Maybe One Day

I never know when the urge will overtake me.

Something will happen– I’ll see a name pop up on social media, get a notification from an old email– and then I’m down the rabbit hole. I’ll sign into old accounts and start uncovering a past that I forget I didn’t want to remember to begin with.

It’s innocuous at first. Old job applications and embarrassing emails to former bosses when I was in college. A few exchanges between friends. The memories are often funny and ridiculous. It is fun to be transported back.

Then, I see a name. The Big One. The one that rips me to shreds when I do not expect it, and terrifying memories pop and crackle behind my eyelids like flashes from gunfire. It hits me right in the chest and, for a moment, I cannot breathe.

I do not want to waste time nor anger on him. I just want to grieve and move on.

This day, though, and not for the first time, I begin typing the name into Facebook and search engines.

What happened to him? Where did he end up? Why am I looking? Maybe if I can put him into some kind of current context, I can staunch the flood of memories that runs through my veins.  I find very little– a few research papers he published, a mention of him in a club– and one picture that I dare not open, because the face in the thumbnail is enough to make my stomach drop.

I close my eyes. Close the windows, I beg myself. You don’t need to do this anymore.

I can’t tell you why I do this, but I wish I knew how to stop. As much as I will myself to forget, I know a part of me will always bear the mark; a burning red thread woven down my spine, through my belly, will always live there. No amount of time will ever make it go away. It will wear down, slowly, until it is barely visible, but what happened will always be stitched in.

And yet, even if I were to unstitch myself, there would be a permanent hole where the thread– wound of the sights, smells, and images I’d rather forget– once was. I’m not sure which is better.

It’s surprising and not that, even with my skilled internet sleuthing, I cannot find him. It’s strange in this day and age for anyone to be unfindable on the internet, yet he was a self-described “misanthrope” (I had forgotten that until I saw it in one of our final email exchanges) who mocked social media, even a decade ago when it was still new and exciting.

I, on the other hand, am very findable on social media. A quick search of my name will usually land here, or to some other profile with pictures and life updates. It’s a part of the job, in some ways, and I honestly really enjoy connecting people with online. That’s what I tell myself, at least.

But there are times, like now, when I am clinging to the sides of a dark well that echoes his name at the bottom, that wonders if he ever remember me the way I do him. Does the image of my face, my smile, my eyes welling with tears, sneak up on him the way his does to me? Does he round a corner and hear my voice whisper, “Boo!” into his ear, a spectrum calling him down a dark well of a different kind?

He never acknowledged anything after. Once, in the months after, I would get angry and bold and send a text message saying, simply, “I hate you.” It was the only time I had allowed myself to be openly bitter. I still have his number burned into my brain, even now,  but he was an adult (hadn’t he also been an adult when it happened?) and never responded.

So, now the thread hangs there, and I wonder if the other half is wound into him. Does he feel it sometimes? When he does, does he search for me as I have? Does he gingerly, slowly, type my name into a search bar– each clack of the keys asking, “Are you sure?”– and see my smiling face– now molded and thinned out over the past twelve years– on his screen?

As much as I hate to admit it– I hope that he does. He slipped silently out of my life, but I will not afford him that luxury. I will not go voiceless. If he remembers me and looks for me, my face is there, my smile ringing like a bell that will not be silenced.

Maybe one day I will find out something about him but, for now, all I am left with is his  name. I search, let myself whisper it quietly, and close my eyes. The thread starts to burn. My eyes start to sting and I feel my chest twinge. I let myself cry, try and heave it out of me. Instead, my breath is bitter and hot in my throat, his name fouling me from the inside out.

I force my hand to my chest, rub my heart, and try and drown out the bitter, festering taste of his memory. I remember my mother’s hand rubbing my back wordlessly as I cried. I feel a friend’s hand squeezing mine. I picture the man I love and the men I loved before and after it happened. I inventory every kiss I had or body I touched, special in that I had choice, in that I willed them into existence. I think of all these things and, slowly, the memory burning inside me slowly cools down.

Maybe one day I will be able to remember without needing to look, or notice the thread slipping through me, shrug, and move on.

Maybe, one day, I will no longer see the name and feel my body burst to shrapnel. I will breathe deeply, easily, and let it go.

