Heartbeats and Hues

My mother’s photo library is a tapestry of the life she’s lived, though she is rarely present in the images. She is the one most often behind the lens, choosing to capture the beauty in everything she sees rather than be captured herself.
Our hikes are paused intermittently to point her phone at a mushroom, at the play of light on the leaves, at her children’s hands stretched out atop a bed of flowers, at a salamander moving languidly along her husband’s palm. We tangle ourselves among the branches of overgrown, ancient trees, our faces peeking out through hanging tendrils of moss and our feet tucked precariously into knots in the bark, as she darts around the base and tries to catch every angle. We stand atop mountains dusted with snow, with our backs to ocean waves streaked by fading light, braced against the pull of rivers’ currents. She captures nature and people with the eye of an artist whose paintings reflect bits and pieces of what her camera has collected.
My father holds my hand in his and traces my finger along the outline of a car he has photographed. This one sits in a junkyard surrounded by what once were other cars and maybe one day may be so again. This one is so overgrown by trees and vines that they have claimed it as their own, its shattered windows little more than extra space to continue to grow. This one was a heap of rubble and now gleams as though brand new, and he uses my hand like a paintbrush to show me the shape of its roof, its tail lights, its hubcaps. There is such glee and pride in his voice as he tells me the stories of what he and his camera have constructed.
With the exquisite detail and intention of the poet he is, he transforms the world into something I can comprehend. He takes my hands in his and traces the shape of the sky in sweeping gestures, adjectives falling from his lips like the light I can feel against my skin. He guides me, step by step, off the beaten paths just to let me touch the leaves, the mushrooms, the flowers he has discovered. I am not a piece of these photos like I am of so many of my mother’s, but I am still a part of them in the moments of discovery and retelling.
I once walked to class with a boy who spent our fifteen-minute trip starting, stopping, stuttering out sentences as he tried to find the perfect way to describe to me just how the sky looked that day. He traced incomprehensible shapes into my palms and cycled through four or five shades of the blue visible behind the clouds, before finally giving up and tapping the sapphire on the necklace I wore. “It looks how this feels,” he said. The stone feels no different to me than many others I have, but it is now the texture with which I associate how that day felt.
I wonder what kind of photographer I would be, were it an art in which I could more easily participate. I wonder what would capture my eye, to what sort of scenery I would be drawn. I wonder how I would describe the sunset to someone else. I am envious, sometimes, of these vast collections of images that people have constructed. My memory, which feels so often faulty and unreliable and which is so easily manipulated and altered, seems a poor substitute for the ability to scroll endlessly through one’s history.
I gravitate toward the details of a moment. I try to catalog the emotions, sensations, and tones of an interaction. I trace the shape of leaves to remember that instant of touching them. I memorize heartbeats and gestures, the feel of fingers between mine, the silences between words. I tell myself to remember, to remember, to please remember. I spend so much of my life afraid of the future, worried about the past, and desperate to cling to the present. It is a strange trichotomy that often leaves me concerned about my ability to simply exist in the moment.
Instead of photos, I collect objects. I try to take away some piece of the important moments which are later stored in a hodgepodge collection sensical to nobody but me. It is not the same. They are but a tiny piece of a heartbeat in time, relying entirely on my own mind to recall and fill in the details. Still, it is helpful to one as forgetful as I to have a tangible object to remind me of a history of which I sometimes lose track. After all, I may forget many things, but the ones which linger do so with an intensity that can be overwhelming.
It started with a golf ball. The older brother and sole caregiver to a friend picked it up from the thick, well-maintained grass that coated what passed for a backyard that all our apartments shared. He was leading my sister, our friend, and me to the mall for an afternoon of mischief and, on his part, resigned frustration. He asked if any of us wanted it, this random relic left behind among the greenery. I took it. I do not know why. I do not know what thoughts went through my ten-year-old mind when I made the choice, but I am sure grateful now to whatever they were.
To anyone else, it would be meaningless. To me, it conjures the memory of my friend and her brother, of hot pavement under our bare feet as we ran for the pool, of an impressive stuffed animal collection strewn across a tiny bedroom’s floor, of late nights trying to suppress giggling so as not to alert my mom we were still awake. It reminds me of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, paid for by my friend’s brother who could not really afford to buy these three kids such a treat but did anyway.
Not all the items carry quite such an expansive swath of memory with them. The pottery slice of cake covered in renditions of various cats serves mostly as a reminder that I was in the fifth grade when I read the Warrior Cat’s books. I forget, sometimes, that I have been a reader longer than I realize. The homemade wands serve primarily as evidence of a 9th grade Honors English class, in which my group decided our final project would be a Harry Potter parody of Much Ado About Nothing. Still, though they were unrelated to other events, they nonetheless evoke recollections of that teacher asking me to send her something I had written, of the moment she read it to the class and there came the audible gasp from every throat when she announced me as the author at the end. That was the moment I realized I wanted to be a writer.
There are letters written in braille to me by one of my big brother’s high school girlfriends, who wanted so much to connect with his little sisters. There are the paper snowflakes I learned to make as a child and which I tried, unsuccessfully, to sell to my family members for a dollar. They all have meaning, but some more than others. They were important in the moment of me deciding to save them, and though sometimes the meaning has faded with time and growth, I hold them for the sake of the girl who once thought them a treasure.
Some bring a heavier weight with them. There are the tiny dogs and cats, once part of children’s playsets, which remind me of one of the last times my little sister asked to play with me. I told her I was too busy with an online game I had discovered. There is the paper heart a friend cut out and gave to me the day I overheard her talking about her drug use problems and subsequent hospital stays. There are dice which serve as a reminder of a man who taught me to love to read but who also left my family with some wounds still healing. There is the bracelet made for me on my 11th birthday by a girl whose name is all I remember, and yet I hold on in the hope that one day more memories will surface.
And then there are the boarding passes. Some mine, most others, a stack of neatly aligned papers nearly an inch thick. They are such a strange thing for me to collect, and yet they are here. They are evidence. They are proof that these people, so often far from me, are real. They are proof they exist. They are proof that, at one point in time, we shared the same space, breathed the same air. I hugged them. I held their hands. They are real.
I spend so much of my life in a state of disconnection, where everything feels like it is the tiniest bit too far away to reach. The shadow of it is there, and I wrap myself in it as though I am hiding from the light of reality. I soak up moments of tangibility, when I feel as though I have been called back to earth and held there for a moment. I breathe in the feeling of being held by my mother, being teasingly hit by my sister, being chosen as a sleeping space by my cats.
But these papers. These passes. They tie me to a life and to people with whom I am at my most comfortable. They tether me to the hearts and minds and hands of those who give me the grace to be the anxious, awkward, strange girl I am. They serve as the reminder that those moments were not a dream. They linger as evidence that these people are real, that those moments were real, that I am real, and I have space in this world.
If I were a photographer, I suppose it would be these moments which I would aim to capture: these moments of connection; of recognition; of acceptance. I would chronicle the breathless laughter of an unexpected joke, the tangle of hands twined together among friends, the giddy joy of hugging someone not seen in months. I would capture the tranquility, the exhilaration, the silliness of being loved in a world where such a thing is hard to come by.
Until then, I will hold onto these trinkets. Until then, I will keep collecting boarding passes.


Three Letters

Note: For the sake of clarity, the two Ks who are mentioned are different people.

