subject line: to be honest, i have no idea what i want

 

a very messy place

We’re moving and I’ve found that I’m the sentimental one in my family. I want to save so many things - a Kindergarten graduation gown that several of us have worn, a box of costumes that I spent my entire childhood in, an old metronome my brother used to use. Every thing I save, I partner with the phrase, “well, my children will use these one day.” I don’t think I’ve ever thought about kids more before. I want four. My mom had four and so did my sister. It feels like the perfect number. And I want to have kids before my parents are gone. That feels morbid to say, but I’m terrified that they won’t be here to show my kids what a fantastic grandparent looks like, because I only know because of them.
I realize I’ve put the cart before the horse. I’m single. I still have a year and a half of school before I graduate and then there’s so much to do and explore. Sometimes I feel this urgency to figure it out, because I don’t want to push getting married back too far. I need my parents there. And I understand that in many ways, these fears are ungrounded. My parents are in their 60s. They’re healthy people. They’ll be just fine. But anxiety isn’t always rational, is it? And I find myself staring at the yellow Bumble logo, wondering if I open it today or not. I told myself I was going to delete it weeks ago because there is no way on earth that I’m dating someone from around here. I’m sorry, but if you are a baseball player at the community college or a hardcore fisherman, we’re just not going to work. It sounds shallow but I’ve been on these campuses and that’s not what I want. I want someone who is creative and whose hands are always making something, someone that really gets me. Someone who fills rather than drains me. I already made the mistake of being with someone who was the polar opposite of me. I’m pickier because of them. And a part of me just wants it figured out. To meet a wonderful man who sweeps me off my feet and hit the ground running. The other part of me has too many dreams and ideas and plans to make time to pursue any sort of relationship. So, you see, I’m a mess of contradictions and on nights like tonight, it’s kind of humorous.

subject line: you are not alone

 

Singapore

Four weeks ago, my pen pal wrote me a letter. They wrote about museum trips, a new friend, their favourite movie that they would love for me to watch, and I thought that was it. Another letter, happy as ever from a person who always seemed to be sunshine-level happy. I almost missed the loose-leaf in the envelope, it was so thin and see-through under a desk light. They asked me about self-harm and what they could do to deal with it.

I’d never known that this would be a topic we would talk about. I thought they were always going to be happy with who they were and what they wanted in life, but suddenly there was evidence to say otherwise. I should have known, you know? I’ve been writing letters non-stop for over a year and only now do I realize how little of their heart I’ve actually seen. They were the first pen pal to write back to me. They made me believe in the friendship of strangers when I’d only ever been a skeptic. I wonder if they know this.
More than anything, I’m proud that they managed to send a letter that heavy, because it’s not easy to put the deepest parts of yourself in an envelope and mail it over two continents into the hands of someone who’s never seen you or even really known you. But here we are. To my dear friend: In case I didn’t say it clearly enough, in case you still doubt it, I do care. I care a lot; enough to say it to as many people willing to read this and so you know this must be true. You still have so many movies to watch and to tell me about, a thousand more museums to go through with a million other friends, a book to write after you’ve walked the whole globe. And so it goes that I would wish that you never be unhappy, and that you fulfil all the dreams you have and then some, that you’ll talk about your worries with me as many times as you need. I hope you believe me when I say I would drop anything to write back, to call back, to write you another 100 pages of letters until you are certain that you are not alone anymore. I wish you all the happiness in the world.

To my friend and oldest pen pal: If my letter has yet to reach you, please know that I hope you’re okay.

subject line: here's to the fools who dream

 

Illinois

There’s often a fine line between what feels real and what IS real. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. For a month I’ve tried to convince myself that we weren’t real; that what we had wasn’t real. That the week we spent together was a hazy, blissful fog of beauty and emotions. A magical dream.

