We begin, crying. As infants, the absence of language fills our lungs with sound. We speak in gibberish, wail in code, our eyes filling with unnamed feeling. The very water we need to survive, gliding off our cheeks; what we give-up to feel.
As we get older, our too-tiny frames are the wrong size for our feelings. Little boys whose fingers tap drum solos into desks and girls who fall in love with every kid in their class at least once: kindergarten love notes for the ones who could write love songs with the energy in their forefingers. Kids who run away from home to the park, or under the dinner table, anywhere but their room with their books and their socks and their teddy bears---where things are supposed to make sense.
Once we've braved adolescence, it's supposed to get easier. Our bodies have grown proportionally to our lungs, our toes, our hearts. We are supposed to have learned how to navigate feelings, forge healthy relationships, communicate; ask for the things we need--replace whines with words. We've learned how to be appropriate. That How are you? is less an opportunity to share and more a formality.
But some days my emotions are bigger than my body. I have been known to cry in meetings and to take life too personally. Some days, I can hardly breathe.
In some ways, I might be regressing: I used to sufficiently hold myself together. I was always always always always okay. Especially when I wasn't okay at all. But the facade has cracked and I'm much harder to hold together these days. Instead, I surround myself only with the people I don't mind seeing me a little bruised and I do the best I can.
Perhaps it's an improvement; to be more human. To acknowledge the parts of you that ache instead of brushing past them. It's an exercise in mattering. Some days, I revert back to the one-who-wants-you-to-think-she-has-it-altogether but starting something new is humbling. Reflecting can drive you crazy.
I bake less cupcakes, although I wish I didn't, and take shorter showers, even though the monotony of the water used to be my favorite place to think. It's amazing what becomes of our fingertips when we exchange coping mechanisms. I am hard on other people but always harder on myself. In time, I have become self-deprecating. An online survey asked if I was the person other people might call for advice and, even though I knew the answer was yes, instead--I took five minutes to silently berate myself for not being the person I listen to. Why aren't we kind to ourselves? I wish I knew.
I have students who admit they are not their own favorite person --because they aren't done yet. Their parents, they say, are more fully baked. I keep waiting for the moment I have it altogether and maybe that will never happen. Or maybe I'll miss it, in the waiting.
So much is good and so much is terrifying and I spend too much time focused on the things I cannot control. Angry at them for forgetting the facade--for cracking under the pressure.
I wrote here, today, for the first time in months just in case someone was listening. I aim to be a good listener but I hope someday to believe I am worth listening to. When I speak, my sentences begin and end in apology--suffocating the words in between until they're gone.
To the man who made me sick with regret for going to that concert—for dancing.
To the man who held my hand in the street, after telling me he was married and after I asked him not to, warned that there were other men looking at me and he was there to protect me. I never asked for his protection.
To the man who made me know for the first time that marriage wasn’t something that meant a promise.
To the man who cursed at me when I didn’t say thank you.
To the men who think I’m rude because I don’t appreciate their compliments.
To the men who ask me to smile.
To the man who made me afraid to sleep in my own bed.
To the man, when we were both in middle school, who told everyone we had kissed (even though we hadn’t) and spent months aggressively spreading rumors so that we would “just do it already, I mean, they all think you already did.”
To the man who told me I was ugly so I would need him to feel beautiful.
To the man who touched himself on the Manhattan bound D train while staring at me.
To the men who mistook kindness for an invitation.
To the men, underground, who made me fear the subway for a full year.
To the man in college, who smelled like whiskey, and was stronger than he looked.
To the man who used his tongue when I didn’t ask.
To the man who spent an entire train ride, packed like sardines, grinding himself against my back to intermittent mumbled “I’m sorry”s. But who didn’t stop; no matter how I tried to move away.
To the man in fifth grade who promised me an ‘A’ in art. Whose job had been to teach me.
To the 43 year old man who asked me on a date, when I was still nineteen, and did not like to be rejected.
To the man in high school who gave me detention because he said he liked to see me cry.
To the man in the supermarket who asked me if I needed help. “Oh, no thank you” and then followed me around the store, anyway.
To the men who make comments about the way I look in pants.
To the man who posted memes of anime characters kissing and told me that “could be us.”
To the man who thought I was something to be gotten.
To the man that one time I still won’t talk about.
To the man who came into the women’s bathroom, when I was alone in there.
To the men who stopped their cars and asked me to get in.
To the men who honk.
To the men who roll their windows down and yell like I am a ball game and they think their screams will score the final basket.
To the man who chased me—and the diner I hid in; to the man in the diner who sat with me until the stranger outside was gone.
To the men who think they are being kind, by disregarding my feelings.
To the man who walked me home, expecting something in return.
To the man who put his hand under my skirt.
To the men I have worked hard to forget.
To the man who made me wish the door was still open.
