Old Friend

Hello old friend.

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at you.
I’ve seen you, from the rear view mirror,
Or maybe I’ve glanced upward when leaving a job that
Makes me tired.

The craters in your face, like wounds,
Make me wonder how much you’ve seen.
How much you have looked at, studied.
Witnessing things that have made you tired.

I’m sorry you’ve seen so much.
I’m sorry we’ve made you look at us hurt.

I know the feeling of being forced to witness unbearable hurt.

But in a way, I am jealous.

I am jealous of you because
Although you see so much bad,
You get to see all the good.

What is it like to see two people
From far away
Who’ve never met
Never spoken
Never known one another’s mind

What is it like to see them lie down
And look at you
To look and wonder at the same time?

What is it like to watch two people
Who do not know each other hope
For the same good you get to see?

What is it like
To witness that most human thing
Of wondering if someone is looking
At the same thing you are?

To see them love something
The same way?

That must be what keeps you around
When the world gets ugly.
It hurts to keep looking
But you can’t stop.

I don’t think I’d be able to look away either.

Spots of Light

you remember that night when
I was sick to my stomach and the world made me sad
and you held me until my wet, tired eyes could finally rest.
and you touched my face and intertwined your hands with my hair
and I don’t know if you knew that I was still awake.

you don’t remember that I can remember.

I remember getting the feeling that you wished
my hair was actually my hands.
I remember peeking through my hands
to see you looking at me.

and I remember how much I could feel.
not the sickness in my stomach or the hurt the world caused.
but I could feel electricity in my spine
as you held me
after such a long time of feeling nothing.

but I never told you.

now you are so far away but when you call me
to ask me what kind of juice to buy
or to just sit in comfortable silence until I’m tired
I feel like you are next to me in the front seat of my car
looking out to the world that hurts to see
but it’s so beautiful.

and when we speak
it’s like we’re counting each individual spot of light in the sky
like we are never going to be done
because there will always be more

and while sitting in those front seats
I’m waiting for a dying comet to come along
to let me know that it’s okay to tell you how numb I wasn’t.
I look at you like the way you might have that one night
when you thought I wouldn’t remember.

sometimes when I look at you I swear
I can see you searching for that same comet,
but I can’t tell if it’s real or because I want you to.

so I won’t tell you.

because this is not as easy as I’ve seen in the movies
and it’s not cute or romantic
but it hurts.
but not in the way the world hurts me.

because although it hurts to feel these things
it is a privilege to be hurt in this way
not because it feels like I can’t breathe
or because it feels like my legs will give out beneath me

but because in those moments
when I might catch you looking at me
it feels like the electricity in my spine.
the kind I felt that night when all I did was cry.

I know you were probably never looking for the same thing I was
and that you simply loved the way the night looked
from the front seat of my car.
but it was a privilege to want something that bad.

I hear all the time
that wanting something you’ll never have
is a waste of time. of energy.
of feeling.

but I don’t feel like this is a waste
because now I know what it feels like
to love so hard you ache.
to love so hard it feels like you can’t breathe.
to love so hard that suddenly the world doesn’t hurt you
as bad as it used to.

so I’ll just sit in this seat
watching you enjoy the night
until you find something
that makes you feel the way I felt that time you held me.

even though I know you might not be watching me
or wanting me
or wishing my hair was my hands.

I will never tell you
any of this.
not a word.

because the comet never came.

Sunday Afternoon

I know that my heart is light and eyes are calm
I know my fingers are gentle and my spine is delicate
I know that when I want to be,
I am in no way fragile or small.
I know that I am a gentle force.

And even though I know these things
I still wonder why.

Why I’m never the one you call at 2 am
While looking at the ceiling, feeling sad but not knowing why.

I still wonder

Why I’m not the one you stare at
While my eyes are not looking.
Why my gentle fingers are not intertwined with yours
Or why my spine is not the one you trace
On a Sunday afternoon before falling asleep.