Dear M,

I was at the grocery store yesterday scanning items for checkout when Stereo Hearts came on the speakers. That wasn’t when I noticed, though. I didn’t clue into the fact it was playing until the final chorus, when I realized I was singing along.
I haven’t been able to listen to that song for seven years. I skipped it whenever it came on if I could, I walked out of the room if I couldn’t. It reminded me too much of you. It hurt me too much.
Yesterday, though, I sang along, and instead of the hurt and sadness which I have come to expect, I smiled. I could picture you walking our high school campus with me and L, one of her and one of your hands linked with mine, your other one up in the air waving your phone back and forth while the song played from it. I could picture the three of us singing and laughing, the words to the verses falling from our lips in a tangled, nonsensical jumble. We thought we were ever so clever, changing the chorus’s final line to say “sing along to my iPhone”. I think it was your idea, and no matter how many times you played the song, we sang that line the loudest.
I could picture your characteristic, ever present laughter so easily. I could picture your special brand of kindness that appeared to never fade, no matter the circumstance or target.
It was you and K who taught me to appreciate my ability to laugh. The world in its darkness and horrors will do all it can to break us, but there will always be beauty to be found within it. My friends tease me, now, for how often I laugh. I think they think me silly and frivolous. I don’t mind. Thank you for teaching me not to mind.
It’s been seven years and I was finally able to listen to the song. I remember you once telling L that it was okay not to be sad, and maybe it is. I know I always will be to some extent, but maybe it’s okay to be okay with what we have left of you. It’s okay to be okay with the lingering memories. It’s alright to hold onto them instead of hiding from the loss. I don’t think I’ll skip it anymore.

Dear K,

You probably thought I was strange, this girl who got in your car and who couldn’t stop talking. You were probably confused by my rambling sentences, my embarrassed laughter, the graceless, stumbling way I told you my stories. You maybe don’t even remember me.
The oddest part about our encounter was how easy it was for me to talk. You couldn’t have known, but I spent the duration of our fifteen minute trip feeling like I was observing myself from the outside. You couldn’t have known that the girl I saw was unrecognizable to me. You couldn’t have known that you are likely the only person who has seen me unencumbered by anxiety like that in a decade. You would have had no idea that my comfort with you was a miracle.
I’d love to say that I overcame some hurtle to be there like that. I wish that I’d found some switch in myself to make conversation easier, the magical thought process I need to go through in order to make it enjoyable to be the center of someone’s attention rather than excruciating.
I don’t know if it was because you let me talk without interruption or that you answered my questions kindly but succinctly, not allowing me my usual trick of getting the other person to talk the whole time so I don’t have to be even slightly vulnerable. I don’t know if it was because you circled back and asked about small details I’d mentioned in previous answers, leaving me feeling like you were actually listening to me.
I am not sure what it was about the circumstances or the way in which you interacted with me that made me feel like I had the right to take up space, but I do know how rarely I allow myself to feel that way. I probably won’t meet you again, but thank you for showing me what my life could be like if I learn to live more separately from my anxiety. Thank you for making me feel seen for those fifteen minutes.

Dear my past self,

I set a boundary yesterday. And you won’t believe it, but it was a real one, not one of those vague things I historically liked to convince myself was sufficient. It wasn’t just me telling someone how they were making me feel and thinking that was good enough. It was a true boundary in which I drew a line and said that, if it was crossed, I would remove myself from their equation. Have I ever done that before?
I think you’d be proud of me. It did not feel good, but oh, the relief of having done so. It was as though I could physically feel the anxiety slipping off of me at the knowledge that I not only had but was using the power to keep myself safe.
It wasn’t truly until afterward that I realized how miserable I stay by never establishing boundaries either with other people or even simply with myself. I tell myself that “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it”, but then I drown in the panic of what ifs. I tell myself I can keep going instead of allowing myself to have a breaking point. I tell myself that the pain of hurting someone’s feelings or of complicating their life will be worse than the pain of whatever they could do to me. It isn’t true, of course. But the stories we tell ourselves really do bare the weight of familiarity and comfort sometimes.
You never thought you’d be able to do this. You never imagined you’d be strong enough to decide your own worth. You never thought you’d feel safe enough in the world to assert your place within it. You never would have dared to suggest you had the right to decide how you wanted to be treated.
But you did it. I did it. I hope you’re proud of me. I am.


Hey look, yet another post about vulnerability

I spent some time yesterday evening reflecting on early writing projects of mine, namely those which ended up published somewhere or another. I’d saved some of them but deleted most, overcome by the shame and anxiety of my vulnerability. It often takes me years before I can bring myself to face my writing. I have not reread most of the posts here since I published them.
I began blogging ten or so years ago, spilling words onto pages rather than learning to confide in my loved ones. My fifteen-year-old self would probably be disappointed to know that it is not a skill I have yet mastered, though I would adamantly inform her that I am, in fact, far better at it than she was.
Imaginary arguments with my teenage self aside, there has been a common theme throughout the years of my writings: I’ve written about the hurt that I have experienced. I wrote about being lonely despite having friends, about feeling separate and isolated because I was too scared to reach out. I wrote about knowing people deeply who didn’t know me at all, about the imbalances in my relationships with people around me that were never addressed, about my confusion regarding whether I was the only one who could see it. I wrote about how I wanted to be known, to be seen, to be understood, to be cared about, but I also wrote about the hesitancy and anxiety that kept me withdrawn enough to ensure I never felt any of those things.
I consider myself to be an excessively introspective person. I went into psychology to figure myself out, because even as a young teenager, I recognized my unhealthy patterns, the ways in which I was used, and how much my sense of self-worth was dependent on other people. I can write about it with more depth and comprehension now, but it is remarkable to see the same fears expressed when I was fifteen as I am still working through as recently as this morning.
I cannot adequately convey to you the number of times I have faced a blank document over the last month and waited for the words—any words—to appear. I write when I feel strongly, and I certainly have felt so recently, but I write nothing but journal entries which, even though I am the only one who reads them, still dance around the specifics.
I suspect that the reason why I’ve felt so incapable of writing anything here is because of how much my reasons for writing have changed. Before, I was a girl trying to figure out her place in a world that so often felt uncaring and dark. The loneliness bleeding through the words I read yesterday is a testament to just how thoroughly I had isolated myself in an attempt to retain some vestige of safety. I hurt for that girl who shoved away well meaning attempts at reaching out, who fought for distance more than she fought for closeness, who perpetually felt as though she was standing on the outside of a firelit window overlooking the love and laughter which she craved.
I was not unique, though. I was no different than a multitude of others who felt just as lost as I did, and I knew that. So, I wrote. I wrote for the public to see, maybe even for some of you still reading my words today. I wrote because I knew how it felt to read the words of others, and I wanted to share with the world that feeling of recognition. I wrote because I wanted even just one person to feel seen. I wrote because I believe that words reach people, and even if I still struggle to extraordinary extents to use them when they matter the most, I still love them.
Every part of that still holds true, but my world has narrowed. I have successfully centered my focus onto what truly matters to me rather than trying and failing to carry a universe in my own hands. I am not the girl figuring out her place in the world; I am the girl trying to figure out her place among those around her. While comforting at times, for I have found levels of security and safety which I’ve never before experienced, it also grants me ample time and opportunity to face myself.
Introspection has offered me the chance to learn about who I am, but circumstance and growth has forced me into the position of having to adapt rather than hide.
It’s another experience which I know is far from unique; we each walk our own paths of self-discovery. But even if the experience isn’t singular, the process feels like it is.
If there’s one thing I know about myself and of which anyone who reads my writing is aware, it is that vulnerability for the sake of vulnerability is pretty close to being one of the things I fear and want the most. I have shared a great deal of vulnerability in these posts over the years, which has perplexed me given my propensity to avoid it on an individual level. I explained it away with the excuse that I was writing to a reasonably anonymous audience, even as I shared it (albeit with discomfort) with my friends.
I realize now that the reason has more to do with the knowledge that my experiences were not solely my own. If I could write something relatable, then my vulnerability wouldn’t be as uncomfortable. If someone could take something away from it, then I had a purpose. If someone felt like they were seen or heard or understood, then hoping that my words would be read did not feel selfish.
With a more specific and perhaps less consistently relatable journey before me, my writing no longer feels safe to share, for it no longer feels like I am giving something to the reader. It feels as though I am taking something from you. It feels like I want to be heard more than I want to help someone else feel that way. It feels like I am asking to be seen instead of scattering pieces of myself into my attempt to help someone else feel like they have been recognized. In short, it feels selfish and wrong. To have the audacity to think myself worthy of someone taking enough time and attention to read something that I’ve written without an external purpose feels foreign and intensely uncomfortable.
So, I instead journal. I’ve written twenty thousand words or more over the last few weeks, but even there I fight the shame of my vulnerability. I fight the anxiety which chokes me as I contemplate writing for even myself. I fight it because, no different from the scared, lonely, hurting child I once was, I know there is something different, something better, something hopeful beyond the distances I have been too afraid to cross.
Maybe there is something relevant here to others. It is irrational to assume otherwise; I know I am not special. I am sitting with the discomfort, though, of having written it without the specific intention of ensuring relatability. I am sitting with the near overwhelming anxiety of considering sharing it. I almost want to laugh at the absurdity, because I know what I would be saying to someone else in my position in this moment.
It is a strange thing to have craved significance for so long and, upon finding it to some degree, to then feel so very undeserving of it. It is a strange thing to have found more consistent happiness than I’ve ever had, even as I feel as though I’m constantly battling the pervasive fear of not being enough, of being too much, of simply being. There is no growth without discomfort, though, so I will keep trying to make myself face it.
As always and perhaps more than ever in this instance, thank you for reading. 💙


