We Weren’t Always Strangers

In the stale kisses, tasting like leftovers on your lips,

Concern loomed.

And in our clasped hands, we held the doubt we were too cowardly to share

Little by little, we shared less.

Our lives split like Pangea,

Into separate continents we formed,

Our climates no longer compatible for one another,

they bred tropical storms in contact.

So we connected less,

Concealed more.

Resounding conversations eroded into small talk on deaf ears.

I used to feel like I came from your rib—

That my side fit perfectly into yours.

But we are not puzzle pieces.

Love is not the security of a confined space.

I don’t know what the strategic interactions of ours were, but it wasn’t love.

Wasn’t dedicated, enduring, demanding of a full heart.

The sum of ourselves wasn’t built for that.

I knew it was over when having the courage to say goodbye felt like an anthem,

When I realized your presence was not my oxygen,

That we were never each other’s halves

Because I am whole.

To My 12 Year Old Self: A Love Letter

Dear Marisa, age 12,

I love you.

Dear Marisa,

The chronological canyon, spreading nine years between you and me, will teach you that

Life is not binary black and white.

It is shades of gray.

But even in a muted landscape, this existence is the most spectacular spectrum of silver I have ever seen.

You are the product of tangled genealogies,

Of love in broken tools,

Held hostage to the legacy of hurt that made them.

Of a tribe always looking for welcome mats,

Never planting roots.

Home is a stranger in your vernacular,

Something so foreign to articulate.

You will chase picket fences, postage codes, and people for something that may never be.

Home is yourself.

Home is when you baptize your body as something other than a burial ground.

Honor it as atlas and ecosystem.

Temple cannot convey the wonder that houses you,

The soul inside towers over the chaos around it.

You waste wishes on life in a smaller body,

In a body without memories,

Any flesh besides this pasty prison,

Pave your pain into your wrists,

Engraving the sagas you have weathered in the only language you know.

And still, this frame breathes.

Refusing to surrender the worth reveling in its atoms.

Knows you are your own best friend, soulmate, and compass.

Refuses to be reduced to a fraction when it is whole.

When we are whole.

Marisa, your heart is a semi’s engine.

You cannot measure the love in your life by someone’s inability to open their arms.

Maybe caring too much is a medical condition

The kind with purpose coursing through your veins and feminism in your marrow.

Marisa, widen your wingspan,

Let others etch their messages on your limbs

And know they don’t define you.

What defines you lies between your lungs.

You will heal from plagues of perfectionism,

Sweat out feverish doubt,

Speak to yourself in a cadence besides cacophonies. Dialects that aren’t self-depricating.

Understand that the cracks are where the light gets in.

Learn to applaud the parts of yourself that don’t receive standing ovations.

At twenty one, you will still be unlearning.

Still be unlearning how your ears fish for beautiful in a sea of compliments,

Like your veneer is all the depth you have,

Like your insides don’t matter.

Marisa, if someone reduces you to one dimension, respond with one finger

Dear Marisa,

Survive and apology share no letters.

This is not a coincidence.

You will wish your words are anything but the color of fire.

In prayers to a star-fashioned God, you will beg for silence,

Sever the enflamed tongue,

Shrink into some fabricated softness that never came.

You are a blazing tapestry.

Something fierce, fragile, vivacious and vulnerable.

A frenzied complexity unmeant to be untangled,

The kind who shuttles from instant to intimate,

Knows no surface, only the deep end.

You spend eternities staring at a blood orange sun

Feeling like you are a skeleton of safety pins.

It is always the eve of something, never the arrival,

How you’ve mapped future sensations like a hopeful cartographer onto your feet and hands and heart.

They are packed into your nerves.

And then, you will blink.

Airtight nerves surge a reflex that closes your eyes for nine years.

And you’ll find yourself there.

Beneath gushing waterfalls, atop Arthur’s seat, inside families you never knew you needed, friends who love you even when you can’t offer it to yourself.

You’ll find yourself in the calculable power of linked arms and laced fingers.

For You,

Girl with safety-pin skeleton, semi’s engine heart,

Stratified on a silverscape with citrus sky,

I wrote this for you.