We both swiped right, and I soon discovered that you were 2 hours away from me, for work, for the next week. We messaged non stop for 4 hours that first night on Bumble and the connection was so great, I knew I had to meet you, regardless of the fact that you were only around for a week.
We met the next day, and spent 7 hours talking on that first date. You’re highly creative, and you sparked my creativity in a way no one else has. We could’ve talked all night, but I had to be up early the next day.
It was chilly outside, but you kissed me until I was breathless in the parking lot before driving back the 2 hours to where you were staying.
That week, you spent 20 hours total in your car, driving to see me, 4 hours round trip. I spent 4 hours total in my car, driving to you.
For 7 short days, we were inseparable. And then your work trip ended. You left to go back across the country. And I felt empty inside. In one short week, you turned my world completely upside down, for the better.
You are the best cuddler I’ve ever met, and we could never get enough of talking to each other for hours. I haven’t laughed until I cried since that week with you. The laughter, the joy, the intimacy; it was all so unexpected yet therapeutic for me.
I’m still attempting to comprehend how I felt such a deep, meaningful connection with someone in such a short amount of time.
We both said that ours was the kind of tender love affair that movies are made of. The fact that it only lasted a week lends an even more surreal quality to it.
Yet, here we are, living across the county from each other. Talking daily and constantly comparing our new Bumble dates to each other. And feeling disappointed.
It all feels like some kind of twisted reality. That we are both doomed to tragically know our ideal match is out there, living at a distance, as we each try to date others in our respective hometowns.
We joke often about running away to Chile together and enjoying a carefree life there.

You travel for work, and we’ve both said that the dynamics of a long distance relationship don’t appeal to either of us at the moment.
Yet our existence together was effortless. I felt like I had known you my entire life, and I couldn’t get enough of you in every single, possible way.

Neither of us can seem to replicate what we shared that week. Truthfully, I’m not sure I will be able to replicate it with anyone else. I’d never experienced it before that week with you. You said that you haven’t either. That’s part of why it doesn’t seem real.

Together, we watched the movie “La La Land” while you were here. We still talk about that movie, and how Emma Stone’s character ends up with a boring, steady, regular guy at the end of the movie, and not with Ryan Gosling’s passionate, creative, artistic character.
We wonder out loud if we will each end up with boring, everyday partners, and not someone who deeply, passionately connects with us on every level the way we connected with each other.
Today we talked about letting each other fade away into a distant memory, to make it easier for us both to date others. I’m trying to date, so that does make sense. But I’ve been so incredibly sad thinking about letting go. Part of me feels that by letting go, I’m giving up my chance for real, deeply moving, all consuming love.

Thank you for renewing my faith in the existence of a magical type of love. I will move forward, but I know that you are everything I want in a partner, and I’m scared that I won’t find or feel that for anyone else again. My heart aches to experience even a fraction of the happiness we shared that week.

So, if you find this email, please know that part of my heart is still completely enchanted by you. And, in my entire 35 years, no one else compares to the magic you made me feel in our short week together.

subject line: you can have the remote forever, I promise

 

Cambridge, England

Harry,

I’m sat 15 paces from your room and wiping my tears from the keyboard as I write. I haven’t seen you in weeks and wish you knew how much I ache for you to get better, to have my little brother back. No one tells you what to do when your brother is enduring suffering you cannot imagine and there’s absolutely nothing you can do.

I hope and pray that some day soon this will be over,
Missing you always,

Your older sister.

subject line: done my time

 

Napier, New Zealand

Being an IYFTE veteran, I can say that most of the posts I send in here are about heartbreak and loneliness. I seem to have an impressive track record with paying attention to the wrong people. But now I have something better to write about. I am hopelessly in love with a boy whose eyes take my breath away. Whose lips feel like home, whose skin is smooth to touch and whose laughter that echoes across every empty corner. And I’m so happy.