On Trust

It is so often as though I watch myself from afar. That girl of gesturing hands, light, easy laughter, she seems so confident. She seems so comfortable in this space of interacting with another. She doesn’t even know the person, yet she throws herself into the role of a conversant with apparent absurd ease.
But I am here. I watch her from this distance, incapable of changing the trajectory, knowing how it will end. I hold her panic for her in the midst of the interaction. I clutch her anxiety to me as though she truly is someone else and I am its guardian, waiting to give it back to her when she is alone again. I want to tell her to stop. I want to tell her to quit laughing so much, to stop asking questions, to be herself. To let the person see her because she is making it impossible. Because this? This is not her. This girl of feigned surety, this is not her. This is not me.
I fill my arsenal with questions. I plan out what I will ask a person before I even see them, because I then won’t have to scramble when the time comes. I allow them the space to talk, filling any silence with a new question for them to answer. If they ask me something, I answer in as little detail as I can reasonably get away with, and I redirect back onto them, knowing full well I would hate to be in their position, knowing full well that they cannot get to know me if I never reveal myself, knowing full well that conversations are a two way street and I am disobeying all of the traffic laws.
It’s easier this way. It’s easier to erect facades of easygoing to mask the uncertainty beneath. I fall into the role with such ease that I frighten myself. I am afraid of how easy it is to avoid even the barest hint of vulnerability in favor of learning as much as I can about someone else.
I am the one onto whom strangers settle their burdens. I am the one to whom they tell their difficulties, who listens willingly and curiously, intent on relieving them of some of the pain they feel. I feel honored at the opportunity to fill this role, to be present for someone in ways I don’t allow others to be present for me.
I sat outside one day after class waiting to go home. Something had happened which was causing me an inordinate level of anxiety, and it was all that I could do to hold myself together long enough to get somewhere safe. I was so close to failing when a woman walked up and asked if she could sit with me for a few minutes.
I said yes, even though interacting with another person felt like the hardest thing in the world to do in that moment. In intermittent bursts complimented by surprisingly comfortable silences, she shared with me how she was having one of her hardest days and didn’t know how she was going to make it through. Her struggles, though vastly different from my own, nonetheless felt like a mirror in that moment. I wasn’t alone, but there was more to the conversation. I had no energy left within me to build my carefully constructed mask of invulnerability, of lightheartedness, of easy banter and comfort. I had no energy to fill silences I normally would fear. I was clinging to each of her words, the shape of them helping to anchor me to the present.
As she left to go to class, she thanked me for talking with her and told me that she hoped she would see me around again but expressed that I probably wouldn’t want to because of her dumping onto me.
A new kind of panic surfaced at this, and I hurriedly reassured her that she was always safe to talk to me, and that she had been appreciated and welcome. I was terrified of someone feeling how I often felt: as though any display of emotion is regrettable. I don’t know if she believed me, but I also don’t know if I’d believe a stranger if they said the same to me.
What I learned from the interaction was that I can survive without a mask. I answered her questions without redirection, because I couldn’t find it within myself to play the mental chess game I needed to. I didn’t tell her anything remarkable about myself–I think she was asking me questions simply so she could feel more comfortable sharing with me—but it was one of the only conversations I have had in years where I didn’t let my anxiety win.
It made me reflect on why being seen is cause for so much distress. I write these blog posts, after all. I share my words for the world to see. When I am within a group, I suspect I would not be described as quiet, private, or difficult to get to know. So, I have to wonder, what marks the difference?
* * *
Cardboard is one of the most familiar textures to my hands. We donate anything we haven’t used in three months; the rest gets packed away. Hallways are lined with stacks of boxes so familiar to me that openness sometimes feels strange. Where to next?
From Arizona, to Washington, to Colorado, to California, to Oregon. Always wondering what the next stop is. The world is so vast and moving around so much as I grew up instilled within me a thirst to explore all that it offers. I am endlessly fascinated by people, their histories, their cultures, their customs. I love the feeling of a vehicle in motion, an unknown or at least unfamiliar destination ahead, my whole life contained within just a few cubic feet. I have learned to live lightly, to hold onto only the most sentimental of possessions.
Yet there remains something else, something deeper, something darker that has not relinquished its hold on me throughout my journey. When you know you will only know someone for a year, where is the point in getting too attached? What is the purpose in building a connection that will inevitably be broken by distance, by the requirement of communicating through a phone? Ironic, coming from a person whose majority of friends were found online in the first place.
So, I didn’t. My best of friends were defined by how much time we spent together rather than requited sharing of ourselves and our stories. I think I recognized it, on some level, when my father died, and I didn’t tell the two girls with whom I considered myself to be the closest. I flitted from social group to social group, stepping into them just long enough to be recognized and to soak up the positive energy, withdrawing in time to prevent any lingering knowledge of who I truly am.
The closest I ever got to my friends was in the moments of their sharing with me their hardships. I began to define myself according to this dynamic, until, as I have written previously, I didn’t know who I was when someone wasn’t needing me. But I didn’t reciprocate. When I was asked, I would lie, minimize, and redirect. And with the busyness of life, with the experiences plaguing each and every one of us, it was the rare person who ever pushed further.
When you give people little to hold onto, it is no surprise when they don’t hold on. And how terrified I was of being held onto, not for fear of being cloistered or suffocated, but because I was afraid of being let go of by their choice rather than my own.
I don’t like attention being on me. I am never more uncomfortable than when the focus shifts to me, and this is amplified considerably the smaller the group. I can write these words, I can share them with hundreds of strangers and dozens of people I know, and I feel little more than a slight anxiety of being misunderstood.
I have myself so thoroughly convinced that people will not genuinely care about what I have to say that I give nobody the chance to prove me wrong. It is an assumption rather than a fear, and I have lived my life according to it, giving almost nobody the chance to show me otherwise. It is unfair and, to some extents, quite cruel to those who have wanted to get to know me but whom I have disallowed the chance out of my own sense of worthlessness. I, in my arrogance, somehow believe that I out of everyone am unimportant, uninteresting, not worthy of focus.
There are brief moments when someone will ask me about myself, about my day, about an experience, and they actually, actively listen when I tell them. They prompt me to continue. They treat my words the way I try my best to treat others, and it is in these moments that I find myself overcome with a childlike joy. I’m that little girl doing tricks on the playground, and I am being seen.
There are other times when my openness is met with little regard or care, and I recognize that there are a thousand reasons for why this is the case, few of which have anything to do with me or are reflections on me as a person. They linger, though, and sometimes in ways which poison my hope for trying.
At his request, I grabbed lunch one day a few years ago with a friend I had on campus but who I had not seen for a few months. My mom called me after I had gotten home, and in the midst of telling her how it went, I inexplicably found myself crying.
He had spent the duration of our time together on his phone. I tried to ignore the vibrations of incoming texts, the sound of him putting it back on the table after responding, the distracted way he would pause his stories and ask me to remind him where he had left off. I wished so desperately that I could see him, that I could know if my relaying of my own stories was being received with interest or was an excuse for him to keep texting uninterrupted. It was bizarre, uncomfortable, and deeply discouraging, because though he couldn’t have known it at the time, he was the first person I had said yes to in response to being asked to hang out. I’d declined offer after offer, until eventually my friends stopped trying.
It is easier, in a group, to fade out of view. The clamor of voices can easily disguise my own if I would like it to. My words may not find a place to land, but I can assume it is because I wasn’t heard rather than because there was not a willing listener. If they do land, if someone replies, it is so easy, so seamless to withdraw without notice if I feel overwhelmed by the attention. Groups are often not an exchange of words but rather a waterfall of them, open hands catching what they can, many more falling through the cracks, unnoticed. It is safer this way. At least the words were shared, even if they did not find a home within someone’s palm. And that anxiety of being unseen is so minimal because mine are not the only ones. Mine tangle with those of others who were overlooked or accidentally missed, making a home of sentences and fragments, building a story that may not ever be seen. But they aren’t alone.
I speak of so much in a group that I am so stricken with fear over telling a single person. I hope that the ones with whom I would like to share such things hear them, but if not, I do not feel the panic as much as I would were I to share them directly and be disregarded. It’s a blurry, bewildering, often broken line that I can’t quite figure out how to entirely erase.
I do not fear vulnerability because of the subject matter; I fear it because it has a place inside of me, and though that place sometimes feels too small, too full of stories, too overwhelmed by the intensity of it all, to offer it to someone else, to specifically hold it out to a person is to risk it not finding a home within them. My words will succumb to gravity, settle into the earth, find space among the grass and leaves. I may never find all of them again.
It is a strange type of loneliness, where I am surrounded by so many people whom I love so strongly, where I know I am welcome to be honest and vulnerable, but where I feel so in capable of connecting one-on-one. Because what if this isn’t real? What if this support and care that I feel from them as a whole is nothing more than something I want to be genuine? What if it all breaks down when I take that step toward trust?
How will I know if I never try?
How do I even begin to try?
I am overwhelmed by what feels to me to be a herculean task, but I know what I would tell a loved one in my shoes:
There is no way that you will have a 100% success rate in choosing whom to trust. It will go wrong, and you will get hurt, and you will regret having been open with a person. But it can and will also go right. It can remind you how beautiful of a thing trust can be when well-placed, and nothing will ever replace the feeling of offering your story to someone who hears it, respects it, and sees you for it. To not trust is to destroy your ability to feel that safety, that security, that incomparable comfort of being known. Masking will feel good in the moment and may seem like it is protecting you from getting hurt, but it will never allow you the genuine relationships for which you yearn so deeply.
I suppose it is at this point that I should flip the script and believe the words for myself.
As always, thank you for reading. ❤


