Tag Archives: life

You define your rock bottom. (And other words of encouragement for my 16-year-old self.)

My sister’s best friend told me about this exercise. Write a letter to yourself 5 years ago, she said. At first, I thought she meant in 5 years but how could I possibly know what to tell my 26-year-old self? I can’t. If I knew that, my life would be boring.

Dear 16-year-old Kaleigh,

A lot will happen in five years. Plenty more than you will ever anticipate.

You’ll want to forget to be strong and beautiful. Don’t. You’ll want to take the phrase “spiraling out of control” and tuck it in your back pocket for easy access. Throw that phrase away. It’s too severe for your life. You’re better than it.

Don’t let the calluses you worked hard to build be erased under fresh patches of red-pink skin ready for the world to burn them.

You’ll fret over almost dates. Let me tell you: they weren’t real.

Just because a boy likes you doesn’t mean you have to like him. Figure out if it’s him or the idea of him and be honest. He deserves that.

Don’t dread first kisses. And don’t share them either. Let them happen in the moment. But if you must be direct, you better have a freaking amazing reason. He better be shipping off somewhere.

Learn something from every friendship. Any of your relationships, really. Take a small lesson from the way your best friend falls in love with a boy, giving over her whole heart, and don’t think she’s weak.

If you hate the whole traditional dating scene so much, find an alternative.

Don’t hate meeting people because some of them never become good friends. That’s how all relationships are: hard work. Figure out what you expect from a friend and find it. Don’t settle. Ever.

Don’t let anyone push you around or claim you’re less than capable. Listen with one ear and prove them wrong so you can hear their jaws drop with the other ear.

Stop being a martyr. You are a teenager, for God’s sake. If someone upsets you, tell them. You’re too afraid of being honest. It’s not a disease. You can’t always be the nice one anyway.

If you’re going to be in love, be in love. Don’t half-ass it.

That said, if you care about someone, they better know. You’re an excellent time waster.

Going to college 300 miles away is not an excuse for losing touch with people in your life. Even if there’s not yet an app for that.

Hold onto the friends who leave you voicemails that make you laugh on the way to the parking garage after a long day on campus.

Suck every second out of those long days. Going to bed at 9pm is for the sick and the elderly. You are neither.

Your life is not a Sorry! game board. Change doesn’t mean going back to start. It means potential. Try new things. You will have 14 beginnings in 5 years. Embrace them and throw yourself into each one. You didn’t do enough of that.

You define your rock bottom. Remember that always. Don’t fall into the Grand Canyon. Remember the parachute is strapped to your back. I know you tend to lose things. Car keys, shoes, yourself.

And above all, never lose sight of who you are. Who you always were. Today. Tomorrow. In ten years.

Love that girl forever.

21-year-old Kaleigh

They merge in the middle to exchange bits of accumulated knowledge like tokens collected during a video game.

I’m the little sister my little sister never had.

“You need to do something with your hair,” she says. “It’s too flat.”

I tell her it’s dry, that there’s nothing she can do, and she shakes her head.

“No it’s not. Come here.”

I fold over into her own personal ragdoll and tense up, waiting for the hot air to scald my scalp as she scrunches my hair and diffuses my curls.

“Don’t even complain that it’s hot,” she says. Like she’s my mother. Like she can see the way my face scrunched up when the heat crept along my hairline.

She makes me stand up to examine her work. Starts scrunching the bottom of my hair. I squeal.

“I’m not even touching your neck,” she says. “Chill out.”

She drags me into the bathroom on a hunt for a bobby pin—the finishing touch.

Earlier, walking the streets of Philly, she asked if she could dress my daughter some day. Give her some curly brown pigtails.

“How do you know I’ll have a girl?” I asked her.

She didn’t.

It should bother me, being 21 and led around my own house by my 18-year-old partner in crime. But it doesn’t. It feels like learning backwards, starting with the important things like navigating us from our home in the suburbs to the center of Philadelphia and remembering to pay both my credit card bills on time.

And then I backtrack to everything else. Shopping for a top that doesn’t hang lifeless from my skinny frame. My first pair of skinny jeans. A dangerous addiction to summer sundresses.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I’ve figured it out. Sisters start on two sides of the spectrum—one black and one white—until they merge in the middle and exchange bits of accumulated knowledge like tokens collected during a video game. One grows up fast so the other can meander through childhood like a lost soul in a drought-ridden field. One travels to the big city in the north so the other can hide out in the sweet southern hills that keep her skin glowing and her smile big.

She makes me over so I’m beautiful and I steer her away from the streets where she faces dangers greater than just a dirty look or a muttered curse under smoke-caked breath.

We have each other’s backs and fronts and everything in between. And we line up our defenses, dumping out the contents of our purses and tote bags and letting the treasures carry us through life while we’re apart for five months at a time.

Because when we come together, when we meet in the middle, it’s like we’ve never been apart.

