My apartment on East 9th Street always felt like a beginning. 

I had a lot of firsts there—my first bouquet, chopped short to fit in a coffee mug. The first time I walked through a movie set on my way to eat a dollar slice on my living room floor. It was the first place I lived on my own—no family, roommates, or sorority sisters filling the empty spaces and silence.

With firsts, seconds quickly come: second relationship, second job offer, second semester, second chances. Or there were second heartbreak, second bad grade, second mistake—seconds wasted on the wrong friends, wrong men, or wrong decisions. When you live in a New York minute, you understand how much can change in a matter of seconds. 

Like how a hail storm sweeps in on a sunny afternoon or how a local train becomes an express, especially when your stop is next. How traffic can suddenly pile up, and you watch your ETA tick up faster than the second hand can tock. It doesn’t take long for things to change in New York. It only took one second for me to see how quickly it could happen. 

A year prior, I heard a shy “I love you” on the phone. Now I heard a muffled “I never wanted to hurt you” through the tears. It took one sentence to break me. A harmless string of words caused me to doubt how loved I felt for a year. And I know a year seems so tiny in the span of my 27, but it was the most pivotal year for change in my life, and he was at the center of it. In 72 hours, I did what I could to try to forget that sentence, and in doing so, I lost what was most important to me in the process. From that, my will was broken more than my heart ever was.

Hour 24: I soaked my mattress with tears. I remembered how cool the sheets felt across my cheek on that humid August night when I begged for it all to stop. Before then, I slept on my living room rug. Before then, I played dirty Jenga in a bar in Brooklyn that served cheese puffs for free. Before that, I stood on a rooftop, drank cocktails, and overlooked the Manhattan skyline.

Hour 48: I smoothed my Nirvana t-shirt across my stomach once more. I remembered how soft the fabric felt on my body. Before then, I locked the door, climbed the stairs, looked at the Immigrant, and walked home. Before then, I remembered how the rain felt like a mist against my flushed face. After that, everything goes dark. Before those seconds, there were only firsts, and that’s what I clung to in the darkness.

Before then, I couldn’t find my way home. Before then, I drank free Gin and Tonics in a bar in the West Village—I made friends with a couple British girls and together we shared loaded fries, hot wings, and breakup stories. Before that, I drank wine and mingled with my classmates at my graduate school orientation.

Hour 72: I walked home alone in the rain, sobbing and scared. I remembered how the dim lights in the sleeping shops lit my way. Before then, I looked over my shoulder and made sure no one followed. Before that, I stared down to the depths of that damp bar and watched them all turn their backs and look away. At that second, New York City changed for me. I realized I was alone in the loneliest city, and even if I pleaded for help, that didn’t mean it would come.

After 72 hours, I woke up and decided to do what I could to keep moving. I put on Copeland, single repeated Erase, and hid more tears in the shower. I scrubbed my body, my nails, and my hair. I sat in front of a mirror, covered up my swollen eyes, brushed on make-up, and tried to smile at the woman in the reflection. I curled my hair in tight coils. I pressed on new stiletto nails and painted them black. I slipped on my favorite black dress and a pair of new tights. I laced up my Doc Martens and put on a jeweled choker. I took an Uber to the Upper West Side to meet my friend who lived on 114th. With the windows down, that car ride is when I decided to start over.

It’s no surprise that I moved to the Upper West Side to stop living in fear and find happiness again. I ran from the Village, those friends, and those memories. I suffocated the burning fire, hoping that something beautiful would come from the grey ash. In doing so, I found peace on 80th Street, tucked between the Hudson River and Central Park. I took time to myself, walked through the Bramble, and wrote. And when the smoke settled, I felt like I could breathe for the first time since moving to The City. Still, on a gold chain around my neck, I keep the coordinates of my first apartment hanging there as a reminder of beginnings—the firsts and the starting overs, but no seconds in between.

