Tag Archives: losing yourself

Middle school boys with too many girls to dance with inside dark cafeterias were not meant to feel like Less Than Enough.

With a hair flip and a sideways smile, he captures all the girls in the seventh grade.

His younger brother rattles off the list of middle-schoolers swooning over the college boy in a twelve-year-old’s body. Hollister hoodie sleeves pushed up to his elbows. Ray-Ban sunglasses shield his eyes inside the living room.

“Five out of six girls respond to the look,” the younger one says. He darts his head dramatically to the side, chin to shoulder, his sixty-pound four-feet-tall body not having quite the same effect.

He says he won’t date any of them. The southern mothers wouldn’t want that. Would rather their daughters wait a few years to find themselves standing in the foyer, some sweet talker’s hand around their waists as the father looks onward from the living room couch.

Weeks later, in the comfort of my own living room, four states away, I learn that he has forgotten the art of loving himself. The boy with too many girls to ask to dance. The boy with the football arm and hot-sauce-lined lips. The middle of the Oreo, the creamy gooey goodness we are first to reach for, has forgotten his place between the Tall and Lanky and the Small and Slim.

He has turned husky into a curse. Swapped strong for weak. Twisted thick into a something he does not want to be.

Instead, he’s taken to skipping out on sandwiches. Pining for afternoon walks around the entire metropolitan area. Fifteen miles of feet padding across foreign sidewalks. Fifteen miles to shed the ounces of him that glue together the Small and Slim boy to the Tall and Lanky.

I do not have an answer for this boy, hovering between sucking in his insides and scarfing down every last morsel of meat on the baby back ribs.

I only know that middle school boys with too many girls to dance with inside dark cafeterias were not meant to feel like Less Than Enough. They were not meant to take solitary laps around the neighborhood until all the damage of yesterday and the day before fall off them in beads of sweat around their necklines.

They were meant to play basketball beneath hanging nets. To finger piano keys in auditoriums. To scribble football predictions on portable white boards.

They were meant to be nothing but themselves, to love with strong hearts, to glue together the wild and crazy older and younger ones.

They were meant for so much more than wishing themselves away.

Let her dance across notebook pages and down abandoned hallways. Let her breathe.

Note: This post is part of More Love Letters’ 12 Days of Love Letter Writing. Today’s love letter recipient is Hannah, a 16-year-old girl who’s dealt with bullying and forgotten she’s somebody beautiful and talented. We would love to have you write Hannah your very own letter and mail it in. The details are on the MLL blog (linked above). Gather your friends, your travel mug of hot chocolate and marshmallows, and take a road trip to the good ole Target for some stationery. *The Seven Simple Lessons Learned from Strangers turned Friends will return on Monday.

Hannah. Hannah. Hannah. You are a blessed girl.

You and I were spun from the same spool of thread, meant to shine in the windowsill of some corner craft store. Instead, you ended up as a sweater shipped across the country.

You were born to know the world beyond the department store. To never settle for the pokes and jabs and taunts that stretch you thin and unravel the heart stitched into your sleeve.









It is easy to be bold, a whirlwind of kaleidoscope colors, when you are small, still fierce, so hungry. Eyes open to the beauty of falling October leaves and crisp April rosebuds. It is hard, I know, to retain that wild passion and “no, I will not apologize” attitude when the first bullet punctures your sparkly sweater stripes.

But I have a little secret for you, Hannah. One that extends beyond all the generic globs of Google gibberish you can load and scan and download and print and tack on the bulletin board above your desk. (You can do that, too, but this little nugget is just for you.)

I know two Hannahs in this world, and between the Hs on the end-caps of their names, you can learn all you need to know about shining and creating and staying so true to the beautiful individual you are.

The first is twenty-three. And though I’ve never reached for her hand when jaywalking in New York traffic or sat across from her in a coffee shop, I know she has your heart in her FiloFax listing somewhere. She has your back. Your whole self, if you need it.

She taught me that the best people in this world have been put through the ringer and come out stronger. Come out not throwing punches at their opponents but looking for the lumpy sweaters who feel a bit underappreciated, a bit too clearanced. And then, those strong souls remind the sweaters how to dust off and sit pristinely on the shelf, patient for someone to love their soft selves.

You, I promise, are no exception. You are meant to create create create. To drum up beauty where there was once only dirt and pain. You are the light at the end of someone else’s tunnel.

The second Hannah is nineteen. She’s an artist, like yourself, and quite possibly among the smartest people I know. She sees this world in dark tints and thinks deeper than most, and every pencil mark, every brush stroke, documents and understands this chaotic world. Her art breathes life into what otherwise might be dead.

You, like her, should never apologize for your talents, your desire to be true to you. You have a girl deep inside and maybe you’re terrified she’ll escape, but if Hannah #2 has taught me anything, it’s that there is no alternative other than to let the real Hannah escape. Let her dance across notebook pages and down abandoned hallways. Let her breathe.

Loneliness will creep up on you. The world’s gonna make sure of that. But I believe you’re ready to beat it, and I believe you want to.

Hannah, you are the sweater on the shelf afraid no one’s coming to pick you up because somewhere along the sweat shop assembly line, some worker whispered that there was something not quite right about you. But the truth, coming from a fellow sweater, is that you are just seeking out the perfect moment to be scooped up and checked out.