On People and Pages

We connect over shared literary tragedy, words leaping from screen to screen, fingers rapid fire dancing across keys to spell out our heartache and worries for what is to come. We commiserate with one another, taking solace in our proximity to those who are following the same stories as we are. It comes easily to us. We recount moments of exhilaration, times when we outwardly cheered on our heroes. We lament over losses and instances where we cried so hard that we couldn’t breathe, entangled so thoroughly within the lives of these fictional characters that they may as well be real. We talk. We share. We express. It’s safe.
Our inability to separate fact from fiction and to withhold our empathy and investment is lightly teased by others. “Why do you care so much?” We don’t know. We don’t know how to stop. Usually, we don’t want to know. Sometimes we do.
With stories, we can take solace in the knowledge that it was only fiction. The ache is temporary, because there will be other books, and even though the intensity is overwhelming, we know that it will pass. The book follows a specific formula that we know all-too well. We may not know what all it contains, but we know its trajectory. We know that we hold it in its entirety. It is prewritten. We expect to find the unexpected, even if we don’t know exactly what will happen.
I think it feels good to leap headfirst into a story, to walk alongside our literary companions, to settle neatly into their lives, loves, and losses because of that formula. The unexpected nonetheless remains a certainty. There are no stakes. We can’t love them more than they love us. They can’t leave us behind because we hold their story in our hands. The ending of the story is a certainty rather than a question. We can trust in the prewritten nature of it, comfort ourselves with the knowledge that at least most stories have happy endings, and resolution is only a few pages away. All we have to do is keep reading.
What of reality? What do we do when the unexpected is yet undecided, where each action, each breath decides the fate of the next? How do we proceed where nothing is predetermined, when people or a person cannot be easily tucked between pages? We know when a book is likely to hurt us. People, though, are beautifully, terrifyingly, eternally unpredictable.
I watch those who grew up similarly to me, forever fascinated by the emotional distance they maintain between themselves and others. I see the ways they shove any semblance of feeling down and refuse to acknowledge it. I see them trying to keep themselves safe by claiming to be unfeeling, unattached, able to disconnect. Part of me is envious, even as I recognize the futility and danger of what they are doing. I wonder at what it must be like to not feel so strongly. I wonder at what it must be like to decide not to care for the sake of self-preservation.
I long ago convinced myself that people leaving is little more than an inevitability, brought upon by shining examples which haunt me even now. This could have instilled within me a cynicism that might have taught me to withhold my feelings. I distrust people and their eventual intentions less than I distrust myself and my ability to be worth staying for. I know they are likely to leave, but I view it as no fault of their own.
I wish that this was all it was. I wish that I was only hesitant of connection because I am, as I have written previously, a mess of contradictions.
I read a book last year which rendered me inconsolable with grief. I lay on the floor, crying with such ferocity that it physically hurt. And I knew it was coming from the beginning. It was inevitable. I felt as though I was being torn asunder from the inside, every part of me screaming that this isn’t okay. It’s not an uncommon occurrence for me. Because even though I know it’s going to hurt, I nonetheless leave myself open to it, arms spread wide, hands reaching for more and more and more. Give me something to feel, because it is in those moments that I am the most alive.
I approach the world in the same way. I know I am going to get hurt. I know it on such a visceral level that it has become a certainty rather than a fear. Still, I throw everything I am, everything I feel into the depths, hoping that maybe it will be enough this time. I can’t stop myself from trying, no matter how many times the world tries to tell me that it isn’t worth it.
With every beat of my heart, the words echo through me, resonating throughout my bones: don’t go, don’t go, don’t go, don’t go, don’t go. Even as I, myself, take a step back, begin erecting the foundation that could become a wall, my pulse flutters against my skin: please stay, please stay, please stay, please stay. It is only I who can hear it, because though my lungs fill with air and the words tangle against my tongue, there is no space for them to leave my body. They remain trapped, birds made of fear with clipped wings contained within iron cages.
I reach for people the way a child reaches for fire, knowing that it may very well burn their hands. I offer pieces of myself then pull back, filled with such shame in my vulnerability that I can’t possibly imagine doing so again. Is this it? Did I show too much? Being abandoned for not being enough is difficult on its own, but it does not hold a candle’s flame to being abandoned because of who I am. And yet I try again. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and I flip my cards over. Look at me, I think. See me for who I am. Accept me for who I am. Leave me for who I am, because at least then I know I have been honest.
I wrap the words around my lungs, reminding myself with each inhalation that honesty is better than fear, honesty is better than fear, honesty is better than fear. I am so tired of living a life of half-ways. I’m so tired of containing all that I am within my own flesh and bones. I am so tired of knowing that, if I had been a little bit more open, maybe they would have stayed. Maybe I would have been enough.
The alternative, in my world, is to go all-in, and it’s terrifying. I thrust my hand into the flames, hoping against hope that this time it doesn’t hurt. And I’ve read just enough fantasy books to know that, sometimes, it doesn’t. Sometimes, it’s safe. Sometimes, it’s okay.
Sometimes, though, it isn’t. And that fear curls between my fingers, making a home against the lines of my palm, tracing my lifeline and heart line, telling me that this? This is where it ends. This is where it falls apart. It settles against my skin, assuring me that I will never be good enough for someone to want to stay.
Then there are those by whom I have repeatedly done wrong. There are those whose texts and calls have gone unanswered for months, whose attempts to reach out have been met with silence and half-hearted apologies. There are those who have continued to try despite the distance I have enforced, who are fed up and tired but who still hold out a hand and remind me that, even now, they are there. And I find myself angry at them for allowing me to treat them in such a way. I gave them all the room in the world to leave me, and for some reason, they didn’t. And it hurts. Sometimes the worst part of believing that people will always leave is when I am proven wrong, because it is then, in those moments, that I have hope.
And it’s that hope that helps me reach toward the flames yet again. It’s that hope that, undeserved though it is, sustains me and my yearning for more for myself.
So, they twine together, hope and fear becoming one rope that I use as an anchor to the ledge off which I have thrown myself. Will I hit the ground before the threads pull taught? I don’t know. And that not knowing is more frightening than most anything could be. But the wind against my skin, the weightlessness as I hurtle earthward, it feels too good to forgo.