I have needed to tell this story for so long, but I locked it in another memory. I used a couple of scapegoats for four years to define how discarded I felt in those seconds. It was easier for me to blame it all on heartbreak than face what it was, not okay, but not his fault or yours.

In Brooklyn, looking out the window of my balcony, I saw the Manhattan skyline in the distance and found myself at the beginning of those 72 hours once more. This time we were laughing. I felt good talking and listening, just like it was 2016 again. In those moments, we talked about firsts, and I remembered how loved I once felt. But the call couldn’t have happened even a month earlier. I had to put in the work to follow the invisible string backward. I had to face the few months I wanted to erase. I had to understand why ripping out the pages of those 72 hours wouldn’t change a thing. I had to stop pleading to take a new path.

When I did that, the narrative reimagined itself into the story I needed to read. I mended my broken parts. When I did that, I could remember how seeing a familiar face in a crowd made me happy. It took only thirty minutes after hanging up the phone for the rush to hit me. I cried and grieved how much that one sentence and all those seconds stripped me of my happiness. I knew how deeply I would always care in those tears, but it’s now a burden I no longer shoulder.

For a while, I hated who I was in 2017. I blamed her for everything and for causing me so much pain. I didn’t deserve all the mean thoughts I had about myself. But now, all I want to do is go back in time to hold her—thank her. Because of her, I can tuck her resilience into the shadows of my mind. She somehow always saw the good even when she didn’t need to. She loved with no fear and gave with no question. She did so much for me. I know what she wants most is to forget it all—to start it over—but we both know we can’t do that. So together, we do our best to color me from grey.

Do you ever want to go back and hug yourself? Thank them for enduring? Thank them for continuing to try? Thank them for finding little comforts in the pain—during a time they’re doing everything they can to survive? Where you wish you could be the one holding their hand, telling them, “this too, shall pass.” Where you know, they are alone, and no one seems to notice they are doing everything they can to make sure future you is okay today.

The Immigrant

The Immigrant

What if you could rewrite your past? Take White-Out to the decisions you previously made, erase part of the journey, or rip out chapters hoping that doing so improves your story. Could you do it? 

Is there something you are also hiding from—something you wish you could do-over? There is a chance you would never be the same, but then again, you’d probably tell yourself that this is the journey you were always meant to follow. At the same time, you hold out on the hope that the path less traveled is worn down just the same. And that Frost was right—that both will lead you to where you are today; it’s just the journey that would be different. 

The Immigrant is across the street from my first apartment in New York City. It is a cozy bar, painted in a rich navy hue with books on shelves, wine bottles on display, and brass fixtures adorning everything from the lighting to the taps. 

It was the first place that caught my eye when moving to The City, but I wouldn’t have a drink there until March of 2018, when my best friend and boyfriend would flank me at the bar for a nightcap. The bar is less than 60 feet from my old front door; you can see it and my bedroom windows in the photo above. I had every intention of making this bar my local, but it became my road not taken—the one I have always dreamt of traveling instead of the one I chose. 

After my break down on St. Marks, I wiped the tears away and finished the day off with a couple more viewings of one-beds in the East Village. Later that afternoon, I returned to the hotel in Times Square, where my father and I weighed the pros and cons of just two apartments out of the 30+ we had seen over the past couple of days. Later, I would submit just one application. I snuck in moments before someone else sent in their information, so as long as my paperwork checked out, the one-bedroom on 9th Street was mine. 

It was on the third floor, but apartment 2B. It was recently renovated and had exposed brick lining the east walls in the living room and bedroom. It had light-red oak wood floors and freshly painted white walls. I would be the first to enjoy the new appliances, new fixtures, and new place smell. It was north-facing, but the glass-paneled door that led to the bedroom allowed sunlight to settle on the living room floor. It felt like a converted studio—it was a converted studio. It was cozy. It was a new beginning. 

