One day you told me you probably loved me.
You love me too, you accused.
Stop, I replied like you were hurting me. Maybe because you were.
You told me to be honest. To tell you the truth. I didn’t. I couldn’t. You were a stranger. The best kind of stranger and I probably did love you in the same way you loved me. It was reckless. I loved your hands and the power they had. I loved your arms and the scars I left on your warm skin and the raspy sound of your voice when you sang to me. I loved that you were crazy. I loved that you made me crazy. I was in love with the world we pretended to live in. I loved that you were sad. I loved all of your problems and the way that I could never ever fix them. I loved having absolutely no control over anything. I loved that when you left me I cried and you did nothing. I loved that when you left and when I cried and when you did nothing I turned you into a story. I love that I get to keep you forever between these pages, in this ink like the best kept secret I’ve ever held. I love that even though you are nothing but fiction— you are so real to me. I should have told you yes. I should have told you that yes I loved you and that you changed everything for me and that I might not be a better person because of it but that I felt like a better version of who I used to be because of it. Because of you. I think about you sometimes still and I think that I should have told you yes. I should have bled for you but then I never would have felt all this misery. And perhaps it’s the misery I love most.
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One day you told me you probably loved me.
I don’t mind my life being scattered throughout brown boxes stacked almost too high if you’re the one who’s going to help me unpack. I don’t mind that the water pressure sucks and that it makes my hair flat if you’re the one who’s going to make it knotty later. I don’t mind that it’s hot or that I keep stubbing my toe on that one nail that sticks out or that I have to wash my dishes by hand because I don’t have a dishwasher anymore. I don’t mind not having internet or cable right now. I don’t mind that I haven’t met any neighbors yet, that these walls are too white, that the tile in the kitchen is kind of ugly, that the top lock of the front door is impossible to unlock, that I have to walk down three flights of stairs to do laundry, and I don’t mind how dim the living room light is.
None of these things matter.
I don’t mind that it’s 3am and I have to wake up soon and that I can’t sleep.
I don’t mind any of these things or most things at all because you are in the other room sleeping and maybe you’re dreaming or maybe you aren’t but you are mine. You make me better. You make me see the brighter side of everything. Your love makes me forget about boxes and stubbed toes and ugly tile. Your love reminds me I’m alive. Your love makes everywhere feel like home.
Sometimes I wish I could shrink into a miniature size and climb inside your brain and sit there for a while because it is beautiful. I wish you knew it was beautiful and that your face is beautiful and that YOU are a beautiful person.
Everything you went through, are still going through, all those things that keep sneaking back up on you, does not and will not define your future unless you let it. The choices you’ve made, even the ones you just made yesterday, even the one you maybe made a minute ago, do not make you who you are. You are many things. You are a compilation of many many things that have been piling up for a lifetime. You are not made up entirely of your mistakes and failures. You are intelligent. You are funny. You are opinionated. You are reckless. You are curious. You are caring. You are capable of loving. You are capable of being loved. None of these things happened because of someone else. They happened because of you.
There have, however, been people who put a dent into who you THINK you are. Who these people made you think you were. There have been people who came into your life and changed it. Who opened your eyes to things you wish you never saw, who left you scars, made you question love and trust and what a healthy relationship is. There have been people who used you, lied to you, left you, hurt you, and made you crack into a million tiny pieces that maybe you still haven’t gotten back yet.
There are those people and then there are the people who push you out of your comfort zone, who tell you you’re important, who remind you how life changing a simple conversation can be. There are the people who hold you back and then there are the people who challenge you to do better, to be better, and who you are better with– not because you weren’t good enough before– but because you want to be your best self around them. There are the people who have taken advantage of you but then there are those who give you everything – who hold your hand, hold the door, who you don’t have to physically hold to know they are there.
Understand this: the rest of your life will consist of people. Of strangers of loved ones of friends of enemies. The rest of your life will consist of trusting people– sometimes the wrong people, sometimes the right people. Hold on to all of them. Hold on to even the most painful memories, the most selfish moments, every single thing that ever made you hate yourself and remember them. Not out if spite or for revenge– but to remind yourself that you’re better than that. Before hate there must be love. Remember that even in the darkest of moments– there was once something so bright and powerful that it made you FEEL. Hold on to each important, significant, person – even strangers because they can be important too– and never once forget that they made you feel something beautiful. That they reminded you that beautiful exists. That they changed you, impacted your life in some way, and be grateful that you recognize that. It’s a gift, really, to be able to look at everything and learn from it. Learn about yourself, about others, about how god damn important all people really are.
Always hold into this: your brain is beautiful. Your face is beautiful. YOU are a beautiful person and there is absolutely no one who can take THAT from you. And if you think this is about you– it probably is.
For Halloween that year I was a magician. Really all I did was buy a cape and spray paint a broken hanger to make it look like a wand.