I wrote this in complete awe of and gratitude for you

Molded this in the language of the love that will fill your life,

Will overtake you like the flood you never prepared for.

Will raise your skin to Goosebumps and render you speechless.

The People in your future make fireworks look like flickering fluorescent lights they are such tangible celebrations.

Dear Marisa age 12,

I owe it to you.

Dear Marisa, age 12,

I love you.

Involvement is a Bad Boyfriend: Admissions of a Recovering Hyper-Achiever

Involvement is a bad boyfriend,

The kind who calls in the form of officer positions.

Sometimes the receiver is silent because I was passed over.

Then, he calls.

Only the date is draining, is too many hours,

Is nothing I thought it would be.

I feel like a hamper for his needs, just filling and filling me until I overflow.

My relationship with involvement makes me a canvas for commentary.

And some days, my affair is villified.

Others, Bae and I are everyone’s “relationships goals”.

My bad boyfriend is pretty on the outside.

He’s tempting, boosts my ego, and bears the bells and whistles.

He is a conversation piece, social butterfly, and sometimes he can be really sweet.

Involvement monopolizes my social media posts.

I’m way more into him than he is into me.

I stalk his Insta, Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter,

Hell, I even go on his LinkedIn for a feeble acknowledgement in his universe!

But he reserves no spaces for me.

I was the one who reorinented her landscape for the beautiful sight of him.

It’s his interior that’s lonely and sour.

My bad boyfriend doesn’t love me back,

Doesn’t see how he is a larger priority in my own life than I am,

Makes me cry over silly things because he has consumed so much of me I don’t know where I end.

And he won’t notice when I Ieave because he’ll be too busy seducing an unsuspecting freshman.

He never had a problem attracting new paramours to a toxic romance.

Involvement is my bad boyfriend—

My main squeeze who squeezes too hard,

Called a Boo because sometimes one day, he’ll be a ghost in my memories.

But like all relationships,

It’s not all bad.

Involvement is growth, connection, daring greatly, and failing spectacularly.

Involvement is an experience, not a life.

Do not mistake involvement for love,

Awards for worth,

Or title for self.

You will laugh over past sobs when involvement broke your heart,

And warmly reflect on happy times you shared with involvement.

So, Bridget Jones incarnates who inhabit the Union,

The sleep deprived social butterflies slaving for pride’s sake,

Involvement is everyone’s bad boyfriend.

But…

You will survive involvement and realize it was never about “winning” the break up.

It was always about moving on.

For Girls Like Me

Dedicated to the women who have given me the privilege of sharing their stories and those who shoulder the burden alone.

Girls like me know hide—

Know what parts of ourselves are not made for polite conversation.

Know normal as the spine-tightening at a crash.

Registerthe bellow of a man’s voice like an alarm.

Girls like me don’t know sleep without phones at the bedside.

Girls like me have hearts so big they’re like sponges—

Soaking up everything around us.

Girls like me don’t know self-forgiveness.

We know excuse, quiet, face to cold tile floor,

That bruises are best covered in stage make up.

But have yet to muster the self-love to pry ourselves permanently from things we never deserved.

Girls like me know shame in jokes about our experiences,

Know how to translate the language of misogyny and regurgitate it to assimilate.

Know “no” is a whisper swallowed by the monstrous night.

How are stories are met with silence or tears,
Know how to make you uncomfortable.

Girls like me don’t want your pity.

Don’t need condescending,

Are not a haphazard apology in the wake of shame.

Girls like me don’t know how to differentiate sympathy and pity.

So married to being strong,

To avoiding the caverns that made girls like us

That we aren’t sure who to let in.

Who can carry us?

Who can love us?

Girls like me are not the inventory of our scars,

Even when it feels like it some days.

Girls like me that survival in the light is the scariest thing in a rape culture.

It should be.

Girls like me are not sorry.

Girls like me know survive

Girls like me know thrive.

Girls like me know rise.

Girls like me know this is for the sisters before, with, and after me.

We are the mothers and sisters and families formed like constellations post-trauma.

We are the red worn like a crown,

Wings made in the connection.

Girls like me—be seen.

Girls like me—be heard.

Girls like me—it happened.

Girls like me—it’s not ok.

Girls like me—it’s not your fault.