Let’s Not Bother With Small Talk

Please, let’s not bother with small talk. Let’s not waste our breath with the mediocrity of empty exchanges and meaningless conversations that end in uncomfortable silence and the awkward shuffling of feet.

Let’s not bother with words that just don’t matter and questions spit out with the force of thunder and the speed of an Aston Martin, only used to fill the silence that barely even touched the space between us.

The rest of the world can go ahead and carry on about the little things. They can talk about the weather and how remnants of Winter still linger in the April air — how frost-tipped grass is still what we wake up to. The rest of the world can go and ask us, “What’s up,” but I hope they don’t laugh when I answer, “the sky,” because that’s what I really mean. And when they ask me, “how are you,” I hope they don’t expect me to submit myself to the most common lie told, encapsulated within the words, “I’m fine.”

Please hear me when I say I don’t want any part in the mundane.

So, if weather’s what you want to talk about, I want to hear about all the ways you change with the seasons. I want to know what you’re thinking when you’re alone at three AM in the middle of the Winter, when all of the chaos of the holiday season has simmered down, and you’re left with nothing but an empty apartment and an emptier Christmas tree and nothing, but the sound of your own thoughts. If you want to talk about the sky, tell me about all the things you see for yourself when you look up. Tell me about the hopes you have and the crippling fears and the obstacles you see in front of you. Tell me about all the ways you plan on changing the world, and I will let you in on all the ways I want my small hands to move mountains.

And if you must tell me about your favorite food, please give me more than just that. I want to know about how many times you sat with your ailing grandmother, trying to master her favorite recipe. I want to know how many times your kitchen has had the lingering scent of that meal since she’s been gone. If you’re able to give me all of that, if you’re able to find it in you to tell me how you stayed up all night every Thanksgiving eve, standing on a stool, helping your mom prepare for the family meal the next day, I’ll tell you about my incessant fear that one day, I won’t be able to get down all the family recipes I was raised on. That one day, the recipes my mom keeps in a tattered notebook will die right in my lap if I don’t hurry up and get them all down.

And if how are you is the question you are dying to answer, tell me about the heartache. Tell me about how they broke your heart and what you’ve done to try and heal it since that door slammed, closing the chapter of your life without a tidy ending. Do you still wear the same cologne that she picked out, with the hope that she’ll somehow get a waft of it in the air and remember that your arms were once her home and that she’ll find the star that leads her back to you? Do you sink into your bed at night after busying up your schedule just to forget how her eyes were the only ones that knew you? Do you let the weight of heartache and cans of beer pull you down until you can’t remember how final that slamming door sounded? And if you let me in and tell me how many pieces your heart broke into, I’ll show you all the shards of glass I’ve been carrying around since the day he and I let our love die. I’ll tell you about all the months I spent looking into his green eyes and begging them to know me. I’ll tell you about all the time I spent searching those pools of green, desperate for them to make me feel seen like they did all the time before. I’ll talk about all the jagged pieces, the epic love stories that were born from my finger tips, and the nights I spent playing the songs that were the soundtrack to our love, with the hopes that he’d hear them all through the radio airwaves. And that he’d come back to me. And if you really listen, I’ll tell you about the way his face sunk in my rear view mirror while his arm waved goodbye, and he whispered, “keep in touch, okay?” for the last time on that cold March night.

Tell me about your friends. Tell me about the ways they stitched you back up after that broken heart. Tell me about the pit in your stomach you feel at the thought of losing any of them. Tell me what they mean to you, what you mean to them. Tell me what your life has been like with them in it and the emptiness it would be without the security of having them be only a phone call away.

Tell me about your parents. Tell me about how you carry your head up like your father always taught you and how your eyes are as piercing in color as your mother’s. Tell me about the way it felt hearing your mom say she is proud of you for the very first time. Talk about the way your fathers pain cut you in the core the time he couldn’t look you in the eyes when you disappointed him. Tell me about all the ways your parents unintentionally broke you, because they all do, without even trying to. Tell me how they molded you, how they shaped you into the person that stands before me. And if you do, I’ll decorate a picture of what it was like being the first born child to immigrant parents, and how my childhood was more about darkness than there was light, but how I never let that define me. Tell me about how you got by, how you survived, and I’ll tell you the same.

I want to know about the wars you fought and all the armor around your heart. I want to know the bruises that you wear on your soul and all the beatings you took that made such a permanent mark. I want to know about why you jump two feet in the air at the sound of a slamming door. I want to get a phone call in the middle of the night, frantic, unable to sleep, because you were too busy coming up with a plan to save this universe that’s drowning under the weight of vanity.

I want to know what makes you feel seen. I want to know what gets you up in the morning and moves you to get through this big ol’ life thing. I want to know the things that awaken your soul and all the things you are passionate about.  Tell me what keeps you going in a world that is constantly pushing you to feel small. Tell me who you’ve fought to become. Tell me about the demons you keep hidden in the crevices of who you are. What are your greatest regrets? What are your biggest accomplishments?

For as long as I live, for as many sunrises as I am able to wake up to, and as long as this beautiful earth makes its way circling around the sun, I want to make this time count. And I just don’t think empty conversations filled with how are you’s can ever give you that.

So please, let’s not bother with small talk.

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Everything You Say Is Gonna Matter, Everything You Do Is Gonna Add Up

I used to envy my friends who grew up with brothers and sisters close in age. I used to go on and on about how lonely it was to be seemingly sibling-less growing up, despite having both a younger brother and sister. My brother is six years younger than me and my sister is 15 years younger than me — both age differences were a bit too much as a kid to ever fully appreciate having what could have been a built-in best friend from the start.

The thing is, even at a young age, I always felt compelled to grab onto the people around me and keep them in my company. I craved conversation. I craved connection. I suppose I realized then how fleeting moments are. How quickly people come and go. Truth be told, I never wanted to be alone.

I say that loosely today because I’ve never really ever been alone. 

My mom was a stay-at-home mom who, for lack of a better word, babysat a few of the neighborhood girls after school. My fondest childhood memories involved those girls and the time we spent together every day after school.

Over time, the girls became the sisters I never had (until, of course, my sister came boppin’ along when I was a freshman in high school). Long before cell phones and social media and the need to measure our own worth by the number of likes or favorites or retweets came crashing into our lives, it was always just me and these girls. Playing and fighting and laughing and dreaming. Face-to-face. We spent hours riding bikes around our neighborhood, taunting the boys that lived houses away from me. We’d set up neighborhood-wide games of manhunt. We laid outside and counted stars. We knew nothing of the future, but we hung onto each other. When we laughed, it was never without tears. When we fought, we kicked and we screamed and we yelled. And when we loved, when we were there for each other in the midst of divorces, threats of divorce, familial discord, and broken homes, we loved hard. We were always present. Always right there with each other.

That was my childhood. In all its glory. It was beautiful and full and connected. It’s hard to believe how long it’s been since I’ve tasted the innocence of what a childhood was. Of the simplest form of fun and happiness. Of face-to-face interactions, getting dirty and muddy and being fully present because we had no other choice but to be.

– – –

I remember the 3rd of July the summer before I turned 21 vividly. The air was hot and sticky, but typical for that time of year on the Jersey Shore. I went with three of my girlfriends to the annual fireworks held a few towns over — a tradition we claimed as our own since we were in high school. Following the fireworks, we packed ourselves up and headed back to one of my friends dads houses. We had a girls night planned: pool, hot tub, and beer.

At 20, we were in the beginning stages of transition. We saw how quickly the world turns. How fast we went from high school seniors to college juniors. We spent that summer, and the summers following, trying to latch onto scraps of our childhood while still trudging through murky water trying to get to that light at the end of the tunnel that was college. While it seemed that summer break for most college students was defined by long days spent at the beach and nights spent funneling beers, ours were never like that. We all took summer classes, interned, worked full-time. We learned early on how difficult it would be to keep up with each other as adults.

