How I Lost Myself in 2018

So here’s a strange new sentence: I started writing poetry.

Poetry. I know. Even I can’t believe it. To think that the culmination of every negative thing that’s happened to me in the past six months has all been boiled down to at least sixteen or so crappy poems scrawled across the pages of a tattered old notebook (typically written very Edgar Allen Poe style in the comfort of an armchair, middle of the night, rain hitting the windows – a raven may or may not be present – you get the picture). When did I become such a cliché?

Don’t worry, I’ll spare you the gory details of what I have actually managed to get pen-to-paper and just say it’s not necessarily my best work. Wow, look at me trying to soften the blow of how mortified I would be if somebody actually ended up reading them. To think that at some point in the last sixty days, my “woe is me” persona turned into an actual living breathing person who believed for a moment that her boring stereotypical early twenties millennial problems were worth sharing with every faceless user on the internet. Then again, I guess I’ve been participating in that very thing for a few years now – howdy, nice to meet you. The narcissism of my generation is kind of incredible. I mean, who needs therapy when your post-grad emo self is basically throwing up all her issues on a blog next to a bottle of cheap vodka while listening to the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack? I feel like I’m suddenly starring in my very own Hallmark movie. When did John Green get the rights to author my life? I wonder how much he paid for it? Two, three mints? Really though, I just need to step back and think for a moment. Take a deep breath. Relax.

The New Year has come packaged in a heap of random self-care items; an attempt on my part to become a better, more centered individual. This includes, but is not limited to: a diffuser, some essential oils, too many candles, a yoga mat, detox tea, and a lot of supplements. I’ve had a difficult last couple of months, that’s no secret to anyone around me, and that’s what all these items I have acquired are telling me. All I need now is a sudden wardrobe change, to shave my head, and move to another country on little to no notice. Oh wait, I’ve done all of those things already. Needless to say, I’m running out of ideas. I can’t afford to shop organically, and I don’t know of any pilates studios near me, and I’m definitely not in the market for a dog – what’s a girl to do? I’m not prepared to have a crisis so early on in my life, and honestly, I was hoping this would come when I had a little more cash to burn. I’m trying to move on. I’m trying to become a less impulsive person. Haven’t I succeeded? No? Damn. I thought I would have grown out of that by now. I’ll just pen that in for a later date.

I was trying to think of some things I want to change about myself this year. Maybe change isn’t the right word. Better? I want to better myself. I kind of hate the idea of new year’s resolutions, but I do like the idea of one-word affirmations; they feel a little more genuine, a little more explicit and conceivable to actually manage to achieve rather than toss in the corner or slip under a rug.

Scratch that.

I had this list in my head, it went something like: acceptance of others, meditation – things of that nature. It was a very easy-going new year’s resolution list straight out of a women’s magazine – nothing too crazy, nothing too “Eat, Pray, Love.” But as I’m sitting here at my desk staring at this candle that has the phrase “Love Heals Every Body” printed across the front, in all capital, all assaulting, all very, in-your-face letters, I’ve narrowed my list down to one thing. One aspiration. One dear-God please grow up now or I’m throwing the towel in:

Stop looking for validation from men.

You would think after the handful of casualties my body has suffered over the last five or so years (or more if we want to get really feminist about this) I would want absolutely nothing to do with the other sex (do you see how I tried to separate myself there?). But like a bad cold, or more realistically, a parasite that I can’t pick off – here we are. Here we always are. I feel an anecdote coming on. A classic retelling. An excuse. Are you ready? Skip to page 52 if you want to see where Y/N ends up on Halloween!

So, it’s Halloween. I’m wearing some cocktail dress I bought back when I was much skinnier and trying to seek the attention of the frats, newly graduated, eager to please. I rarely dress up when I go out here, so I thought, just this once, I would really try – a full face of makeup, fake blood dripping down the corner of my mouth, bright green contacts – vampire, that’s what I’ll say I am. It’s past midnight and I’m a wandering figure, side-stepping groups of people in elaborate costume, zig-zagging my way through pockets of crowds, tipping my head in apology, ears ringing with the bass that’s echoing off the walls and pulsing through my veins. Then, how strange, out of nowhere, there you are. We make eye contact like they do in the movies; you pick me out of the crowd, and I, you. You frown, then, yes, there it is, a moment of recognition. You’re looking at me like you’ve just seen a ghost. Then, through parted lips: Oh? Do you remember me? You reach, touch my arm to make sure I’ve seen you, I mean, really seen you. I’m rude for a moment and bite my lip, blood dried from earlier, crusting, flaking off, as I try to place you because I really don’t remember where or when but there is something about you that’s vaguely familiar. The music is too loud, I’m fumbling, my Korean is poor and broken, I’m blushing, confused. You cock your head to the side, give the smallest of smiles, and yes, everything comes rushing back to me, a memory displaced, and I do, I do remember you.