On the Endings of Things

I am eleven years old and standing in the fading light of a Colorado sunset. My sister’s hand is linked with mine, my great grandmother’s arm around my shoulders. Behind me, my brother keeps poking me in the sides, trying in vain to get me to smile for the group photo that my mom is taking before most of those gathered leave for the airport. “We’ll be back,” my aunt says, which really only makes me cry harder, because it is just another reminder that they are leaving.
I am 15, and my friend puts his hands on my shoulders as his graduation party winds down behind us. “Take the world by storm,” he says, and then he is hugging me, and I am crying yet again. I know this is the last time I will see him.
I am eighteen, standing in an airport bathroom crying so hard that my body feels like it might fall apart. A stranger has her arms around me, imploring me to “breathe, just breathe”. Somewhere nearby but too far away, a plane breaks away from the land and takes a piece of me with it.
I am nineteen, and my sister runs past a shouting TSA agent to hug me one last time before I walk onto the plane. The flight attendant stops his safety speech and touches my arm. “What are you leaving behind?” he asks, knowing I haven’t been able to take in a single part of what he’s said so far. “My family,” I tell him. “Everything,” I want to say, because I am melodramatic, but it truly does feel that way.
I am twenty, and my two best friends and I hold hands across a picnic table the day one leaves for his military training. “Will you guys remember me?” he asks. Me and the other both immediately say no, and he lightly hits us. He hugs us both, a tangle of arms and backpacks, and I wonder if it’d be easier if I didn’t care about people as much.
I am twenty-four, and the Uber driver doesn’t say a word to me as I try futilely to hold back tears, for which I am grateful. The imprint of memories on my skin and heart are a vice around my throat, and part of me wants to scream for the pain of their absence.
To live within my head is to live within a mess of confusing, contradictory feelings. These moments of endings, of loss even if only temporary, they remind me why I spend so much time creating and maintaining distance. If I don’t care, then I cannot get hurt. If I don’t get close, then they cannot hurt me when they leave.
Then there is the joy. My sister running down a school hallway and jumping to wrap her arms and legs around me, my brother hugging me and shoving anyone else away who tries to because this is his moment with me, fingers laced with my own, a heartbeat beneath my palm, breathless, uncontrollable laughter. These moments remind me why I am all-too ready to dive in headfirst, throw myself into the waves and be swept away. They remind me what it is to be alive, to trust that I will be okay, to take each moment as it washes over me rather than preparing for the next one. To abandon this closeness with those whom I love is to destroy my ability to feel that happiness. To remain withdrawn is to neglect the part of me which wishes so strongly to be seen.
If I don’t give enough, will they leave? If I give too much, will they leave? Will one option hurt less than the other?
I dread with every fiber of my being those moments of finality. I cannot convince myself that they are anything less than an ending. No amount of logic will assuage the feeling that the person is gone for good. I ache with such ferocity that I lose myself within it and forget that most times, an ending is not an ending at all. What if I never get it, get them, get him, get these moments back?
I sometimes wish that I could care less. I wish that I could maintain some moticom of distance from a situation so as to protect myself. I wish that I could do things, feel things by halves. I wish that I could feel safe in an ending not being an ending.
I don’t think there is any dampening of one emotion without suppression of them all, so the fear lives on within me. If I want to experience again the inextricable happiness and peace I’ve felt in the best moments of my life, I have to then experience the devastating anguish of the hardest times.
It is something that I have accepted but have yet to truly understand. I remain, balanced on a tightrope and both too afraid to jump and too afraid to stay still. My grasp upon my connections with others is tenuous, and I am both afraid of holding on and afraid of letting go. I am afraid of intimacy and of its absence. And maybe the key is to believe that, regardless of what happens, I will survive it.
Maybe one day it will get easier. Until then, I will probably just keep crying in airports.


The Right to be Angry

Content warning: mention of self-harm.

