I See Us Smiling Back.
You were in there all along. I just forgot to listen.
I’ve been searching for you, dear one, my entire adult life. Remember when we were inseparable, you and I? As a matter of fact, we were so close that there was no telling us apart. I saw you smiling back at me when I looked at my reflection in the mirror. When happiness sparked in you, I felt joy. When sadness spilled in your heart, I cried tears. When anger took its rightful place in your belly, I shouted and stomped my feet. Oh, I remember those days when you, on my inside, matched the me, on the outside. Our experience of the world was pure, without judgment or projection. Wholeness defined us.
I think I was a few months shy of my eighth birthday when I decided you no longer fit the image the outside world demanded. I had been working very hard at being a good girl and your way of being just didn’t match who others wanted me to be. The grownups didn’t like it when you spoke your mind, so I sewed your mouth shut to keep you quiet. The watercolors cracked in their pots when I decided you were no good at art (and anyway, Mom didn’t like the circles and shapes you so much loved to paint. They didn’t deserve the coveted place on the kitchen wall next to the drawings of princesses and pretty houses behind picket fences and jolly flowers inside window boxes).
I had to hide you because I wanted my parents to love me. My grandparents to be proud of me. My friends to choose me, and my teachers to reward me. I needed their love and approval, you see. I needed it to survive.
I grew older and you stayed small inside me. The me on the outside no longer matched the you on the inside and soon, the memory of you became as delicate as a strand of silk.
Looking back now, I see the times you rebelled, banged on my heart’s door until your fists bloomed purple with bruises. You wanted out when I broke the rules and snuck out in the early morning to meet my first love. You wanted out when I moved away from my parents’ house at sixteen. You wanted out when I drank booze and had sex, cheated and lied, defied all that was decent. You wanted out under all circumstances, until one day, one day, dear one, I finally began to hear your sad song of longing and turned my ear in your direction.
I heard your plea for freedom. I knelt at the cave’s mouth and surrendered to the pain of having lost you so long ago. I’m here, I whispered and readied for your return.
It’s been five years since I stood at the threshold of that cave. Sixty months of curious excavation. 1825 days of peeling back the layers of projections painted on you by my parents, my ancestors, my culture and society.
With each new layer revealed, I see all my warts, scars, and weeping wounds. I do not turn away in disgust and shame and instead, begin to see the goodness and honesty in you.
Be free! Be me! Is my new motto and I wake each day excited to discover another forgotten bit of stardust that has made its way to the surface of my authentic self.
I unearth my preferences; those that I gagged in childhood. I know I like integrity above all else. The truth in all things. Honesty, that clear diamond of communication. I like using a fountain pen when I journal. I prefer daisies over roses and cotton over silk. I like to laugh so hard my fillings show and to cry without restraint. I make love and have sex, and sometimes…yeah…sometimes I just like to f*ck the one who holds my heart. I hug my children close and have long, heartfelt conversations with my cat. I’ve had a few deep loves in my life and my heart beats strong and soft— vulnerable as a result. I giggle at my own jokes and sing off tune in the shower. I make space for my feelings, call each one by name. I pay homage to their power to heal the ancestral wounds I’ve carried inside my flesh. I’ve made courage my spiritual practice. I wake each morning and usher gratitude into my day. I’m like the velveteen rabbit, loving all the bits of me, the pretty and the worn, my eyes aglow with each new discovery.
Don’t misunderstand, I still stumble sometimes. I get lost on Instagram and Reels on Facebook and forget that I’m not my outsides. I forget that it’s okay for my body to reflect my age, that I need a little more rest, that sometimes, my energy is better served communing with my essence than bowing to the advertisements that promise me eternal youth, smooth skin, and the sex-life of a minx. I forget to shut down my phone and sit with you in stillness.
Like a mourning dove, I keep molting and growing and discovering more of my original self beneath each layer shed. With each trigger healed, with each wound sealed, I open ever wider to the me the Universe intended. I feel you take your rightful place inside my heart and when I gaze at my reflection in the mirror, I see us smiling back.