You are not going to hang in a closet. You’ll be the sweater worn five days a week, the comfort on a rainy April afternoon and a blustery October evening.

You were meant to remind this big bad world that sweaters can be gentle and wild, worn and torn and tattered with love.

You keep your heart on your sleeve and remember that you are absolutely, unapologetically beautiful.


An Open Letter to Sarah Dessen

Note: I have wanted to write something for a long time. The words just never came. But here they are, and I hope that somehow Sarah stumbles across this and knows about this small piece of magic she’s given us.

Dear Sarah Dessen,

You know about worlds. You pull them from your attic, dust them off, and remind us that yes, they do have power.

They do make us pierce our lips and starve ourselves. They make us run an extra mile through a cornfield and submit to Friday nights bent over SAT vocabulary workbooks. They charm us at all the wrong moments and hinder us from closing our eyes at night.

They are often unkind.

Your words have challenged that meanness. They hold up protest signs at neighborhood bus stops, on high school bathroom mirrors, in front of classrooms full of peers who might as well be strangers.

Your words line up in neat rows of disorder and take back dignity lost circa 1995. Sometime before the Internet and cyberbullying really became the commentators on how to master senior high.

High school has changed since then, some say, to the point of misrecognition.

Others know better. You know better. You write those critics cryptic letters that say you know what they’re up to. You know they thought they could get away with slurred insults and drunken accusations.

You found the culprits and pinned those suckers to your word processor document. You did not supply them with a backspace key or an escape button. You made them squirm a bit.

And then you shipped them off to an agent in New York City, hoping the Manhattanites might have their “tough love” ways with them.

“Sit still, my darlings,” you said. “You are about to learn a lesson in messing with the sweet girls. The Quiet Ones. The remnants of tragedy and aftershocks of familial earthquakes.”

You promised those girls that there are often no ways of knowing where they’ll be tomorrow. But here, my darlings, are the cliff notes to rectify yesterday.

Here, you said, are the notes to the musical score you have been handed. And I know it looks like a jumbled mess and I know you just want it all spelled out and broken down but I cannot do that for you.

No one can do that for you.

So instead, you taught us about the finite forever, the anorectic struggling to love herself, the sweet boy whose life was cut short. The love we give up on and the sorrow we hold tight to. The spectrum of best friends from understanding to downright diabolical.

Yes, you introduced me to the word “diabolical” and so much more.

“Make sense of it,” you told us. “This is your story, your life, your therapy.”

And so we are left reading, piecing together fragments of our own lives for a new tomorrow.

You have given us that gift. And so we thank you, knowing it will never be enough.


You are the same girl, with or without your wavy locks.

Three months ago, I made the kind of radical decision that doesn’t seemingly impede my health or my future, but somehow stays with me for life.

I took one too many looks at my long, flowing, wavy brown hair and decided it must go. All of it must go, like a final closeout sale of sorts.

At the time, it felt a lot better than that final sale. I didn’t feel like someone was pushing all my beloved belongings out the front door and loading them into the back of a U-Haul.

It felt good, more like a new beginning, a fresh start before my final year of undergraduate coursework began.

My mom said she was surprised. She loved the pixie cut, yes, but wasn’t expecting it. My aunt felt just the opposite. And she told my mom this.

“Kaleigh’s getting rid of everything she doesn’t need,” she said on the phone one evening. “Including her hair.”

I hadn’t thought of it like that, had only been sick of the flat curls and wisps that never tamed in that too-hot, too-humid summer air.

Perhaps if I had lived in Arizona, a state known for its arid deserts, I would not have done it at all. I would not be writing this at all, let alone with two feet of hair hanging down my back.

But that’s not the case, and as with most big changes, there is always the question of what succeeds them. This is a change with plenty of questions, most of them yet unanswered for me.

There is a moment of dread when I stand in line at a home football game entrance gate, student ID in the hands of a ticket staff member. I watch the one, two, three takes, the tilt of the head, narrowing of the eyebrows, scrunching of the lips, and then, only when I can no longer bear it, the screech of my own irritated voice above this sea of drunken noise.

“I got a haircut,” I tell him, as if this alone might convince him everything he needs to know about me as a human being.

For instance, I have never used a fake ID. I am not even sure where to go to get one. Now, at 21, it’s irrelevant.

The same thing happened at a bar three lights down from my best friend’s house.

There is always this question of what else I’ve lost, besides my hair, in this decision.

I wonder if I’ve lost that air of innocence that seems to float along next to me, clinging to the old me like lint on the black leggings I’m wearing today. Or that playful quality that magazine personality tests are quick to associate with wavy locks.

I am not a blonde, have never been, and perhaps I’m losing two battles at once: the curly-haired girls are more spontaneous, blondes have more fun battles.

Sometimes, I want to stand in front of a group of classmates who don’t know me, the Before me, and make sure they knew I still laugh like a thirteen year old at all the wrong moments and will never be able to use the phrase “stuck up” to describe myself in the About Me section of my Facebook account.

I still walk this world like the girl with long, wavy brown hair who trips over her own bright turquoise and lime green paisley rain boots. Trust me, she has gone nowhere.