The Girl I Love and Hate.
Sometimes, through the shutter of memory, I can see her. Me. The me that existed when life was simpler, if ever such a time really existed.
She is standing there, hair knotted with the whisperings of butterflies and the dewy scent of clouds, in a gossamer thin nightgown dotted with rosebuds.
Cattails cradle her legs like an earthen blanket while grasshoppers graze to either side, and her arms, when not twirled by her in fanciful circles around the field, are outstretched to the sun, which beams above with a kind of pride reserved typically for mothers.
Her smile is crooked like that of Eloise, her eyes have a mischievous glint akin to the wildness seen in a mare on a high hill, and her palms are streaked green with onion grass — a sure sign that she forages for the secrets of the Universe in the supple soil of Everywhere.
This girl is free.
From the turmoil and trauma that comes with living. From the wasted expectations and the aborted attempts at success that leave doubt and disappointment in their wake.
She has no chains to time or place, to any one person but herself; that is her liberty. That she, like the wildflowers, heartily withstands the uprooting fingers of weed-haters and the storms that do not discriminate between flowers and people.
This girl I love.
When the destroyers of dreams and dandelions invade my precious space, she is my Soul, standing there, outside the grasping arm of death. And I know, when I am but a wisp in someone else’s memory, my name cold as a gravestone, she will still be there, twirling unabashedly in that field, anxiously awaiting her next adventure.
I woke this morning and, for as long as it took me to step outside my lucid dream and into the unshaded reality of day, we were together.
She espied the inspiration of my slumber, held on to it with stubborn resolve as I poured myself a cup of tea and settled into the spot where my resting computer was temporary companion to the twinkling Christmas tree stout with ornaments in my living room.
With her I felt uncharacteristically confident, that is, for adult me, and I came close to tasting the earthy curiosities of my youth as words like cinnamon and honey flavored my morning musings.
But magic and confidence are fleeting if the circumstances surrounding them are hostile; no seed can flourish in a veritable wasteland, and she, the girl inside me I unquestionably love, vanished as soon as the serenity of my solitude was broken by another.
At this time of year, perhaps more than any other, for the attached importance society places on the holidays, we should be in celebration. Stars should align, relationships nurture. We should hug one another, be grateful for what we already have, and consider ourselves fortunate as we anticipate a new year dawning.
I sent out at least fifty cards for Thanksgiving with messages of gratitude, close to a hundred for Christmas, trying to spread the cheer the girl inside me so effortlessly has access to, and yet, despite my best efforts, this season has been sad, rife with pain and discord.
Thanksgiving was not thankful, Christmas thus far unkind, and all because of relationships that in simple principle should be easy but instead are hard.
Even the relationship I have with my whole younger self is tenuous and unreliable, so it should not surprise me as the years pass that organic relationships are scarce.
I want to flow with others like the tides do with the moon, and not feel battered and flung by — but rather in sync with — my daily interactions. I want to feel caressed like the shore does on a gentle morning in June, by the tender touch of the waves, not destroyed like a town in the path of a tsunami.
I see relationships are both, tender and tumultuous, but I wish nonetheless for balance, as it seems mine are always in flux like a roller coaster between the extreme highs and lows that unsettle the stomach, if not the spirit.
This morning, shattered by my involvement in one fight with someone I am supposed to love, the me I write so effortlessly about was absent, none of her gumption and wild reserve available to me as I desperately tried to extricate myself from the torturous stronghold of a love relationship full of such extremes.
I questioned in the middle of the battle, as I often do, whether this is how love should feel — dramatic and untrustworthy.
I do not feel this way about younger me — our relationship, though somewhat fickle, is constant in its tenderness — but then my attitude toward adult me is of an almost always aggressive nature, and I have to wonder whether it is age that unsteadies allegiances to the point of hostility.
Perhaps it is because I could simply excuse myself as a child, from a table that was unwelcoming, and sink below to the floor, where instead of sharp discussions I could focus on the unglossed underbelly of the wood, that relationships seemed easier.
