subject line: confusion is my middle name.

 
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Nebraska

Last night I was texting my best guy friend and he always says I’m too hard on myself so I told him I had written down a list of things I like about myself. He said that was great, but an armature list, I should really talk to him since he’s an expert and has been adding things that list for over six years. Obviously, I was curious so I asked for some things on that list, expecting the basics of “funny, smart, pretty” but instead I got.
“I like that you always put other people first, when you’re having a bad day.”
“I like that you always understand me even when I don’t.”
“I like that you always laugh at my stupid jokes even when they aren’t funny.”
“I love your smile, it always makes me smile too.”
“I love that one blue dress from your high school graduation pictures.”
“I love your hair, straight hair is too boring and curly hair is too much, but your hair is the perfect middle ground.”

And it goes on. All I could think about was in “When Harry Met Sally” how he is telling her all thing things he loves about her. I know everyone says “be with your best friend, marry your best friend”. But what am I suppose to do if I’m not in love with him? So I guess this is just me sending this question out to the universe and the community of wise, broken people. Do I go for it or do I hold out for someone else?

subject line: a little off.

 

Kennesaw, Georgia

Everything is okay, but it feels a little off.

She’s still breathing, but she doesn’t remember my name sometimes. That feels a little off.

I’m going to college, but I’m not doing so well. That feels a little off.

The days until I move out are dwindling down and I’m already homesick. That feels a little off.

I’m still me, but my hearts a little heavier than it used to be. That feels a little off.

Everything is okay, but it feels a little off.

subject line: 3,073.9 miles apart, part 2

 

Never the PNW Again

You got the job. You moved to Seattle. You made promises. We tried. And we failed. I’ve never been more heartbroken but I know that you and I will grow separately. It’s just the meantime that hurts. When you love someone and the timing doesn’t match up and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change it, I think that’s the worst. I think that’s what the songs about broken hearts are talking about. Loving someone and knowing that no matter how hard you try, it just won’t work.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t be your forevergreen.

subject line: convenience

 

Dallas, Texas

Think big thoughts, feel deep feelings, speak clear words.

A sign I will never forget seen in the mountains of El Chalten, Argentina exactly one year ago, today. I was hiking alone and I had never been freer. Although I didn’t care to admit it, one of the forces that drove me to study abroad was the feeling of being stuck with same people. This “relationship” had lasted too long, and I felt disconnected from my friends. I hadn’t thought about you in months while I was laughing and drinking Quilmes cerveza thousands of miles away.

Until the moment I returned to the states you texted me. Like clockwork. Could you sense my powerful presence from states away? I couldn’t deny you; I never could. We went out to dinner and things felt different. The “relationship” we had was a clouded memory and the check split right down the middle didn’t spare me one emotion. I had none to spare.
Until months later you invited me to your place. A new apartment, a new bed we had never previously shared. It all felt so different until I snuck out the next morning falling into the same habits.
I want to speak clear words about this, about us, because I believe I finally have found them. We will always be convenient for each other. The same hometown. The same college. The same friends. A fun convenience that pleases both of us, whenever it suits us. If you find this email, I want you to know I care about you so deeply and I know now that should not be misplaced. I won’t let myself get hurt again, and I won’t let you take advantage of this convenience.

subject line: even you, especially you

 

Chi-Town

When I wake up in the morning, I roll over and smile and pretend that you are there smiling back at me. It’s like a lethal injection to my heart when I realize you’re not just in the bathroom, about to come back and slip under the covers.

It’s been three weeks since you told me you wanted to marry me. Three weeks since I told you I’d never forgive myself if I chose you over this career I’m building. Three weeks since you said you loved me. Three weeks since I said I couldn’t make any promises.

Three weeks since you said you want to be all in or all out.

I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I loved you until it was too late. I’m sorry I didn’t find words to tell you how you changed my whole life when you were right in front of me.

You said I know you better than anyone else in the world but feel like you barely know me. Both of those are probably true.

J, I so wanted to be vulnerable with you but I truly don’t know how. No one has wanted to see all of me before. I’ve never been the center of attention. You’re the only person in the world that I can talk to without disqualifying my emotions and I was still figuring out how exactly to do that. I look strong and I sound strong but the truth is, I’m just as much of a mess as you are. Maybe more, because I’m so afraid to let anyone - even you - especially you - know the truth.

It’s you. You’re the one I want to figure it out with forever. Please forgive me. Please come back. You asked me what I wanted - this is what I want. You.

subject line: when you called me weak.

 

Iowa

“You idolize all of these strong women, yet you can’t be strong enough to pick up your things and move closer to me,” he said.