To the men who make me cross the street because they’re walking too quickly and their hands are in the wrong places.
To the man married to my mom’s friend who spoke of men like he was one (thank you, mom for believing me).
To the man who called me “innocent” and said he could “do something about that,” like it was a problem that needed fixing.
To the men who force me to speak vaguely. Who shame me by their actions. This is not the worst of anything. This is one piece of a narrative that is so engrained in our history, it is unclear where to begin; how to teach girls and boys both what they are worth and how to treat one another. I take no pride in being part of “me too.”
AND to the men who were respectful. Who asked and listened. Who kept their distance, until it was appropriate. Who were gentle, who knew better. Who did not think they were gods. Who knew I, too, was a person.
Dear New Year,
Sweet. Apples dipped in honey style.
Dear New York,
Ready for the Fall. So in love with your leaves changing and your farmers markets.
Dear Broadway Flea,
You're crazy. But you make for a wonderful day.
Happy for more time to sit you.
Dear Fun Reads,
It's been a month of easy bookage and many adventures. You're my favorite way to travel on a Wednesday afternoon. I had forgotten how wonderful you are.
Dear Pumpkin Spice,
It's never too early for you.
Dear New Home,
I feel so lucky for your high ceilings and your late nights.
Grateful for damage control, after two months of donuts.
You're a tough cookie. And you're mine!
I miss you. Some days more than others, as I start the dream-project.
Dear Cinnamon Tea,
You soothe the stress of starting something new.
Dear Product Donations,
You're the best-phrase-I've-just-learned-and-will-never-forget.
Dear Grey's Anatomy,
You're BACK! So happy we've returned to Grey-Sloan Memorial.
Okay. We're doing this.
Dear Idina Menzel,
It's been a pleasure touring with you. Glad we picked the same spots!
Dear Summer of Dreams,
I still haven't wrapped my head around all you've given me--but I feel like the luckiest girl in the world!
There's no 'me' in 'cactus.'
Dear Portland Farm Party,
He spun me around until the banjo stuck to the hairs on the back of my neck and the twinkle lights danced on their own.
I'm learning that you get to be unconditional. You get to fall and cry and kick and scream but still be just as strong.
Dear Gordan Ramsay,
I want a white apron.
Dear Voodoo Donuts,
You were full of jam and you didn't tell me.
Dear Blackberry picker,
You say "Anyone who is depressed should pick and eat their own blackberries and they won't be depressed anymore." You're better than blackberries. And I pick you!
Dear Space 'Nerdle,'
"Pick me, choose me, love me."
Dear Cinnamon Tea,
All we see is sky.
Dear Giant Mugs,
The bigger the better. Like Texas (except I found you in New Orleans)!
You were the hook to the worst song at the open mic (but that was someone else's mama) YOU are what I want to be when I grown up. You is kind, you is smart, you is important.
Dear New York,
Guess who's back.
When we planned our makeshift tour; organized venues, stays, gas...there were so many elements left unconsidered.
We had discussed Disneyland--my one true caveat for spending a summer on the road--and gigs. I kept my fingers crossed that we'd make it to Oregon by the eclipse; packed multiple face-soaps and deodorants. We printed itineraries, added every venture onto Pinterest boards, found the top 50 donuts in 50 states...it all felt as well-conceived as a brand new thing can be.
And, after we played our first show in North Carolina, under the light of fireflies and an orchestra of crickets, I knew we were doing the right thing. From jam sessions in Atlanta to rehearsals in Nashville; to cover-shows in Austin to San Diego nights where the people danced and bought shirts, and believed in the words coming out of our mouths. That stuff's the thing of magic--and being a part of something so vulnerable has been such a gift.
We stayed in AirB&Bs which was another level of vulnerability; living in other people's homes--other people willing to share them. People never ceased to amaze us with their kindness and generosity.
That was until we left our car for fifteen minutes in San Francisco and returned to a shattered window, a missing guitar, missing bags, missing parts.
There is no point recounting the night, the morning; precariously moving glass to look under seats, hoping something fell and was not stolen. Staring but hardly seeing. Calling for help and hearing that people do not come to the rescue here.
This is nothing compared to floods or hurricanes; to marches, to car crashes, to bombings--but this moment began to overshadow the heart of our adventure--the people we had met and the shows we had played--it was all eclipsed by a darkness we never saw coming.
It was not a tragedy, in the way we have taught ourselves the word, off dirty newspapers and smudged screens, but it is a lesson in the opposite of kindness. And from the hands of someone else's sickness, I jokingly say it was a loss of innocence (but that doesn't make it any less true). Whatever parts of myself still believed in the the golden rule-- tarnished.
The next morning I woke up one eyeball at a time, squinting through the truth until it felt like a nightmare. But it was real. We waited for the glass to be fixed--we filed forms with people who had washed their hands before we walked into the room. It felt like a dead-end.