To the people reading this, either drinking Snapple Apple in their car or crying on their kitchen floor, don’t give up. Don’t waste a moment. Tell them you love them. Go to university, scholarship or not. Things change. Don’t be afraid.

subject line: Uber pool with strangers

 

San Francisco

“No, don’t ever fucking let her go,” he blurts out.
He was in the passenger seat looking straight ahead, he had a friend in the back there ranting on about his own mess, contemplating whether or not it was time for him to walk away from her.
“Just, listen to me,” he cut him off, “you ever find someone who cares so much for you, you don’t ever let them go. I don’t care whatever circumstances are keeping the two of you from being together, it doesn’t matter, none of it will ever matter. Because once you realize that she is just about the best damn thing you will ever find, she’ll be gone. She’ll be gone, and you’ll be here wishing that you could go back and change it all,” he stopped, he finally admitted to his mistake, “don’t walk down a path you know shouldn’t, if you have better ones to follow.”
The one in backseat broke the dead silence, “you still think about her don’t you?”
“Not a day goes by that I don’t,” he admitted.

subject line: yellow

 

Niwot, Colorado

It’s 4:04 on a Monday afternoon and I’m driving down Hover and it’s raining. It’s an angry rain, the type that pounds the ground, and the sky is rolling, its rage echoing, the occasional flash of lightning cutting through the gloom. The clouds are gray, darker than the normal gray, but not quite purple or blue or black because this is a May thunderstorm, not a July thunderstorm and summer has yet to learn the art of fury.

I’m thinking about this rain, about this lamb of a spring storm that so desperately wants to be the lion of a summer afternoon as I’m staring at the reflection of a red light in the newly-glistening pavement. The radio is playing, I’m not sure what song, but I’m not sure what song ends and “Yellow” starts playing.

Tomorrow it will be six months since I sat in this car at a different red light at the opposite side of town and listened to the opening beats of “Yellow” and cried as I don’t remember what song ended. I think the roads were wet then too, maybe with snow, but really I don’t remember, I just remember that I was sick to my stomach and I could barely hold the steering wheel when I heard Yellow and it reminded me of Sam and for some reason that was what broke my composure.

The piano intro ends and Chris Martin starts singing and I’m remembering that moment, that night, those weeks, and I don’t even connect that tomorrow will be six months and I don’t even feel sad and it’s a strangely peaceful state.

I don’t know why, but for some reason I open the window a crack. I tell myself it’s only for a second and I just want some air and I’ll roll it up when the light changes. But I stick my fingers out, and the desperately, fruitlessly furious raindrops plop onto my fingernails and it makes me feel alive, so when the light changes, I roll the window all the way down.

I drive slower than normal, and the wind slaps my cheeks and tangles my hair and the rain pours into my car sideways, and the drops keep plopping onto my arm and I don’t wipe them off because every drop that hits is another piece of me that comes alive.

I can barely hear the music over the wind, the cars, and the construction, so I turn it up and all I can hear is “it was all yellow” and even though the world outside is all gray, gray with clouds, with worn out pavement, with strip malls, my world is suddenly all yellow too.

Last time I heard this song, my black and white world was turning to gray—even though there was an abundance of color in the world around me because the light was turning from red to green and there’s something about how winter storms reflect the stoplights that makes the air turn to fireworks for a few seconds, I refused to see anything but the black and white, the yes and no, the best and worst.

That was the night I didn’t get into Stanford and the night that I lost myself and the night that started the days that I cried endlessly and gauged lines into my skin because my world had been torn to pieces and I needed my body to match.

Because when you see the world in black and white, you also see yourself in binary terms. Success is a glass ceiling and failure is a death sentence. There is no room for gray moderation, let alone the beauty of the stoplights in the snow or the reflections in the rainy pavement or a world that is glowing yellow solely because you want it to be so.

My window is all the way down and there is more water in the car than there ever should be and wow let’s hope I have a hairbrush in the backseat and my skin is wet and when the feeble sunlight hits the droplets the right way even the darkest scars on my wrists shine bright.

My world is still yellow even though nature is telling it to turn gray.

But I’m choosing to defy nature.