Let me tell you that strength comes in all shapes. Strength comes in an even more complicated shape when anxiety is so tightly and uninvitingly wrapped within. I may look weak to you, but hear me out when I say you too easily confuse my weakness for strength. I was strong enough to make a decision you and I both didn’t want — to consciously let someone go that I still want to spend my forever with. I’m strong enough to continue to wake up on all the days my heart is heavier than a hundred cinder blocks as I mourn the loss of someone who is still here and existing just 3 hours away. I realized, most importantly, how strong I had to be when I asked you where you saw us in the future. I let down walls to tell you where I saw us. And you gave me one sentence in three words that changed everything. It wasn’t, “I love you.” It wasn’t, “let’s do this.” You said, “I don’t know.” Those three words, nine letters, thirteen characters that so closely almost broke me — forced me to be even more resilient than I ever thought imaginable. My heart is still in pieces all these months later. I still cry heaps behind closed doors, but let me remind you through all of my past, present, and future tears that I am strong enough to at least see the bigger picture that blinded you.

subject line: the news won't cover this.

 
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The Same School

i am sitting outraged and shaken on the floor of my kitchen drinking from a bottle so aggressively that i can’t even taste the burn. last week, my school went into a small lockdown alert because some expelled student was threatening to shoot. today, i heard the shot.

i was substituting in a history classroom. first floor. very accessible. i had just called out a student’s name during attendance when it rang out. the once loud room of rambunctious seventh graders went quiet— one whispered “was that a gun?” and they all turned to me.

i am a pacifist, against all violence, a Christian, against killing, against the second amendment, i am for these children living.

without even waiting for the announcement, one that didn’t come on the intercom for another five minutes, i locked the classroom door and asked three of the boys to help me slide one of the heavy filing cabinets in front of it. as soon as these kids were safe, locked in, barricaded behind the primary teacher’s desk and a few of their desks, i texted my siblings who attended this school to make sure they were okay. they were. everyone was.

one of the gym teacher’s had bravely heard the shot and, since it was his prep period, he went to investigate. the kid was a horrible shot, thankfully, and missed. the teacher disarmed him and no one was hurt.

and yet, the news won’t cover the incident because of the lack of story, the lack of “juice” as the reporter who answered our call said. these kids I was entrusted with could have died, people could have died today and the news won’t cover it.

my vodka is almost gone. my nerves are gone. i am just a substitute who has rejected work offers for the next three days because the thought of walking back into that school has my stomach somersaulting and flipping and twisting and i can’t bear the thought that i could have to act as fast as i did today. again.

subject line: three weeks.

 

Where Guns are Worth More Than Lives

It’s been three weeks since a teacher at my school fired a shot from inside his classroom. Three weeks of trying to figure things out, three weeks of distrust, looking at my teachers who may one day be death staring at me from across the room. Three weeks of hopeless anger at a helpless man who just wanted out. Three weeks of relishing in the fact that I am alive. My friends, unlike so many others, are alive. Three weeks of attending school, never knowing if that day may be my last.

Three weeks of jumping at the static of the speaker, heart-pounding and ready to run, to duck and cover, at every single announcement.


Three weeks of healing.


I don’t think it’ll ever be enough.

subject line: the dead dad's club.

 

Boise, Idaho

Nothing can prepare you for losing your dad. You know a few people your age who have lost a parent. You think about how sad that would be, but you don’t dwell on it long because your dad is still living. Then your dad is diagnosed with leukemia and your world falls apart.

You’re hopeful that it can be treated, but the future is suddenly unclear and unsure. Did we just celebrate his last birthday on earth? But he’s just turned 75. He’s so young! Was that his last Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years? Time is going too fast and he’s too sick. What will the world be like if he isn’t here? You’re still single. If you get married and have kids...he won’t be there, will he? He can’t die. He’d miss too much. You’d miss him too much.

Before you know it, barely 4 months after being diagnosed, the doctors are telling you treatment isn’t working. You hear words like ‘hospice’ and ‘quality of life.’ The ambulance takes him home from the hospital and paramedics put him into a bed that he will never leave. You experience what hospice calls ‘anticipatory grief’ as he becomes unresponsive. You care for him, sing to him, pray over him, share memories with him and give him permission to leave you, even though it’s not what you want. Then, the moment you hoped would never come, your dad takes his last breath. It’s excruciating. The man who was your dad is no longer in the body that failed him. You’re relieved that he’s no longer in pain and crushed because he’s gone. He’s gone.