But we drove onward. And on our next stop, we were confronted by generosity that topped what we had seen before, a ten-fold. We borrowed instruments and played into the night, in the backyard of the people we were staying with, surrounded by bushels of blackberries, grape-filled vines, and the kindness of strangers.
After our pit-stop, we drove on to the eclipse.
The funny thing about an eclipse is that, unless you find yourself directly in the path of totality, the sun never fully goes away. Without glasses, though it may turn the world into Sepia tones, there is still a sun. And a person in too much of a hurry, with a stock meeting or a speech to memorize, or a girlfriend his parents are meeting for the first time, might miss the eclipse altogether. Because just as quickly as the sun disappears, it pokes its rays out as if to say, 'See, I'm not going anywhere.'
We pick ourselves up and it sucks and it's hard and, so often it is so unnecessary, but I have to keep reminding myself that the world is more than a single person: more than me, more than the person who broke the window and stole what was not his, more than the kindness of strangers; the heartbreak of a hurricane, the sadness of a storm.
And when my heart goes dark, confused by another's actions, it's a comfort to know that, as quickly as the shadows fell, there's always a light somewhere (as long as you are receptive to it) saying, "See, I'm not going anywhere."
My life has been a series of self-consciousness.
I was in a dance class when I was four. Our show costume was this bright pink tutu and, even though that bubblegum pink color was my favorite, I dropped out the morning of the show because I looked like a huge bubble in the costume and I was embarrassed, even then. Innocence bubble popped.
My mom tells this funny story about a birthday party, when I was still young enough to count on one hand, where someones mother found me underneath a table eating a bowl of candy by myself. I started hiding food at a very young age, convinced—if no one saw it—I didn’t have to own it. There would be no shame in food that no one else could quantify.
I went from under-tables to behind closed doors. Eating in hiding, not eating at all; binging, purging…people often compare food to control but, for me, it was secrecy. I was proud when I was empty. When my stomach churned and grumbled, it was rerecording the voices in my head. My father’s go-to line, you ate yesterday, when I’d skewer salad onto my fork.
I spent summers throwing up in the bathroom, to feel good in a bathing suit. School years drinking water and sucking on pretzels for food. Or eating a meal a day, only when someone was looking. Wrapping my thumb and middle finger around my wrists—feeling for bones, to feel small enough to be good enough.
In college I only felt beautiful when I was still hungry. I let my eyes dull, my hair unravel, my nails brittle. When I grew jealous or afraid I was not enough, I would exercise harder, eat less. Spend summers watching other people eat. Exercising hours for carrots; burpees until I couldn’t see straight.
I went to dance calls and left in tears, spilling my shame into the toilet; four years old, again, only now I felt like an elephant: clunky, too-big, too-wrong. I modified my life to fit into my mindset. I would never be thin enough or beautiful enough. I would never be able to dance.
I started teaching, tiny. But the more stressed I became the more I turned to food. And the more I saw how my opinion mattered, the more I remembered who I had been in high school and what I had needed to hear. So I bought kale and broccoli and enough vegetables to start a small farm. I decided, if I was going to teach by example, I couldn’t just teach kindness and passion and words—I had to live by them. I had to treat myself with the kindness I hoped they would; nourish myself to nourish them.
This summer, we’ve been traveling. We spend days exploring new states and people and nights playing shows in bars and coffee shops and places i’ve never heard of but am so grateful exist. I keep reminding myself that food is important. I have decided to eat donuts in every state and compare them. I spend hours making lists of places we have to see, and restaurants we shouldn’t miss. Convincing myself that, if I think it’s fun, I’ll be okay. So I’m eating and letting food anchor me to moments, to people, to life. But that doesn’t make it easy. I’ve started avoiding mirrors—I run in place. I keep food down. And I promise myself I’ll get back to a routine and be fine. We hike and I want to push myself further. I’m always too close to the edge.
This is me in a bathing suit: after bbq in Texas, biscuits in North Carolina, Purple Drank in New Orleans, tacos in Tucson, hummus in Nashville, Eggs Benedict in DC, fried chicken in Atlanta---and donuts everywhere. I’m not comfortable with the way it looks. But I’m learning to be proud of my body. I’m sharing to own it. To beat shame. To turn guilt into gratitude; you ate yesterday into what will you do today?
I'm so enamored by you. You are full of signs to follow and turns to make. I didn't know how comforting the wheels would feel. How quickly hundreds of miles would pass from my window.
Stop following me. And being so delicious.
I only want to play with you; even when you win.
Dear New Orleans,
You're warm. I could dance to the jazz and tie the cherry stems, forever.
You make for great BINGO.
We could eat you every day.
You're a place of the gods, in the middle of Georgia.
Dear Farmer's Markets,
You're free breakfasts in samples and fresh berries.
