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Posted October 06, 2017

Tags: self-care

(photography by Mikaela Thorne)

"I thought I would see things more clearly, as they were meant to be, for me."


I want to be the main character in a movie who doesn’t know what to expect when she boards an overnight plane. I want to be the protagonist who is exposed through her encounters but not in ways that will excavate her vulnerability, butterfly-pinning it on display. But there's no manipulable science to creating experiences. I can write a fiction for someone else’s life, not mine. 

The truth of this disconcerts me much more than it used to. I always want to seem like I know what I'm doing. And I found comfort in this self-projection because feeling anything different (i.e. doubt and despair) was highly unromantic to me. Especially in the summer after graduating high school, when what I needed more than anything was to feel certain. 

After thirteen years of living in the same house I moved to the other side of town. We left too quickly for me to remember what to miss. It all seemed like an overnight social experiment: Away from home, would I cry? 

The first night I was in my new house, I couldn’t remember what the old one looked like. The current place was a thrift-store toy; it wasn’t meant for me to play with. At the same time, I was alarmed at how readily I conceived of a recent home as old. I was sleeping there a week ago, thinking of nothing. 

I needed to ground myself. So I issued a constant reminder that I was going to a place where I wanted to be:  a liberal arts campus in Boston. A large, loud place, where you were unlikely to run into people you knew. A place with more women and POC, to compensate the deficit I experienced growing up. A place where things constantly did not feel at rest.  

I idolized this future to be sure of an exit I when feeling stuck at home: a new city. One where I had never felt weak--unlike Charleston. I had lived here most of my life. I grew up here nervous and brown and I had turned twelve in this city. You’re never comfortable in a city where you remember being twelve. 

That’s why I was excited to get out, to fulfill this reinvention narrative. I thought I would see things more clearly, as they were meant to be, for me. 

But first night in my dorm room I couldn’t tell the difference between eyes opened and closed. I had a generous view of the Boston Common, a bevy of city lights. If you looked in the opposite direction from our beds, towards the door, there was nothing to see at all, except how much we hadn’t unpacked. I was frustrated that I couldn’t relax to enjoy the newness of it all. I didn’t like the sensation of being disillusioned in a place I was so sure of going to. 

More importantly, this isn’t the story I wanted to tell. I thought: stories aren't made in the places where you're not sure what's going on, and I certainly didn't want to live my life like that; not feeling as if I had no control over things. 

I approached life in predictable, planned cycles. I flourished with excitement at the start of a new school year, before gradually being weighed down by the inertia of staying in one place. This situation seemed to be a weird mix of both feelings. 

I thought the start of classes would help even things out but instead I found myself in new situations where I had to prove myself. I had no previous achievements to protect me here. Everything started from scratch. 

I developed a deep shame towards myself. I wasn't getting the grades I wanted. I wasn't writing the way I wanted to. I wanted constant validation. But more than anything I wanted someone to tell me it was okay. You are supposed to feel this way and you are supported in feeling this way. Dissected, abdomen open. Even when you're just trying to take a nap. 

You feel pinned in the sense of an insect; people poking you to figure out what you’re made of. And there's a need to say: “oh you should've seen me way back when -” when what? I was accomplished? Successful? You shouldn't see me now when I have nothing to show for what I want to do. 

Maybe I don't know what I'm made of. But, in the business of ‘making’ and ‘breaking’ yourself, I've been taught it matters. It's a pain. 

There's a pressure to belong in a new place. Not just belong but to immediately belong. There's no chance to consider and contend with what it means to move. 

It is a new home and it's strange. There is strangeness to it. 

It's something we should allow ourselves to feel. 

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