But we tried. And we appreciated those fragments where the real world just stops and time seems to be standing still and we get these good, long, full moments with our friends.

It was the summer I realized how small I really was against the tide of love. I was in the crux of loving and hating that green eyed boy whose shallow love was enough to turn me into the boy-obsessed-girl I swore I’d never be. It was his eyes that reeled me in — I melted into those emerald greens every time he looked my way. I was infatuated and consumed and I swore he saw me.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized those eyes never saw me the way I thought they did. At least not in the way I needed them to.

But I swore he was it. He was the one that would save me from every monster masked as a hero. 

I became the person who, wherever she went, had her phone perched right next to her. Keep in mind this was before I got caught in the vortex of smart phones. At the time, I had the Verizon TV phone, and to me, it was the coolest thing next to the T-Mobile sidekick that I never got to claim as my own.

On that 3rd of July night in the middle of the summer of 2009, I sat in the hot tub with three of my childhood friends, beer in hand, eyes glued to my phone sitting on the ledge. Two of my other friends were on their phones as well. Somewhere in the middle of perhaps one too many beers, and I suppose an awkward silence that filled the air, but went by unnoticed at least by me, my friend who didn’t have her phone on her yelled at us. And I know she’s probably reading this right now laughing or rolling her eyes or swearing up and down that it didn’t play out that way. But I swear it did. “Can you guys get off of your phones? I just wanted to spend a night with my friends and you’re glued to the screens. We never get to spend much time together, and now that we’re here, you’re not really even here.”

And maybe those weren’t her exact words. But they were close. And she was mad. And for a long time we looked back on that night and teased her for it. We teased her for being bossy and overbearing and getting mad when all we wanted to do was stay connected with the boys on the other ends of our phone.

Little did I know then what all of that would really mean. Little did I know that trying so hard to connect really disconnected us from what was literally sitting right in front of us.

Oh, and by the way, my little Verizon TV phone fell in the hot tub that night. It took a plunge right into the warm water and sunk to its death. And I guess that’s why karma is a thing, right?

– – –

It saddens and scares me that my sister will never have what I had. At 11 years old, her idea of spending a Friday night with her friends is sitting in front of her computer and having a group video chat with them. She’ll never know communication beyond the three inches of her iPhone. She’ll never know the excitement of coming home to a letter from a pen pal — a friend who moved away but still kept in touch via letter writing. I’m afraid she’ll never have the same affinity for deep, intellectually stimulating conversations as I do. I’m afraid that an argument between she and one of her friends will always be as a result of words that didn’t go over well in text. I’m afraid she’ll never be able to look someone square in the face and tell them what she feels.

Part of me wants to raise up the white flag, throw in the towel, and accept that this is it. We are a social-media-technologically-driven-world. You are never really ever running errands alone, because your head is in your phone having a conversation with someone about last nights date. When you’re riding the train to work, the person next to you is scrolling through his Facebook feed. Awkward silences in elevators often result in everyone pulling out their phones and pretending to be in the midst of a juicy conversation with someone.

But I just can’t bring myself to give up just yet. I want more than that. I want more than text messages and Facebook wall posts and favorites on a picture. I want to be present. Real conversations. Real Kodak moments that aren’t up for others to judge whether or not they like them. I want to be connected — really connected.

When I’m sitting in the middle of a coffee shop catching up with a friend, I am already planning the rest of the day out in my head. Did I submit that paper on time yet? Did I apply for graduation? Did I make sure I turned my hair straightener off before I left my house? When does my car need to go to the shop? And if I’m not going a mile a minute in my head, I’m scrolling through my phone. Answering people I left hanging. Sifting through e-mails making sure I didn’t miss anything. Casually checking my Instagram feed that’s usually inundated with engagement rings and feeble attempts at “Food Porn.”

I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t ever want to be sitting face-to-face with someone and miss the point.

There is still something so romantic, so beautiful, almost sacred, about real conversations. And I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to ever get so caught up in my life that I forget how much more to life there is beyond a text conversation. Because the truth is: life exists in the details. Love exists in the details. Connection exists in the details.  

It’s in the smile that lights up the restaurant the second you walk in and meet up with a friend whom you haven’t seen in months. In the face-to-face conversations about the tough stuff — heartache and loss and love and careers and life-altering decisions. It’s in being there. Being present. Eyes up, ears open. It’s in falling in love with the sound of his voice, or his crooked smile, or the way he can’t keep from grinning when he sees you. It’s waiting by the phone for his call because even though you just left his house, you need to hear his voice. And that voice is what matters. Not a text. Not lifeless words through a screen. But tone and warmth and I’m falling in love with yous whispered in the middle of the night.

And you just can’t get that through a screen.

“Conversation is so much more than words: a conversation is eyes, the smile, the silences between words.” -Annika Thor

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘I Had A Dream’ by Kelly Clarkson.

I Keep Driving In This Darkness, To Get You, To Get You Off My Mind

Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

I turned the volume up. I didn’t care about my outdated sound system or how hard my little green Corolla was shaking. Anything, anything, to drown out the noise. I quietly whispered it to myself over and over again. Don’t you dare crack. Don’t you dare cry. But even through deep breaths, heavy blinking, and constantly looking up in the hopes that the tears would just crawl their way back into my eyes where they should always stay, the floodgates opened and I was a goner.

I had an unintentional, good ol’ fashion breakdown on my way home from work the other day. Full on, no holding back, gasping desperately for air, ugly cry.

Trust me when I say: I am not a crier. I promise you I’m not. I’ve always been the girl with the box of tissues, pint of ice cream, gallon of wine, and shoulder to cry on. I have always been the one to catch the tears, and rarely the one who asks for someone else to catch my own. And maybe that’s where I’ve been wrong all along; maybe what I perceived as my strength is really my illness. I’ve always been the girl with the words. I’ve always been the one to show up with pretty words strung together trying so desperately to make sense of the broken hearts and souls of the world around me.

I have always been the person who knocks on your door and walks in uninvited and plants herself on your couch until you’re ready to let go. I’ve always been the one with arms wide open ready and willing to fight for you, to fight with you. I’ve always been good at showing up for other people.

Hannah Brencher talks a lot about Staying. She talks about how taxing it is to stay — to unpack your bags in the midst of all the calamity and make yourself at home. To stay right in the eye of the storm. Staying is hard. Staying is so damn hard. It takes courage and bravery and a whole lotta guts to take each brick that you so carefully and deliberately placed around your heart and take that wall apart.

Showing up for others is the easy part. It’s so much easier to climb in the middle of someone else’s storm and be their umbrella. I would much rather do that than sit in the crux of my own sadness and ask for the strength to stay for myself — to ask someone to be my umbrella. I promise you this: as long as the storm doesn’t knock down my own walls, I will stay. I would pitch a tent and weather the storm and let you unpack your load onto me. And I would pick those bricks up off the floor and pack them up in my own backpack. And I promise you that. I promise you that I am good at showing up and staying if it means I’m doing it for you.

I don’t know how to stay for myself. All I know is how to run and how to hide. But to show up and stay for myself is lost on me.

And therein lies the problem.

I am so good at hiding under the weight of movement. I always need to be on the go. Always moving. Always doing. I am always on a mission to prove myself to someone. To show that I can do this. That I can walk a tightrope and balance all of this weight with grace. That I can excel in everything I do. And that, in the face of my own storm, I can stand tall.