I can count on one hand the number of times in my life where I was genuinely angry about something. Each moment, like when I found out that my little sister’s boyfriend had hit her, were on behalf of someone else but no less vicious for it.
I remember sitting on my bed when she came and casually told me he had put his hand on her. She was thirteen years old. Some part of my mind marveled at this unfamiliar sensation, this loss of control and rage. I wanted to kill him.
I can’t recall a time when I was angry for myself or because of something that happened to me. The absence of control in that moment was frightening. It forced me to face parts of myself I had long-since tried to erase. I’m not an angry person. I never have been, but others around me were, and it terrified me.
Anger was synonymous with violence. It was the precursor to abandonment. It signaled worse to come. It was a demon rearing its ugly head and shattered pieces left to be collected after the damage had been done. I didn’t want to be like that. I never wanted to be the reason someone felt as scared and helpless as I felt. And it was in my blood, after all, wasn’t it? Was that fury genetic? Was that destructive behavior passed down to me, and it just had yet to be triggered?
So I smothered every sign of even frustration. I disallowed myself the right to get mad over something. I was drowned in guilt in the moments of irritation with my siblings. I could not go to sleep at night if I had had an argument with my mom; the damage needed to be repaired just in case something happened while I slept. I was viscerally and unendingly terrified of this emotion. I avoided conflict as though it would kill me. I never disagreed with anything, even when it went against everything I wanted. I berated myself for feeling inconvenienced by my submissiveness.
As I got older, I began wishing that anger came more easily to me. I wished for that fire inside of me to burn away all of the other feelings. I knew that it was often a coverup so that someone didn’t have to face what lay beneath it, and I could easily see why it was the preferred emotion to combat. Pain and loneliness were a thousand needles scoring my skin, and for such a long time, I didn’t know how to make it stop hurting.
I couldn’t summon the fury. I’d done too good of a job suppressing it. I had no idea how to muster it, and now I had a reputation among my loved ones of being docile, passive, quiet, level-headed. To be anything else filled too much space in the box I’d willingly climbed into. It pushed up against the walls, threatening to tear the delicate material of my boundaries. I wanted to be small, unseen, compliant. I didn’t deserve to feel angry.
I began blaming myself. For every bad thing that happened to me, I found a thousand reasons why it was my own fault. I built towers out of should haves and could haves, forcing the responsibility onto my shoulders. It wasn’t some noble act. It wasn’t to be a better person and to learn to grow. It was because if I blamed myself, then I couldn’t blame anyone or anything else. I couldn’t be angry at someone else if I didn’t blame them for what had happened.
Maybe then it wasn’t an inability to feel anger but rather an inability to direct it anywhere but at myself. My inner voice was nothing more than endless commentary on my failings, tearing every aspect of myself down until it was all that I could believe. Stupid, idiot, worthless, weak, awkward, broken girl. I carved furrows into my skin, determined to feel as much pain on the outside as I did inwardly. Rage at myself spilled from my shaking hands, satisfaction only found in the crimson. I deserved it.

I felt angry today. It was in response to a reminder of a recent event, and I had to put my phone down and walk away from it. I was furious and, unlike when the event had happened, not at myself. I was angry at the ones who had hurt me so unnecessarily, so carelessly, so easily. I almost started laughing in the midst of the overwhelming emotion, unfiltered, hysterical laughter over the fact that it took me this long to view my own self as worthy of being protected. Why now? What changed?
I think the answer to that is ridiculously simple. I finally absolved myself of responsibility. I did nothing wrong. I didn’t cause it. I didn’t bring it on myself. It just happened, and I have every right to be angry.
This confidence to feel such defensiveness over myself is wildly unfamiliar. It feels foreign and uncomfortable. It doesn’t fit quite right over my body, and I question if it’s meant to be there.
I’ve felt better connected to the people in my life over recent weeks, and it is their steadfast support and determination for me to know that I matter that has blown my little comfort box to shreds. It is scattered around me, and I don’t know if I quite like this big world of possibility. I don’t know if I like this feeling that I matter and am significant. It’s a lot of responsibility, and not the kind I’ve been collecting for years. It’s the responsibility to take care of rather than degrade myself. It’s the responsibility to protect and honor rather than disparage and blame myself.
I’m sure it’ll get easier with time. Everything does. Anger is the furthest thing from a habit I want to acquire, but today I am grateful for it. Today I am grateful for that flash of intensity which burned away some of the self-loathing I’ve been carrying. Today I was angry, and I’m so glad that I was.


The Last Time I Felt Free

Note: this was prompted by something a friend sent me where I was encouraged to complete the sentence “The last time I felt free was…”.

The last time I felt free was only a few days ago. I lay sprawled on the thick, cozy grass of an Airbnb, the cool summer air brushing against my skin in only the slightest of breezes. The sky had just begun to lighten with the onset of dawn, one single eager American Robin calling its welcome to the burgeoning morning. Beside me, my three friend’s voices were quiet but punctuated by alcohol and weariness fueled laughter.
I lay at the center of them, my hair spread out beneath me, my arms stretched above my head, glorying in this moment for which I had so few words. Out of nowhere, in the midst of my serene reflection, a clump of grass landed on my face, dirt scattering across my cheeks and into my eyes.
I sat up with a half-shriek and retaliated, tearing the delicate stalks up and tossing them in the general direction of my attacker. The bird song was drowned by our laughter as we progressed the game I had unwittingly started hours before. I was careful to maintain some moticom of distance between us, forgoing my childlike urge to tackle them to the ground as I would have done my own siblings. I am yet uncertain what it is to have friends such as these, and I don’t quite know what is or isn’t acceptable in these moments.
It’s such a common experience to linger into the small hours with close friends, chatting and laughing and telling stories to one another. And yet it is something of which I have deprived myself, intentionally or otherwise, for such a long time. I don’t understand why I’d done so, the curiosity flitting through my mind as I attempted in vain to braid one friends hair, my fingers clumsy and trembling at my proximity to another person. I feel intoxicated not just because of the alcohol but also because of my closeness to people for whom I care so deeply.
Freedom to me is the weight lifted off of my chest and shoulders. Freedom to me is the ability to breathe without the ever-present steel band wrapped around my lungs. Freedom to me is unburdened laughter, the lack of any kind of self-consciousness, and the feeling of gentle security brought on by trusted loved ones.
This is what I felt as I lay in that grass, goosebumps prickling my skin and the quiet of the neighborhood enveloping me. Before that night, I can’t quite name the last time I felt freedom. Maybe it was years and years prior, when a friend grabbed my hand to run with me through the cascading rain, our laughter twining itself among the rolls of thunder. Maybe it was when I sat on another friend’s couch, all of his friends surrounding me as they joked and teased one another, including me as though I’d been apart of the group for years. Maybe it was when my two best friends and I chased each other down the empty school hallways, tripping over one another and ourselves until we were collapsed in a heap of uncontrollable giggles.
Regardless, it’s been a while. It’s been a while since my chest could rise and fall with ease, released from the anxiety which has woven itself into my bones and promised me that I will never be without it. It’s been a while since I allowed myself to laugh freely, unconcerned about how loud or annoying I was. It’s been a while since I permitted myself to feel unrelentingly happy, uncaring of the possibility of getting hurt.
I typically wrap myself in a cloak of invulnerability. I lace threads of confidence through my fingers, pretending that they are apart of me and hoping that I can believe it. My shoulders are swathed in a facsimile of nonchalance, though few people know that it is really formed entirely of my fear of abandonment and embarrassment. I crush my anxiety down into myself, not realizing that by doing so, I am only creating a powder that is left free to coarse through my unsuspecting veins. I bury it beneath false security and ease, desperate to allow the world to only see the best parts of me. As if those worst parts don’t exist. As if I can really hide them from those who love me the most.
Freedom is emptying myself of all false pretenses. It is surrendering to my most authentic self and allowing it to take hold, consequences be damned. It is telling the world, my fears, my history, and my demons that I deserve to be happy. I deserve to feel these positive things. I deserve to laugh loudly, to fall silent when I need to, to reach out to those around me without fear. Freedom is the grass between my fingers and the slowly rising sun. It is the shared laughter of those beside me, the hugs both proffered and accepted. It is the feel of fingers in my own, holding on when I need them the most. It is the heavy but oh so comforting weight of belonging that swamps me.
I fear happiness. I feel like a small child being offered a candy, both elated to have the sweet taste on my tongue but terrified that it is going to be snatched away from me at any moment. My joy has for so long been laced with anxiety and the knowledge that it would not last. I shy away from moments of contentment, afraid to accept them as truth. If I allow myself to be happy, I am allowing myself to later be hurt by, what seems to me, the inevitable termination of that happiness.
It used to infuriate me to watch people refuse to be happy because they were scared of getting hurt. My naivete lent me the ability to not understand how they could possibly forgo the opportunity to feel something good. I get it now, but I am still furious with myself. Happiness is there. It is all around me, contained within so many gestures both small and large, and I am deliberately hurting myself by looking the other way and refusing to accept it.
So maybe, in reality, freedom to me is nothing more than being willing and open to accepting happiness when it comes into my reach. And that is what I did, that night and so many others that week. I extended my hands, letting the peace and contentment alight upon my palms, allowing myself to pull them close to me and breathe them in. I am safe. I am happy. I am loved. I am present. I think the words over and over, yearning so deeply to engrave them into the walls of my memory where so many more negative thoughts have been immortalized.
I fight myself for the chance to hold onto this. I have to remember it. I have to. I will not forget it. I will not let myself forget it. Freedom was not just in my reach but rather within my entire body, and I will not stop trying to claw my way out of the canyons which I’ve built to hide myself from it.