When we left the Halloween store I told you my heart hurt. You drove me to a 24 hour clinic because my heart was always hurting. In the parking lot you put the cape on and told me you’d make all the pain disappear. You told me you’d save me from absolutely everything and I giggled because your eyes were like a clear day and I wanted to tell you I probably loved you but I didn’t. Instead— I accidentally called you my ex’s name who I actually was very much still in love with. You ripped the cape off your neck with one hand like you were punishing the fabric. When you got mean everything changed color. Your cheeks were all ripe and your knuckles pale and your eyes so deep blue I could drown. You told me to get out of the car and I did and you drove away so fast it was exactly like a magic trick. I stood in the parking lot and wanted so bad to cry but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I thought it was funny, actually. I was grateful you were not there to see me standing alone in the parking lot smiling like a crazy person. I always knew you deserved someone more balanced than me.
You came back ten minutes later and I was already in the waiting room. You smelled like a pack of cigarettes. You fell into the chair next to me as if someone pushed you. We didn’t look at each other. My chest felt like a giant pinch. You bounced your leg so fast it made me sea sick. When the nurse called my name I got up and you stayed seated. I went in the back alone.
“I’m dying,” I said when I finally came back out to the waiting room. I wasn’t dying. It just felt like I was. You raised your eyebrows and your face made so much sense right then. Everything fit perfectly. Your face was so very easy to stare at.
“No you aren’t.”
We walked back to your car. The sun was setting and the sky was fading and I purposely bumped hands with you to see if you’d hold it. You did.
“I wish it was acceptable to wear capes all year,” you said out of nowhere. I laughed so hard I forgot how much pain I was in.
We went to your house and you made me chocolate milk with more chocolate than milk and you played the guitar for me and I was in love with the way your fingers moved across the strings, I was in love with the way your elbows bent, the curve of your spine, the shape of your jaw. I wanted to fit inside of you. To be every part of you. It was a desire I could never articulate without sounding insane.
When we curled up together under your sheets your heart beat sounded like the guitar and I imagined my fingers strumming it alive.
“If capes were acceptable to wear I’d make you fall in love with me.”
“That doesn’t even make sense.” I giggled.
“Well it does to me. The cape would be magic and I would magically make you mine forever.”
I wanted to tell you I didn’t believe in magic. Or maybe I didn’t believe in love. Or maybe they’re both the same thing. I said nothing. I stared at your symmetrical face, your eyes like a night light, and took a deep breath.
“Can’t you just save me from everything without a cape?”
I never clarified what “everything” entailed. And so you saved me from nothing. Just like magic.
Almost 5 years ago my family and I got evicted from a place we called home. Our belongings were spread across the lawn like a garage sale and people would slow down as they drove by to see if there was something they might want to buy. They didn’t realize that the torn boxes were filled with our life. The things we used every day and probably took for granted. We fit our lives into boxes like professional tetrus players and the rest of our lives folded along with it
Because of this I have learned how to grow. I have learned how to leave. I have learned how to take care of myself and everyone around me.
And when I moved back to Chicago a year later into a tiny apartment filled with roaches and even when everyone thought it was disgusting—I was more proud than I had ever been in my life. They didn’t see how beautiful it was that I had a roof over my head because they didn’t understand and will never understand that empty feeling you get when you lose everything. The first night in that apartment I had nothing to sit on or eat on or even to look at. Michael and I went to Target and bought a beanbag chair for me to sleep on. We used a cardboard box as a table and ordered takeout Chinese food. There was a shooting not even a block from my apartment so when we went out for ice cream we had to go through alleys because the yellow tape wouldn’t let us take the main road. We spent the entire night with the backs of our legs sticking to the wood floors because it was so hot and there was no air. It was a real life cliché. You know, how everyone talks about having nothing and making something of it. That was us. That was me.
It’s funny how many things have changed since then.
And now as I look for a new place to live I am being picky because I can. Because I have earned this. Because I can afford to be picky. Because I worked until my body felt broken in order to support myself. Because I never once curled into that tiny ball all my friends used to say they would have curled into if they went through half the things I had to go through.
It is midnight and maybe I’m delusional but when I think back to that summer day five years ago— the singing birds, the slight humming of traffic, the purring insects, the barking dogs and laughing children and the burning sun that made our spines sweat and then that hard, cold, dreadful, sinking feeling that nothing would ever be the same for the rest of my life—I am grateful. I think back to those brown boxes crammed with an entire life and I think about how angry I was. I think about how lost I felt. How I jumped in my car and turned on sad music and cried into my steering wheel because I wasn’t sure how to leave. I am thankful for this tragedy. I am a much better person now that I know how to start over. I am a much better person now that I know I can.
