I saw you in an elevator.
You wore feather earrings and worn leather boots. You had an apron in hand, so I can only assume you were going to or from work. I wore a blue hoodie and carried a notepad in my messenger bag.
The moment I saw you I smiled because there was something beyond pretty about you. You looked warm and smart and trustworthy. We made brief eye contact. You saw me smiling at you and your face sort of lit up. Then you looked back at your phone and finished your text message.
I intended to get off on the 12th floor but decided to stay on until you left. We rode that elevator all the way up and all the way down. You stayed. I stayed too. We both pretended not to notice that neither of us had moved.
I knew I had to say something to you by the time the elevator stopped again. Maybe I’d ask what you’re doing here, or compliment your earrings. Maybe I’d invite you to join me for a cup of coffee at the café across the street.
The door opened. I said nothing.
I fell in love with you that day, as much as you can fall in love with someone you’ve never spoken to. I decided you wore that apron every day to afford a master’s degree. You smiled warmly at everyone who got on the elevator so I knew you were the kind of girl I could introduce to my friends. I wondered how you like your eggs cooked and if we’d spend Christmas with my family or yours.
For weeks we rode that elevator and never spoke. We watched as various people got on and off throughout the day, sometimes exchanging glances when a particularly unusual guest joined us. When the woman wearing copious amounts of perfume forgot her surroundings and sang aloud with her iPod, you and I shared a non-verbal agreement: she’s crazy. I felt connected to you in that moment.
You pulled out a book to read every day but, even after nine weeks, you never got past the first chapter. I wish you’d drop it so I could see the cover and ask you about it. I promised myself I’d talk to you if you gave me a sign. I set deadlines. By noon today, I’ll ask you a question. By tomorrow morning, I’ll know your name and ask you out.
Another day passed. I remained silent.
Sometime during week twelve I started to resent you. I hated the way you glared at me when I crunched on an apple too loudly. I hated the way you looked at some other guy in the elevator that morning, practically throwing yourself at him right in front of me. I hated the way you made it impossible for me to leave; how you held me back from finishing my novel or meeting someone new.
Just when I had started to forgive you at the end of week fourteen, you surprised me. You put your book back in your purse and swiftly, defiantly pushed a button. The elevator opened and you took a step toward the door. You paused and looked back, willing me to stop you from leaving.
I want to tell you how much our almost-conversations mean but instead I watch you go. The door closes and I spend the next minute mourning the Christmases we’ll never have together.
I ride the elevator back up and get off on the 12th floor.
* Note: This fictional piece was written for a creative writing class and does not follow the usual format of my blog.
When I was sixteen I bought a map and hung it beside my bed. I put star-shaped stickers on the places I’d go as soon as I left home. I dreamed of all the exotic and wonderful cities I’d end up in. The people I’d meet and the things I’d feel. I was naïve enough to think I could survive solely on optimism.
I left home after graduation and I learned the things my parents feared. I learned that sometimes people are dishonest. Sometimes you over-prepare and psych yourself up and fall on your face anyway. Sometimes you find yourself on a park bench with thirty-six cents and no idea what to do next.
I learned that life doesn’t care if you’re twenty or scared of homesick. It doesn’t care if you’re poor or hungry or needing a second chance. Life takes what it wants and doesn’t owe you an explanation for the things it takes.
These moments will unzip you. But, if you’re wise, you’ll shed what you need to move forward. You’ll realize it’s okay to set things down just because they’re heavy and you don’t want to carry them anymore. It’s okay to let go of things that used to be true but no longer feel honest.
All of these lessons add up to something, although I’m not sure what. I just know that sometime during the past couple of years, my perspective shifted. I stopped seeing the world as a map with stickers on it. My world became a playground filled with contradictions. Beautiful and ugly. Light and heavy. Easy and hard. I used to think there was only one way to get where I should be going. Now I think maybe all roads eventually lead to our own personal mountaintop.
And if you’re wondering what happens after you pick yourself up off that park bench with your thirty-six cents, I’ll tell you what I did. I called home. I asked to come back.
It hadn’t occurred to me that I was getting older until I was back on this street. The neighborhood I grew up in looks the same, but I’m not the same. I left home and the most terrible and wonderful and interesting things happened to me. And now I’m back.
I can see my parents’ shadows on the porch in front of me as I approach our house and I don’t feel what I think I should. I don’t feel scared or excited. I don’t feel ashamed or disappointed. I just feel like I am supposed to come back home. To the people who love me well when it matters. To the map beside my bed.
The person whose details I committed to memory. The person I want to forget sometimes, but can’t.
I memorized you. Because if I memorized the freckles on your cheeks and the late night text messages, it’d somehow keep the details safe. All those details added up to something.
I ignored the signs. The ones that told me I was on the wrong path. I knew from the beginning it wouldn’t work so I memorized the moments. Because that’s all we get sometimes…
Moments. The ones that change us and break us into something better. The ones that keep us moving. Keep us writing. Keep us searching.