I know that someday I will be this person,
Not to you, but to someone.

I know this someone will look at me
The way I wish you would now.

I know that I will be everything.

I know this.

I know these things.

And even though I know these things
I still wonder why
You do not.

Continue

I look at my tiny blue veins
Running from one end to another
And I think about how there really is no end
To the streams in my body.

They move constantly. They do not stop.
Even in the lowest of lows
They still run.

And I think about how we are like
These small blue endless rivers
Constantly moving. Never ceasing.
And we are the veins of this existence.

Maybe one day we will stop
Flowing. We will stop rushing.
But as for now we circle around this body
Creating life.

And we will continue to do just that
We will continue to run and move
Until this body becomes too dry and tired
To continue.

The Family Favorite

I was the good one. I followed the rules, kept quiet, did well in school. I was the peacemaker. I made sure I chose the right side, and I was never angry. I was always told I was calm, cool, and collected. I advocated for everyone to respect and cherish their parents, no matter the mistakes they made. Everything I did, I did it for them.

I began to hate it. I hated when I was mocked for being “perfect”. I hated the way others knew the truth but I was too stubborn trying to keep the peace. I hate that I denied the way I felt, and what I thought about myself was always based on the actions of others. It just wasn’t worth it to me anymore.

I began to realize how imperfect I wanted to be. I didn’t have the desire to cause trouble. I didn’t want to be selfish, rude, or loud, I just wanted to stop pretending everything was alright.

The more I thought about the things I have experienced, the more I realized how much I had kept inside, and the more I realized how okay I wasn’t. From then on, I became reluctant to accept the decisions my family made. I loved them, but it angered me that I had to put up with it so often.

After my first year of school, I went back home. I loved being home, but I started to recognize patterns of enabling, guilt-tripping, and ignorance. I left for school early that summer because I knew if I stayed longer, I would get upset and say something I wasn’t supposed to. It was like I was a bottle of pop that had been rolling around in the back of the trunk, waiting to be opened. I decided not to open that bottle.

And then that December happened. While on my way home for Christmas, there was yet another conflict. I became upset, angry, sad, I felt everything all at once and I drove back to school because I was sick of putting up with it. After a phone call and a few guilt-trips, I made my way back “home”. Once again, what happened was swept under a rug. I overreacted, the way I felt was wrong, and I needed to support my family.

I went through the rest of my sophomore year of college not knowing who I was, or what I stood for. I made decisions I would never usually make, and surrounded myself with an attitude and with people who I never would have before. I had no idea what I was turning into. I was nothing like the person I was when I began school, and part of me missed that person.

It wasn’t until after that year of school, while I was at home that I realized who I wanted to be. Well, everything I didn’t want to be.

The way conflicts were handled in my home enabled them to happen again. The ones I love became the ones I tried to avoid. Nothing phased them, and if it did, it only lasted for the night. The next day, it was supposed to be okay, and we’d forget what had happened the day before. It was unhealthy in a way that it did nothing. There was no solution, because after a day or two, the problem no longer existed. Maybe they could see the problem,  but even if they did they were too scared to say it out loud. I was tired of being scared, so I began to pay attention. I was tired of ignoring the bad. It physically made me ache to hide it.

Once again, I was in the constant loop of other people making decisions that impacted me more than they could know. I realized during this time that I was almost not allowed to feel. Because when I did, it wasn’t right. I realized that this is why I stayed neutral. I stayed calm, and I swept it under the rug. When I felt, and when I refused to accept the things that were happening, I was disrupting the cycle. The conflicts lasted more than one night, because I refused to forget them.

I became the problem child.

I became so tired. I was exhausted. I no longer wanted to be the perfect daughter that hid evidence of wrong-doings. I no longer wanted to be quiet. I no longer wanted to keep the peace, because there was little peace to keep.