We went to a grocery store real late at night to pick up alcohol. I wanted you to love me. We danced through the aisles and you twirled me and I had really bad sunburn so you bought me Neosporin and promised you’d get all the places I couldn’t reach. I watched your hands pick up a case of beer and I tried to imagine those hands doing other things. Holding mine. Tickling me. Writing me poems. Giving me goose bumps. When we got to the register the lady said it was too late to purchase alcohol– that we couldn’t buy any till tomorrow. That’s stupid, you said. I stood next to you. I didn’t care about the beer. I didn’t care about the sunburn or what time it was or anything, really. Sorry, she said. We both knew she wasn’t. We went back to my car and the sky was so velvet. There were no sounds. I wanted you to fill in all the empty spaces. When we got back to your hotel room I squeezed my eyes shut and pretended it was real. That this was normal. That you could love me. That we weren’t just place holders. I would wake up to you getting ready for work. I would watch you get dressed. I would wish you could stay. I just wanted breakfast but you were always leaving.
It’s almost tomorrow and I’m sure they’re selling alcohol somewhere.
It’s Wednesday and sunny and the world is green and alive and Chicago is filled to the brim with strangers spilling over the edge– they are everywhere. They are holding hands and holding phones and holding secrets and they might be in love or they might be pretending and everything’s moving and everything’s changing and there’s a freedom in leaving but there’s a freedom in staying. There’s a freedom in living. A freedom in living in such a lovely city full of lovely strangers doing lovely things while I sit here with my back against a tree on a sunny, Wednesday afternoon watching all of it exist.
Taking my time because sometimes the long way is prettier.
Learning how to walk away.
Figuring out that just because something always “has been” doesn’t mean it should “still be.”
Getting real good at saying yes to everything. Yes I want more hours. Yes I want another job. I’ll take that job too. Yes I can do it. Yes I am fine. Yesyesyes.
Unstoppable. I don’t need help. I don’t need anything. I’ll do it for you and for myself because I can. Boom.
Loud. When I want something I get it. I use my voice when it’s necessary.
Growing. Everything is changing and everyone is different and that’s okay because it’s beautiful and I’m content.
Happy. Here I am in the most beautiful city in the US where I get to pursue a higher education in something I am passionate about while sharing the same roof with someone who I might not always have the best relationship with but who loves me and supports me anyway. Here I am in the most beautiful city in the US and the skyline still makes me lose my breath and every single day I am learning and believing and accepting and loving because I am NOT lucky to have everything I have. I worked for it. Luck has everything to do with timing but hard work has everything to do with putting in time.
Still awake at 2 am typing this from my phone in the dark. I can’t stop writing.
My best self when I am writing. I am my best self right now.
So I’m at that cafe we found on accident. You remember it– it was a muggy Chicago afternoon and I was free from class and you came to pick me up and the air felt like a broken vent and I just needed to go inside somewhere, anywhere, for some cool air. You had a specific restaurant in mind that you wanted to try out but I was too impatient and crabby to walk any further and so we stumbled in here because you always gave in to me. The cafe was cute because there was colorful art across the walls and the stools looked like tree stumps. Since it was hot I ordered an iced vanilla latte and took a window seat that faced super expensive and symmetrical apartments with grass shaped like a careful haircut. You sat down across from me holding a steaming cup of coffee.
“It’s way too hot for that,” I said. But when you offered me a sip I tried it anyway and burnt my tongue.
“Ow!” I squealed.
“You’re supposed to wait for it to cool down,” you said. Your smile made it hard for me to breathe.
Then I let you try my latte and you made a creased face.
“Way too sweet,” you said.
“I know I am.”
You laughed with eyes so blue there was no name for them.
I sip my coffee now and it tastes like that time I thought I loved you. It tastes like mindless walks through neighborhoods we pretended to live in. Tastes like summer and holding hands even though it’s too hot to stand so close. Tastes like bookstores and picnics and the skyline across the water all lit up like a bright idea. Tastes like my elbows tangled with yours– like our legs all twisted– our bodies in a tight bow with the kind of knot impossible to undo.
When I close my eyes and sip the coffee it is almost as if– but not quite– like you are sitting across from me. Reminds me of how I almost– but not quite– loved you.
I burn my tongue because I’ve always been impatient. I’m bad at waiting.
Heavy body and limbs and joints and bruises and kisses like fingerprints on shoulders and hips and I’m sinking in your waterbed or maybe I’m drowning. Your room has no windows so I don’t know if it’s daylight or night time but it’s fine because maybe there is no time when I am with you. Time is not a thing.
You draw on your desk with a permanent marker and I watch your knuckles and how you don’t blink not even once.
“What are you drawing?”
“A cloud wearing glasses.”
And in this moment you have taught me that not everything needs an explanation. That sometimes things just are.
I like that.
I watch you draw the cloud wearing glasses and your spine curves into a smile and it is like you are telling me a secret but you aren’t really saying anything at all. Quiet moments are my favorite.
It was beautiful.