There were two windows in the bedroom. The tree branches reached passed the fire escape outside. In July, the green leaves flickered in the summer breeze. The apartment overlooked a dry cleaner, a bar, and a coffee shop. Within a few days of submitting, I was approved—what we set out for in that hellish week, I got. I had my own place in New York City. I would be moving there in a few weeks, and it would become the space my journey in New York would begin. I would try starting over between those walls—looking out the two windows, lying on the hardwood floors, doing everything I could to move on.  

Before I flew back to Florida, I took a walk around the neighborhood to see what was around my new home. Looking out from my front door, there was a lot to take in. The Immigrant Wine Bar across the street. The cute boutique, pottery shop, and toy store towards 2nd Avenue. The salon, coffee shop, vet, and pizza joint towards 1st Avenue. Mud Coffee shop looked like a place I could study. I peeked in to see what people enjoyed at Veselka’s because there was a long line of people waiting to get in. I noticed the Starbucks on the northwest corner, the Urban Outfitters up the road, and how bars sprawled in every direction. 

The first one I found myself stepping into that afternoon would become my local. I owe it to the bartender’s artistic flair to get passersby to come in for a happy hour. To everyone else in the neighborhood, they might have seen four-dollar PBRs and gone in for a drink. But drawn on the chalkboard corner was a little license with a stick figure man for the image. “Bartender today: Jordan*, 22 years old, Naples, Florida”. Suddenly, New York, this massive city with 8.56 million people calling it home, shrunk to the size of my hometown inside a dive in the East Village less than 600 feet from my new home. My dad said, “if you don’t go talk to him, I will.” 

The bar was dark and smelled damp. It was in the basement space on 10th and 2nd Avenue, where the only sunlight came from the glass entryway. The rest of the area was lit by tiny spotlights reflecting off the low, copper ceiling or colorful Christmas lights hanging from the molding. On this afternoon, there were only a few people in the bar and only one man behind the counter. He was tall—easily over six-five, but his ashy-brown, curly hair added a few more inches. Something about his presence always made me nervous, in a good way, because something about the way he had to bend down to talk to me made me smile. 

I quickly learned he was not Jordan. He had an Irish accent and mentioned his name, but I could barely hear him over the music. He looked confused when I spoke about the chalkboard outside. He noted the other bartender must have put that down during his shift, and he hadn’t noticed when he opened up that afternoon. Still, Jordan from Naples worked there, so I scribbled my name on the order slip pad and said to pass it along to him when he saw him next.

And surprisingly, a few days later, I got a friend request on Facebook from a Jordan, who was from Naples and currently living in New York. We had no mutual friends, went to different high schools, and lived entirely different lives in Naples. He clearly skateboarded at the skatepark on Goodlette, while the closest I got to crossing paths with him would have been at the mall across the street. 

“I see the messenger gave you my info, haha.”

“Yeah, he told me someone from Naples came in looking for me, haha. I thought he was messing with me. I heard you are moving to NYC?”

We would spend the next few weeks messaging sporadically about what brought him out to New York. He had already lived there for two years and lived in both Manhattan and Brooklyn but recently started working in the East Village. While I packed up my necessities and went shopping for my new home, I told him how I was moving there for graduate school. Eventually, I told him he should text me since neither he nor I really used Facebook anymore. 

“haha, 239. When are you getting back to NYC again?” 

“Lol, I wasn’t lying about being from Naples. I’ll be moving into my place on the 14th, so I will be back in NY in about a week.”

When I moved into my new place, I spent the first few days adjusting to my new home. My parents were in town helping me move in and settle down. Jordan and I kept talking about the mundane things like building Ikea furniture and what it was like adjusting to the new city. I had a bed, a couch, two end tables, a dresser, and a rug. My dad insisted I got a tv, but I knew that was so he could watch sports when he visited, so I also had a TV and a media cabinet. 

My mom helped me decorate the space: two lamps, a vase full of greenery, photo frames, a few shelves, floor-length curtains, and two sets of linens for when guests could visit. We walked around my neighborhood. I picked out a pair of sunglasses at Urban, enjoyed drinks on the patio of the Copper Still, and shopped at the Union Square Farmers Market—there, I purchased a few succulents and a bouquet of wildflowers for my new home. 

On one of my first nights alone, he texted me that he was stuck with the night shift on a Sunday. I finished my dinner, switched off SVU, and stepped back into the depths of the bar once more to finally meet Jordan in person. After that, there was no turning back—I picked my path.

The Thirsty Scholar was an Irish pub or a wannabe dive in the East Village. The facade was painted black with red accents and Old English font for the name that peaked below the Irish and American flags flying above. There were four steps down to the bar when you entered, but the ceiling rose a couple stories, letting in light to the central atrium. A gothic chandelier hung, lighting the knick-knacks that collected on the inset shelves. There were photos, a coat of armor, and a stuffed, life-sized Einstein doll. 

There was one high top near the entrance and a few stools pushed up against a ledge on the wall. The walls were either brick or painted in a rust-colored, faux Venetian-plaster finish. The space itself was narrow and ran the length of the apartment building above. The main area was divided by the long mahogany bar topped by a copper counter and lined with stools. Behind the bar, there was a chalkboard where the menu was scribbled, liquor bottles, small TVs, tin beer signs, and laminated pieces of neon paper listing specials. The taps sported rotating, custom handles that displayed the beers that were available—they would throw a plastic cup over the ones that were kicked. There was no kitchen, so they served free pizza—twice a night, the restaurant across the street delivered six boxes of cheese pizza to a tiny folding table in the corner near the dart board. They always played loud music, and it just depended on the bartender that night if it was punk, rap, rock, grime, or a mixture of all of the above. 

I must have showed up a little after nine, but I ended up closing the night with him. There weren’t that many people there on a Sunday either. He had fishing shows with closed captioning on. He showed me the collection of fake IDs that they had hanging as a wall of shame. He was kind. He had a little dopey laugh and sweet blue eyes. He was likely wearing a band tee or one with a gimmicky slogan, and probably in a Yankees hat. He had swoopy brown hair and a kind smile. We would spend most of the night talking about ourselves and questioning if there was anyone back home that we had in common. 

At four in the morning, Jordan insisted on walking me home before taking the train back to Brooklyn. He probably also convinced me to take a box of pizza with me. We said our goodbye’s outside of my apartment, and I made plans to come back and see him when he was working again, which would have been in 11 hours. 

It was the first night I felt happy in New York. I made a new friend in my new home. I smiled and laughed all night. I felt optimistic for the first time since June. But everything changed within a week. For me, that happiness was fleeting. By the next week, I would be walking home alone. This time in the rain, sobbing, and scared.  

I would look at the Immigrant already shut for the evening before turning to my front door, walking through the vestibule, and climbing up two flights of stairs. I would look out onto the street, to the dry cleaner, the bar, and the coffee shop. I would close the white curtains and turn off my lights. I would get into my bed and cry into my pillow until I fell asleep. I was haunted by those nightmares for four months because I never knew what evening I would be faced with reliving them.

Practically five years later, this week, I returned to the Immigrant with one of my favorite people in New York. The bar has two entrances, one leading to the taproom on the left and one opening into the wine bar on the right, but both serve up classy cocktails in coupe glasses, wine by the bottle, and beer on draft. 

Together, we went to the entrance on the left and staked out the table tucked up against the window. We drank glasses of wine and talked about our lives. She has constantly reminded me that friendships in New York don’t have to be toxic, draining, or one-sided. She and I formed an instant connection after she helped me print my thesis, Open When. After leaving the bookstore, I instantly regretted not getting her number. I wouldn’t shut up about her to my partner, family, and friends. Now we are neighbors in Bushwick and talk daily.

She never knew me in the East Village. By the time we met, I had lived on the Upper West Side for a year. I had spent almost two years trying to move past and suffocate the memory of that second week in NYC. After leaving the village, I wouldn’t return for nearly four years. Every time I go back, it gets easier to remember all the places I visited and the deal with the memories that lingered. I sat at the small table and looked out at my old bedroom windows and thanked the Hannah who called that apartment home.