Because this is how we learn to live again.

subject line: please don't actually publish this, I just need to hit send

 

Hoover, Alabama

Dear Zach,

The week I met you I thought “he’s the one. He’s my future.” I remember staying after til they practically kicked us out listening to you talk about the good food in Birmingham and trying BBQ in other parts of the south. I remember meeting Katie and Matt for the first and realizing they thought we were couple but I didn’t want to correct them because it felt so natural. But then a few weeks went by and I realized you were pretty shy. So I joked about how it was going to take you 6 months to ask me out. Well Zach, we are past the 6 month mark. I get it. You’re really busy with school and also a nervous ball of energy around me sometimes. But I’m in a weird place. I don’t mean to but I am waiting for you. I can’t fully open my mind to other guys because I just see you as my future. And so I need to know. Am I waiting for something? Am I waiting for nothing and need to move on and just enjoy your friendship? I’m fine either way. But I want it be us. I want to do laundry together and cook supper for you and help you live life. And I want you to be the calm in my storm because I think you can. If I were Meg Ryan, I’d tell you to meet me at the Empire State Building. We don’t live NYC. So maybe meet me at the top of the Vulcan. Tell me where we go from here.

Waiting (not so) patiently,
Jackie

subject line: I'm good right here

 

Tennessee

Today I stared at this guy’s profile on Bumble trying to decide if I wanted to start a conversation—-If i wanted to take another chance. But I realized right there that I already have my second chance, and I don’t need a man to make it a good one. So, I walked away. And it’s good. One day I may want to put myself out there or maybe I’ll run into someone on accident. But right now, here is perfect. Here is healthy. Here I am learning about self-love and who I want to be. Yeah, I think I’ll be happy right here.

subject line: snapple apple + Alicia Keys - you =

 

Not in the same state as you

I found myself thinking about you once again. And by once again, I mean all day. Thanks a lot for filling up my thought space with you and all the frickin’ memories we had. They say out of sight out of mind. Well we’re 2,793 miles away. I blocked you on text, snapchat and facebook messenger and somehow you’re still in my mind. They should change that saying to out of sight, still in mind. So here I sit, in my car, in the parking lot of a gas station, listening to Alicia Keys, thinking about how I ain’t got you while drinking Snapple Apple. It tastes different without you. We used to get them all the time. And you would tip the drink upside down before opening to get the flavor going. Then you’d open it and let me drink first and you’d read the fact on the inside of the cap. I did all of that this time. I even looked over to the passenger seat to read the fact to you. You weren’t there. I took some gulps; washing down the taste of your name that was on my lips.

subject line: it was too late from the start

 

Charlotte, North Carolina

I feel like I have to put it out there how hard Sunday was for me too. Walking away from your door and going to my own bed. Hugging you in front of the hotel the next morning and not turning around five times.

There’s a lot I want for my life, and one of those wants is unequivocally you. And I feel a little silly for not realizing it sooner, but I think everything that happened to lead up to this moment would have gone similarly either way.

There’s about 739 additional things I’d like to say, but for the most part, I think in this particular situation that my silence is better. I know you have some things to figure out (or you’ve already figured them out and now you have to do them) for yourself. And I don’t want to be a burden on those musings, and I certainly don’t want you to feel like you have any sort of obligation towards me if you did return.

So I guess just know that while I won’t be sitting around waiting for you, I will be holding out a little spark of hope that one day in the future our timing might actually be right.

Goodbyes suck.

subject line: brothers

 

tampa

My brother decided today that he is going to join the military. My selfishness feels the desire to stop him in his tracks, lock him in his room, or anything to keep that from happening. He’s my best friend, my confidante, the only person in my family that tells me to do whatever will give me the happiest life for myself. The thought of having an empty space in all of those categories is not the least bit appealing. But just as he tells me that I can do whatever I set my mind to, I must let him do the same.

subject line: the email i hoped i'd never want to write

 

probably not the high road

Objectively, I have no right to complain. Realistically, I still will. This is high school, after all.
It’ s supposed to be the year of making memories with friends, going to the last pep rally, playing in the last game, going to prom for the last time. Instead, it’s been the year of weekly exclusion and fake friends trying to act as if everything is fine. Here’s a note to the people who’ve let me down time and time again: pretending you had nothing to do with my exclusion does not mean you are actually innocent. Time after time, you willingly and enthusiastically went to the parties, the dances, the movies, knowing that I was purposefully not invited. Your half hearted platitudes to reach out to you if I ever “needed to talk about things” may have helped you feel better, but I was still bored and alone every night. Apparently I made the cut for “school friend”, but when it came to parties you all “thought a smaller group would be best”. Even when the group was only smaller by one. You pretended you didn’t know that there was a problem, and I pretended your utter lack of character didn’t destroy the fourteen years of memories I shared with you. Apologizing if I felt excluded without acknowledging the reality of my exclusion doesn’t make you look magnanimous, it makes you look like an idiot. But now I’m done. If drinking every weekend and taking pictures where the beer bottles are so artfully hidden is the only way you can reconcile the fact that your lifetime of entitlement has led to mediocracy (at best), then I wish you the best. I’m making new friends, becoming closer to both God and my family, choosing which college to attend next year (I guess the nights in were good for something), and learning to live my best life without the people I initially imagined living it with.

subject line: falling down the rabbit hole

 

under

My life seemed like it was finally coming together. I had gotten into the college of my dreams, I had a good chance for a full tuition scholarship, I had been given the lead in my ballet show, and I had a really nice boy really like me.

Life was going good, but then I didn’t get the scholarship. It seems silly really. I know that I was lucky to even be considered for it and that 17 other kids had gotten rejected just like I did, but I still cried for hours after recieving the email. I wanted to write back to them. Ask them why I wasn’t good enough. Why I never seemed to be good enough.

I finally felt like I was getting somewhere in my ballet career. I had never been particularly good, so when I got one of the main roles in the show I was excited. I had my own solo and a partnered dance. I was completely happy with it, but my inability to do some parts of the dances led me to question my skill as a dancer and, even worse, it made me hate my body. By normal standards, I am not overweight and I know that my body is acceptable, but at dance all of the other girls are a lot thinner than I am. In the show there is one part where I have to be lifted up onto a boy’s shoulder and we have failed at it every week. It’s not the boy’s fault. He can do it with the other girl. That means it has to be my fault. It destroyed the self confidence I had worked so hard to build up.

There was a really sweet, really cute boy that had started to show interest in me. It was going well at first. We flirted and had good conversations and I had started to really like him. I don’t know what happened. It’s like I woke up one day and didn’t have those feelings for him anymore. I feel like an awful person because I basically led him on. He is such a kind-hearted boy and he deserves much better than a girl who won’t let herself feel.

I’ve been trying to pull myself together, but I’m barely slowing my descent. Some days I feel like I just need to let it all out, but I’m not sure that anyone will understand.

I just hope that I can find wonderland when I reach the bottom of this rabbit hole.

subject line: an open letter to airports

 

up in the clouds

I’ve been through airports a lot lately. This is probably because the idea of coming and going has become one of my closest friends. This friend of mine has been both the life and death of me. And today I realized that this nomadic friend, well she lives in every airport I’ve ever traveled to. The terminals, the gates, the security checks; those are her kingdoms. She’s the reigning queen there. And me? I’m just a guilty subject of hers.

I realized today that I think I may actually be jealous of airports themselves. They get to host so many people with so many places to be and people to see. They wave goodbye and embrace hello. They are the beginning and the end of every good thing. Every vacation, every visit to a loved one, every successful business trip, every return home. And you know what makes me jealous the most? They never hold onto anything or anyone too tightly.