Being with you is fun. I get to play a part I’ve only seen in movies, one where girls wear frilly things and giggle at stupid jokes, smile too often at the wrong times, and look at men as if they are their very own Prince Charming. You are there to slide a glass slipper on my foot, to beckon me from beyond my window, to shyly plant a kiss on my cherry red lips as the credits roll, screen: fade to black. I like to paint stories when I look at you, and we don’t speak the same language, so it’s easier to create. So, here I am, quiet, so shy, always sweet, my smile never faltering, packaged in dresses, skirts, curled hair, pink lips – all just for you. Everything I’m so not. But, you don’t know this, because you don’t know me. But, this is what you like. You want me innocent. Child-like, I trail after you, because without you, how could I survive? I need you, please, save me. Rescue me from my burning tower.

At night I laugh with friends over the things I say to you. I do this to distance myself from you, shut down that power circuit before the backup generators start running. If I turn it into a game, move my pieces here, six spaces past the START, then it will make things easier, won’t it? It has to. I turn over when I hear your breath deepen, click through social media, reply to texts. “How was it?” We review our encounters, our pursuits; post-date, post-kiss, post-drive home, post-sex – there we are, locked in the bathroom, phones in hand, group chat open, no detail too inappropriate among friends. Maybe next we’ll rank this one in a list.

Being in your early twenties is exhausting. Dating is exhausting.

I grew up watching too many Disney movies and spending my afternoons reading books of worlds embellished with everything my own was lacking. I craved the kind of life I would read about in-between those pages, dog-eared, tattered, poured over like scripture. I knew wands, wizards, steles, and spells were fictitious, an unreasonable quest to find if I should take it, but a larger part of me was drawn in by something else entirely. Under the covers, or tucked away in the corner of my room, I read, embarrassed but content, of things more simplistic in my eyes, tangible even, if I were to be so lucky. Let’s not pretend that some of us secretly wanted to be obsessed over by a gorgeous vampire who wore leather, smelled of smoke, and had those bedroom eyes, maybe even that infamous crooked smile (I mean Stephanie Meyer, what does that even look like?).Masochistic before we even knew the word. I wanted Patrick Verona to sing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” whilst being chased by a security officer. I wanted Austin Ames to stop in the middle of the football game and chase me up the steps to kiss me in the rain. I wanted to run around IKEA with Tom, hand in hand, ignoring the lingering eyes of strangers. I wanted Jake Ryan to whisper “Happy Birthday” to me, then lean forward on the dining room table, slowly, slowly still, lips parted, because, this was my life, and I wanted the goddamn fairytale.

Who am I kidding, “wanted?” I still want this.

But, real life isn’t like this. I know this. You know this. We all know this. There are no secrets here. Movies skip the bad bits, they compact them, then rewrite them to be used to flesh out characters so they can stick them back together just when we, the audience, think everything is surely going to fall apart. I hate how much I bought into this Hollywood bullshit growing up. Every time I say to stop, seriously stop, projecting fantasies onto some poor boy who will always be there to remind me why I shouldn’t have bothered in the first place – there I am, again, doing the same thing.

But, like a child, wrapped in the security blanket of the stories I tell myself at night, I waited and wondered when I would get to whisper those words, that cliché phrase: I met a boy. The answer would come the same way it always did, as a cruel expression of too many fleeting moments of both desperation and disappointment. I could unearth it in those ugly emails spelling out breakup before the word was even conceived. Find it in the sweaty hand of a boy on the back of a bus riding up my thigh, then under my shirt. It’s there in the nonchalant way boys leave cold beds, the routine of picking up boxers off the floor, their shirt half on as they open the door, the words “I’ll text you,” floating back towards me, numb, unflattering, yet somehow feeling deserved. Then there were others, encounters that left me unable to spell out the word trust unless it was masquerading as something that could only kiss bruises across my skin. I had begun to wonder if whatever magic those girls had in movies and books, the qualities that turned those ugly frogs into Prince Charming’s were lost on me.

Or maybe that was the point all along. I knew the lie, but continued to search for it, like it would happen for me. Because that’s what always kills it, isn’t it? Holding onto the hope. How childish. How naive. I was filing things into cabinets labeled “disappointment” before anyone could even get in a word.

At the start the New Year, I scrolled through my phone, bored, and noticed one silly recurring theme. All these faceless people I’ve pulled into my life one way or another like I’m begging to be saved, reminding me that I can’t be, but I’ll try regardless. Please, someone, make me remember why I’m worth it again. Attention seeker, whore, narcissistic a*s, manipulative b*tch – my little collection of nicknames from over the years – a testament to what it means to hide behind the cold exterior in an attempt to bury those fairy lights behind curtains, stuff them in drawers. I don’t know when I turned into someone who searched for validation outside of myself as if everything I am is nothing until someone can reach forward and notice a small indignant flame. I was recently told that this behavior is symptom to my surroundings, my ego is too heavily fed here, people can be curious. But, no. I know better than they that this routine is one I’ve been perfecting since I was thirteen, since I could form sentences dripping with poison, since I learned how not to jump when touched, since I was a nobody until some boy decided I was worth something to him.

How sad it is to search for the validation of someone telling you, you are worthy of more than the world could ever give you. To think so many of us look in the mirror and see only the culmination of our failures, our wrongdoings, our selfishness, and we search, look outside of ourselves and wonder if it’s just us or are we really exactly how we see ourselves? Is there potential here?