You live at the bottom of my backpack, where I cannot always find you but need you.
Dear Coffee Shops,
Thank you for the free hot water and the various mugs and paper cups and game tables.
Dear Stools and Carpets and Stages where I have sung,
I am grateful for your wood and your rough and your four-legs. You are sturdy.
You let this mermaid swim in your waves, wake to your sunrise, laugh to your jokes. You are too many mosquitoes, not enough time, and just enough "fo shizzle."
Dear Polka Dots,
You're my favorite.
Dear striped headband,
You are the way I've chosen to hide my crazy hair. Thank your for making me fashionable (and saving me $10 on a fake-discount).
Living out of you is mess and fashion faux-pas but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Dear Barn Shows,
You sing ANNIE and THE WIZARD OF OZ and I want to nibble your cheeks.
You are pretty spectacular. I'm lucky to know you. And grateful for your homes to stay in.
I'm ever so surprised by your kindness.
You were special.
You're movie nights and hillside shows and bar-b-q and Shiner and Springs in the middle of the summer.
You were such a good omen. But I'm the luckiest.
I have never been the type to make waves.
I used to believe that the entire ocean traveled towards the sky in one giant wave. That, no matter where you were, you'd feel the same micro-pulsation. But, when you look out at the ocean, five-feet tall, the waves seem to take from parts of the water and give to others; rolling across the deep blue, on a race to some sandy finish-line. No two people will have the same wave experience. Like two sides of a long-lost friend. Older still, I know that all a wave brings to shore is energy. Not a single drop of water from foreign bodies. It's an optical illusion, like tomorrow.
I was swimming towards the frothiest parts of the water, catching my breath in heaping gulps that felt like promises too big to put down. When you're swimming towards the waves, you feel alive. The air above the water, healing. I've been chasing a good wave. The kind of wave that questions your existence; that pulls you from side to side; knocks the wind right out of you. If you stay under even a little longer, if there isn't time to breathe between the next wave; the kind of wave that might inhale you, for energy.
Off the beach, waves are often frowned upon. Perhaps for their energy. Bringing too much of themselves to the shorelines, people often run away. It's no wonder the wave takes every last drop of its water back. Even the things most necessary to survive are rarely appreciated.
So maybe I make more waves than I'd thought: just being a person seems to add a murmur to the universe. And maybe that is why some people grow silent, like the parts of the water that never seem to make any waves at all.
I think it's time to brush you off.
Dear Evan Hansen,
Today is going to be a great day and here's why...
Dear Old Navy,
You were a good idea.
You make morning kisses harder. But not impossible.
My favorite pose is the way you look at me when the camera's not snapping.
How strange the way you hold the years as if they were tangible. As if it were only objects.
You make such a cute comeback, in the summertime.
Dear Pretty Little Liars,
You ended as you began. I couldn't escape you but I'm glad you're over now.
The best days are had by accident, with you.
Dear Ice Cream,
I miss you as I desperately try to regain the figure I had seven months ago.
Dear Barista Who Knew My Order Without Me Having to Open My Mouth,
Thank you for seeing me.
You were a breath of love and a reminder of humanity. The place where the linear and curvilinear meet. Dayenu.
Dear Baby Goats,
I will love you forever. You have left arts and crafts paper, house lights, donuts, laughing tracks, and MLA citations where my heart once was.
Dear Blonde Streaks,
I could get used to you.
I'm not sure you ever come the way we want. But you start with goodbye.
You were dainty but delicious. You poked holes in my pockets but I'm happy to trade hard work for experiences these days.
Dear Mango Margarita,
I still think you're more exciting to say than dripping on my tongue. But you're frozen enough to make me pretend I'm five again.
The gray-haired woman next to me, who thought I was ballsy for using the men's room during intermission, said it best: So. Much. Heart.
A Masters Degree makes me no more equip to support my sadness.
Dear Spring Skirts,
You're good for twirling and weekend picnics.
Weekdays are brought to me by the letters Y-O-U.
Dear Cinnamon Tea,
Don't worry. As the days warm, I will still boil your water, wait impatiently for you to cool, and hide you away behind the laugh lines in my throat.
Dear Prom Date,
We're the greatest love story ever told.
Dear Renaissance Faire,
The stones said it best.
Dear Mini-Ice Cream Cones,
You're a tiny indiscretion. Everything tastes better in cones.
Dear Deb Talan,
I trust no one when I’m afraid, either. But we are Lucky Girls.
You're close. You mean the end of such much and the beginning of so much more.
Dear 6 Months,
You're not much in the scope of forever...but you've been everything since the first day the glass broke and the dreidel spun, and the bakery door swung open.
Dear Rainy Blooms,
Proof that things are still lovely, even when they're a little damp. The flowers (still) grow.
This is Me:
My name's Melissa. I'm the girl with her hands in her journal.