There, as I traced with my fingers the warps and whorls of the wooden table, imagining where that wood was first planted as seed, what the world was like at that time, in that place, I felt impervious to judgment and cruelty.
The death of the table tree was not the end of its relationship with life because there I was admiring it as if it were standing still in the forest, and I was not in relationship to another in that sacred space, at least not one who looked structurally like me, the non-human tree and I being of different skins.
My worldview was not shaped by myself in relationship to others because my human relationships were few at that time. My unpopularity in that way freed me from the pain that comes from conforming — something we see not just as children in the schoolyard but also as adults — in love, familial, friend, and work relationships.
It is nearly impossible, as adults, to sink below our problems with others, at least not if we want integration and the necessary healing that comes from spiritually evolving, because there is no hiding from the truth.
I want to focus on the younger me because she is unencumbered, generally lighter, but in focusing my attentions there, in wishing her here, I am disavowing the adult version of myself, whose physical and emotional appearance is more painful to acknowledge, though just as real.
If I look squarely at myself now, I want to look away, my perceptions uncomfortable to confront straight on. My ankles are bloody, raw ditches dug into my skin by my own hands when I am trying to work out stresses from my daily life.
This migrating pattern of behavior, a condition of my nineteen year battle with trichotillomania, makes me feel safe, in that I feel I have something to turn to when relationships and life get hard, but it also makes me feel ugly, so that every wardrobe choice is relative to how much skin can be covered up.
I have bald patches on my head. People cannot see them because I have become good at hiding, but they are there still, making me fear lights during intimacy for the same reason.
Outside my disorder, there are other ugly truths.
Members of my intimate family, while passing cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, talk regularly, and with abject admiration about the people who abused me, choosing with their discussion sides regarding who they support.
I see in the hardening of my face conflict over my own choices, to associate with people who hurt me because of hopes for reconciliation, even when patterns of behavior never change and holidays and other relationship gatherings become target practice absent of apology.
To admit I consciously continue on in relationships that are unhealthy, even when self-love and growth are my priority, is to render myself willingly paralyzed to circumstance. No twirling, no openness, just resolve to a series of untenable situations.
Where once I starved myself, my ribs in prominence to my sunken stomach, I now struggle to squeeze on my clothes, and where once I saw romance in every encounter, I now see the jagged absence of passion, the seesaw of reason between one disorderly way of thinking and another never quite reaching homeostasis.
It is much nicer to look away from this person, to look toward the younger me. She seems far more beautiful, the knots in her hair far easier to untangle than her mangled relationships, but the question beckons whether that original image of myself is even authentic, or whether I have enhanced the memory to suit my fantasy for how relationships can be.
Have I not, with every relationship, starting with self, adjusted my perceptions to fit the reality and accommodate my desires for how a specific relationship should be? And then who is setting the guidelines for behavior? The me then? The me now? Some fragmented version of both?
Or is it the outside world that sets the standard for expectation regarding not only holidays but also relationships?
Whatever normal is, to expect it at this time of year, from our loved ones, even a stranger, seems improbable. The relationship paradigm evades me, no matter how much effort I devote to its discovery.
I can dig, as I did in childhood, through soil for traces of our original stardust, but the secret to successful relationships is illusive — when to stay, when to go, how to heal, how not to inflict more damage.
This time of year should clarify, as the multicolored lights in the tree to my right do every individual pine needle, my soul sparkle like the glittering ornaments, but instead I feel confused and a little hollow, wondering whether it is that I cannot see or would rather not see the shuddering truth squarely staring me in the face.
Alexandra Heather Foss is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Rebelle Society. She has also been published by The New York Times and in ‘Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself’. Her adventures have taken her around the world, but she now spends her time between Cape Cod and Florida. She loves rollerblading, Fado music, board games, and long walks in nature. Follow her on Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook.