The Story Doesn’t End: What I Will Tell My Future Daughter About Love

 

Sometimes, I write letters, especially when I am struggling to find my own voice.


Little one,

I don’t know if you and I will ever meet. The universe spins and throttles about on so many different axes that to be certain of anything seems like a fool’s errand.

And yet.

You come from a heart-on-the-sleeve stock, my dear (at least on your mother’s side). Everything can be so exciting– if you want it to be. The graze of a hand, catching someone’s eye, your first kiss– all of it can bubble so effusively in that spot right beneath your lungs. You’ll feel like you’re filling with air and everything will feel tense and your skin will feel like it doesn’t quite fit you because you’re all wiggly with joy and apprehension and excitement about the course your life might take. All of this can be spurred with a small gesture if you want.

I hope you let yourself have that kind of joy if you want it.

We live in such a cynical, difficult world sometimes. We’re taught to “play it cool” or not give too much. The world might tell you that sharing your joy is a surefire way to give up your power at the table, so best leave it at the door.

And to those people, my love, I sort of want to say, “fuck that shit,” (pardon my cursing, of course).

The thing is, there are people in the world who see their love as the weight on a far-swinging pendulum.

You can hold that weight in your hands, let it sit there heavy and cool and close to your chest. When you feel it start to pull towards someone else, throw your balance into your toes so you’re less steady than before, you can react defensively. You can hold it tighter to your chest, squeeze yourself a little harder, assure yourself that the weight and power and shine of your love is still yours and yours alone.

On the other end of that pendulum is a throw-yourself-at-it-drop-everything kind of love. It’s devoting the entirety of your strength and balance to someone else, praying they send it back to you with the same force and devotion. You’re left tottering on your toes, waiting for the other person’s counterforce to steady you. As you swing the weight back and forth, you hope you don’t knock down too many bodies along the way– especially your own.

Sure, either of these is an option, I think.

But there is a magic in the middle ground, if you can find it. You don’t have to see love as this sacred, weighted object that you can only wield with strength and centrifugal force. You don’t have to see it as a shining thing that you lob at someone when you’re ready.

Instead, I want you to see love as a story.

By now, you probably know your mother lives for the story. Love is no different. Your story began far before you took breath in the world, as did mine. It began with me, your grandparents, and back and back and back. When you were ready, you picked up the pen and began writing your own lines. Your hand was unsteady at first, but as time went on, you started becoming more confident in your grip. You caught the mistakes you were making. You wrote adventures and difficult silences and laugh-out-loud shenanigans.

Love is letting someone share the pen and write with you. It’s giving up the agency of sole authorship and letting them wrap their arms around you and hold the pen too. Hips against yours, arm slung around your waist, you will let them nuzzle their chin the crook of your neck. They will kiss your ear and gently place their hand on top of yours and write that part of the story with you.

It will make the story richer. Little star doodles will find their way into the margins, and the story will become so much funnier and sweeter. You will laugh and cry and fight as you figure out the next chapters. You will both make mistakes. You will have big cross-outs and messy, ugly ink blotches that no amount of white-out can fix. Love will never be the neatest pages in your story. It will look like chaos if you want. It will be big and bold and ridiculous.

And it will be absolutely beautiful.

Still, just because someone makes an appearance in your story doesn’t mean they stay. At some point, you may realize it just doesn’t fit. Or they got tired of writing with you. Or they want another partner or you want another partner or the million other reasons love can change and need to be let go.

It will hurt. A lot. Your back will suddenly feel naked against the air without the other person. You hand will feel unsteady again after letting someone write with you. The pages will feel cold and blank. You will feel like you can’t write anymore.

Here’s the thing, though: You still have the pen. The story isn’t over just because someone stopped writing with you. You will still be able to keep writing. The magic of the story is that someone you love can rip out your heart, make you cry and ache, and you will still be able to get up in the morning and keep writing. Your story cannot be ended by anyone but you. 

I don’t know a lot about love right now, if I’m honest. I know I have a lot to learn. But the  lesson I want to give you is this: don’t stop writing. Don’t be scared to share your story. It will be tempting to set down the pen. The first time your heart is broken, you will want to hold it tight to your chest like that pendulum for fear of ever sharing again.

Relax your body. Breathe. Let the grief and the fear flow through you, and then let it go. When you look back later, you will love those pages you wrote when you were in love. You will have a fond, small ache for the people who wrote with you, even if you know they weren’t the right co-author. The pages you shared enriched your story, added color and nuance.

Forgive yourself for the scratches and the inkblots and the “mistakes.” They were just part of your process. They were the lessons that taught you that no matter how empty it feels now, tomorrow will still come and tomorrow will feel better.