You see, I don’t want to rewrite the past; I just want to remember parts of it differently. 

*DISCLAIMER: names have been changed to protect identity of those mentioned

New Lonely City

New Lonely City

New York City and I weren’t always friends; frankly, we hated each other when we moved in together. I learned the hard way how to make it here. I had to stop trying to replicate a feeling and find out who I was in this city. New York came into focus when I started to recognize simple pleasures. Like going down the subway station stairs as your train pulls into the platform or a golden hour walk in Central Park. But I have a hard time forgetting where we began.

Our relationship was toxic—I treated NYC like second best, and I think she knew that. I found the wrong company in the depths of a dive bar. I was challenged in classes alongside teachers who weren’t shy about saying my work was subpar. I was alone in arguably the loneliest city. I was already down, and it felt like she jumped at every opportunity to take me out at the knees when I tried to stand back up. I spent a lot of time grieving my decision to move here. But that soon became the facade for putting the blame on anything but myself, and not knowing what I needed to do was make room to forgive. 

Our first-time meeting was a trial run because I couldn’t see myself staying in the US. At the time, I was already in love with the idea of being elsewhere. But when it came down to graduate school applications, I felt like I found a greater love stateside. Because of that prospect, I gave up on leaving and gave New York City a chance. 

The first trip felt like a tour of Time Square. Our hotel butted up against Madame Tussauds, Broadway theaters, and Dave & Buster’s. I saw sights like One World Trade Center and The Natural History Museum. I took a little jaunt to Central Park, walking 5th Avenue to the Plaza Hotel. We ate dinner in the West Village and Chelsea, but I spent most of my time in Time Square, which was not the best first impression. I felt uneasy about moving where dingy mascots shouted at you for photos. Still, while trying to keep love alive, I gave New York City a chance, and NYU accepted me.

By the time I went back to New York to find an apartment, I already hated it and myself. I was so anxious when the buildings came into view out of the plane window—I felt my stomach drop when we touched down at LaGuardia. Our hotel, again, was in Time Square, and I remember pushing through the crowds while pushing through a panic attack. All I was thinking was, “I can’t do this.” My life felt uncertain, and I was not ready to start over.

But you try and push through it because it’s New York. Because you were handed an opportunity not many people get. It’s the place you have watched in movies growing up. It’s the place millions of people travel to experience. Everything is in New York, and you would be dumb to let it pass you by. So, I settled on the East Village for my first place before ever exploring the neighborhood. I realized all of NYC wasn’t towering skyscrapers and sweaty men dressed up as Elmo, but I never caught my breath. 

I spent the next couple of days jamming one-bedroom apartment tours into my schedule. The second place I toured on 9th and 2nd Ave was my favorite, and it would become my first home in the City. Still, finding an apartment in New York during the busy season was challenging enough for even the mentally strong. I stood on St. Marks and 1st Ave, bawling at the thought of living here. It didn’t feel right—I didn’t feel right. I know now that I was heartbroken and grieving the life I thought I would have here when I first considered NYC. 

I was going to move and have my own place so that my friends would have somewhere to stay. I would find a local bar and make new friends with the bartenders and my neighbors. I would go to class in the afternoon and have days off to explore the city and travel to see my partner, who was even closer to me now that I wasn’t in Florida. I would be surrounded by music, artists, and creative people I could spend time writing about. I dreamt all of this in May when I was accepted, but by June, I quickly realized that when one part of the puzzle got up and walked away, the whole scene felt incomplete. 

The doubt settled in. I felt like I gave up the potential of a beautiful life across the pond for a life that felt destined to be another broken promise. But I made a mistake trying to make it something it wasn’t—like trying to replicate a previous relationship in a new one. Sure, you were in love. Sure, there were great moments, but trying to project those onto this new partner, and expecting them to be the same, isn’t fair. 

