I found myself speaking those words to a teenage girl tonight as we stood out in the cold, and the weight of that statement just seemed so ironically heavy.
I remember it so clearly, being seventeen and in love with ideas so much bigger than they seemed.
There’s so much I wish I could tell myself, the me with long flat-ironed hair and innocent dark-rimmed eyes.
So here it is. The things I would say to the me I used to be.
To begin with, as much as it pains me to say it (because you will never learn to admit when you’re wrong), listen to your Dad. This time, he’s right. Leave your white button up shirt on the hanger tonight. Don’t go over to that boy’s house and sit on his bed and get what seems like your first REAL kiss. It’s going to feel like that other guy you kind of kissed before was never any kind of important, and your world is going to turn on its axis and you are going to make this boy (the one with the soft chocolate eyes and the perfect smile) the sun your planets revolve around, and your dad is right.
You are going to fall in love the way that you used to think only characters in stories did, and it is going to feel like magic flowing through your hair every moment of every day and I can only ask you to remember that it’s only wind. You’re going so fast, baby girl, too fast. Slow down, just a little, give the air around you a chance to move slowly enough to slip into your lungs to help you breathe some space between you and this new thing called love. You will need this space when the bliss begins to fade. You will need something to cushion your fall.
You are going to stare at him in awe for the way he holds your hand, because it will make your fingers feel foreign and strange without his between them, and you will look at your body with a new knowing that will scare you as his touch brings you to life. I want you to remember that your body existed before him, that it will exist after him, that it was not ever created for him to bring life to at all.
You are going to cry.
When he leaves to chase his dreams of the sky, you are going to want to become one with the mailbox, opening up only to receive his letters, to pore over his handwriting, to press the paper to your chest as if it’s his arms holding you tight. But darling, walk away from that mailbox. Remember the other things that make you see the sun, find purpose in something other than UPS, because you will need these passions to sustain you.
When he returns to you, treasure these moments, but don’t exist for them. Don’t exist for him, baby, because you were created to exist for so much more than just to be seen by these brown eyes.
When he falls on your shoulders at two am in a hospital room, hold him, but try to know that your skin and bones were not stitched together to hold the weight of this. Your little shoulders don’t have the strength to hold a thing as big as the grief in his soul, so don’t take it on yourself. It will break you, baby. It will break you both.
When his grief turns to anger and his gentle hands turn to demands, push your heels down into the ground and draw on the power in the earth and the blank endless stretches of stars and tell him no. Don’t try to give him peace by staying silent, by closing your mouth and turning your lips up into a smile. Use your words, beautiful girl. Give him the gift of your honesty instead of lying with your submissive hands, with your silent yes.
When he calls you on the phone, let him cry, but baby, don’t you try to fix it. You’ve never been the healer of anybody’s brokenness, and even the gigantic force of your love can’t heal this.
When he lies, when he screams, when his new name for you becomes selfish bitch, don’t you hang your head and own it. You were never meant to be the punching bag hanging on this end of a telephone line. You were meant to be a partner, and a friend, and you need to learn it sooner. You need to end it sooner.
And when you do, allow yourself to collapse. But don’t stay there on that floor for months and months, hollow smile on the outside, wounded soul on the inside. Don’t give him the power of turning you into a museum of heartbreak, empty shadowed halls and pictures hanging in black frames.
Pick yourself up off that bedroom floor and learn a new kind of strength. Learn to know that love is not static. It does not stay frozen in one place, and it will find you again. Remember that you are not a broken thing. As you pack up the pictures and letters and old flowers and notes, know that this battered hat box will not define you.
You will find new love, and it will be beautiful and gentle and sweet. You will feel the wind of bliss again and you will learn to spread your wings. This caterpillar time will never fade from memory, but that’s what it will become. A memory, of a time when you first learned that human hearts are capable of so much more than you ever imagined when you dreamed of love while watching two people kiss on screen.
You will grow. You will change. You will fold his shirt up and one night, six years later, you will find that it still smells like love at seventeen. And the smell of his cologne trapped in that aged fabric will no longer break your heart all over again. You will smile into the collar of that shirt as you sift through old pictures, because you remember what it was to be seventeen and in love.
You will become stronger, and bolder. Wiser, and older.
And you will think of love like an old friend, because you know what it is to hold it in the palm of your hand.