I think that airports are like the last bit of daylight before the sun sets, but they are also the promise that the sun will rise again in the morning. When I see travelers of all demographics in this state of vulnerability, I see hope. There in those gates waiting to board sit people in what I believe is their most raw state of being. As we sit in those uncomfortable, thin leather seats, we are awaiting some kind of change. We are waiting to leave because we are going somewhere new or we are returning home. But this is the arena of the waiting game that I once wrote about before. The tickets have been purchased, transportation from the airport has been arranged, and now, we simply wait. And I think that even though some of us appear impatient, deep down we are all happy to be in the airport. Because the airport is the final step. It’s a whisper in our ears saying, “you are almost there; just sit tight a little bit longer.”

I look around at the airport and this is exactly what I see; I see individuals who are in their final step. They committed to the job. They took a leap of faith to surprise their loved one. They splurged on a vacation to Disneyland for their children. They made the decision to come home. Whatever it was, these people committed. They bought their tickets. They got themselves here. They are almost there.

I guess what this really was was a desire to send a message of love to all of those traveling in airports. I’m proud of you. I love watching you be daring and bold. It makes me want to be more daring and bold. And to the airport, I love you. Thank you for housing the bold. Thank you for making the people who just can’t stop coming and going feel a little bit less alone. I want to be more like you. I really do.

subject line: too many hot dogs and too much candy

 

Reykjavik, Iceland

I just returned from a trip to Iceland. In this unfamiliar planet, we drove around in a bright orange van that we ate and slept in. We didn’t shower. We ate way too many hot dogs and way too much candy. We didn’t have cell service so all we had was a real, paper map. We were cold so we appreciated each other’s warmth. I fell back in love with travel all over again. And then, as always, I had to come back home. I should’ve known I couldn’t run forever.

And so now I’m back home, and I graduate from college in a mere 7 weeks. From this point on, the future is more unknown than it has ever been in my life. I remember the extremely short period of time 4 years ago when I couldn’t see the future. But the difference is that back then, in an instant, I had the picture of the next 4 years of my life painted in an all-too realistic masterpiece. I don’t have that picture right now. And to be honest, I probably never will again. There are no more decisions that will lock me down to anything that I don’t want to do. From now on, literally everything that I do with my life can be the things I’ve dreamed of.

subject line: i blame frank sinatra

 

SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE OF IOWA

Two weeks ago I had an email all written up in my head. I forgot to actually write it down and send it in, but it was going to be about the 26 hours I spent in the car driving from Utah to New York, and how we broke up two years ago and though we have remained good friends since, the three months I had just spent out West was the longest we had ever gone with out seeing or speaking to each other.
I was going to write about how it felt nice and freeing to finally have some space and not feel trapped outside of the dating world because every three months you’d tell me you missed me and I would keep such a strong grip on those three little words.
I was going to write about how I didn’t even think about you while I was gone and then how confusing it was to find myself driving at 5 AM in the middle of Iowa, with the sun still down and the world still dreaming, and all I could think about was you. Frank Sinatra was filling up my car at the time and his lyrics make me swoon, I blame him for the thought of you claiming space in my mind again.
The thing is, this email I was supposed to send in two weeks ago had a different ending. One where I remembered why we broke up and how good it felt to finally have space away from you and your ever present hold on my heart. I was supposed to write about how I turned off the Frank Sinatra and left those thoughts behind in Iowa.
However, the real ending involves my birthday celebration, and balloons, and free drinks, and dancing. The real ending involves you showing up with your dumb cute face, and your perfect hair cut and outfit. The real ending involves a boy belting hits from the 80’s to his ex-girlfriend all night and once again claiming space in her head and heart. The real ending involves me falling asleep with my head on your chest, feeling more at home than I have in two years.

subject line: excuses

 

Along the coast

To all the guys out there (and maybe one in particular) if you say the reason that you don’t want to be with someone is because they are too good for you .....don’t walk away, don’t leave them. Show up for them. Step up. Be good enough.

I’d rather have you stick around and love me imperfectly, than not love me at all.

So do that or find another excuse that’s actually valid.