New York was never going to be what I had in London. Everything I dreamt of mirrored what I had abroad, except for the missing piece, and without him, the dream of starting fresh became a nightmare. I couldn’t fully process moving on. When I finally moved to the East Village, I thought about jamming other pieces into the space that was left behind. I learned quickly that doing so was the worst thing I could do, because shoving the wrong piece in that space forcibly breaks the image of what it was supposed to be. 

In December, when the City tucks herself in, I heard for the first time how quiet she can be during a snow storm. I realized I had spent the past four months following a dark path, and there I was, pleading to start over in the silence. The only way to do that was to leave everything I had built in those four months behind. So in silence is when I started to heal. 

I started to lean into creature comports while examining who I was and what I wanted to be. My finals were turned in, and I had a month before classes started back up to start over. And while most people I knew went home for the holidays, I made a home in my apartment because I knew if I left New York City, she and I would never stand a chance. 

I would cross the street to avoid the anxiety of walking on 10th. But one night, I chose to walk through the Christmas trees set up on the same block to feel a moment of happiness during the panic. For the first time since moving to New York, I was in bed before 4am and chose to wake up with the sunrise instead of sleeping with it. I swapped drinking alone at the bars for grocery shopping at night when Trader Joe’s was empty. I finally spent money on used books from the Strand instead of draining my scholarship on Guinness.

I didn’t know then, but I followed my invisible string backward for the first time. I was trying to remember who I was before New York. Looking inward at challenges was exhausting. I spent a lot of time hiding tears in the shower. Some mornings were more complicated than others, but all I wanted to do was be alone for once. I went on walks alone. I sat reading, watching movies, and writing alone. I rarely texted people back or made any calls. I subjected myself to the depths of the darkness alone because I knew I had to see myself out of it.

A month later, I found the ground beneath my feet to feel solid again. On my first NYC New Year’s Eve, I cried in my bed. Only I knew how hard I fought throughout December and how I faced everything with the hope of starting over fresh in my solitude. When the ball dropped, I finally felt like I had the resolution I sought. The next day, I spoke to my current partner for the first time. I felt the butterflies wake up and flutter once more. For the first time in what felt like too long, New York City became somewhere I was doing things that made me happy, and I met someone who did the same.

The only concern I had was that although I put in the work to fix my relationship with the City, maybe I would never be able to move on from the past. So, I subjected myself to part of it once more. Not alone this time, but looking it in the eyes and confronting the possibility of moving on.

I left the City for a suburb to stumble into a DIY scene like I did when I first met the missing piece. I told myself at that moment that “I want to leave the anger I had back in 2017.” When I felt the words leave my lips, a new feeling of melancholy sunk in. I realized that the puzzle I originally always set out to complete was finally one I would never be able to finish. I know now that leaving the anger was easier said than done. All those pieces that they jammed into place were the real problem. They were the real reason New York and I weren’t seeing eye to eye.

20 hours after the melancholy set in, I took the 6 into Midtown. I walked down Lexington to set up in the Starbucks inside the Bloomberg Tower. A SYML song came on my shuffle, and I started to cry over my chai latte and MacBook. The song was something I always needed to hear. I closed out on my writing, and I stepped out into the center of the tower. I looked up as dusk settled into a navy-blue sky and saw how the buildings suddenly glowed. I turned the music up and tuned the traffic around me out. I stayed there for the song, cried more, and walked away.

Finally, I saw the city in a new light. I snapped three photos when I crossed Park Ave to immortalize the time I finally saw the city for who she was. I dropped my hate for myself, and in turn, the City dazzled me. I saw my partner walking down 59th, and together, we stepped into a bar on the Upper East Side and told him I was ready to begin again. Since then, we took on New York City side by side. However, I sit alone in our bedroom in Brooklyn, trying to understand what those first four months meant to my journey.