I’ve never been able to just sit still. To just sit right in the middle of that chaos and let myself be uncomfortable. I’m good at keeping busy and avoiding the tough stuff. And God forbid I get one spare moment and am looking at loneliness or heartbreak square in the face, I hop in my little green car, turn up the music, and take a long drive with no destination in mind. It’s so hard to just Stay.

I don’t ever allow myself a break. I don’t ever make myself just sit in my own sadness. I don’t ever Stay and listen and fight for myself.

I want to know what the point in all of this is. What’s the point in going, going, going. And why is it so damn hard to just Stay?

It’s so exhausting. The constant going, the driving, the running, the avoiding. The facade is wearing me thin. The hours dedicated to work, to school, to avoiding the pang in my heart that’s yelling at me to just slow down. To stop trying to be everything and do everything. If I’m being honest with you, I crave permission. I need permission to take a break, but if I could avoid signing that permission slip to just slow down forever, I would.

I wonder if you’re reading this and are anything like me. I wonder if you, too, fill your days with extra stuff just to avoid that incessant whisper begging you to just slow down. I wonder if rest and taking time for yourself drives you crazy. I wonder if you feel inadequate if you aren’t always in motion. I wonder if you need permission to, every now and then, get on the ground and let go of whatever is behind you begging for you to keep going. To be more, to do more. Yelling that you’re not enough. Sometimes, I so desperately want someone to take note of the tired eyes and acknowledge the sleepless nights. I want someone to look at me and tell me that I am enough. That I’m doing just fine. That the hours I lose myself in text books and papers, the sleepless nights, the bags under my eyes, and the perpetual pang of a broken heart will all be worth it soon. That the finish line is only 10 weeks away. That I am enough. That I’ve always been enough.

I gave myself permission to let go the other night. I Stayed.

The going, going, going finally caught up to me. I cried. And I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. And it was freeing. It really was. For the first time in so long, I stayed. I stayed for myself. Instead of running for the door and driving around in circles, or sticking my head in a book, or diving right into work, or knocking on the door of a friend whose heart needs repairing, I let myself fall to my knees and I let myself Stay.

And somewhere through the tears and the gasps of air and the music that wasn’t quite loud enough to drown out the noise, I heard the voice inside of me whispering, I want you to know that you are doing every damn thing that you can. Stop being so hard on yourself. Some things work out, and others don’t. Hearts break every day. Life is overwhelming. Slow down and take it all in. You are not a brick wall. Please stop pretending you are. Stop building and building and building. You are glass. You stand tall, but underneath all the layers, you are fragile. Let yourself be fragile. Let yourself break. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Stop worrying about being someone else’s umbrella all the time and pitch a tent right in front of your house and make a home out of your own storm.

You are enough. And it’s okay to acknowledge the voices of doubt and uncertainty screaming you aren’t. But don’t let that wound seep through your veins and make its way into your soul. Don’t let those thoughts set up camp inside your head. Don’t keep building that brick wall and driving yourself in circles and filling your planner with activities, and coffee dates, and picking up extra shifts at work just to avoid staying and showing up for yourself. Please give yourself permission to unpack your bags. Let yourself be vulnerable. 

Please show up. Please stay.

“I have never been strong enough to stay. People say that walking away is the hardest thing to do, but it isn’t. Staying, even when you know it will break your heart, is the hardest thing. Staying right where you are, waiting for your entire world to be ripped into pieces is much harder than walking away and starting a new one.” -The Love Whisperer

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘In The Blue’ by Kelly Clarkson.

Cause One Day, Yeah Someday, You’re Gonna Be With Somebody, And That Ghost Is Gonna Be Coming Back.

I’m scared that it’s always going to be you. It’s not a bold fear, really. Not loud and vicious like the monsters I feared were under my bed as a child. It’s not debilitating. Not one that taps me on the shoulder and makes its way next to me at the dinner table each night. But it’s there, nonetheless — a quiet echo in the distance.

I’m scared that we missed something. That somewhere between tangled sheets, words left hanging in the air, too many Grey Goose and club soda’s, slamming doors, whispers of we’ll still be friends; that won’t ever change, and finally driving away in the dark of that cold March night, we missed a sign. That if we just looked up, it would be written in the night’s sky for us. Telling us we made a mistake and to turn around.

I’m scared that all I’ll ever be is stuck living inside of this heartbreak ghost town — that everything I do, everyone I touch, every person that fills your place will be haunted by your memory.

I’m scared that I’m always going to carry your ghost with me.

And it’s so damn unfair. 

It’s strange when you lose someone who was so much a part of your narrative. We were a tangled web — intricately built and strangely elaborate. One that took precision, patience, and timing to weave together. Our web was never without flaws, but we were always willing to start over. And perhaps that was our downfall. Perhaps we started over one too many times. But each time a piece got knocked over, we rebuilt. We kept adding to the web, ignoring the mistakes. Ignoring the signs that did all but scream this web is a dead end, stop while you’re ahead. Years of building and rebuilding and weaving eventually wore on us and nothing could have stopped it from being destroyed completely. From a ravaging storm that washed away all the pieces of our web, leaving it unrecognizable.

And that’s how you learn to let go. 

You learn that the pieces you thought fit together so well really didn’t hang as beautifully as they once did. So you walk away. Begrudgingly, at first. You avoid anyone with the same charm and charisma. You avoid letting anyone else talk to you with any hint of confidence that was remotely similar to his. You refuse to let anyone look at you in the same way he did. You refuse, at first, because you want so badly to still believe in that web. You want to believe that you can find the missing pieces in a hidden crawl space and glue them back together. You’ve done it before; you’ve pieced back together the broken mess. But this time was different. You start to resent things, people, and places, because no matter how hard you try to avoid the beach where you sat and listened to him tell you this time will be different, or the bench at the mall where he made promises for the future, or the basketball courts where you used to watch him play, you somehow still find yourself lingering. Hoping that if you go back, you’ll find that missing piece.

It’s a funny process, letting go. You have to dig a hole so deep and wide to bury them, but if you stray slightly from the blueprint of his grave, his ghost comes back.

You’ll kiss new people, and at first, it feels a bit like some profound betrayal. Like the ground beneath you is crumbling and you’re suffocating under the force of a sweet kiss. Like you’ve done something tragically wrong and you’ll never be able to fix your mistake. Like that kiss is going to ruin the already destroyed web. But then suddenly, somewhere along the line — maybe all at once, you start to forget. Really forget. You let in new love and flush away the thought of old love. You forget the way he always left a trail of his cologne on your pillow. You forget the nicknames he made for you. You forget the way he tortured you with his indecisiveness. You make new memories. You go to new parks and beaches. And it doesn’t feel a bit like betrayal or suffocation. It feels like freedom. 

But that ghost always comes back. When you’re sitting next to new love, making future plans with him, talking about wishes and dreams, you realize that these were plans you once made before. That these dreams of a house on acres of land with a wrap around porch and wooden swing set were once future plans you made with your past. And you find yourself laying in bed at night with new love, with the hopes and dreams you’ve made together, and you replay it all in your head. How on earth did the ghost of loves past steal your ability to love presently? How did he steal the hope in your heart to move on?

This isn’t some sort of demand for a time machine to thrust me into the past. I’ve let go of that web. Years have passed, seasons have changed. We have changed. Where once stood young and foolish and so infatuated with each other, so wrapped up in our own little web, now stands two entirely different people. Still young, but older. Stronger. Maybe even a little harder. But I still find myself as emotionally unavailable as I was when this was fresh — when the wound was just starting to scab over.

It seems that every time I get close to throwing the dirt over your grave, your ghost comes back. Every taste of new love gets taken away and I’m left flat on my face.

