The cold bit through my bare legs as I sat on the curb, a silhouetted form illuminated in the cold glow of the neighborhood street lamps. I had no idea why I was sitting outside in the dark, becoming one with the shadows. It felt ridiculous to be crying on a suburban curb, but a hidden subconscious pain had crept in, unwanted and uninvited.
Despite the embarrassment I felt, an arm looped around my shoulders, holding me while I cried. My boyfriend. Just listening, giving me the assurance of empathy while acknowledging that although this battle was uniquely my own, he was still there and he understood.
It’s funny how little things- comments, glances, a head turn, or a suppressed laugh- will trigger something in your emotional psyche, some awareness of a presence you long felt or suspected existed inside of you but were never able to identify until that very moment. And then you find yourself crying on a curb in a neighborhood where you did not grow up, did not skin your knees riding bikes down these streets, did not madly dash over fences after nearly being caught toilet papering. Those memories of this neighborhood in this state are not your own, they are merely borrowed pages of histories from faces you’ve come to love in a new town.
But they aren’t yours. And while you have created memories in this place: summer nights spent throwing rocks at long-forgotten beer bottles where railroad tracks once stood; dusky evenings sitting on roofs; leisurely walks to Starbucks during study breaks… Some memories will never be yours. Some events you were not present for, some faces you will never know. And in that moment I was not thinking of the roots that had begun to grow in my new home, all I could think of was what I had missed and what they had missed. The pieces of my picture and the pieces of theirs that we would never see.
I felt isolated in my experiences, closed off from the years of friendships and the stories I could listen to but could never contribute. Would it matter if I disappeared? Life was vibrant before I moved here, I could only assume that it would continue to be so if I were to fade away into a different state, under a different sky. When your roots are shallow and still growing, it is sometimes very hard to feel safe. There are days when it is difficult to feel truly known even when surrounded by people you love and the best friends you’ve ever had.
I moved three years, two months, 1 week, and two days ago… or, more specifically, 1,163 days. From Ohio to California. Well, from Ohio to Pennsylvania, to Ohio to Sydney, to Sydney to Ohio, to Ohio to California.
1,163 days ago.
It took me about a year and a half to find “my people.” You know, the ones where the connection is immediate and lasting. Where conversation is never work and their brand of crazy amazingly compliments your own. The people that are not indifferent, but are accepting and inclusive to the new kid on the block. They became my family away from family. Their homes, my second homes. I am often flabbergasted that such amazing people adopted me without question or hesitation into their long-standing friendships. It has made all the difference.
But that night sitting on the curb, all I could feel was fear and loss. Before you move away from your childhood home, no one ever tells you how scary it is to start over. At first you’re caught up in the adventure of it all, romanticizing the journey. But my gosh, do you grow… painfully at times. You have no choice. You cannot go back, it was not as it was. More importantly, YOU are not as you were. You cannot go back so you can only march onward, into the blinding and dizzying light of the unknown.
I write about vulnerability and transparency a lot. I should rephrase that. I write about vulnerability remorse and being afraid to be transparent a lot. I always force myself to do it, I’m forthcoming and honest, but afterward I usually experience some kind of debilitating fear. To my memory it seemed like this lack of confidence had always been a part of these open transactions; but as I thought about it sitting out in the cold, getting mascara on my boyfriend’s shirt, I realized… my vulnerability remorse is a byproduct of my shallow roots.
When you haven’t known someone for ten years, haven’t yet put in the time with them, cried with them, told them their wardrobe choices were ghastly, seen what they looked like pre-braces, gotten into arguments and then miraculously made up, it’s scary as hell to bare your inmost parts to them. It’s scary because you haven’t proven to one another you’re not going anywhere, that you understand and hear the music inside the other person and like the way it sounds, even the sharp C’s and missed notes.
It’s frightening because you begin to worry… what if they think this freak-out is who I really am? What if they decide they were fine with the current group of friends they had before me? What if- what if… what if I’m unnecessary, or misunderstood, or will just be forever out-of-step because I wasn’t there for the skinned knees, and skipped volleyball practices, and break-ups? What if I will never truly belong? What if I can never contribute to the stories? What if, because my role is new, it is replaceable?
Sitting on that curb in the dark, tears dampening my cheeks, I felt strangely untethered. As if any puff of wind would leave me scattered, left to start over… yet again.
Roots take time. They don’t grow overnight. In fact, they don’t grow at all unless they are watered, cared for, cultivated. They will not grow unless risks are taken, voices are heard, thoughts and feelings are vocalized, and new memories are made. Most people… they don’t want to spend the rest of their lives only remembering what happened before. They want new experiences to build from. In order to put down roots you have to be patient and let them grow, to let the bonding experiences come as they will through time.
I cannot shy away from discomfort. I cannot hide behind walls and withdraw because I am afraid. I cannot sugar-coat who I am: my weirdo silliness, my over-dramatizations, my emotional capacity that at times runs so deep it can feel like a handicap. If I ever want deep roots with anyone, I cannot hide bits of me for fear of rejection or being left. I have to be brave. I have to try. And despite the fear that wells up in my gut, I have to allow myself to be seen and heard exactly how I am. I have to own it and not apologize for it. Ultimately, I must TRUST those around me with my stories, with my intricacies and idiosyncrasies.
I’m going to start trusting, and as a result, I’m going to start being brave and confident with who I am. Some days it’ll be a fight, but it’s one well worth the effort. I’ve never wanted anything more. I will fight to know and be known. To trust others with my story and cherish theirs, even the parts I will never see with my own eyes. And in the present, and in the future, the stories will begin to blend together like colors in a sunrise. Originally beginning at different point in the sky, but overlapping to become more beautiful than they could have been on their own.
For as long as it takes, I will fight for my sunrise.