I was angry, moody, loud, and I overreacted. I punched holes in my door, and I yelled. There was a moment where I became so angry, I threw a bottle of vodka at the bookshelf in my mother’s room. I reacted to everything because if I didn’t, it would go unnoticed. And yet, I still felt guilty for it. In my family’s eyes, I was selfish, spoiled, irate. They were shocked. They didn’t like it. At first, I didn’t know why I was so angry all the time, and I felt guilty. I apologized for it. I was even told that rather than throwing the bottle at the bookshelf, I threw it at my mother. They made me feel as if nothing I said was valid. Nothing I said was true. That bottle never came close to my mother, and I knew it, but once again I felt guilt. I questioned everything. I felt like I was the one causing the problems.

After one event that I will never forget, I finally understood.

I had bottled everything up. I had lived my life following every rule, obeying every command, sweeping every little bit of anger, resentment, wrong-doing, and conflict right under the rug where I stood every day. The bottle was not just opened, but all of its contents were spilled, staining the rug where I hid everything.

How I lived was not normal. How my family lived was not normal. I loved them so deeply and maybe that’s why this frustrated me so much. I loved them and they saw that I hurt but they didn’t like the way that I hurt. They didn’t like that I couldn’t let it go. They didn’t like that it hurt me. I understood that I was a grown adult, but they didn’t understand that I was still their child.

So I left and I never went back.

And this is why I write about it. Because even still, after seven months, no explanation is good enough. No reason is a good enough excuse. They still don’t understand why I ached, why I hurt or why I was angry. They still don’t understand that my life is not meant to revolve around them. That’s not what we are here for, the ones we love so deeply and intensely, are not always the ones we are meant to hold on to. If we are lucky enough, we get to keep these people near us, but that’s not always the case. I wish so badly that I could, but I don’t think I can.

And there are so many days and nights where I fight that homesickness. Where I’m one button away from apologizing to my mother. Where I want to get in my car and go “home”. There are days where I think that I should have kept pretending to be the perfect daughter, that maybe I did deserve to feel that guilt.

But, there are even more days where I can breathe. Where I don’t have to choose sides, and where I can feel so much all at once. There is no bottle or rug. I am in an open space that I have the potential to fill with all of my anger, my sadness, my conflict, my wrong-doings, and every bit of feeling that I have. And although this room is crowded, and I keep filling it, nothing is hidden. Nothing is trapped or collecting dust or housing spiders. These things can breathe and so can I.

And no, I don’t have everything figured out. I don’t know the answer to everything. But I know that right now I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. I know that I am not being selfish for wanting to breathe. Although I love my parents, my mother who came back for me and my step-father who raised the bar so high, they still don’t understand, and I’m not sure if they ever will. I left. And I don’t think I will ever go back, because that is not my home.

I am my home. The space filled with everything that makes me is my home. I wish so badly that they could understand. That they could see how badly I was hurt. How I ached. That I don’t hang onto these things on purpose, or to cause guilt, that I don’t hang on at all. Theses things are permanently attached, because they made me. The things that have happened, everything followed me. When these things happened, as much as I tried to stop it, I was suddenly that twelve-year-old girl again, left, confused. And I think that no matter how old I become, these things will continue to be part of who I am and shape who I have yet to become.

I hate it. I hate knowing that the decisions of others have such an effect on me, but that’s just how it is. No amount of counseling, time, laughter, crying, or forgetting works. It never does. I don’t think it ever will.

I miss them. I miss the fun times when there was nothing to hide. When I did forget. I miss the smell of my mother’s baby lotion, and my stepfather’s hugs. I miss when I could look them in the eyes honestly.

But I miss me more. I’ve never had a chance to be the home that I needed, but I knew that I eventually could. I missed someone I never met, but I knew them deeply. I knew their desires, needs, and fears, and I missed them. I missed myself so much.

Maybe that is selfish. Maybe everything I swept under that rug should’ve stayed. Maybe I have absolutely no clue what happiness means. These things could all be true, but if they were I don’t think I’d mind. I am nowhere near being a perfect daughter, but I can’t remember the last time it felt so good to admit to having flaws. Because in my eyes, in the room filled with the things that make me a home, I am not selfish. I am not self-absorbed, self-righteous, or naive. I am homesick.