New York was never London, but it’s been my home for nearly five years, and the decisions I made to get me to this point have shaped who I am as a woman, writer, friend, and partner. I finally know now that moving on never meant forgetting what happened, and it wasn’t going to erase any of the feelings I once had. Moving on means I am finally happy once more, but at the same time, it’s okay to be sad when I think about what could have been. Those first four months in New York City still sit in the back of my mind as I try to make sense of them five years later. But “2017 Hannah” has always needed to hear one phrase:

Breath—you are enough.

A Blank White Page

A Blank White Page

Healing is seeing the way words can fill a white, blank page and suddenly take meaning.

I am trying something new—I am rewriting a piece that I hunched over for months but then avoided for three years—beginning with dusting off words to reimagine them into someone else’s story. I used to think it was daunting to start over with a blank document. Now, it is freeing to write out what has lingered in my morning thoughts for so long. Was moving to the city the path she was always supposed to take?

Was she meant to spend six dollars on “pasture-raised” eggs, or should she have received them as a weekly gift from her neighbor in the country? Was she meant to stay in the shadows of the mountains and have the pine trees surround her? Or was she meant to follow her footsteps in the sand and feel the sun’s rays beat down her back as she walked home? Or was she always better suited in a small town, raising her child alone, vowing never to tell anyone who the father was?

I can fixate on the past. My anxiety can hang like a veil on what once happened. I overthink a lot—enough to spend time talking with my therapist about how I can’t seem to let things go. It happened once. Who is to say it can’t happen again? When I do that, I find myself suffering twice because fear lingers before anything goes wrong.

I started a blog before I moved to NYC, which began as a tool for me to revisit good and bad memories to see them in a different light. I am currently trying to find out what role it has in my writing journey moving forward, so for now, it is hidden from most people. However, I will tell you it was a catalyst for finding myself once more in the words that are constantly swarming around in my head. 

If you know me, you know my mind can wander. My partner often asks me what I am thinking. At this point, he can tell my body is checked out but knows my mind is elsewhere. He often finds me staring over his left shoulder at the wall behind him when at dinner. Or on a car ride, blankly staring at the dashed lines ahead of us. Sometimes I hide part of the truth. I don’t discuss how one thought has manifested into hundreds of simultaneous ideas. How I leapfrog from topic to topic, but there is always an invisible string tying them all together. 

Sometimes, the string is the scariest part to identify. So I often respond with “nothing” or just part of the story that the string holds together. And it’s not the fear of him thinking my mind is a maze. It is the anxiety of following my thoughts backward to their origin. And how doing so leads to the fear of knowing where the story begins can sometimes be incomprehensible.

I’ve learned what it is like to have my mind dreaming up fiction. I misinterpret words, or I’ve been told I twist meanings. I like to relive the past and reenact it as if I am a performer looking to put on a show. I beat a dead horse. I ruminate. I hold grudges and forgive others before I ever think of forgiving myself.

I have learned how to bleed words out onto the page. For a while, I locked away some of my darker thoughts. Partially, in the fear that rereading, or reimagining them, would give them the power to hurt me once more. That’s because my fiction isn’t always fiction. It, in some way, is a retelling of my truth.

This brings us to the summer of 2016—I had the budding idea, which I manifested into my thesis three years later. Although the story’s bones remained, I wasn’t satisfied with the storyline. Fast forward three more years, and here I am, still seeking that satisfaction. The story is now becoming something I need to learn from and forgive. Finally, I can follow the invisible string back to 2016, when the idea began on a blank page.

I took these photos in November 2017. I had lived in New York City for three months. I was alone in my walk-up in the East Village, spending most mornings trying to pick up my thoughts. I likely spent this morning crying because I was so anxious about confronting part of my past at a concert later that evening. 

I remember pulling myself together, feeling beautiful for a moment, and snapping a few pictures of myself on a self-timer. I never thought about posting them, let alone four years later, because I still feel some of that pain. But this day was a turning point in my life. It’s the perfect example of how divergent thoughts can entangle a single memory and how a narrative’s twists can be worth revisiting. 

Thus begins the untying.