We trust a blindfolded 5-year-old with a Louisville slugger not to knock someone out; so why don't we trust a 21-year-old walking barefoot outside?

My roommates yell at me if I go outside without shoes on. There’s always a reason. Someone had a house party last night and smashed beer bottles now litter the front lawn. There’s rocks and twigs and ice and — yeah, I know.

my cousin running along the shore, into the waves

The world is full of patches of black ice. We can’t see them, but then we’re spinning and we wonder how we could’ve been so oblivious in the first place. Because we cannot know what’s in front of us. Only that right now, we’re passionate about this one thing.

It’s not that I want to step on a shard of glass. Nobody does. But I want to be trusted. I want to walk barefoot.

Simple enough, right?

We trust five-year-olds to spin around blindfolded and not knock into the piñata or smack someone in the head with the Louisville slugger. So why can’t we trust a 21-year-old to walk into the street without shoes on?

A large part of me worries I won’t fit into the world. Because I would rather spend my Easter Sunday in a room with no air conditioning for 13 hours, coming home at 10 p.m. with dirty black feet and tired eyes. Because I would rather skip winter altogether and sit in an Adirondack chair, reading a novel with the ocean foam kissing my toes.

“Some days I want to live alone on the beach with a pad of paper and a pen,” I wrote three years ago. “I’d find the perfect spot, right where high tide hits. Not too far from the water so I could still hear it. And I’d write forever. There’s a lifetime of things to talk about.”

I went on.

“But then I have days like today when I just want 3 kids, maybe 4, and that chaotic life where I’m driving all over creation. Something where I wouldn’t have any time to think about what’s going on in my life, just that it’s happening,” I wrote. “I think that’s what would keep me happy.”

I won’t fit in. I’ll run in circles, undecided between wanting it all and none of it. I lose my roommates’ trust and I’ll accidentally step into the street without looking both ways. I can’t help but wondering if my transparency has worked in my favor.

No one should make you question yourself. No one should make you worry that you don’t have it figured it. Because nobody else does.

We’re all stepping into oncoming traffic, just in different ways. The black ice sneaks up on even the most cautious driver. There are an infinite number of moving pieces in the puzzle of the world, and we think we know the outline and where the one piece goes, so we try to shove it in. But it’s wrong. All wrong.

And so I’ll walk through the cool grass in the summer heat without shoes on. I’ll let the pavement blacken and callous the soles of my feet. Let the sun kiss the back of my neck. And time will wind down. Nothing bad will happen.

Trust yourself. Trust to know what you love and what you want and trust that nobody in this world ever really knows who they are or where they’re headed. All they really know, right now, is that they want to be where they are. That’s all we can know, isn’t it?

The Taylor Swift Generation

The story ended the way most do. A girl sitting on her best friend’s bed, tears streaming down her face. She couldn’t breathe, but she didn’t want to.

seven girls carrie underwood lyrics summer senior year

seven girls, seven different stories

That girl was me. Two years ago. Too shaken up to bother turning on the radio. Back then, I used to cry with music on. My roommate went home one weekend and my boyfriend had just left to go home and I just sat in the dorm with the music on so that no one on the hall could hear. Turned it up to drown out the noise and to remember when things were good.

Back then, I’d trudge up the same hill every Monday and Wednesday after Spanish class, the same chords playing through my earbuds. The soundtrack to my teenage romance.

Now, I start each morning the same. Like clockwork, I’m in the car by 9:05, turning on the stereo. Pressing CD 6, track 2.

I let the opening chords blast through the speakers as I peel out of my parking space. And I drive the 1.5 miles to campus.

I can’t help but wonder if, in 15 years, students will read about girls like me in their sociology textbooks.

“The Taylor Swift Generation,” experts will label us. “They had a song for every male-female interaction.”

Will our children laugh at us for developing an ice cream flavor for every kind of heartbreak? Or perhaps that’s next on Ben & Jerry’s To Do List.

We’re just the kids lined up when the truck comes down the street on a hot summer afternoon. Pouring over all the options as if they’ve changed since yesterday or the day before. We’re always searching for the winner. Push up pop? Nah. Chipwich? Maybe. Screwball? Yes, definitely.

At the bottom of the screwball, there’s the enticement of a gum ball. Instead, we’re left with a disintegrating jumble of sugar that doesn’t even taste good anymore.

Is that what happens with these songs? When we memorize the lyrics until they sit in our own hearts, taking up residence as if we wrote them ourselves, are we doing something wrong?

I don’t think so. The media bombards us with hundreds of worse role models, their stints in rehab documented daily on news websites. Their infidelity is broadcast on Entertainment Tonight.

And so we turn up the volume on her new album, praying that this girl who’s only three months older than us has the answers to life’s toughest questions.

That girl sitting on her best friend’s best, tears cascading down her face? She was holding onto those words. Retracing them to figure out where she went wrong and became unlovable. Because that’s what keeps her getting up in the morning.

And the sociologists cannot take that away from her. After all, she’s just a girl trying to find a place in this world.