Maybe, one day, I will be able to say his name without my breath turning bitter, but instead taste communion wine, stinging, but softened with forgiveness and redemption and mellowed as it brewed in my heart.

Maybe, one day, I will simply move on.

Maybe.

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Parallel Lives

I wrote this as a follow-up/interlude to this piece, which at the time I said was fiction. And in a way, it is, just like this might be fiction too.

But story-truth is still rooted in the actual truth– we are always telling the stories of our lives. So, as I am learning to become my own storyteller again and finally feeling stability for the first time in a bit, I am also reclaiming the stories that were too hard to face a few months ago.


The shock is visceral. Later, when so much work has gone into cutting this body, this cancer of ill-fated memory and stomach-churning hindsight, out of your life, trying to remember the fork that decided the life you chose feels foreign and jarring.

Now, though, the moment wakes you up at night, catching you in your sleep like a cold draft when you’ve left the window open. Something in that moment, where you knew each small step would determine what came next, still haunts you sometimes. Are you terrified of it? Is remembering it simply a pilgrimage, a gauntlet, a way to ensure you will never, ever find yourself in this place again? Or is it a deeper question than that– one that forces you to look back and ask yourself how, just how, you let things go this far and become this broken?

You see the white flash and the photos you found– wait, no, scratch that. It’s not the photos themselves– those have faded from memory. What is painfully vivid– even now– is the feeling of finding them. The quiet thump when you fell to your knees on the cold, wood floor. The search for something, anything to cover your nakedness, as if a cotton dress could protect your body from betrayal. It coursed through your system then– icy and choking– and you sat back on your bed, back against the wood wall, trying to catch your breath.

The thought of it all as you sat there– broken as everything has was– made you angry, yes. It also made you vaguely sad, oddly appreciative, pre-nostalgic in a weird way as you were already seeing how this story will wrap up. You were already writing, re-writing, and finalizing the obituary of this thing you had helped create.

You played the film through to the end and tried to take the best course of action. You looked at your lives in parallel, what they could look like– if you wanted :

You knew you could try and capture this moment, this body, because it will never be the place you call home again. That safety, that sense of knowing how the world worked and the rules that governed the way the universe functioned, are gone now.

You could lay down beside him, quietly pressing your forehead into the space between his shoulder blades, knowing that this is it. This is the end. This is the last time.

You know and he does not know you know but you do, and in knowing you also know everything is over. The dramatic irony of it all catches in your throat– you know heartbreak has arrived, and all you can do now is try and ride the wave of what is to come– but not just yet. He still hasn’t woken up yet, and so for the next minutes, you can still pretend like everything is okay.

You could take a second, shut your eyes, and breathe. You ache to both try and remember everything about this– the final farewell, the last breath before the death knell– but also try and forget all the things that brought you here.

You could feel the warm skin of belonging and smell the familiarity of partnership but also know that all those things are lies now. They are broken. The body next to you fills you with disgust and rage and sadness and longing and you didn’t know you could love something so deeply  and then 20 minutes later hate that same thing just as much– not a cancellation of love, but the yang to its yin, the dark to its light, both churning in your chest and stewing deep within you. You didn’t know the two could live together inside your heart, ripping you down the middle as you say goodbye.

So, for a moment, you could lie there. You could try and recapture everything– all the love and safety and happiness that once lived inside that body for you– before having to let it go.

But you knew that to do so would only make the killing of it that much more painful, that much more tragic. It would be like kissing the criminal before dropping the axe– it might bring you a second of joy, but would the high only make the pain that much worse in the end? You knew that you have to do this, kill this, end this now before you are too weak to stare it in the face for what it is. Now. It’s the only time you would be able to.

So, even after weighing all the options and watching all the scenarios, you knew what you must do. You watched yourself reach over to his leg instead. You hovered your hand above it, taking a moment longer before jumping off the cliff, then you grabbed his ankle and gave it a shake.

“I need you to wake up now.”

The Magician

I’m going through a month-long healing phase after my body has finally shut down from a two-month manic period. With that time, I’ve discovered the writing I created but was too scared to edit and publish. 


She has been practicing her sleight of hand for years now.

It’s almost second nature, at this point. She smiles, catches their eyes with a snap and a whip of her fingers. It appears all flash and no substance, but then she makes the card appear when it seemed impossible The audience is astonished. Bamboozled, really, because they were so sure they could not be fooled. That there was no way she’d actually get the right card.