Not the kind that makes me miss the tiny blue house in the middle of nowhere, but the kind that hurts my chest when I think about losing myself again. I miss myself so badly, and I just want them to understand. The love I have for them will never go away, but the love I have for myself has grown. I don’t think I will ever go back, but I have found a home within myself.  As clustered and crowded and as messy as it may be, it is my home. I built it, and I’ve rebuilt it over and over again. I sometimes miss the homes that weren’t really mine, but I’ve missed me so much more, and I think I’ve almost found her.

The Power of Vulnerability

Weakness. Naivety. Exposure. Powerlessness. Frailty.

These are the synonyms used for the most powerful characteristic we can have.

Vulnerability, by definition, is the quality or state of having little resistance to some outside agent. It means becoming exposed to the elements, at risk, susceptible.

Despite the negative connotations this definition and synonyms have, vulnerability is the single most difficult trait we can obtain. Even while I was pondering the subject of this TED Talk, I had trouble coming up with arguable reasons as to why this trait is anything but weakness. How can I make it seem like being a wimp is cool? How do I explain this? I’m going to try.

When we think of vulnerability, we think of fear, embarrassment, and not being sure of what is to come. We as human adults are doing our best to avoid these things. We are too old to be scared, we are too mature to get embarrassed, and too detail oriented to jump into something when we don’t know the outcome. But numbing ourselves from experiencing these comes with a price; we no longer have the opportunity to experience the authentic kind of happiness the world has to offer.

I want everyone in this room to close their eyes.

Now, think back to when you were a little kid. When were you the happiest? How did it feel to experience that inconsequential joy? If this is not the memory you are thinking of, I want you to bring up a time when you were absolutely disgusting. When you were in the dirt, making mud pies, trying to catch frogs with unknown diseases in the pond, picking bugs off of plants to hold in your hands or your pockets. If you can’t think of anything then I guess I was just a gross kid. Okay. Open your eyes.

Why was it so easy, so necessary and unquestionable to do these things? This is off topic but have you noticed that kids are absolute sociopaths? They have the ability to do anything they want and feel no fear or remorse. It’s actually frightening. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that doing these things was so easy, because we were vulnerable. We didn’t think about the consequences, we hadn’t learned everything yet. Everything was new and exciting, and we just wanted to experience it. We didn’t get embarrassed unless someone told us we should be. We didn’t fear everything unless someone told us that we should.

We’ve become like this because of classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is, by definition, a learning process that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired; a response that is at first elicited by the second stimulus is eventually elicited by the first stimulus alone. For example, Jim Halpert ringing a bell and offering Dwight Shrute a mint. Then one day he rings the bell and Dwight expects the mint but nothing happens.

Everything from our speech to emotional responses are simply patterns of stimulus and response. As children when we fell, our parents ran up to us and said “oh no, poor baby”, and who knows, it might not have even hurt, but we learned to mimic and reciprocate those same emotional responses because we associate falling with negative emotions. When we did something stupid, which I did plenty of when I was a kid, we didn’t know it was stupid unless someone pointed it out. We were born vulnerable, raw beings, but over time that has changed because of what we’ve learned from other people.

Now, here we are. 

I’m going to bring it back to fear and the unknown. We’re too old to get scared, too detail oriented to jump into things where the outcome is unknown. But really, we’re more scared than we ever have been. We’ve learned throughout our lives to be scared of all the “bad things”. We’ve learned that it’s dangerous to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is weakness. It’s frailty. It’s powerlessness.

But do we really have power if we don’t allow ourselves to feel everything we’re supposed to? Is it really strength if we’re too scared to try something new just because we don’t know what will happen?