Sometimes I feel like a phony. How very Holden Caulfield of me, but I’ll accept his worst. For every rant I went on in college, angry, bitter, ultimately broken by the fact that my body was treated with such disrespect, there I was, looking over my shoulder at some nobody jock, puppy-dog eyes, notice me! Call me pretty. Tell me I’m smart. Tell me you want me. This dynamic is something so deeply ingrained, so vile and ugly to the point where I don’t think it can be categorized as pessimism anymore. Is it pessimism towards love? Cowardice? Towards someone really seeing me? What am I scared of? Why are his words more important than mine?

“A child weaned on poison considers harm a comfort.” I think deep down I’m purposely sabotaging myself because I believe every horrible thing that happens to me is completely justified – karma rears it’s ugly head once again. Even that morning in the shower, after he left I whispered “you deserved it” to myself over and over again, like it was some kind of sick penance. Maybe by placing a wafer on the tip of my tongue I could be rid of him, like the scorching water dripping down my back would burn his fingertips off of me. If only things were so simple. But, laying in bed one morning, right before winter vacation, listening to you snoring beside me, hoarding all the covers, again, I tried to remember why I was even there. Another face next to me, one not worth my effort or time, and yet, there I was, accepting something I never really wanted in the first place. This was not what I pictured under those covers all those years ago when I thought of what it would be to love and be loved. I know that’s a heavy word, and maybe I’m throwing it around too casually, too wrapped in the naivety of someone who is still too immature to know sacrifice, suffering, hardships, the real world, or whatever adults say to their children to soften the blow of the belittling phrase, “you are too young to understand.”

So, did they make you a better person? Did you like who you were when you were with them?Such simple questions, such loaded questions that I never thought to answer for myself. When did it become so hard for me to wish for my own happiness? Was it a relic of something ancient and unforgiving from my past? Hey sweetheart, think of a thought, any happy little thought, and where do you land? You may have been lucky last time and received some free parking, but “Go to Jail” is looming over your head now and you already used your Get Out Free card! For most of those relationships, however, I focused solely on becoming the type of person my partner could want. I starved myself, wore uncomfortable clothes, slipped on heels, changed my voice, played the part – Look at how great I am, look at what you’ve been missing!

But somewhere in all of that, I lost myself.

I believe at this point a little over a year ago, I wrote about confidence. There are tricky layers to this, different levels of confidence, varying by degree and environment. Professionally, I have it together. It’s easy – well maybe not easy, but there are boundaries, there are systems in place that make the day-to-day conduct clean and not complicated. Personally, a mess. But that’s how these things end up. This is what is to be expected of someone my age. Throw any young person into the world after being spoon fed useless information in classrooms for most of their life and they are bound to flail at least a little bit. Stability is boring anyway. Spice life up with things like loans, a crappy nine-to-five, binge drinking, binge eating, and just as things begin to feel the least bit settled let’s add an influx of social media to remind everyone that they are probably the only ones doing horribly. There’s nothing like scrolling through Instagram when you’re feeling at your lowest and confirming you are the only one who’s f*cking it up. If you aren’t careful you may find yourself having izakaya at 3 am on a Friday with a guy from Tinder. Why? Because maybe you needed some affirmation that your life wasn’t as bad as you thought it was. Two months of distraction and now he’s been contextualized to an anecdote you can toss around at karaoke. No Prince Charming’s here (sorry).

These habits can only be ignored for so long until they start leering over at you, bearing those fangs, and then you have to sharpen that dull knife you never thought you needed and figure that shit out before you end up blackout at some bar sobbing to an uninterested bartender about all your problems. Or better yet, you can write a blog post about them.

But, regardless, I am here and I am tired of the way I have been treating myself. I mean, there has to be some kind of void of loneliness or confusion I’m trying to fill with all these bad dates, awkward conversations, and messy encounters behind clubs. Is this all just a testament to youth? I mean, if so, I’d like to write a strongly worded email to whoever is in charge because I’m exhausted. I’m ready to skip past all of this white noise so I can sit in a rocking chair and stare at the ocean all day. Unfortunately, I can’t blame my decisions on others all day anymore, a salty-sweet signature of my age, I think. I’m running out of excuses, so, that means I need to stop, right? This last year I think can be cataloged as “The year I dated too much and lost myself in an attempt to be seen as attractive to the opposite sex and forgot how to express my own needs because I didn’t know what they were and am more terrified of hurting someone’s feelings than I am of being uncomfortable.” I know that’s a bit long, but hey, I’m not here to mince words. I don’t know how yet (I’m not one for self-help books or TED talks), but I think towards figuring out what it means to validate myself, see my own worth, and not look for it in the sheets of some other. I don’t have a step-by-step guide to how this will end up working, but I imagine I can write those rules myself. Is it similar to the AA guide? Do I get button after sixty days? I’m not sure. All I have right now is me, some candles, a few books, my bad poems, a new workout playlist, some podcasts I actually like, an old yoga mat – the packing list for a bougie retreat if I do say so myself.

So, here’s to a better year.

And here’s to learning how to love myself again.

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