It doesn’t really matter, though. She’s moved onto the next trick.

What they don’t see is the hours of practice that goes into the moment where the Magician makes something out of nothing.  They do not notice the red-rimmed eyes, tired from staring into the mirror and watching the same trick over and over again. The Magician is trying to make sure it is perfect for the audience. It has to be perfect for the audience.

They do not hear the ringing in her ears from years of listening to cries and catcalls instead of the sound of her own breath. They have failed to notice her skin, dull and red, from the make-up she wipes off in streaks each night, slumped over her dressing room table, barely able to move. They do not care that there are times where she is unable to focus her eyes before going on stage– she knows the gauzy film between her brain and the world it should be perceiving is problematic, but she also knows that she has to go out and perform.

The audience needs its show. They must be entertained.

So she goes out, night after night, honing her “craft,” learning to read the room. When she feels like she’s losing them, she slap-dashes something together and throws another coin into thin air, pulls another rabbit out of her hat, changes the mark to a more forgiving body on stage with her. It doesn’t matter what it takes. Stand on the back of the bucking horse? Sure! Swallow swords, eyes watering as she wide-grin-smiles toward the crowd? Of course! Anything so that she does not lose them. She cannot lose them.

Because she knows what happens when the crowds go home, and she is left in the dressing room, alone.

She sinks, slowly, into the chair. The table is in disarray– make-up is strewn, long smudgy splashes of color on a faded, white, wooden top. The makings of a face finger-painted on to a splintered canvas– the metaphor is almost too painfully obvious, even to her, who has lived without subtlety for years now.

There, in her solitude, when the memory of the crowd roars in her ears like the ocean, there is no one to distract her, no one to look at, no one who she must bamboozle. She is in a standoff only with herself. There is nothing to face but her own existence in that moment.

Why?

The question sits there, unmoving. No sparkle, no flash. There is no magic trick that will satiate the audience who is witness to her own brokenness. There is no bucking bronco or sword to swallow that will turn her gaze away in the mirror. There is only the heavy question, the ball and chain tethered to her. She sees it reflect back at her in the shine of her eyes, the creases in her skin.

Why?

She sighs, tears the question away from the mirror and places her head in her hands. Instinctively, her fingers reach into her chest pocket and pull out a card. It’s one of the few times she can ever answer anyone properly– showing them the card they were thinking of.

She holds it up to the mirror, tries to fake a smile.

Is this your card? 

She flicks it to the floor, reaches in, and grabs another.

How about this one?

She flicks that one away.

She stops mid-reach. Her eyes finally connect back with her self.

Her card will never be pulled.

 

 

 

Photo by Calamic Photography

An Ode to the Last Best Place

Yesterday morning, I climbed up Mount Helena one last time this summer.

When I first accepted a spot in this fellowship, I not only had no idea what to expect, but entered the process full of misconceptions. Firstly, I had no idea exactly where I was going. I had mistakenly assumed I’d be in Wyoming (where, to be fair, much of Yellowstone lays), for much of my summer. Either way, both Wyoming and Montana were states and regions unvisited and unmapped in my life. I had, in truth, no idea what to expect when I came out here.

Now, after two weeks in Helena, I walked outside a few nights ago to a raging red sky, and heaved a sigh that this was the last time this summer I’d watch the sun set at incredibly late hours under the face of Mount Helena, the last swipes of God’s brush streaking brilliant streams of orange-gold in purple canvas. When I left Hawai’i this summer, I didn’t expect to find lava in Montana skies, but there it was– another sort of fire goddess over the endless horizon around it; Big Sky a name never seeming more apropos than when the heavens are endless fields of light.

Then, this morning, I started trudging (there is no other word, my body ached) up Mount Helena’s 1906 trail– the only other time being my first morning in Helena. Every few minutes, I forced myself to stop and look around at where I was, still in awe at the scope of the place. Endless sky and blankets of pines cover the mountainside in a formation that I know is wild, yet is almost painful in the true perfection of it.

And I cried.

