A Letter To My Little Sister On How To Be A Good Loser

You sit across from your best friend, and they feed you frosty dipped fries; they tell you that you’re better than that town, your small dreams, that boy. On your birthday, they show up with a white rose and a slice of your favorite cake; they just always show up. There’s a soft patch of dead grass in their front yard from your car always being parked there, and they have a way of making you feel like you’re the only one in the room.

Until you realize that they somehow can make every person in the room feel like they’re the only one. Until you get the text you won’t be able to forget even when you’re 23 and it’s been four years—the text that suddenly makes you question a decade of late night drives and them teaching you how to clean your windshield and eating ice cream right out of the tub.

Suddenly, what you’re left with is an armful of good times you find yourself trading in for the one feeling that none of it ever meant anything. You still remember the sound of their voice yelling at your demons; if you close your eyes, you can still smell their living room couch. Because when someone falls out of love with you, there’s always the hope of another first date. But when you find yourself missing a spot at your best friend’s birthday dinner, not knowing what they’re favorite movie is or what classes they’re taking in school—when everything you know about them is something you found out in a picture on a screen—you suddenly don’t know how to make your way through the dark; right side up becomes upside down; people still talk about them to you like you already know what’s going on in their life, and you just have to smile and nod and swallow hard. Because you can’t tell anyone. What would you tell people anyways? That every moment of the past 11 years is keeping you up at night? That you’re second guessing every conversation and convinced that you were just a space holder in their lives until they found something better?

When someone is gone, you remember them as something better than they really were—and you remember yourself as worse.

So you start speaking things over yourself: it’s your fault. If you just would have said more—if you just would have kept your mouth shut. You’re too much. The person who loved you when no one else did, well, they never really loved you that much, so why would anyone else? You’re just not worth staying around for. You were the only one that any of it meant anything to. You’re boring. You’re weird. You’re not dazzling or fun to be around. You’re replaceable and not missable. You’re forgettable. Something is wrong with you.

Little sister, can I tell you a secret about the art of losing people?

You are rarely the reason that people leave. When you get left, it’s not about you.

Because the truth is, if I could go back and take myself out of the situation, I would’ve seen the bigger picture. I would have seen that my best friend didn’t know how to be good at losing people, and when they lost the person their heart was set on—well, that’s where they fixed their eyes. In the last days of our friendship, all they could see was the pain and confusion, like tunnel vision. They probably didn’t even see me shouting from the stands, “I’m here! Let me be here!”

Hurt people hurt people, but it’s usually not intentional. You’re usually just the collateral.

People don’t run from other people, they run from pain. People don’t leave people, they leave what makes them uncomfortable. People don’t forget people, they do everything they can to forget what hurts.

Little sister, let your heart be a revolving door—let the good and bad come in, take what you need from all of it, but don’t keep anything. You’ll drive your hotel heart crazy trying to convince people to stay in a place they were always meant to just pass through.

Don’t forget that you’re just passing through, too.

You never know when someone is drowning until you feel them tugging at your leg, pulling you under to push themselves back up.

Don’t forget that you know how to swim, though, and your face will feel the sun again.

So little sister, this is how you lose people: let them go and forget yourself, because it’s easy to tell yourself that some people are just seasons but harder to slow down and realize that you’re a season in their life, too.

It wasn’t you they left. So close your eyes, and imagine a life for them: they’re working as a nurse somewhere now, just like they always wanted; they’re loved by someone who sits with them when they’re sad; they’re happy and healthy and run four days a week; maybe sometimes they still listen to the songs you used to sing together. But thank God they’ve finally found a way out of whatever it was that took up so much space in their life before—so much space that they didn’t have any more room to fit anything or anyone else, or even you. Thank God.

And you? You’re not a space holder. You’re not forgettable. And while you’re busy giving everyone else the credit, don’t forget that you’re the hero in someone else’s story; don’t forget that you’re still in the stories they tell.

