It was scooting down the window, inching its way along, hopping, clinging to the glass, not wanting to let go.
It was raining. And he was there. I knew he was there. I was facing him, and I saw him watching me, but I was watching the rain slide down the window that was past him. I was crying, he was smiling, and I asked him why.
“You are so beautiful,” he said.
I stared at him. “You said you wanted this. That you were in this. You said that you were planning to make the next four years with me and school and everything work.”
He looked like he couldn’t breathe. His eyes were darting all across my face and his mouth hung open, uttering noises that he had meant to be words eventually while his shoulders rose into a shrug. Looking back on this night now, I like to think that this was his way of showing that this conversation hurt him almost as much as it broke me.
“Did you just not mean it all? Because I did.”
His face smoothed over, finally. “I thought I did in the moment. But I guess I didn’t. I guess I was wrong.”
And then he got out of the car.
The next two months were spent replaying, reliving, and trying to detach myself from memories I no longer understood before trying to figure out how to forget.
Our paths crossed again in December. Someone told me around that time: “You shouldn’t try the same thing twice, expecting a different outcome.” But I wanted him. And I was hopeful. Until it was New Year’s Eve. Resolutions were made. Champagne was poured. Glasses clinked. The ball dropped. And he wasn’t there. That’s when I knew.
That was January.
But I kept a secret. Words that were all mine to keep and hold close. And they finally spilled out of me on a day when the sun was shining, and I found myself throwing things and screaming at my mother in the driveway.
“Honestly, I do miss you sometimes. There are moments I wish you were there with me. But then there are other moments that I realize I couldn’t experience half of the things I’ve gotten to do if I was still with you.”
His life was significantly better without me. I hadn’t offered up anything worth keeping in his life. Nothing he would miss. Nothing valuable.
At the end of the day, he compared life without me to the life he had lived with me, and he enjoyed my absence more.
So I isolated myself. Because the words I played over and over in my head–my secret–were echoed by “No one will actually miss you if you don’t show up. Because you don’t bring a lot to the table,” and “You are a walking waste of space. Insignificant. Forgetable. Replaceable.
Everyday, I slipped the words on like a back-pack and walked around trying to hide them. I walked out my door to meet people in coffee shops just to end up canceling on them; I went to watch the Bachelorette with a group of girls just to nod and laugh and rush out as soon as it was over; I got dressed up and grabbed my keys just to call and say I wasn’t going to be able to make it; I asked all of the questions, ran the conversation, and never mentioned one thing about myself. Because every time I opened my mouth to tell my story, there was a quick little voice in my head that said, “Stop talking, no one cares.”
I wasn’t noteworthy. I wasn’t his favorite scene in a movie that he “shhh’d” everyone for. I wasn’t the favorite page in his favorite book that he folded a corner down on. His life was better without me in it. And we had talked about forever. I wondered how many other lives I had not left a mark on, how many other people could do without me.
And that’s how I started to see myself in everyone’s eyes. I was angry at him, and I was angry at them. For making me feel like a burden. But half of the trouble was coming from fake voices lying in my head.
So I kept a secret. Words that were all mine to keep and hold close. And they finally spilled out of me on a day when the sun was shining, and I found myself throwing things and screaming at my mother in the driveway.
Because the people who cared started to notice the anger I didn’t want to talk about.
And then I was sitting at a Waffle House across from a stranger who was pulling all of my secrets out. I had met him in a coffee shop. The girls who had seen him come in before me grabbed me and whispered, “There’s a boy who just walked in, and he has the same tattoo as you.” And I thought that meant something. People who bare the same tattoos usually bare the same souls, right? So I sat across from him at a Waffle House. Then we got lost in the North Georgia mountains and ended up in South Carolina. We spent hours at Cookout and watched movies together and went to Braves games. He was my best friend. And along the way, I left pieces of myself for him to look at and understand, the pieces my anger had covered up. This was what trust felt like. This was what letting go looked like.
I had been trying. Sitting down and sharing thoughts of the day with my mom. Beginning to find the courage to chime in to conversations happening in the groups of new people I was meeting. I was sharing and not feeling dumb for it. I could breathe, and the bitterness was tasting sweet.