You’re swept into a weird dimension with funeral planning and a wall of grief that separates you from the rest of the world. Everything is a haze. You’re numb and broken. People blow your mind with how they show up for you. They will clean your apartment, feed you and bring you wine. They’re a small shimmering light in the overwhelming darkness.

Then you go to your dad’s funeral.
You.
Go.
To.
Your.
Dad’s.
Funeral.
And your heart breaks again.

It’ll be the most beautiful tribute and service you could imagine. You’ll talk to too many people you don’t know and thank them for coming. It’ll feel simultaneously significant and stupid. Because your dad shouldn’t be dead.

The days will turn into weeks and before you know it, it’s been 6 weeks since he passed. It’ll be what would have been your parents 35th wedding anniversary. You’re dreading the other momentous dates to follow.

People will start forgetting and you’ll get better at hiding your grief. When people do remember to ask how you are, you’ll say something lame like, “I’m doing as well as can be expected.” As if that means something. You’ll still feel that wall of grief that separates you from everyone else. If you’re lucky you have a few people that won’t mind how much you talk about death and your dead dad. You might even have some people in your life with the unfortunate wisdom that comes with losing someone, to remind you how death is THE worst and show you how to keep living.

Death is stupid.
Grief is weird.
I miss my dad.

subject line: he is just a season.

 

Washington

He is a part-time, fleeting glimpse of an alternate reality.

A painful reminder of what happens when your life is lived just a little too late, just a few years out of sync.

I’m sorry I didn’t arrive sooner. I’ll admit to being late for the love of my life.

But I also want you to admit to your part in this. I’ve dreamt you saying these words: What kind of a coward was I to marry her and not wait for you to show up?

subject line: children and a ghost.

 

Magdalena de Kino, Mexico

She left yesterday. I stood there with a weeping child on my hip and a blister on my left heel. And she walked away, leaving behind the life she thought she had made. It’s funny, you know. I’m not mad; I’m not sad either. I’m just lonely now. People keep asking me if I’m relieved, as if their sympathetic smiles could understand anything I’ve been through in the past three years at this foster home. How can I be relieved when everything she left behind is now living in my house, sleeping in my bed, eating my breakfast? No, I am not relieved; I am resigned. Friends, I ask you, is there any mother out there who didn’t mean to be one, who isn’t living with as much weight in their heart as I? The children have taught me that resignation is a must. But her ghost has taught me that hopelessness is not.

subject line: you.

 

Greensboro, North Carolina

We all have a certain story that we do not share out loud because we are afraid that nostalgia will come in series of waves and drown us. We all know a certain name that we rarely mention anymore because it leaves a bitter taste in our tongue yet makes our heart skips a beat. We all know a familiar voice that is slowly fleeting into oblivion but we always hear it when their favorite song plays on the radio. We all know a familiar face that we desperately hoped we will see every morning when we wake up but is now a part of the group of faces that we once knew and trying to forget. And for me? It’s you. It will always be you.

subject line: I never wanted to be this girl.

 

Heading Home

i wouldn’t say that i was the girl who had my life totally figured out, but i definitely had an idea: i was going to stay the good kid and make my parents proud. i was going to major in english at my first choice school; finish my degree; get married after graduation; settle down with the man of my dreams and put christmas trees up in my living room in march to surprise him when he comes home from work. i was going to make those college friends that everyone talks about having and i was going to be lovely and bright and i would be the girl that people just enjoyed.

but i never pictured that i would be here.

i made it to the school i’ve dreamt of for years, and i started my english degree, but i had to move out of my house in november; it was while i was home on break when i finally recognized the manipulation and abuse at home. i’m leaving this school for a community college closer to home, and we’re looking more and more at getting married before graduation so that i can get away from my parents a little bit sooner. i’ve found myself sitting in comparison far too often and for far too long, rolling around in envy until i can’t get it off my back. i am not the person i wanted to be, and i’m not on any sort of familiar path.

but i’m learning to let that image go and to hold on to what i have right now, loving it fully and deeply and well. but i’m not going to lie. it’s taking a lot longer to get to lovely than i expected it to.

subject line: thank God we are alive.

 

A School in Western New York

our school went into a light lockdown. some kid who had been expelled was threatening to come back and shoot people. no one was armed in the building. kids didn’t have to hide behind locked doors.

and yet, I’m throwing up in the teacher’s bathroom because I am just a substitute. I am just a twenty one year old recent college graduate. I am not qualified to hold these lives in my hands.


But it was only a light lockdown. We are all still alive.

subject line: alive.

 

Snow Storms vs. Rain Clouds

He makes me feel alive in a way that I haven’t. He doesn’t know it. He doesn’t know that I have spent my entire life trying not to feel. And he won’t know. But I’m thankful for it. Whatever comes, I don’t want to go back to not feeling.

