I exist and flourish, and bloom, and grow without restraint, without anyone else, because I belong wholly to me and to that which I choose.
Illustration: LeeAndra Cianci
High school, freshman year. 13 year old me came to school dressed in a brand new dress. A material she had never worn before, and though it may have passed as decent eye-candy it pricked her skin. She had whitewashed it the night before, removed it of its ethnic scent and religious relevance. As for accessories, she added a bow and a big friendly smile. High school isn't the ideal place for big friendly smiles - such sweet simplicities are outcasts in a crowd of uncertain identities, cliques, and competition.
Sometimes the only compass you need to navigate a challenging journey is the gift of a friend - or at least that is what Disney told her. My gullible, curious little self was obsessed with the fantasy of a good friendship. When she saw those fairytales for the empty words they were, her castles of hope began to collapse one by one. Little me was soon diving deep into the depths of a very, very quiet world. You know, the one where you assume an exhaustion that can't be chased away with sleep; the one where you let your bed claim all your company. I tried wearing the same dress in sophomore year, however, the material wouldn't hold. It had tears and stains, and quite frankly it was suffocating. So, I traded the dress for an oversized sweater. I think it's safe to say that I lost myself in it.
During my coming of age, I ventured to and fro multiple personalities. Along the way, I managed to trip over toxic friendships and landed in a heap of isolation. It is there where I explored the lands of solitude and befriended the lonely personality I have come to wear as my most comfortable sweater. It fits well, don’t you think? I thought so too.
Junior year, the summer before school. In the car with my mother and sister, I try to speak for the first time since the beginning of summer. I would be lying if I said I didn't expect sentences to flow out of me as they did in my head - despite the fact that I had been silent for so long. I had forgotten the sound of my own voice. My words came out in stutters. Vowels and consonants mismatched and interrupted by alien punctuations. I had never known myself to be incapable of forming an oral sentence. My embarrassment got the best of me so I remained silent for the ride home. Again. I'm no stranger to loneliness, in fact, she’d tell you we clicked the moment we met. She could tell you about all those nights and days I spent comforted in her arms, how I sat beside her in every crowded room. We have exchanged secrets. I have spilt my sorrows into her pockets and she has carried them to the moon. And yet, despite this relationship we had built the comforts of solitude had started growing thorns. I was being pricked by my own garden of defence.
Senior year, three moons before summer. I look back at myself now and I admit the sight of her breaks my heart. She was so very lost in the busy hustle of knitting herself into her sweater, extending the only comfort she knew. I look at her now and I see all that she had to put up with, run away from. These years have never been easy but if my spoiled friendship with isolation has taught me anything about myself, it is that I choose to survive whether or not anyone believes I can. It has taught me that I have always, always chosen to exist in the best parts of myself whether or not someone was there to encourage me. I exist and flourish, and bloom, and grow without restraint, without anyone else, because I belong wholly to me and to that which I choose.
I look at her now, the girl who spent lonely nights in her bed, silently re-learning all the words and pronunciations she had forgotten, teaching herself how to speak after months of silence. I look at her and see her stumble and fall over and over again. I want to scream words of encouragement, ask her to get up, to keep moving, keep living, keep growing, but she can’t hear me.
And yet, she does so regardless. This is how I know you will too.
This piece was originally published in print in issue 004: Reclaim