To Take up Space

I never knew how to comfort my hurt friends as I was growing up. I’d stand beside them, afraid to touch them and afraid to do nothing at all. I wanted more than anything for them to know they weren’t alone but convincing myself to extend my hand the six inches to their shoulder felt like a herculean task. I felt my own tears threatening to fall, my heart and body aching with helplessness and shared hurt.
I was not averse to touch; I rather languished in it. It was so often my only connection to the world around me. To not be touched was to not be seen, and my own hurt begged for a witness.
The desperation with which I yearn to be touched is wildly incompatible with my equally strong fear of occupying space in the world. To touch someone is to take up space. It is to assert my existence not only in the physical world but also in the life of another person. The fear of rejection twines itself between my fingers, pinning them against my own body. I have to remain small. I have to remain hidden. I have to remain unseen. And yet I cannot stand feeling this alone.
“Are you feeling deprived of affection?” Her words are laced with amusement as I lean up against her. She is not being malicious as she puts her arm around my shoulders, but I feel my body tense and instinctively pull away. She brought attention to my presence, and I am frantic for a retreat.
My childhood was rife with distress and worry. All around me were people whose pain they wore like a second skin. Some wounds were physical, others invisible but all the more agonizing for it. Muffled cries would carry to me even through the walls of my bedroom, and I could do nothing more than curl in upon myself and pray that they could feel my heart reaching for them. My hands felt too small to hold them together, so I was too afraid to try. In my own moments of hurt, I sequestered myself away in the smallest space I could find, wanting the sensation of being held and protected from the world that seemed so hell-bent on overwhelming me.
AsI’ve gotten older, I have acquired some better ways of coping. I have hesitantly reached beyond myself in moments of contentment, though I have yet to learn to reach out in moments of hurt or fear. These still send me into isolation, some part of me refusing to allow myself the comfort I am so eager to give others.
Sometimes I know when a panic attack is imminent. This one came over me like a tsunami, its intensity blinding. I hardly remember its beginning; I recall shoving hands and bodies out of my path in a desperate bid for escape. I only registered I had fled when I found myself curled upon the bathroom floor, fingers scratching at my skin as I tried in vain to convince myself that I was not dying. My breaths were razor blades in my lungs. The panic was dragging me down, down, down, but it was laced with the terrifying knowledge that I was not alone; They were too close, too nearby, too able to witness my undoing.
My attempt to convince them that I was okay was pitiful at best, I know. I had taken no time to collect myself, focused wholly on mending the social dynamic broken by my abrupt and chaotic retreat.
They didn’t let me gracelessly maintain the lie. They didn’t move on like nothing had happened, ignoring the awkwardness in the room. Instead, my shaking body was held tightly without question, and I for once allowed someone else to be present as I reassembled my scattered pieces.
“I should be comforting you,” one friend said where he sat, his own body shaking in the aftermath of my own panic. I couldn’t disagree more, because my body is too small to contain all that I’m asking it to hold. My anxiety has always been lessened in the face of other people’s fear and concern. The more other people panic, the calmer I feel, because now I have a purpose. I can help them in the ways I can’t help myself. I can channel my feelings into action, because the only thing worse than feeling the panic myself is to watch someone for whom I care to go through it.
As I sat with my arm around him and my head on his shoulder, I couldn’t help but think back to the years of helpless observation of my loved one’s hurt. I am not helpless, here. I have finally broken through my fear of occupying space enough to reach out in the way I’ve come to realize I want to be reached out to. My quiet reassurances are partly for him, but they are also partly for me. They are the words and gestures for which I have always longed, and I am comforted and soothed by my ability to share them.
The storm settled, and though my body was still tightly wound and exhausted, I relaxed into the realization that I was not alone. I didn’t have to hide away, returning only when there was no evidence of my weakness remaining. There was not only space for me to fill, but I was welcomed into it with such readiness that the overwhelm, strangely, threatened to return.
Is this what I have been missing for so many years? The feel of two hands in mine with no words exchanged, no attention brought to my ceaseless trembling, only simple presence and acceptance. Is this what other people experience? Is this what it feels like to not be alone? I hold on tightly, afraid to let go lest it not return. “Please don’t leave me,” I want to tell them. “Thank you for staying,” I wish I could say, because they can’t possibly know what they have done for me in these moments. I instead remain silent, reveling in this unfamiliar sensation of belonging.
I am a girl of fractured, jagged edges. Little fits together properly anymore—not after so many years of shoving the pieces away, uncaring of what broke in my bid to suppress them. I spend so much time running my fingers along the remnants that my skin is left battered and bruised, my hands a mess of cuts and crimson. Sometimes I worry that I deliberately sabotage myself, seeking the familiarity of the emptiness rather than the uncertainty of trying something new. I want to save everyone around me. I want to hold them together, seal their wounds with my fingers and breathe life back into their hearts. I know that I can’t do that unless I allow them to do the same for me.
So I try. With each awkward, embarrassed, uncomfortable gesture, I fight to assert my right to take up space in the world. It’s only been me whose decided I don’t deserve it, so it is myself who I have to fight the most. That is so often the case: I am my own worst enemy in countless ways. It is my heart and mind and body I have to fight each and every day, waging war against my own existence. I will keep fighting, though, and I will do so with the knowledge that, for once, I am not fighting alone.


On Significance and the Unexpected

Note for readers:
I usually try to write something deliberately relatable and with a positive conclusion. I don’t know if I’ve successfully done either of those here; I don’t know if this is too personal for that. I hope that there’s something you can take away from this regardless. Thank you for reading. It means the world and more.

Yesterday marks eight years since my father died.
I didn’t find out until Christmas Eve, when a cousin called to give the news. At sixteen years old, I lay curled in my bed, buried beneath the weight of the knowledge, absolutely lost as to how I was going to tell my little sister and older brother. Their laughter carried to me from where they were playing video games together in the living room. They had no idea. I wanted so badly to go back in time to when I didn’t know, either.
It should not have been my responsibility to bare his death on my own, and it most definitely shouldn’t have been my job to be the one to tell my siblings. Knowing that doesn’t change the fact that it was left up to me.
I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in years by then. I thought that that would mean his death would be less impactful. I was wrong.
What we tell ourselves often does not reflect what we truly feel. We can repeat words over and over, we can drill them into our own minds until they block out all else, we can shove emotions into the farthest reaches of ourselves and refuse to look their way. Sometimes, though, something happens and every barrier we so carefully constructed, every box we packed, labeled, and shoved into the darkness all come spilling into the light of reality. They shatter into a thousand scattered pieces that we have no choice but to clean up or to continue treading on for years. And even when we think we’ve collected each fragment, we sometimes stumble over a remaining one in the darkness.
The fact that it has taken me eight years to write this might tell you that I’m the kind of person who swept as many pieces as I could out of my immediate surroundings and am still, today, facing the consequences of not properly coping.
The finality of death did not truly hit me until I received that phone call. A thousand questions that I had hidden away from myself resurfaced, and in a frantic, chaotic maelstrom of them, I realized that there was no longer a chance at getting answers. A hundred hopes I didn’t know I carried with me collapsed with the understanding that they would never be realized.
Many questions began with “why?”. Why did I have to be the first in my household to know? Why did it have to happen? Why was he driving that night? Why was this the first news I’d heard of him in years? Why was he the way that he was when I was a child? Why did he do the things he did? Why was I not enough for him? Why wasn’t I enough to convince him to change? Why did he make the choices he made if he loved me? Why? Why? Why? I drowned in the questions, too afraid to voice a single one of them, allowing nobody the opportunity to explain to me that none of it ever had anything to do with me.
I was able to dismiss or answer many of the questions as I got older, but one remains with me to this day. Regardless of the logic behind it, despite what I know on a rational level to be true, I continue to battle with the idea of being enough.
I am not alone in my quest for significance. I’m not the only person in this world who feels like my worth is defined solely by people wanting or needing me. I’m not alone in struggling to redefine this part of me to be healthier and more self-sufficient.
My father battled more demons than I will ever know, and while I can accept and empathize with those battles, I have never come to terms with the knowledge that neither I nor any of my siblings were enough to save him. None of us were enough to change him. And on Christmas Eve at sixteen years old, I finally was forced to face the understanding that I would never, ever know why we weren’t enough. Why I wasn’t enough. It didn’t help that his parents swore to me that he had changed, gotten sober, patched up his life. He patched it up without me. He’d figured out how to do it, which meant that he was capable. So why couldn’t he do it for me? Why was I not enough?
Later would come a fight between two people I love. I couldn’t tell you the words which were exchanged. I don’t know if I knew even then. What mattered most was the yelling, screaming, absolute refusal to stand down. The fight was a petty one which escalated like a wildfire. I threw myself into the flames, desperate to extinguish them in any way I could, including with my own body.
My hands had once been too small to make a difference. My shoulders were too narrow and delicate to pull burdens atop them. My voice was far too quiet. I hoped that older meant more capable, that growing up meant power. I was so certain that this time, I could help. This time I could do more, do something that mattered.
It all ended abruptly and with no resolution. I stood, reeling and desperately confused, as one of them walked away, leaving behind nothing but the echo of his words to me: “Well, you tried. It just wasn’t enough.”
Later still, I found myself in a bedroom, surrounded by four children under the age of ten. Just beyond the door, which adults so often forget hides nearly nothing, came the screaming, the throwing, the holes punched into walls.
I held one child on my lap, my arm wrapped around another, trying in vain to surface from the fog of memory when it had been me who was the six-year-old, my parents the ones outside the room. I had to be strong enough to be available for the four small bodies in my care, each of them begging to know what was going on and if everyone was going to be okay. They didn’t know that I was holding onto them just as fiercely and for the same reasons as they were holding onto me.
I could hardly breathe, let alone be the responsible adult that they needed in that moment.
All of these incidences are difficult to write, but not as much as they once were. My goal isn’t to elicit sympathy or comfort; I’m so, so very far from the only one who has stories such as these, and too many people have experienced vastly worse.
The last few months have seen me struggle in some familiar ways and many unfamiliar ones. I don’t know if it’s the time of year or something else, but my grasp on the present and on contentment has been tenuous at best, nearly nonexistent at worst.
What do you do when being needed is what sustains you and you’ve convinced yourself that nobody does? What is my purpose in this world if not to be what people around me need? And who am I, where do I go, what do I do when that purpose is broken down?
I tend to lock myself into vicious, never-ending cycles. I will be given a reason for why I am not needed as much as I hoped I was, and I will allow that to attack myself worth. I will let it hurt me, because that is easy. It is less easy to fight it and defy its attempts to tear me down.
I will never be enough for everyone. I may not be enough for the people for whom I so desperately want to be. I know it is a fools arrand to seek to make everyone happy. The person for whom I need to be enough and who I should be trying to make happy is myself, but there is no greater sense of satisfaction and peace as when I have helped someone else. It’s easy to let that mean that I can and will only be happy when I am enough for someone.
I simultaneously crave closeness and friendship and avoid it at all costs. I withdraw when I should reach out, I reach out when I know I won’t maintain it, I let phone calls and texts go unanswered, I cling to every meaningful interaction like it is a life raft. I set myself up for failure and then allow that failure to define me. I convince myself that I am meaningless and that nothing would change were I not here, and then I look for reasons why it’s true.
I do it because it is easier to set myself up to be hurt than to be hurt unexpectedly. I do it because, when I get hurt, I can look back and know exactly what I did to cause it. I do it because I am so afraid of not knowing when, where, and how it is going to happen.
I can’t prepare myself for everything. I can’t look in every direction at all times. I’m going to get hurt, and sometimes it is going to be no different than Christmas Eve eight years ago. Sometimes I will not expect it. Sometimes it will come out of nowhere, punch me in the stomach, and leave me careening off a ledge I didn’t even know existed. Nothing is more terrifying to me.
The other day, I received two messages from different people, entirely independent of one another, expressing such kindness, thoughtfulness, and caring for me that it was breathtaking. I felt myself shatter all over again, pieces of me I’d foolishly put together to protect myself coming apart as though my attempts had been meaningless. I felt my tether to the world solidify a little bit. Nowhere in their messages did they express a need for me or a way in which I could help them, and yet they care. They care despite my desperation to remain uncared for. They care for… who knows what reasons. I was, in a way, almost angry with them for still caring. I don’t deserve it; I’ve done so little to deserve it.
I rarely mean anything as much as when I say I don’t know why they do or anyone else does. My sense of self-worth is so warped and twisted that I genuinely cannot fathom the reasons behind why someone could, let alone would. And the trouble with this is that, if I don’t think I am worthy of being valued, I will never truly believe that I am. And if I never believe that I have worth in this world, I will not survive it.
Every part of me ached at the knowledge that, regardless of my avoidance, despite my failings, there were people in the world who cared. I am holding so tightly to that moment of understanding, that ever-so rare moment of clarity, and I am afraid I will lose it. I’m afraid I will let go of it. I have it now, though. I have it, and I am trying not to descend into the cycles which will tear it from me.
I know logically that I’m not alone. It’s been a long time since I allowed myself to believe it on a deeper level. I want to change. I want to get off this roller coaster to which I’ve tied myself. Maybe it’s okay that I don’t do it alone for once. I hope I figure out how.