that perfect wave.