Sometimes, I think my fear is more than being haunted by your ghost. Sometimes, I think I’m afraid to let anyone new fully in. Maybe it’s a fear that that person would leave too soon, so I leave before it can happen. I am self-destructive in that sense — only leaving the door to my heart slightly cracked, and shutting it before it gets too deep. If I’m being honest with myself, I realize how damn good I am at destroying any potential for love. Did I walk away because he called exactly when he said he would? Did I say no to that date because he was too charming, too charismatic, too much of a promise of something real? Was it because he wanted to talk about the future? Was it the way he looked at me like I was the only person in the room? Maybe because there was too much potential. Maybe too much hope.

What really scares me is opening that door fully and getting passed this. When I allow myself to fill those empty spaces, I’m afraid that you’ll still be there down the road. When I’m settled into my own life, married, with kids, and a career that I am so deeply passionate about, I’m afraid your ghost will still rattle my bones. When I’m having my morning cup of coffee and getting ready for work, while my kids are yammering on about the latest school gossip, and my husband is whipping up my favorite breakfast in the kitchen, I’m afraid your voice will still be an echo in my mind. I’m afraid that when I close my eyes, I’ll remember the way you made your coffee — dark, but extra sweet. And I’ll remember just how embarrassed you were by it because what kind of man takes his coffee sweet? I’m afraid that when I’m out with my girlfriends, letting my hair down, and reminiscing on old times, I’ll take a sip of Grey Goose and club soda and the tart taste will propel me into the past. I’m afraid that I’ll always remember your crooked smile, and the way your head fell back when you laughed. But mostly, I’m afraid that years from now, I’ll look back with such profound and vivid recall, sit in that regret, and still be haunted by your ghost.

“And I’m worried…I, I’m afraid that he took away my ability to believe. And I hate him for that. Because I always believed before. And now I just feel lost. And I am, I’m trying to put myself out there, but I feel hopeless.” -Sex and the City

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘That Ghost‘ by Megan and Liz

And Melodies in the air, Singin’ Life Just Ain’t Fair.

I used to think I was lucky to grow up without grandparents.

I promise it didn’t start out that way. When I was in elementary school, I envied my friends who spent their Christmas break baking cookies and decorating gingerbread houses with their grandma, and Easter’s looking for pastel colored eggs with their grandpa. I often found myself profoundly jealous over not having grandparents to share with me the stories of their life — the stories of their hardships and what it took to overcome them — stories of trials turned to triumph. I spent a lot of time wishing I had a home away from home — grandparents to be my ears when I needed someone to listen or to offer me sage advice. Someone older and wiser to remind me that this too, shall pass. But when I got older and saw my friends reeling over the deaths of their grandparents, I dubbed myself lucky.

I say lucky loosely. Lucky, because for a long time, I was largely untouched by the heavy cloak of death. Lucky, because I never had to mourn the loss of a grandparent. Lucky, because it was four less people I would have to say goodbye to.

I don’t consider myself lucky anymore.

Before really understanding the permanence of death, I had a taste of what happens when you lose someone. I was eight when my aunt passed away from bone cancer. It was ugly and brutal. I struggle sometimes with the minor details — like how she felt when she was diagnosed; did she have any last wishes or regrets? Did she live a life she was proud of? Did she want more? But what I do remember is the quick and painful way she slipped away from us. How she was here one day — healthy, and happily feeding my then two-year-old brother cheesecake off her finger, and suddenly sick, frail, and then gone. All within the span of six months. And despite being old enough to have a general understanding of death, despite living just around the corner from her, despite watching this horrible disease take my beautiful aunt away from me, I never understood the weight of death until it came back to me at 19, and then at 20. And then over and over and over again.

I suppose that in comparison to many, I am still largely untouched by death. But death keeps making her way back into my life, and each time she visits, she steals a little bit of my heart with her.

Yesterday was the six year anniversary of the death of a dear childhood friend of mine.

Six years is a long time. Six years is more than half of my sister’s lifetime. Six years is the age of a first grader. Six years is how long it’s been since I was a college sophomore. Six years of grief, of growth, of change, of birthdays passing, of life. Six years, and the weight on my heart is still the same. Six years down, but a lifetime more to go. Yesterday was heavier than the last six years have been. Perhaps because the anniversary of Pat’s death fell on a Saturday — the same day he died, showing us that time still moves even when he doesn’t get to come along for the ride. Perhaps also because I found myself driving home from work on the parkway with the same urgency I had that day six years ago, when I drove home from my college down the parkway shortly after hearing about his accident. In a weird twist of deja vu, my heart was heavier as I remembered one of the sweetest men I’ve ever known. I think about him a lot. On a windy day, like the day of his funeral, I swear it’s him looking down on us and roughing us up. Reminding us that a little turbulence can’t ever hurt us. I think about him when I drive past his house. When I think about my first few years working at Auntie Anne’s. When I think about the icy Valentine’s Day we were both stuck working and spent the night making heart-shaped pretzels. When I think about being in elementary school and starting martial arts and him telling me how cool it was that I did Tae Kwon Do. Seriously, when you’re a tiny nine year old girl, nothing is cool about doing martial arts. Pat always reassured me. And even though I think about him all the time, and even though it’s been six years, it still seems unfathomable to me that he’s gone.

That’s the hardest part about death. That the earth still turns, and you’re still here, and the person you love is simply gone.

There is something so surreal about the concept that the people in our lives can just disappear. Like my neighbor — the healthiest, strongest, most physically fit man I’ve ever known — who was fighting with everything in him to beat his cancer. He was here one day, telling me to keep working hard at school and to, as soon as I got the chance, finally watch Groundhogs Day — a movie I’d promised I would watch when I was 15 years old. His illness claimed his body in the blink of an eye. One moment, he was here in his entirety. The next, he was hospitalized after having a stroke. And in the weeks between that stroke and his death, I watched the rapid transition and watched as his body grew tired from fighting.

I witnessed my neighbor’s fight. I can still feel the very moment I got the phone call telling me Pat died. I remember the agony of my aunt passing away — and yet the concept that death takes these people away from us permanently is still so hard for me to wrap my head around sometimes.

I still imagine that as life moves on, as the world turns and shifts and changes, as I change along with it, the people in my life will still be doing the same. That my aunt in Vietnam, who passed away last year, is still living her life and running her little convenience store. That on the next sunny day, I can look out my window and see my neighbor with his Red Sox baseball cap sitting on his lawn chair at the top of his driveway. That I can arrange for all of my old Auntie Anne’s coworkers to get together for drinks and that Pat would be sitting right along side us. That although we are apart, we are still living and growing together.

And then other days, I am so paralyzed by the transience of it all — often to the point of anger towards those who don’t realize the same. Some days, when I am scrolling through Facebook and reading complaint after complaint, or on days like yesterday, when I am reminded that this is it. This is all we get. Just this one shot at life. I want to shake the people complaining about non-important things. I want to scream from the rooftops, “Hey, this is all temporary. Don’t you realize that? In the grand scheme of things, your problems are so small. People lose who they love every single day. We can love with all our might, but in just the blink of an eye, it could all be gone.” 

But I’ve never said any of that, because I would be a hypocrite for not living life the same way. For not seizing every single moment and making it all count. But I really, whole-heartedly, want to make this count. 

I think the problem is that we’re waiting for this big awakening. We’re waiting for purpose. For meaning. For someone to kick us over and scream this is why you’re here. This is what you’re living for. And until then, we travel blindly on this winding road with little or no significance. But what if that epiphany never comes? Maybe, instead of wishing to live in these big moments and be these big people, we need to see what we have when we have it.

In the last year, I have been trying to live better. To do better. I’ve been trying to live fully and intentionally. But most importantly, I have been trying to be grateful for even the smallest of things. In 2014, I did a gratitude jar. I wrote down one “good thing” every single day and at the end of the year, I looked through fondly at some of the memories — spending the day in Atlantis, Bahamas, lazy snow days watching Netflix, getting a gift from a friend in the mail because I was having a rough time, spending my first Memorial Day Weekend not in retail with my friends at the racetrack, treating myself to a Starbucks Frappucino, getting out of work early.

When I think about making this all count, I think of only two things: gratitude and love. I think life begins and ends with love. And I think if you practice gratitude, if you make yourself aware of the little things, you’ll find that there is so much to love about this life — even in spite of all the bad things that often come our way.

When I am at the end of my life, whenever that time may be, I want it to be known that I loved as hard as I could. That’s what I need to remind myself when I feel my blood pressure raising over petty Facebook statuses and Tweets. When we are at the end of the road, that stuff won’t matter. No one will care about how much college loan debt you’re in, or how many bills you’ve paid for the month, or how stressed you were studying for that exam. At the end of all of this, two things will matter: gratitude and love.

Remember that. Practice that. Live in that.

“What are you going to do with your life?” In one way or another it seemed that people had been asking her this forever; teachers, her parents, friends at three in the morning, but the question had never seemed this pressing and still she was no nearer an answer… “Live each day as if it’s your last’, that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn’t practical. Better by far to be good and courageous and bold and to make difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.”
-David Nichols, “One Day

 The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘View From Heaven‘ by Yellowcard.

I’ll Keep You Locked In My Head, Until We Meet Again.

“Have a nice life,” I whispered, as I pulled away from a final hug goodbye, “good luck with everything in the future.”

An unsettling feeling rattled my bones when I was faced with my first real goodbye. It was the last time I would ever identify as a college student, and somehow I had gone through 22 years of my life without ever being taught how to gracefully leave something behind — without ever learning how to be okay with closing a chapter of my own book. At the time, it seemed ludicrous that we suffered through four years of exams, papers, lectures, presentations, community service hours, sleepless nights, all while accruing an enormous amount of debt in student loans, without ever being taught how to say goodbye to this pivotal part of our lives.

I often think back to that last full day on my beautiful alma mater’s campus and that very moment — standing on the basketball court near my freshman dorm surrounded by a sea of people filled to the brim with the same nostalgia that was bursting right out of me. I think back to those final goodbyes. To pushing myself to stutter those words, “have a nice life.” It all seemed too surreal. I spent that last day roaming campus with my roommates — four girls I had grown to love as sisters over the course of those four years. Together, we participated in our schools “senior sendoff” — our final farewell to four years of memories, of nights out, of heart aches, of parties in the Village, of Late Night dining, and of the quiet notion that no one could ever have what we had. No one could ever love as fiercely or laugh as hard or live as carefree as we did.

I was fully aware of the palpable pang of nostalgia in saying goodbye to friends I’d grown close with. Despite knowing we’d see each other again, we knew that that was where it ended. That this — whatever this was at that very moment, would never be the same. We knew we would never see each other in the same way again. But there was a deeper, and perhaps more bittersweet sting in saying goodbye to our acquaintances. Saying have a nice life was so final. The people we saw twice a week in class, did group projects with, had an occasional beer with, or awkwardly shared a bathroom stall at the bar with – the people who were equally as much a part of our college history as our roommates. There was something so profound in saying goodbye to acquaintances — in saying thanks for being a part of this journey with me, when I think back on these four years, I’ll think fondly of you. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the people we meet and the lives that we touch.

Mostly, I’ve been thinking about relationships and the various connections and links we have with people. I’ve been thinking about the way people weave themselves in and out of our lives. And how rarely we notice the subtle impact they have on us until they leave.

We don’t meet people on accident. I am a firm believer in that. I think people come into our lives exactly when we need them to. Like the boy who broke my heart and taught me to stop placing all my happiness on one person. My neighbor who played the role of the grandfather I never had, who taught me to be relentless in the pursuit of my goals, and taught me to laugh in the face of all pain. Even down to his last breath, he was always laughing. A college professor who taught me empathy and understanding when she was in her final days of battling terminal cancer, but still managed to write me a glowing recommendation letter for graduate school just days before she passed. The woman in front of me at the grocery store with tired eyes and two kids that taught me patience and wonder as I watched her let her toddler individually place each item on the belt.

I’ve been thinking about endings. And goodbyes. And letting go. And how people come into our lives at different parts of our story — how they come in and stay for a scene, a chapter, or the majority of our book. I’ve been ruminating over the short-lived relationships and how we establish all of these invisible connections with people, just to see them go. It doesn’t seem fair. If given any wish in the world, I’d wish for the ability to wrap my arms around every single person I care about, around every single life that’s touched me, and keep them right here with me. But as far as selfishness goes, I don’t even come close. One of life’s biggest, suckiest, truths, is that we are never given a timeline. People come and go all the time — some relationships are short lived, some last far longer than they should, some stay for a good portion of our lives, while others cruise in and out faster than we could have anticipated. Some people come in into our lives for what feels like a moment, but we are forever changed by their presence, no matter how fleeting.

I believe our lives are inextricably bound by the people we meet.

If life lately has taught me anything, it’s that people will never stay long enough. And I’m not sure we will ever know why. It’s times like these I desperately wish life was as simple as a geometry text book where the answers were conveniently located in the back. Why do people come into our lives and leave before we are ready to let them go? All I know is that goodbyes are inevitable. And we can’t control how people leave or when — whether it be a death, a breakup, a misunderstanding, a move, or the slow and steady transition from one life to the next. But the inkling of solace that I’ve found is that we get to choose what pieces we cling to. I choose to remember with warmth in my heart the boy who told me to never stop writing. I choose to remember the 8th grade Algebra teacher who stayed with me after school every single day for extra help, and knew without ever saying, that I needed less extra help more than I needed someone to just be there. I choose to remember the stranger in front of me at the Dunkin Donuts drive thru who paid for my Monday morning coffee and turned my entire day around. I choose to remember my first kiss who showed up at my doorstep, years later, on my 19th birthday and left me a rose and a card just as a reminder. I choose to remember my closest friend in middle school who cried with me and helped me sort out the mess that was my life back then. I choose to remember the friendships I’ve made over the course of my lifetime, the people I’ve worked with, the acquaintances who’ve been passerby’s in my life. And I choose to remember all of these people, despite having to say goodbye.

Instead of mourning the losses, and in spite of the heartache that inevitably comes from death, and breakups, and goodbyes, and endings that come far too soon, I want you to remember this – you are forever changed by the connections you make. Regardless of length of stay in each other’s lives, we are all bound by the stories we tell, the lessons we learn, and the moments we share. Your life is a tapestry stitched together by the people you meet along this winding journey; you are who you are because of the people who’ve woven themselves into your life’s work of art. And I think that’s pretty incredible.

“You ever look at a picture of yourself, and see a stranger in the background? It makes you wonder how many strangers have pictures of you. How many moments of other peoples lives have we been in? Were we a part of someone’s life when their dream came true? Or were we there when their dreams died. Did we keep trying to get in? As if we were somehow destined to be there or did the shot take us by surprise. Just think, you could be a big part of someone else’s life, and not even know it.” -One Tree Hill

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘Who Knew‘ by Pink

Sew this up with threads of reason and regret, so I will not forget; I will not forget.

Everything in life is temporary.

It was the end of March when I first tasted those words with full understanding of the weight they carried. I was 22 at the time, and naively thought I was making one more stop on my last drive back up to school before graduation. The air was in its final stage of transitioning into spring — somehow still cool, but in recollection, not nearly as cold as the ice that froze my heart. In what could only be described as the most wearing walk of my life, I felt those words rattling my bones as I willed my legs to move. Please, just let me get to my car before my knees give out. Just let me get to my car. With painfully vivid recall, I remember the sinking feeling with each step I took. “Don’t be a stranger, kiddo,” his voice echoed in my head. I remember asking myself when I missed it. How could I look away for one second and miss that we somehow became strangers? When I finally got to my car, I stood with my hand gripping the door, as if somehow begging to hang on. Begging for things to stay the same. There weren’t big flashing lights and signs to let either of us know it was over. There were no words signifying the end, but I knew it. I think we both knew it, didn’t we? Somehow, things changed. Somehow, we became strangers. Fighting back tears, I timidly whispered goodbye and reminded him of the promise to keep in touch. Those words held as little promise as a middle schooler signing the yearbooks of all their classmates with “HAGS. KIT.” Empty promises fell on deaf ears. But as his house faded in the background and out of my periphery, I started to understand the transience of life — how even the prominent buildings simply fade away in the dark, and how quickly things change. Nothing lasts forever. Not even love. Not even life.

That was nearly four years ago.

I’ve been on a roller coaster of change in that time, but the lesson didn’t come back to hit me directly on the face until a brisk October morning two months ago. I was sitting in bed, coffee in one hand and phone in the other, scrolling through Instagram, all while ruminating over my ongoing existential crisis, future ‘goodbyes’ and ‘see you laters,’ and desperately searching for some tangible evidence that this too, shall pass. Wrapped up in the warmth of my covers, I whispered it to myself. I said it out loud. I texted it to a friend. I repeated it over and over again to justify the palpable sting of feeling left behind — of people leaving, relationships ending abruptly, business being left unfinished, friendships left hanging before they could ever really get started, and life hanging on such a fragile thread.

I let it consume me all day. For my own self-validation with my issues with abandonment, I made myself push it aside. On one hand, you can acknowledge that change is inevitable and that nothing lasts forever, but on the other hand, you can beg and cry and kick and scream to just hang on. For things to stay the same. For nothing to ever change. No amount of vacillating between being accepting of change and battling intrepid fear because of impending change would have made a difference, so I tucked those words away. I locked them up and told myself to only revisit them when I really needed reassurance — when my inner Peyton Sawyer  comes knocking on my door, reminding me that people always leave. 

I forgot about those words for nearly two months. I haven’t needed them. I didn’t need to justify loss or life or moving on until two times this week — one, when I was faced with eventual loss and life ending, and two, when I caught myself saying those very words out loud and sharing my own thoughts with someone else.

“It’s not permanent,” I said, “everything in life is temporary.”

I rationalized to the person sitting in front of me. If you don’t like where you’re going, or what you’re doing, you can always change it. It’s not permanent. 

The truth is, we need these sentiments. We need these little reminders tucked somewhere in our souls that nothing lasts forever. We need to be reminded that just like physical rain storms never last for too long, neither do the metaphorical ones. And it’s sometimes hard to believe. You can justify pain and heartache from a breakup as temporary. Somehow, that can be enough. The pieces of your heart slowly find their way back together and things eventually start to make sense. The world starts to feel a little less cruel and love starts to feel like a magical possibility again. But when you’re faced with people leaving — moving away for jobs, for love, for a fresh start, or passing away slowly with each last breath, the change can be too much to justify. Even the most level headed rationalizers will want to grab onto whatever pieces of the person and will them to stay — I need you, don’t leave me. 

But no matter how we slice and dice it, the truth is in the ephemerality of our existence. Nothing is ever permanent. 

“Everything in life is temporary.” The sound of my own voice has been echoing in my mind all week.

With all of this impending change, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about regret — regret on a profound level. Not ordering a cheesy, glutenous pasta dish instead of a salad, or not going to the gym when I promised myself three days in a row that I would, or not doing my laundry until the next weekend, leaving me with only a small selection of clothes to wear. These are minor in comparison to the vast picture.

When things change, when people change, when life changes, regret hits me on a profound level. I often find myself filled with words left unsaid, things I never got around to doing, people I haven’t made it a point to see, apologies never uttered, promises never fulfilled, friendships left hanging. I tell myself it’s because I’m busy. I tell myself that once I graduate with my Master’s, I’ll make more time. I tell myself I’ll be more social, I’ll make time for old friends, I’ll take a vacation, I’ll finally dedicate some time to writing something worth reading. I’ll fulfill promises. I’ll mend old relationships. I’ll say sorry. 

I’ll do better next time,” or “I’ll do it later,” or “another day” are all bullshit because next time is right now. Later is right now. Another day is right here and right now. And shouldn’t we recognize this? Shouldn’t we look at life and realize how fleeting moments are? A lot of people say that life is short. For some, that may be the case, but life is not meant to be short. It’s meant to be rocky, and bumpy, and challenging — and long. It’s only when we are faced with the end of the road do we gather up the pieces of our relationships with people and say life is short. But here is the reality: life is long; it just goes by fast.

Of all the important lessons I’ve learned throughout my life it’s this: in life, everything is temporary. You get a small window of opportunity to seize the moments, to tell someone you love them, to make the most of the time you have with them before they’re gone. Before life takes them away, or love changes, or careers move.

I think we all know this. Somewhere, beneath all of our excuses and reasons why we’re holding off, we know that life is temporary. I know it, no matter how hard I fight it. I knew it that March night when he and I walked away from each other. I knew it when I graduated from college and made wishes into the sea of people to be friends forever. To hang onto those moments forever. I knew it when I got the news, at 20 years old, that a friend passed away suddenly in a tragic car accident. I knew it when I got a C in statistics, and thought the world was ending. I knew it when someone I love dearly was diagnosed with cancer. I knew it when I visited him last week and realized that I never did watch the movie Groundhogs Day with him 11 years ago, or Against All Odds with him over the summer. And I knew it that day earlier this week, talking with the person sitting in front of me about her fears surrounding her own big life changes, when my own words echoed in my mind.

We don’t need anyone to tell us this. We are fully aware of the transience of life, yet we wait for the perfect moment. We rely on timing.

I say: screw timing. Screw making excuses. Screw being too busy. Screw finding the perfect moment for your mind to agree with your heart. One day, you will be sitting at the end of someone’s hospital bed looking on as they fight for their last breath, and you’re going to beat yourself up over telling them you were too busy to come over, too busy to watch a movie, too busy to make time. All that you’ll be left with are words that you never said, and regret so debilitating that it eats at you every day. One day, the person you love with every ounce of your soul is going to stop looking at you the way they used to. They’re going to forget the fire that once warmed both your hearts. They’re going to walk away. And you’re going to kick yourself over not having told them everything you wanted. That you loved them, that you appreciated them, that despite how things ended, you are grateful and thankful they were a part of your life, even if just for a short amount of time. One day, your best friend might realize that she hates complacency and the small town you grew up in together. When she moves, that lump in your throat is going to wish you said it when you had the chance. I love you. Thank you for being my other half for so many years. 

We always think we’ll have time, so we wait. But the truth is, we don’t. The existentialist in me deeply believes that people come into our lives and are meant to teach us something, but we often don’t realize it until it’s too late. Don’t let it be too late. Today, I dare you to call up that old friend you haven’t spoken to in a year, reach out to family, make amends. Do it now. Today. This very moment.

Everything in life is temporary. Don’t wait.

“Change. We don’t like it, we fear it. But we can’t stop it from coming. We either adapt to change, or we get left behind. It hurts to grow. Anybody who tells you it doesn’t, is lying. But here’s the truth: Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And sometimes, oh, sometimes, change is good. Sometimes, change is… everything.” -Grey’s Anatomy

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘One Year, Six Months‘ by Yellowcard

If I had known that year would disappear, I would have made it last.

