I met a girl named Kate. She was a petite firecracker of a woman with wild red hair and a thin angular face. She shook her raised fists when she spoke and folded them to pick at the cuticle on her thumb when she talked about wanting to die. She taught me to show up. She taught me that if I don’t fight for what I want then I won’t get the chance again.
She fell in love over coffee with three different men while I knew her. I watched her move away from the curly haired boy who thought law school was something to be done alone and with quiet solitary conviction. I watched her tighten her jaw and lift her head after being left by a boy who didn’t understand that people like Kate are once in a lifetime.
Knowing her made me wonder if people that only come once because they’re moving so fast you’ll never keep up. I found myself getting left behind and I cheered her accomplishments while I settled into a relationship that was lackluster and comfortable. She was fire and I was sure I’d watch her consume the world one day, savoring each bite. I still didn’t have my teeth yet, knocked out by a whiskey bottle and the realization that at 29 I had no concept of who I was myself.
I learned that I was an alcoholic. I learned that the depth of my self loathing was barely being acknowledged. I learned that my hate was numbing me to the world.
I spoke with a red headed Buddhist nun after a mediation once and found that i could listen to myself by being present. I learned that my past was unchangeable and yet still malleable. I learned about perspective and acceptance more in that conversation than I had ever learned in the rooms of AA. I never went back but I still find myself wondering what would have happened if I’d been daring enough to run my palm over the crown of her head to feel the prickly stubble of removed vanity. I wondered if it would feel the way mine had years earlier or if somehow that memory would be transformed from a violent cutting of myself to be interesting to Matt and then forever linked to the man who raped me into something softer, something that melted like forgiveness in my mouth.
I’m told it’s refreshing and sweet, but it always feels a lot like loss.
I went back to school and rediscovered the fact that I am smart. I can take pride in that now, but I still find myself floundering to be less than, to be unassuming and gracious, to not make waves, and to be secondary. I am capable of great and wondrous things and that scares me more than just about anything else. I learned that in my first year and am still trying to figure out what to do with it.
I met a boy named Clayton who was dull and non threatening. I remember very vividly walking out of my bedroom one morning and seeing him in the kitchen jerking off furiously at my kitchen table. It seared into my brain and all I could remember thinking was “I’m so terrible that he’d prefer this to waking me up with a kiss to have sex.” I still didn’t have a backbone. I still wasn’t capable of making waves. I was still that little girl who didn’t want to be the one who got left behind or forgotten at the basketball game.
We broke up and I learned that breakups didn’t have to mean drama, that I could simply shrug and say okay. I learned that I didn’t have to be broken hearted for show when I hadn’t invested anything in the first place.
The most important event that occurred in that first year was that I got my best friend back. Her capacity for forgiveness and love boggles my mind and gives me a bright star to look towards whenever I forget that the world can be cruel. She reminds me that it can be kind and generous. She reminds me that there is something beautiful in the solidarity of two women who have chosen to be friends. That the word friend has more weight and more gravity than the word lover. I will never be able to adequately express what this means and only know that I’ve been blessed to be allowed into her life.
Then there was Jacob, but that story is old. A little girl falls in love with someone who can’t love her back, but tries anyway. It’s a story of moving and isolation and loneliness. I tried, I really did, but I can’t tell you it’s a happy ending. I loved the best that I could at the time, but I also learned that you can’t love someone if you don’t value yourself. I was still a child and my heart was still a barely formed mass of muscle with no real soul or depth behind it yet.
That yet is important. That yet means I was willing to let myself be hurt and that is a scary thing, bone shakingly terrifying to trust another human being with the one thing in your body that kills you when it’s broken.
I moved to a place in the middle of nowhere and I was miserable. I was miserable in the quiet and the life I had followed thinking it would fix me. I was miserable in groups and was serving coffee for a man who belittled everything I could accomplish. I was surrounded by the elderly and I had no peers. I felt alone in AA and I felt alone in my relationship. I muddled through and slogged through and finally the weight of my misery was too much and it ended on Christmas.
I packed up my belongings and moved to St Pete. I packed up and picked my head up and tried to find a place for myself. I found AA again but the people I met felt twisted. The people I met felt like they were talking about grand ideals and fucking their way into the misery of relapse. They felt predatory and unsafe. I did my best but I drifted.
Jacob came back and I thought this time it would be different. Year two I started to learn that something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue wouldn’t magically make me happy.
I did meet a girl named Iris that year. I met her and our anger and violence sang to each other. We were outspoken and bitter together. We waged wars and laughed with sharp canine teeth. I learned that I wasn’t alone and that sometimes we get lost for awhile telling ourselves that this- this will be what fixes me.
She comes back into the story later and helps me remember that happiness is an inside job. That it’s okay to be unapologetically yourself. She’s one of the most casually strong people I have ever met. She’s full of fire and opinions. She has a way of walking into a room that makes people stand up and notice. I think one day she might actually realize she deserves the attention.
I think one day I might realize this too.