About seven months ago, there was an incident and long story short I ended up in the hospital. That night in the ICU, I remember feeling just about everything. It was then that I realized, that I promised myself, that I would always feel everything. That I would simply live. I didn’t realize, however, that doing so would be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I had to strip myself completely of everything that I have ever learned about happiness. I had to turn myself inside out and allow myself to be really seen. I had to become raw. I had to become vulnerable.

I’m nowhere near close to being an expert, but I like to think I have a pretty decent idea of what that entails.

The first thing is shame. Forget about it. In order to really live and grow and learn we need to learn to shut out shame. Shame is the feeling that comes along with thoughts of inadequacy. It’s what we feel when we think we don’t deserve love. Shame restricts ourselves from freely expressing our emotions, or our thoughts, because just maybe we shouldn’t be feeling that way.

The second thing is conquering the unknown. We need to throw out the idea that we shouldn’t do things just because we’re not sure how it will turn out. No, I don’t mean we should all jump off buildings or touch fences with signs that say “high voltage” just to see. I’m talking about the things that you think about doing but skip out because you don’t want to get embarrassed or because it might not even matter. I’m talking about asking out that guy in the library, even though he might say no (this has totally never happened to me ever haha). Go bridge jumping with your roommates even though you’re pretty sure you’re scared of heights. Apply for that job in that dream city even though the thought of moving your entire life somewhere you’ve never been scares the crap out of you. Be the first one to say I love you. Unless it’s only the first date, that’s not courageous, that’s insane. Do the things that you might look back on one day and think I’m glad I did that. Vulnerability strips us from the ability to ignore these opportunities.

The third and last thing is to throw everything you’ve learned from other people about being happy out the window. Seeing other people react to the their circumstances isn’t how you should react. Everything you’ve seen up until this point, has been the emotional response of those around you. This has led some of us to think “Is that what happiness is supposed to look like?” “Is it weird that not doing certain things still makes me happy?” “Am I doing this all wrong?” The answer to all of these questions, is no. We’ve been conditioned to think that certain things are going to make our lives better, that we’re supposed to have certain things or qualities, but that just isn’t true. Everyone is so different, and no specific combination of circumstances, career choices, or experiences is tailored to fit more than one person. So throw that all away. Get rid of it.

Get rid of the things that make you put that shield over your emotions. In order to be vulnerable, you must surround yourself with people who won’t take advantage of that.

I’m going to rewind back to seven months ago. In that hospital bed, in the dark, connected to different machines with wires stuck all over my body, all I wanted to do was be happy. It has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. Realizing that people I love so deeply are not good for me was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Stripping myself of everything I thought I was supposed to feel was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Making myself seen, actually, completely seen in the most raw sense has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I’m nowhere near finished.

Vulnerability takes guts. It means throwing away pride. It means shaking the idea that reacting and feeling different than others is strange or not okay. Vulnerability is becoming the most raw versions of ourselves. It’s being seen, actually, truly, seen.

Thank you.

 

 

Precipice

The overwhelming sensation I get from looking up never fails to surprise me. I’ve felt it so many times before, but when I tilt my head back and see a never ending structure heading straight for the sun, I feel it all over again. When I was a child, tall things fascinated me. I remember how my dreams were full of buildings, mountains, any and all structures that seemed to continue upward forever. I don’t know how to describe the feeling accurately, but I think it feels like that rush you get when an airplane is almost too close to the ground and you can see every detail from the bottom. Seeing these things from far away, or while they are up in the sky doesn’t feel the same way. They are ordinary and just the right size, just how I picture they should be. But when they are close, when I can touch and see everything it is made out of, it brings me that feeling. I feel like I exist. Instead of seeing people and things that pass me by with no distraction, I see something that makes me fear how big this world actually is. It makes me think of how small I actually am, and there is so much space that I have yet to see. When I see these things, I remember that I am nothing. I am not nothing in the sense that I do not matter, but I am nothing in the sense that whatever put me on this earth is so much more-in every meaning and application of the word-than I could ever possibly imagine. There is something powerful in realizing that you are nothing, and that is why I look up.