The most fragile thread stitching together the past decade of my life is age 23. It is not 21, the age when I imagined I would take on the world with a vengeance, only to have trauma tangle my insides and leave them in knots. It is not 24 when the encroachment of quarter life and the quest for validation shipwrecked me far away from myself. No, it is 23, an age somewhere in between the dusk of adolescence and the kind of adulthood you can really sink your teeth into. Twenty-three is the year where I spent 365 days in between hell and healing, sin and retribution. It is the year where I experienced how the air kisses your skin during the free fall and how the cement smacks your back when you hit the ground. It is the year where I dug my own abysses and then wondered why I couldn’t seem to find my way out.
It is easy to write the field notes now, five years later as I stare at the sunset of my twenties. I cannot retrace time and give that 23-year-old version of myself these words. But maybe they will land somewhere else in just enough time for them to shift the wind for someone else.
There is nothing beautiful about a woman who denies her own heart. There is nothing admirable about being the “cool girl” when you are made of one million atoms of affection and joy and pride and despair. You are poetry in motion, a woman who feels everything in fine italics. Embrace this. Embody this. Permit your feelings to pour freely from your skin.
No one ever gives you less than you deserve. Instead, you choose to accept it. You choose to accept half-baked responses, plans that inevitably fall through, and men whose emotional maturity is equivalent to them shuffling their feet. The narrative of someone “not being able to give you what you deserve” is a delicious and intoxicating one, particularly for that man who can’t measure up. It is the widest passage he gets to leave your life without any blood on his hands. You owe it yourself to author better, more full-bodied love stories.
It is fine to be a funny writer. It is OK to be witty and wry. It is better, however, to be transparent and real. Sometimes your sarcasm dresses your words in too many layers. So, say the things you mean. Write the things you’ve lived. Dare to pen what others would only whisper. And always save a little something for yourself. There are some experiences sacred enough that they never have to leave your mind in order to still matter.
Someone’s skin on your skin is a sacrosanct thing, an encounter that stretches to every part of you. You are not a woman whose heart and libido are detached. This is a complex and wildly inconvenient reality, but it is still your reality. Know this and honor it. Do not squander another moment being dishonest about sex – performing, pretending, feigning pleasure, and disassembling what you know to be most true about yourself.
If you find yourself asking him “What are we doing?” he has already answered your question. He has answered it with silence and ambivalence and the way he turns his back to you in bed. He has answered it with sighs and half smiles and an unwillingness to speak the truth out loud. You are too brilliant, too sturdy, and too vivid for a watered down kind of love.
There is something beautiful about a woman who declares her place in the world, a woman who does not apologize for the space she inhabits or the skin she lives within. There is something beautiful about a woman who exposes her messes instead of sweeping them under the rug. There is something beautiful about a woman who sees her heart and dares to feed it every morsel of goodness, richness, and adventure it deserves. I have no doubt that you will become that kind of woman.