There’s something extraordinarily peaceful about driving. If you asked any one of my peers, they’d probably disagree. We dedicate a good portion of our days frantically driving from one location to the next with the hopes that we can get there on time without having to add a speeding ticket to our laundry list of debts owed. To many, the race between home, school, work, internships, Starbucks, the library, and any public place that serves food, coffee, and free wifi for the purpose of doing homework, oftentimes 7 days a week can be tiresome, monotonous, and draining. At this point, driving should be a chore and a reminder that all this time in my car is time I could be spending catching up on sleep, or on the latest episode of Scandal, or tackling my “to-read” books on GoodReads. And while I would love to be knee-deep in a stack of novels, or caught up on years of missed sleep, or watching old episodes of my favorite show, I wouldn’t trade it in for time I get alone. When you spend every waking hour of your day surrounded by other people, you have to take what little time you have to yourself, even if it’s spent confined within the four doors of a small car. At a time where self-care is nearly impossible, I take my me-time in the car as just that. Every day, I hop in my little green sedan and embark on my various drives from Point A to Point B to Point C and back to Point A, put my iPod on shuffle, turn the volume up, and let the melodies take me away.

It’s always the music that tugs at my heart-strings the most.

It is both a blessing and a curse the way a song can heal and hurt – the way music can fill the gaps of your soul you didn’t realize were missing. Hearing a certain chorus, or a hook, or a harmony can be a time machine violently propelling you into the past, or driving you to wish for a better future. It’s always the music that spirals me into profound waves of nostalgia. It’s always the music. 

Driving home last week, Betsy Lane’s “What About 18” came on my shuffle, and immediately, I’m back in the fog of my early twenties. I’m thrown back into the years that I never fully held onto, into a time I spent clinging onto naivety, begging for teenage freedom, but desperately wanting to grow up. The next song comes on, and suddenly I’m 14 again and wrestling my way through my last year of junior high. I’m angry. I’m bitter. I’m confused. I’m lonely. I’m hormonal. I’m a complete nightmare begging for someone to see me. And with the fade out of that song in comes the next. This time, I’m a freshman in college – floundering, homesick, learning to adjust. I’m 18 and tasting freedom for the very first time. The next song that plays launches me back to my glory. I’m 17 again, applying to colleges and planning to breakaway. I’m so close to tasting freedom, but so far from knowing what the price of freedom is. Another song sends me back to my college dorm; I’m opening up an e-mail from him with an enthusiasm that only the first taste of love can bring. Another one plays and I’m sobbing in my apartment senior year. Cursing love, cursing second, and third, and fourth chances, cursing the promise of ‘no matter what happens, we’ll still be friends.’ And just as easily as I’m in that apartment, I’m 16 again. I’m rebellious and mad at the world, sneaking out and smoking cigarettes on rooftops with neighborhood friends, begging the universe to send us a sign that it gets better.

As each song changes from one to the next, I am overwhelmed with a longing for days I know I’ll never see again. For people I will never meet again, places I will never step foot in again, love I will never feel again.

I’m no good at this nostalgia thing. It’s messy and it’s complicated and it hurts.

It’s overwhelming — feeling happy, and content, and full with your life today, but still finding yourself begging for bits and pieces of your past to somehow finagle their way into your present. Maybe it’s my being a bit of a masochist. Perhaps without any chaos, I feel a little lost.

The songs keep changing, bringing me from 13 to 21, to 17, to 25. To the nights that no amount of vodka cranberries, or dancing to forget, or laughing with your best friends would ever be enough to forget how horrible it was to walk away, how miserable I was, and how nothing could make me feel as weightless as I wanted to feel. Another song brought me to my college graduation. To being surrounded by some of the best people I’ve ever met, looking back on some of the best years I’ve ever had. To being young, but maturing. To being a graduate, but still hungry for knowledge. To scanning through the crowd and memorizing the look of pride on every face. And just as quickly as that song came on, I’m thrown back again to the middle of high school. I remember how tired I was. How unhealthy I was. How desperate I was for validation, and hope, and love.

I got home that night and found myself digging through old photos. Old birthday cards. Old yearbooks. I scrolled through my Facebook timeline through years of vacations, girls nights out, inside jokes, reminders that no one could ever love as fiercely, or laughed as hard, or had as much fun. I realized I was digging. Digging for the past, digging to bring it all back to life, digging for hope, digging for answers. I put my music on shuffle again, and this time, the music kept me right where I am now. Today, I’m 26. I’m complicated, and more often than not, a complete mess. But I’m whole. And that’s when it dawned on me. Why was I digging so desperately into the past that was broken, and ugly, and tangled, and shattered. What good was I doing trying to pick up the broken pieces of the past and glue them back together now?

But maybe it wasn’t just that I was digging in the past. Maybe I was digging to leave everything there. To go through it one last time, but to let it all go.

Maybe I was digging for freedom from the shackles that chained me to the person I once was.

What I found in the process of digging through and grieving over my past, is that you miss out on what’s present. You miss out on the person you are. On the things you’ve accomplished. On the people who love you, and the people you love. The person you grew up to be after closing that chapter. You neglect to realize that pieces of you may have cracked, your heart may be a little jagged in places you aren’t sure will ever heal, but you’re here. You matter. Now matters.

We are not prisoners of our past. We owe nothing to who we used to be, to who we used to love, to who we thought we were. I’m no longer that girl sitting on the rooftop, blowing smoke into the starry sky, dreaming of better tomorrows. I owe nothing to the love that came in sweetly and slowly and ravaged his way through my heart, destroying everything in his stormy path.

It is our choice whether or not we allow ourselves to break free from the bars that lock our heads up in thoughts of yesterday.

I’ve been taking a little bit of time here and there to go through old things and box them up. As long as they’re there, sitting on the top of my closet shelf, they’ll be safe with me. But I don’t need to listen to the music that breaks my heart. I don’t need to look through pictures to remind me of better or worse days. The past will always be there — a distant echo in my head and my heart. I’m sure that ten years from now, when I am truly settled into a life and career, I’ll feel the palpable sting missing my mid twenties, and just like this time around, I’ll sort through old photographs and look for proof that I was here. That we were here. That all this confusion, and fear, and pain, and mess were worth it. 

But for now, I packed those memories up and tucked them in the back of my closet. I locked them up.

I let them go.

“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” -C. Joybell C

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘What About 18‘ by Betsy Lane

We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.

A lifetime ago, or so it seems, long before I ever walked into my twenties, or felt the gut-wrenching heartache of failure, or tasted even a real glimpse of life-affirming success, or cried over the loss of a good friend, or watched love fade away, I spent most of my time with my head in the clouds, ruminating on what my future would be like. Would I be successful? Would I keep all of my childhood friends? Would I get married? The vision I had was built on bits and pieces of what the future looked like through the scope of books, movies, and TV shows. I relied on fictional things to formulate a reality in my mind. I clung to the story lines, the friendships, the love. I was the girl who, every Thursday night at 8 pm, tuned into NBC to watch her Friends navigate through life together, and planned her future vicariously through their present.

When you’re young and naive and unhealthily obsessed with whether or not Ross and Rachel were going to end up together, you have a certain image of how your life is going to turn out. The pretty picture you paint looks like the inside of a 90s sitcom. You imagine stumbling into a new city with all of your childhood friends and growing up with them. Growing old with them. Making mistakes, falling over, and picking yourselves back up with them. You imagine that life after college isn’t all that hard. That even during the most difficult of times, it’ll never be that bad. You’ll have the support and the love of the people who’ve known you since before you knew yourself. And how could life ever be painful, or dark, or lonely, with that kind of love?