Until we hadn’t talked in three weeks. And my new best friend with the same tattoos was sitting next to me on a park bench telling me to try and understand that he didn’t mean it bad when he said that other people offered more valuable time and friendship in his life than I had. Words that didn’t add up, but words that I wrapped around my waist like a belt to suffocate me.
There it was again: “You are a waste of a person. You are replaceable. No one wants to keep you.”
I didn’t want to write these words or share this part of the past ten months. Not because I want to clean myself up and make it look like I don’t struggle– just because I never feel comfortable not being happy. Because children are losing parents and parents are losing children and people are getting diagnosed with cancer while others are coming out to share their stories about sexual abuse. What right do I have to struggle? What right to I have to not be smiling and say, “I’m doing great!” when people ask me how I am?
I dont want to admit to being angry. Because I feel guilty for it.
During the month of July, So Worth Loving (a clothing company that promotes self worth that I once ran social media for) asked me to step in and help them out with writing some of their Instagram posts while they were short handed. Here are some things that I wrote for them in those two weeks:
“So I’ve been thinking about the concept of choice a lot, lately, trying to find a sliver of hope for the times that we aren’t chosen. And then it hit me in coffee mug aisle at Target. Quite frankly, I just didn’t like some of the mugs as much as I like others. But that didn’t change the fact that those mugs all sat there with a value tagged on them. It didn’t change the fact that other people were walking down that aisle picking up the mugs I didn’t want. My point? We are just like those mugs. The very fact that someone could decide to choose you or decide to not choose you— that places a value on your head. And so often we get crippled by the part where they DON’T choose us that we say, ‘I’m not worth loving, worth choosing.’ But don’t you see? You are the coffee mug. Whether or not someone walks down the aisle and chooses you is irrelevant: you are still sitting on that shelf with a value placed on you. And sooner or later, someone is going to walk down that aisle, see you sitting there and say, ‘This. This is the one. Oh yes, this is the one I want.'”
“We count ourselves out. We replay conversations in our head and beat ourselves up for not having the wittier comebacks. We don’t go to the part because we condition ourselves to believe that if one person didn’t want us, then we must be a burden to the rest of the people in our lvies. We don’t think we’re funny enough or adventurous enough. We wish we had more stories to tell. But really, sometimes it’s exhausting to work a room. And sometimes we think that we aren’t worth the time and that we wouldn’t be missed if we didn’t show up. But love, can I say something? Someone is replaying the conversation they had with you, hoping they never forget each word you said and the way your noes crinkles when you laugh. Someone was hoping that you’d show up to that party. Someone needed to hear that joke you didn’t tell because they were feeling down. Someone wants to hear about every little thing that happened at work even if it wasn’t some major event like hiking the Appalachian trail and running into a bear. How do I know? Because it was real easy to isolate when I thought I was the one who had nothing to offer. And God, do YOU have SO MUCH to offer. Because you’ve got your own way of talking and doing life and telling jokes. It’d be a shame to look at yourself and say, ‘Not good enough,’ when at the end of the day, you have something no one else has: your jokes, your aspirations, your words. And no one else could offer that. You’re worth it. Always.”
My mom had asked me how I could write those things if I didn’t believe them.
“I do!” I told her. “Just not for myself. And I never want another heart to feel this way.”
I was in seventh grade when the concept of worth became a thought in my head. Up until then, I had never even thought of the word, let alone applied it to a human being or myself. But in seventh grade, I learned the real sting of being second choice, of not feeling good enough and needing to be someone who was better than myself. The years that followed were full of insecurity and a voice in my head that told me how not enough I really was. Then in high school, I gave my heart to a boy who did nothing but prove those voices right for two years.
I think one of the most frightening things about words is when they are used to bruise. And I love words. But lately, all they seem to do is reaffirm lies until they sound like truths I need to wear around so that I don’t make a fool of myself or get hurt.
Everyday my heart feels a little less angry. But is a struggle.
And everyday I am more and more convinced that growing up is just a process of reconditioning ourselves to believe in good things.
So here I am. Reconditioning myself to believe I am more than replaceable.
Be careful how you use your words. Make sure they are reaffirming truths instead of cheering on lies.