Not out of sadness, though I’m really sad to be leaving, but out of a far deeper, more visceral reaction. The gnawing in my chest when I saw the pines or looked up the faces of gulch cayon walls spoke to something more wild, more primitive even, in my being. It spoke to this deep connection between me, the feral beauty of the land, the creator who had set it all in motion, and the fate of that endless cycle in the future. Seeing the raw beauty of this place hit me right in a spot of my body that swelled with gratitude, awe, joy, and serentity that I honestly don’t know if I’ve felt before.

The word I keep using to describe what I’ve expereienced in Montana is “vast”– the immense vastness, the sheer scale of its beauty has been overwhelming to witness. For all intents and purposes, it should– and does, I suppose– put into persepctive my own small place in the world. I am dwarfed by the sheer scale of this place.

Yet, far from demeaning in any way, the experience has only been renewing. I see this beauty, am awe-struck, and then am filled with a charge, a kuleana, to appreciate and be grateful for this place.

There’s a phrase in Montana often used by locals to describe the state, calling it “The Last Best Place.” There’s much debate and discussion as to the origin and meaning of the phrase– but it can be found throughout as a pride-filled monker for a big state that still has elements of small-town life (in my limited experience). A lifelong Montana resident I met out here described it as “the last place of its kind to be preserved. Public lands, small-town friendliness, strangers helping strangers, more cows than people, bipartianship, that kind of thing.”

And that’s overwhelmingly been what I’ve found here. As, admttedly, unsure as I was (especially as a woman of color travelling to a mostly White state), I have found nothing but kidness, joy, and a fierce and loving sense of pride. I have been welcomed like family, given new friends, bought drinks and passionately and lovingly debated politics with people I have just met. I have felt genuine interest in my story from people here; I have seen a genuine desire to share their own stories too. There’s a love not necessarily for a culture, but rather for the very land itself. For the actual soil on which we move on each day, for each pine tree blanketing the mountain.

No place is perfect, of course. No place, particularly in the American West, is without its history– bloodied and ravaging– of how it came to exist today. Montana is not without its struggles, especially as a rual community. That same resident also reminded me that the phrase is “a little self-depricating, in that a lot of Montanans (like people from anywehre else would do) come back home because they don’t know where else to go.”

That’s the thing, though. The place– the earth itself and the people here– have called home to my soul in a way I have never experienced from a place I had never been to before. It called back to the deepest roots of myself, the parts shorn from the land itself, and forced me to listen to my own beating heart. It cured, as Stephen Mather said, the “restless nation” bubbling in my blood.

So, when they call it “The Last Best Place,” I see what they mean. To this visitor, anyway, it’s one of the last places calling us home to the earth we came from. It’s a place that gives you the space to find, hear, and discover the best of yourself. It’s a place, at last, that allows you to sit under big skies of golden light, consider the large scope of human kindness, and allows your soul to start finding its way home.

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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.

 

The Audience

I’ve been looking through old writing, and I found this. In a desperate attempt to stay fresh, I did some editing, because writing is rewriting and repurposing, yes?


It starts by willing yourself out of bed.

I’m not trying to trivialize that. It took what seems like years to get here. You have spent hours wrapped in sheets, unable to get up from the crushing weight of yourself. When you flip onto your back– the first movement you’ve made that hints that, just maybe, you will sit up this time– a rolling pain starts behind your eyes and down your back. It hurts. It paralyzes you for a moment, as you try and breathe past what, rationally, you know is not there.

The expanding of your rib cage hurts. The balloon of your stomach hurts. Blinking hurts. Everything hurts. It hurts enough for you to consider rolling back into the fetal position. You are tempted to throw an arm over your face like a boxer in a losing match– please, please, just stop hitting me— closing your eyes and trying to make the world disappear.

The thing is, depression is the quieter cousin of anxiety, and you’ve been dealing with this pair for years. They have been slipping into your bedsheets and sliding next to you in bus seats since you were an adolescent. They have wrapped your hand around razors and your body in blankets. They have convinced you that the world outside the life raft of your bed has waters far too dangerous to explore and watched as you did not eat, nor sleep, nor talk to anyone for days in fear of it. They have made you think that sitting with them in the darkness while they silently hold your hands is your only option.

And, years later, you have learned that this is a lie. You know, deep down, that staying with them only begets nights much darker than the one you are in right now. Wisdom teaches you that you have to get up. The rational part of yourself– a minority voice in the chorus of your aching mind– grasps desperately at that wisdom: You have to get up now. You have to get up.