But then we get there. We graduate high school, some of us go off to college, and some of us don’t; and somehow, we cannonball into our next adventures. We’re thrown into the middle of nowhere and are forced to come to terms with the reality of our lives. We’re forced to come to terms with the fact that perhaps the vision we had when we were younger was a distortion of what reality really is. We realize that life in our twenties doesn’t consist of hanging out at Central Perk, listening to your slightly erratic friend singing a jingle dedicated to a cat, or coming up with a New Year’s Eve dance routine to be aired on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with your brother, or getting a Thanksgiving turkey stuck on your head, or building a giant poking device to see if the man in the apartment across the alley is alive.

And that’s what they don’t tell you. They don’t tell you that life in your twenties is often sticky and messy and heavy and confusing and wonderful. That you will, in fact, be happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. 

They don’t tell you this, but I will.

You’ll wake up one day and feel like you’re falling down a rabbit hole. You’ll look at yourself, you’ll look at your friends, you’ll look at acquaintances, you’ll look at enemies even. You’ll find that you’re barely getting by in graduate school, or being a stay-at-home mom, or starting up a small business, or pounding the pavement at a job you’re sure you’ll never advance at, all the while wondering if this life belongs to you. You’ll wonder if this is where your story ends or where it begins. You’ll feel stuck inside someone else’s story. You’ll beat yourself up over not having done it differently. What would be different if I went left instead of right? If I followed my heart instead of my head? If I took that job when it was offered to me? And on the days when you feel a little too defeated by the what ifs, you’ll look at what you have and wonder if it’s enough. You’ll ask yourself if you’ll be okay and content and full for the rest of your life if you don’t ever achieve anything else. You’ll try to be okay with it. You’ll try to quiet the incessant voice that says, ‘no, I need more. I cannot settle.’ But the voice will still be there, and it’ll rattle your bones until you do something to silence it.

You’ll start fresh and you’ll start new, and it can come in waves; the change can be welcome, or it can be sudden and uninvited. You’ll bounce from different careers. You’ll decide that you really don’t love what you have a degree in. You’ll leave a job that you never had any intention in leaving and you’ll wonder what the hell you can do differently. You’ll walk away from financial security and open doors to possibilities, only to find that the door you walked through wasn’t the one with the winning lottery ticket, but you’ll still try. You’ll still fight, despite the sinking feeling of walking into the office every single morning. You’ll make an effort and establish a routine. You’ll talk yourself out of bitterness and resentment. You’ll wonder if you have the strength and the courage to start over just one more time, and you’ll forget how brave you are for starting over in the first place.

One day, you’ll scroll through your Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram feeds and realize that your friends somehow figured it out and you’ll ask yourself how you missed it. You’ll go back to the summer nights spent on the beach, Wawa milkshake in hand, coming up with a list of goals and dreams for the future, and wonder where the hell it all went. You’ll wonder what happened to the plans you made together. To the dream of getting your first apartment with your childhood friends and dating twin brothers and having kids at the same time and raising them together. You’ll go in different directions. They’ll move on, and part of you will feel like you’re sinking in quick sand, while the other half of you is elated. You’ll be happy for them. You’ll celebrate their engagements. You’ll organize a cocktail hour when they get their first promotion. You’ll be the first one at their housewarming party. And in the midst of all this growing up stuff, you’ll feel selfish for feeling anything other than ecstatic. You’ll wonder when it’ll be your turn. When you’ll settle into a career and relationship and new apartment. You’ll stop yourself and wonder how on earth you can be so happy for their gains and successes, yet so heartbroken at not quite being there, all at the same time.

Sometimes, while you’re sitting next to the people who know you the best, you’ll feel at a loss for words. You’ll feel small next to them. You’ll feel like the conversation you bring to the table is nothing like the success they bring. And you’ll kick yourself afterwards for being so selfish. For wallowing in self-pity. For letting your feelings win.

You’ll get a taste of what love is, only to have it walk away from you. You’ll see the love of your life fall in love with someone else. You’ll watch in envy at how easily it is for them to move on. You’ll pray, every night, that you will never get the notification on Facebook telling you they got engaged. You’ll date people who are bad for you, and you’ll be bad for other people. You’ll wonder what’s stopping you from your own happy-ever-after. You’ll make a mental list of the reasons you’re alone. You’ll guard your heart with everything you have and you’ll wonder when someone will come and permanently knock your walls down. You’ll decide for yourself that it’s okay to be single, but you’ll grow frustrated at hearing your friends and family ask ‘when are you getting married, when are you having kids, you know your time is slowly running out.’  

They don’t tell you about the isolation. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and if you don’t grab onto your dreams, someone else will take them right out of your hands. So, you put in the work. You stay later at the office to finish a project. You take on overtime hours at the hospital. You choose to go for your Master’s. You start building a family. You’ll feel comforted by your friends when they embark on the journey to reaching their goals, too. You’ll have the same ideals for the future, but different paths to walk to get there. You’ll sacrifice sleep, you’ll sacrifice a social life, you’ll dedicate your all into what you want, and it will be lonely as hell. You won’t be the person who runs to her best friend crying about an argument you had with your parents. You won’t be the person who calls someone up in the middle of the night to go grab half price appetizers at Applebees.  You’ll ask your friends to hang out only to hear that they’re all busy. And then you’ll be busy when they want to hang out. You’ll spend nights going through old pictures of drunken college nights out and reminisce over the simplicity of life back then. You’ll cling onto your youth and life before the transition into this in-between stage of adulthood. You’ll bargain with whatever higher power you believe in just to feel forever young with your friends one more time. 

They don’t tell you that despite your best efforts to keep your emotions stifled, hidden under layers of bravery and strength, and a shield of armor, you will cry. You will cry when you realize that your planner is overflowing with due dates and test dates. You will cry when you scroll through Instagram and see your group of friends hanging out without you. You will cry when you clock out after your 17th day working in a row without so much as a consecutive 8 hours of sleep in one night. You will cry when you realize that you can’t split yourself apart and be in two places at once. You’ll cry on your way to school because you don’t know how much more you can take. You will cry because you’ll feel misunderstood. Because you are a master’s student, an employee, an intern, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and you will be made to feel like what you’re doing is not enough. You. Will. Cry. You will cry when your friends confront you for drifting from them. You’ll cry when they call you a stranger. You will cry because they don’t get it. You will cry because you feel all alone in a world that shouldn’t be this cruel. You’ll cry because you are so profoundly happy that there are still people in your life who decided to stick around. You’ll cry when you share in their successes. You’ll cry because you can’t imagine what life would be like without the friends that turn into family. You’ll cry and you won’t know why or how to stop the tears from falling.

They don’t tell you that sometimes, you will feel everything and nothing all at once. You’ll feel your heart exploding from happiness and your brain drowning in misery. They don’t talk about the influx of emotions and the roller coaster we ride just to fight through them. They don’t talk about the brokenness and the bitterness. They don’t talk about how confusing it is to be in your twenties. How life can be incredible and heartbreaking at the same time, and how it makes perfect sense to feel like you’re unraveling from time to time.

They won’t tell you it’s okay. They won’t tell you that it’s normal. That despite the broken pieces, your twenties are a time to feel everything. To get a taste of both highs and lows. To fight for what you want. To really learn what it’s like to love and to lose. They don’t ever tell you that. But today, I did. 

“You’ll be fine. You’re 25. Feeling [unsure] and lost is part of your path. Don’t avoid it. See what those feelings are showing you and use it. Take a breath. You’ll be okay. Even if you don’t feel okay all the time.” -Louis C.K

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘22‘ by Taylor Swift