The one I can’t forget. The one I memorized. The one with freckles.
I carved your name into the muscle of my heart. And, that’s the things about hearts… they don’t let you forget names you carved.
They just let you heal enough to add names and memorize new details.
It’s the moment when you know you survived.
It’s when you think about the people who you couldn’t live without. You lost them anyway and you’re still thriving. Because your life is a revolving door and when one person leaves another enters.
It’s love. It’s the best damn love you could have asked for and you don’t understand it and you’re not sure you deserve it. But it’s there so you take it.
You have the power to withstand sorrow. You have the power to forgive. To do the best you can. And it’s everything. It’s so big and so small. It’s beautiful and ugly. Heavy and light.
Your hands are empty. Your heart is free.
Things I have lost in the past 5 years:
3. Clarity on my purpose.
4. Ability to trust strangers.
5. My favorite necklace.
6. My natural hair color.
7. The girl I thought I was.
8. Desire to go to medical school.
9. Both grandmothers.
10. What I knew to be true.
11. Some naive ideas.
12. Some rigidity.
13. My 10 year plan.
Things I have gained in the past 5 years:
3. A business degree.
4. Miles on my running shoes.
5. A nose piercing.
6. Fear of aging.
7. Practice saying “no.”
8. My writing voice.
9. Experience with parties and hangovers.
10. A backbone.
11. Joy. Wild & fierce joy.
12. A hot pair of heels.
13. A love that moves freely in both directions.
15. A travel companion.
17. Second chances.
18. Acceptance. Of others & myself.
19. Open-eared & open-minded friends.
20. Moments where life pulsates vibrantly around & within me.
21. A tenacious spirit.
I am thankful.
For all of it.
It’s funny how people come into your life and fill holes you never knew you had.
Some days I don’t understand how I met you or why you stay. I just know that you make things better. You make me better.
I’ve held so many hands and broken so many promises. I’ve loved quietly and fiercely and recklessly. I’ve been happy and sad and strong and broken.
I could write about all the ways you’re special and amazing but that would be too easy. I need you to know that you filled a hole.
A hole the size of a girl who was never asked to a dance in high school. A hole the size of the monsters that came out of her closet at night. A hole the size of another failure. Another disappointment. Another lie.
I don’t have to be broken for you to love me. I don’t have to be happy for you to love me. I don’t have to be yours for you to love me.
You just love me.
And your love fits perfectly inside this hole.
Sometimes I hate looking in the mirror.
Sometimes I see pictures of myself and can’t handle the image staring back at me. I get overwhelmed and cry and tell the world to leave me alone. I don’t know if I cry because I feel ugly, or if I cry because I realize there are some things in life that I have no control over. Some things that I will never have control over.
After these self-loathing tornadoes stop, I worry that you’re mad at me.
I worry that I’ve disappointed you. That you shake your head and wonder if someone else should have had my place. You gave me a heart that beats and eyes that see but I am often so ungrateful.
I don’t feel you the way I think I should. The way other people seem to feel you. I don’t feel you at church right now. I don’t feel you when I close my eyes before bed. I don’t feel your comfort when I’m lost and lonely.
But, I do feel you.
I feel you when I run. Not because I’m actively choosing you, but because running makes me feel like you’ve chosen me. I run and I know you’re not mad at me. How could you be mad when you’ve given me all these beautiful pieces that work so perfectly together? This heart. These lungs. These legs. How could I be anything but chosen when I feel you with me and we’re both happy?
I know you have a plan for me. Maybe your plan right now isn’t that I find you in church. Maybe it’s not that I get on my knees every night. Maybe it’s okay that I lace up my shoes to find you. That I run for those moments when life gets quiet. When the sound of my breathing is a prayer in itself.
I breathe in and I feel your pleasure.
I breathe out and I give you thanks.
I lose sleep when I count the number of times I’ve lied to you.
I didn’t understand certain things about the world. I thought if people knew that children were being hurt, they’d make it stop. That if you sat with enough social workers and enough people knew your story, they’d take you somewhere safe.
I used to tell you that everything would be okay. That the pain would stop because someone would intervene and get you out. I’d promise better things were coming if you could just hang on a little longer.
I don’t promise you that anymore.
Now I tell you that the things done to you should have never happened to a girl your age. I tell you that it’s not okay. It will never be okay. And someone should have been there to protect you.
But I no longer tell you it will stop. I don’t promise better things will happen soon. Because I don’t know if that’s true… And you deserve truth.
I now tell you things I know to be true.
That, honey, you have to be strong. Stronger than what seems fair or possible. Stronger than all the other girls in your grade.
You have to be kind. Even though the world has not been kind to you. You have to responsible for your own feelings because harboring bitterness will just prolong the pain. You have to find people who will love and accept you. You have to learn to accept their love and have courage to love them back.
You have to envision your happiest dream in front of you and run toward it. Let it be your mantra. The thing you play over and over while putting on your shoes for school and brushing your teeth before bed.
You have to keep going, even when it hurts. That’s the truth.