You take a deep inhale, and sit up, a body rising from the grave.


I haven’t been able to stop writing in second person lately. It’s a bad habit of style, I have no doubt. We always teach against the second person; the constant use of “you” can come across as preachy or pedantic, and no audience likes to be told what they feel. It is difficult to do well, and I am no Junot Diaz.

I’ve been desperately trying to break out of the pattern. I start pieces with “I,” feverishly forcing myself to read down a mental list of the feelings I could tell you about, the dynamic verbs my body could be doing, or the thesaurus-long list of words that better describe how I could “say” any of this (‘I mutter,’ ‘I gasp,’ ‘I scream’).

Then, I realize that I have no idea how I feel. I have no idea what I’ve been doing. I am secretly in crisis mode, my brain the burnt out rubble of a war zone at the end of a long battle. I am glassy-eyed and shaken, triaging each moment like a trauma nurse on the field. I am figuring out what needs to happen so I can take the next breath. Sometimes it is stumbling through the motions because it feels like there is nothing else left to do.

And I see myself doing that. I see myself wander through the wreckage of my own being, unsure how to rebuild. At times, I can convince myself that the destruction will warrant whatever new creation I put together.

Sometimes, though, I am so paralyzed with fear that I can’t think through what comes next. Trying to figure it out hurts. Instead, I see myself go glassy-eyed and back away.

So, sure, I am partially writing like this in a desperate attempt to help you understand what I’m feeling. I am trying to unstitch and open myself, let you slip into this world for a moment by narrating what it feels like.

I understand now, though, that my audience isn’t just the reader anymore. My audience is myself, wandering that wreckage shaken and unsure. I am watching this version of myself try and figure her way out of the rubble. I see her sit down and bury her head in her hands, wondering what she should do next. I slam my hands against the screen, desperately trying to get her to hear me. I am writing her letters and stories, telling her that I understand, that it’s okay, that it won’t be this way forever. I want to jump in next to her, throw my arms around her, and then shake her by the shoulders.

You have to get up now. You have to get up

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I am still trying to write a thing. I don’t know how it’s going.


Here’s the thing: I like telling stories.

That doesn’t make me special. I’m a sometimes-writer and full-time English teacher. I have spent years fitting events into narrative structures: dynamic characters, dramatic tension, nuanced relationships wind through conflict and still end with a neat resolution. My world, most days, is spent somehow trying to craft something that fits into a narrative.

I thought this was just craft, something I did on paper. Then, someone noted a small, white lie in my work, saying, “You like making things fit your story.” It wasn’t mean, they were just making an observation. At that moment, it clicked.

It wasn’t mean, they were just making an observation. At that moment, it clicked.

I have been telling myself stories for years.

Nearly every relationship I’ve had is subjected to hours in the tumble-dry cycle of day-dreams. I take the smallest tidbits, find the narrative and fill it with so much hot air it floats away with the rest of my imagination.

My narrative habit has been curling its way through my brain, around my heart, and into my actions since childhood. A gossamer string, my desire to adapt my perception of reality– then manipulate that reality to my perception– has been woven into my life since long before I could understand it.

It’s in adolescent journal entries describing, in excruciating detail, the real meaning behind my crush putting his hand briefly on the back of my chair as he talked to someone else. It’s being sure that, when his “ocean blue eyes, like a stormy sea” (a line, no doubt, purloined from some bad fanfic I had read on the internet) locked with mine, it was because he was seeing something deeper in me. It’s embedded into the fabric of time I’d spend skulking around corners at school, hoping to “accidentally” run into some guy.

When, somehow, I would convince that crush to actually date me– with obvious flirtation, with praises and pretty words– I was still creating storylines for them that would, eventually, end.

Storyline: A young Mormon missionary falls in love with a Catholic girl. He proposes. She says yes. He goes on his mission and when he returns, they find a way to work through their religious issues and have a happy life.

In reality, six months after he left, the heady high of my first kiss and first love had worn off. I was sixteen when he gave me a ring. I was seventeen when I sent my missionary a Dear-John-email (we weren’t allowed to call or see them in person, or I swear I would have). He begged me to accept his God into my heart. I ignored his messages. I returned his ring. 

He’s married now, I think. He blocked me on Facebook.