And when you’re ready, love, look up from the paper. See people again. Look at the world around you and then write some more.

When someone comes along who makes you feel like you’re filling with air and your skin doesn’t quite fit you, smile. Hold out your hand and ask them if they want to sit with you for a second. You have a story you want to share with them.

With love,

me.

 

Lay Down Your Sword

In a series of letters to myself.


Baby,

How long do you plan to keep fighting?

I see you, shoulders hunched and brow knitted. You of the ever-muddy shoes and never-polished sword. You are a study in unnecessary persistence.

You scrutinize a face in the mirror that doesn’t always feel like your own because you’ve been running away from it for too long. You claim to have a distaste for confrontation, but you spend every day looking at your reflection to pick out which battle you will fight today. Will it be the head or the heart? Which part of your persona will you proclaim as in need of a fix? For all your cries of non-violence, you have been the most aggressive pursuer of your own perceived inner-demons.

You see yourself piecemeal, picking apart all the stories you’ve written onto your body– the shiny patches left from the times you let yourself be burnt, the scars from when you were convinced that bloodletting was the only way to heal. Like some kind of forensic gravedigger, you see the past written into your skin and try and resurrect these stories so you can carefully dissect them and look for all the clues you think led to your failure.

In each story, you are sure you are reading some kind of a map, where “x” marks some ethereal, better version of yourself. You take up your sword and try and carve out the parts of yourself you are convinced no longer serve you: the naivete, the romantic, the poet. You write and publish praise about being big-hearted only to find yourself consistently trying to scrape that heart off your sleeve, to hide it under an iron suit. You are so sure that it is so overbearing and ridiculous, no one wants to see it but you.

So instead you try and cut away the parts you are so sure no one else wants to deal with, to make space for something you hope someone else will give you. The problem is that if you keep splitting yourself into only the pieces you deem “lovable” or “acceptable” you will soon find that there is nothing left at all. 

Stop fighting, love.

We all have demons. We all want to be better. But to try and rip away the parts of yourself that someone else taught you were weak only weakens you as a whole.

Put down the sword. Take off the armor. Feel the new lightness in your body once you stopped carrying a cross only you have built and only you obliged yourself to. See the scars and let them heal back to the complete version of yourself.

Now is the time to set down the old stories; they were never maps to begin with. They are just memories. History is an important lesson, but it is no match for the beauty of the unseen horizon.

So stop fighting now. Unknit your brow. Raise your chin and look now towards that skyline. See yourself there, just as you do in the mirror: completely whole and perfect in the imperfections.

As I was editing this, this album came on. Perfect music and discussion to accompany this piece. 

The Lies I Unlearned When I Chose Love

Little known fact about me: my parents and older brother call me “baby,” ensuring I will be some Filipina child’s “Tita Baby” some day. 

Anyway, this is a letter to myself– now, myself in the past, and myself going forward.


Baby,

The world will tell you that you need to guard  your heart and only give love to people  that “deserve” it.

Maybe they’re right.

And they wouldn’t be the first. “If love be rough with you,” a poetic but hot-headed man once said, “then be rough with love.”

Another man once wrote, though, that if you lead a loving life, it is natural— if not essential— that you will fall in love. You will tumble head first into vats of it. Love will be gooey, messy and unpredictable. It will get in your eyes and under your nails, and you will find it dried behind your ears days after you thought you had finally scrubbed yourself clean of it.

And that’s beautiful, but it’s terrifying. It will scald you. It will go up your nose and make you cough in that painful way that rips open your throat. It screws up your clothes, staining in a way and no amount of bleach will get it out. This love shit will seriously fuck you up.

But stop running from it, baby. Stop running from love because you’re scared that you’ll never be able to scrub it away. You’re right. You won’t. It will leave a permanent mark. It’ll burn you in ways you weren’t ready for.

But stop running.

Here’s the lie you must let go: the belief that love only looks like one thing. To choose love is to understand that love comes to us in so many forms.

Love is not just kisses and rainbows. Love is bigger than presents and the person who holds you when you cry. Love is not only the arms of someone else. It is not always soft. It is not always simple. It is not always laid out and easy to reach. Sometimes you think you’re there only to learn that love is at the top of an impossibly long, climb.

Sometimes, love is the brutal, honest truth laid out on the table, looking at all the parts of that truth and making the choice. It sees all the shaky, scary bits and says, “Yes. I’m in.

Sometimes you have that conversation with a partner.

Sometimes with a friend.

Sometimes with yourself.

Still, that’s not the only way love manifests. It’s the text chain with a friend reminding you of your own strength. It’s the head tilt and the quiet question, “Are you okay? What do you need?” It’s the kid who puts everything on the field for you and for them. It’s the moment you hear your own heartbeat and feel joy.