This is how you lose people.

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Crooked Love, Table Sets, and Phantom Limbs

That was the night I held my heels and headed barefoot down Ponce de Leon Boulevard. That was before the Market had been built, and I’d parked in a liquor store lot, back when the boulevard wasn’t a place people drove an hour to see, and I shouldn’t have been alone but I’d left the party early. I remember the boot on my car, and crying and calling my dad, and him. I remember calling him.

He was ready to come to my rescue, and I just shook my head in an empty parking lot, closing my eyes and swallowing hard.

Because just a few nights before, he and I had been standing alone at the end of his driveway, with two years and crooked love backing us into a corner.

We stood there at the end of his driveway, him leaning against the opened driver’s side door of my car, me standing cross armed and bracing myself. I had asked him what we were doing and what it was he wanted. Because we’d been here before with each other, before the accident and before the funeral. Before I had tried so hard to be her for him. Then, there I stood in front of him, some version I had broken myself into, asking him if he wanted me. He gave me a long list of compliments that night—told me I was gorgeous, beautiful, that he loved my laugh and I was adorable, and smart, fun—but I wasn’t the girl I had been before, so he wasn’t sure what he wanted.

And I’m not sure what’s worse: to have someone not want you or to have someone not want you nor the person you tore yourself apart to be for them. To have someone not choose you or to have someone not know if you’re worth choosing.

Still, halfway home from the city, I was changing my mind and asking him to meet me. I didn’t know it would be the last night I would be with him. I couldn’t have known that the last thing I would say to him then would be, “I love you.”

But that’s how stories like that end— you tell him you love him and he laughs, touches your face, kisses you, and slides out of your front seat to drive away.

That’s why when my friend called me a few months ago to ask me what I would have done differently with hindsight on my side, I said— “I should have walked away the second someone gave me a list of why he would want to choose me, but couldn’t.”

I don’t think she liked my answer. At the end of the day, I think my answer will never be enough. Because we’re all looking for a 12 step program. A map. Someone else to give the responsibility to so we don’t have to be held accountable for the way our own lives turn out. We want it all laid out for us because if we’re left to make the decision for ourselves, we’ll keep showing up to a table that someone forgot to set a place for us at.

We show up at the table, and we brush off the awkward silence; we try and ignore the way our elbows keep knocking because there’s not enough room for us; we say “it’s fine,” when there’s not enough food prepared because we weren’t ever expected to show up. But we keep showing up.

It reminds me of phantom limb syndrome. Amputee patients are diagnosed with phantom limb syndrome after experiencing horrific pain in a limb that isn’t even there anymore; it’s when the body refuses to let go or accept that there’s nothing there, and the pain is very real in the mind of the patient.

I wonder if that’s why it’s so hard for us to let go of something or someone God has intentionally chosen to cut out of our lives. We still feel what used to be there, can’t believe that it’s really gone. So we try to make it fit in spite of its rough and torn, dead edges.

I do that. I’ve done that my whole life. I pull people close like limbs, and even when they have to go I try to keep everything together even though the function doesn’t work the same.

I don’t let God take things from me, even when they don’t work the right way anymore. I wake up and get angry with Him for cutting off a limb and ignore when He says, “That thing was dead. The only way to save you both was to get rid of it. It’s better this way.”

We show up to the table there isn’t a place for us at, and we refuse to accept the loss even when we wake up to it every day.

But we don’t have to keep showing up to the table.

My friend reached out to me again the other day, asking the same questions as if I’d have better answers.

All I could say was that—there’s a better table that’s been set, and there’s a spot just for you. Not an afterthought rush to pull up a chair and throw together what’s leftover, but a place of plenty where we walk in to a room that’s better because we are there.

God never wanted you to keep running back to something He purposefully chose to remove from your life. So it’s gonna hurt until you admit that it’s already gone—until you admit that there’s no more room at your table so you can go on to live in excess.

You can set a different table.