And for all the people out there that say write the text, send the email, make the phone call - it’s not always that easy. Some will come into your life and give you all the feels, and that will be their only purpose. To remind you that you can. And that you should. And that you’re alive. But that doesn’t make them yours.

subject line: in a perfect world.

 

The South

That’s what I wrote on a Polaroid of us that I’ll keep forever.

In a perfect world, we would be together. You’d be my forever date & dance partner.
You’d make me laugh at you for just being you.
You’d be the southern gentleman that I’ve always dreamed of marrying.

We would have that suburban home with our 3 kids and a dog.

However, that isn’t the case.

The reality is, we’re about to both graduate and move forward with our lives. You’ll probably end up in South Carolina and I’ll probably be in San Fransisco. (After I’m done with my year in our college town.)

We’ll both fall in love, get married, and have kids but not with each other.

I’ll probably marry a hippie or a farmer. You’ll probably marry a girl from the southern town of Charleston.

In a perfect world, I’d get you for all the nights, not just one.

But for one night, I had you. And I want to remember that night for the rest of my life.

subject line: just like when we were kids.

 

Los Angeles, California

i’ve called you mine for 3 years now. sometimes it feels like we’ve gotten a little lost. we went from not being able to take our eyes and hands off each other to forcing ourselves to make eye contact with each other when we’re in a fight. we let things get in the way - traffic, friends, work, sleep. sometimes we go days without smiling at each other. and there’s no one to blame but ourselves. i blame myself because i know that you are mine and sometimes i take that for granted.

but tonight, tonight was different. tonight we drove up to the mountain that we always used to go before we started dating. we made out in the back seat of my car and fogged up all the windows. we undressed each other and then laughed about it when it was all over. then we drove back down the mountain, hand in hand, and i drove you back to your house. when we arrived at your driveway you decided that it would be a good idea to go get ice cream, at 11pm on a Sunday night. and so we drove to get ice cream and played top hits with all the windows rolled down.

all this to say, tonight i felt like a kid again. more importantly, we felt like kids again. the thing is, we chose each other. we are committed on the good days and the bad days. when we feel old and when we feel young. but tonight i feel like i am 19 again, falling in love with you all over again. i never knew something so simple and nostalgic could make me feel so good.

so here’s to all of you who feel a little stuck with the one you love: go back to the beginning. make yourselves feel like kids again. you have the rest of your life to be an adult. i think its important to remind yourselves what life felt like when you first fell in love.

subject line: to the boy who wrote to me

 
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in the mountains

You were 16 when we met. I was 14 and didn’t have a clue. You were brilliant and sweet. I had words that needed a home.

I don’t remember how the emails started. I just know they did - I just know that for two blissful years I had you in my inbox every day. You’re the only person who has ever given me a nickname. You knew my every dream. You knew my every fear. I could write to you like I could never write anywhere else. You made me a writer. And I have spent more than a decade looking for another pen pal, another friend, like you. For another boy who understood my words, and layered them so beautifully with his own that we could have been the same brain, the same heart, the same soul. The way we were.

It was never love with us - it was this deep, abiding, lasting friendship that I didn’t know what to do with. I thought if you wrote to me as you did, you had to love me. Isn’t that how the movies said it would happen? I wanted to love you so badly, but I didn’t. You didn’t either.

I was 16 when your father died, and you needed a hand to hold. You chose mine. You’re the first boy who’d ever reached for my hand and held on.
I had no idea what I was doing.

I can’t remember why you left, I just remember that the letters (for they were never just emails) stopped, and that you stopped them on purpose.
You told me we had to stop writing to each other. That I was someone you had to learn to live without. I blamed your grief, I blamed myself, I blamed the world, but really, I think we just had to grow up. We couldn’t be what the other needed. It was time for both of us to leave home.

It’s been 12 years since then, and my grandfather, the man who raised me as much as my father has, and who has taught me
more than I’ll ever be able to remember, died three weeks ago, and my entire world has crumbled around me. I’ve never known such grief.

And there you were; one Instagram message, and you were back in my life. You’re a man now. You don’t call me my silly nickname anymore, but your words still layer so beautifully around mine I wonder if you aren’t just something I made up in my head - a part of my heart that appears in human form every 14 years. It’s been two days of text messages that make me feel like I may, someday, be happy again. I’m so grateful that you came back to me, and I’ve been honest with you in ways I can’t be honest with others - except for two things. Two questions I’m too afraid to ask.


1. Will you write to me again?
2. Can we love each other this time?