Here’s the other lie: they have been trying to convince you that your heart will only produce so much love. They are convinced that you will meet your quota. That someone will see your secret stash of it and steal it and not give you any in return. That will happen. It will fucking hurt like hell. It will make you feel frustrated and sad.

But it won’t mean you don’t have any more love to give.

So, even when it’s difficult, choose love. Even when you know you might get hurt, run towards love.

Well, don’t run. Walk. Stroll. Take your time. Know what it really means to give and receive it. Sit with the knowledge that you will hurt other people. Love doesn’t guarantee constant happiness, but it does create joy.

But choose love. Walk towards it even when it annoys the shit out of you. Choose love even when it is ripping you at the seams. There is a fine line between DEconstruction and REconstruction, and the two are not mutually exclusive.

You will get burnt. You will be betrayed. You will realize that what you thought was love was actually something else, or that it became something else. You will cry and feel sadness and be hurt.

But you are no fool. Don’t believe that choosing love makes you naive or a dupe. You are not unworthy. Just because love transforms or leaves or isn’t enough doesn’t mean you were weak or wrong. Your ability to give love was never a weakness. In reality, it’s the greatest strength you possess.

So, stop running FROM something, and move towards love. When you see it at the top of an impossibly long rope, climb it and ring the bell for youself. Even if you fall after, you got there in the first place, the echoed ringing a reminder of how powerful you really are.

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A Letter to My Wayward Self.

Over the past few months, I’ve been having my students write papers about love. In doing so, it made me both read and reflect on my own experiences with love and growing up– especially in my early twenties. This is where that led me.


A letter to my wayward self.

My dear girl,

I have no idea where you are running to, but I promise you none of the directions you are heading towards are “home.”

I know: you are horrible at the long game. There is no patience in your bloodstream, no chill hidden anywhere in your bones. You are all chicken skin and red hot veins. Your muscles are overrun with fast-twitch fibers. You go far beyond “starry-eyed”— your pupils dilate again and again as your mind wanders in explosive bursts with fury, unprepared for what happens in the moments after when the star has burned out and things are dark again.

You are spontaneous decisions and seeking the next high. Yours is a rabbit-heart that beats furiously, always asking questions: when? who? why how what where where where where? always searching. You race—no, bounce and sometimes tumble— down trails, so assured that the next turn will lead you to find home. You are certain that this rock or that tree is a sign, that the next moment will finally find the thing you want most: an anchor, a resting place, a haven that just might soothe the pitter-patter that runs from your heart, through your veins and into every other part of you.

The problem is, “home” is a vague X on a map without a key. There is no description or clue as to what it is. So you keep thinking you’ve found it: in the hands of one boy, in the furtive glances of a different man, the fervor of a blurred dance floor, the bottom of an empty wine glass. You hop from all these things, assured that each sip or kiss or beat is a sign that you are almost where you need to be.

It’s a confusing concept, but I promise you none of these things are where “home” is. Don’t confuse the feeling you get when you catch his eyes meeting yours with the experience of being appreciated fully in the gaze of someone who loves you. Don’t mistake a flurry of kisses for a downpour of actual caring. Don’t assume the pain-numbing warmth at the end of a long sip is the same as the soothing release of healing when you actually take care of yourself.

“Home” is not found in the temporary bliss of mind-numbingly good kisses. Don’t get me wrong— you can still have mind-numbingly good kisses, but they are merely decoration on the outside. “Home” is built by weathered boards that have been worked on and sanded. They are stained with difficult decisions and tears. Their nails are the choices you make, hammered in with mutual respect. They are painted with the laughter of jokes built over years of shared comfort. Home will wrap you in its arms when you walk into it looking like something the cat dragged in. Home will stay standing when you tear the furniture apart in rage. Home will still protect you when you can do nothing but sit there in silence.

I wish I could tell you things turn out okay.

The problem is, it’s hard to know when you have found a forever-home. Sometimes we outgrow a place, decide we need to do what’s best, move on. Or we realize the foundation isn’t solid. Or we take a job in Hawai‘i and move thousands of miles away.

Here’s the thing you will need to learn: home can never be some summit that you have to venture to. Home should never be a place that can only be entered when terms and conditions apply. Home can never truly be yours if it only exists within the happiness of another’s.

The only place you will truly find it is when you stop, close your eyes, and breathe. You will feel the ground beneath your feet, the beat of your heart in your own ears, the muscles behind your eyes relax. Then, you will realize that home was never some external site to begin with. You will realize the only real home is the quiet, still place where you both know and love yourself, exactly as you are.

And in that moment, you will finally be found.IMG_8512.JPG