I did this a few more times in high school:

Storyline: The midwestern track star who tutored me in math dates the unathletic drama kid after they meet in orchestra. Very High School Musical, before that was a thing.

He broke up with me when he realized our time was up. I threw a fit and sobbed some dramatics, though deep down I agreed.

Storyline: The fellow thespian, who I badgered to go out with me my senior year. We went to the same church, sang in choir together. It made sense.

In reality, we were both biding our time, play-acting what we thought love looked like. we fought, we made peace and we parted ways. 

This, of course, is natural for many high schoolers. As a teacher now, I see myself in so many sixteen-year-olds skulking around corners, hoping to bump into someone. 

What is more difficult to realize is that I didn’t leave the practice behind in my school like I thought I did. I see now that I have been weaving webs of stories and heartaches long past my graduation.


 

It is a weird, almost-archeological act to look back on old writing.  Yes, many of us find and keep memorabilia from past lovers (photo booth strips, ticket stubs, a napkin they wiped their mouth with after a first kiss and other moony tangibles of the like).

Words are different. Journals, emails, and even now text messages create archives that speak not just to the existence of a relationship, but our mindset while we were in the relationship. Much like past love letters my parents have, first-person stories of just how besotted (or frustrated) we have been with someone exist for years to come.

Unlike the previous generation, however, artifacts of my relationships are not hidden in a Tupperware box in my closet. They are strains of my old-self buried in my email account. They are left-over rice grains in the drafts folder of old blogs—just when I think I’ve cleaned them all up, one sticks to the bottom of my foot months later. Try as I might to delete someone (and trust me, I try), bits and pieces of past relationships are consistently available at my fingertips.

I look over old emails and the words still feel strangely foreign. The person in them doesn’t sound like me at all. Who was this “us” we created? It appears so strongly here—casual banter and mutual knowledge, names appearing as always-conjoined or pronouns notating the “we” and “us”. Don’t worry about us! We’ll meet you there.

It is strangely dissociative, and I’m filled with a sudden urge to figure out the mystery of the woman I have been these past few months who feels so distant now.

After a stable three-year relationship, I had a moving-too-fast fling. Maybe I was desperately seeking to fill the space left by my break up. Maybe I was overly romantic and allowed myself to get swept into someone else’s fantasy. Maybe I just went temporarily insane.

Some texts remain. Like the emails, I feel so removed from the woman in those words. She is more like a character in a story I have written than any semblance of my actual self.

I read the texts in her voice:

Meet you @ home in 20 min. Who was this girl who gave allowed a near-stranger to call her apartment “home”?

That’s ok, I just wanted to make sure you got home ok 🙂 Who let hours-long absences go because of a breezy “I love you.”

Who was this woman, and how was she ultimately betrayed?

He once joked that at least he would be an interesting story for me to write, but he ultimately failed there too. Our relationship ended with so much banality: he cheated on me. A tale as old as time that any good writer could have seen coming from a mile away, but I was so willing to accept his stories that I completely lost myself in them.

I read the messages, and then I realize that I was also telling myself stories the entire time: that I was okay with this “relationship,” that I had been okay with the break up before it, that the two weren’t connected. Even the past emails were, in some ways, stories: I was a girl planning a to meet somewhere with a man who didn’t particularly like travel; we were breezily headed somewhere that, in fact, we were not.

These past words feel foreign because they are merely images of the character I was in that part of my story. They are no mystery at all; they are merely chapters in my life now closed. 

The question is not, though, how to move onto the next chapter. The question is how long I will be able to keep weaving stories for myself, or if I will ever pause, look around at myself and my reality, and see and accept things as they are.

Here’s the problem: I’ve been weaving stories for so long, I can’t help but wonder what that even means. Even now, as I look at what I’ve written, it’s difficult to figure out what is “truth” and what is “story-truth.” I read the words and wonder how many of the choices I’ve made in my life happened because it was what I wanted, or because that’s what I thought, as the writer, should happen next. How many plot-line roller coasters have I strapped myself into, thinking I saw denouement at the end?

Storyline: A woman sits in her apartment trying to write. She is trying to figure out how the story should end. She sits, looks at the screen, sees the blinking cursor. She knows there is no one to ask for help writing the end. She also knows that, as much as she wants to, she does not know how to end the story.

She looks at the screen. She sees the blinking cursor. She waits.