You’re allowed to just walk away. When a friendship has become complicated or one sided. When it’s clear they no longer have your best interests at heart. When you never know what they’re going to tell you next and you can’t trust it anyway. Let them go.
Even those people you have genuine love for. Even the ones that played a huge role in your life once. Even the friends that used to feel like family. Let them go.
One of the major goals throughout life is growth. Change is constant and, more often than not, welcome in the long run. We aren’t meant to be who we used to be. Or believe and think the things we always did. Self-awareness and personal betterment are the markers of maturity and success.
Sometimes that change is painful. Sometimes that growth means leaving people behind. Even people you once could picture in your future. Let them go.
They’re not for you anymore.
And they will always tell you. Not straight up in as many words. But in their actions, or lack thereof. When someone makes it clear you are no longer important to them, believe them. They will let you know when it’s ok to stop leaving space in your life for them. When you can’t trust a friend to be upfront and honorable with you, that’s not a friendship anymore. When they have changed the rules of the game, you are well within your rights to stop playing. You don’t have to be mad about it. Just done.
You won’t have to beg the ones meant to fill your circle to be there. You won’t have to ask them to be truthful with you. You won’t have to wonder how they feel or where you stand with them because they will always tell you. And show you. When it feels easy and natural, it’s because it is. When you feel comfortable and confident in a group, it’s because that is your tribe. Those are the ones who will walk through life with you. Lift you up when you need it, talk mad crap about those that hurt you, then pick you up and move on with you, hand in hand.
I’m so sorry, honey. I’m so sorry you’re gone. I’m so sorry you spent your last days with the man who would murder you. True, nothing is *proven* in a court of law, innocent until proven guilty, whatever. But we all know what happened. We watched the footage. Too many of us know exactly what was going on in that van no matter how hard you tried to play it down and take the blame. They always know how to talk a good game. They put on a show to the world and everyone says, “what a great young man!”
“She must be handful.”
“Y’all are so good together!”
But it’s not like that when you’re alone, is it? As easily as he turned it on for the police, he can switch it back off. No one would believe you if you tried to tell them how crazy it can get. How alone you feel. No you weren’t perfect. You were 22. You weren’t supposed to be perfect or even good at this whole life thing yet. But you weren’t supposed to be a victim either.
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry you didn’t know that you didn’t need him. That you were so much better than him. He knew. I’m so sorry you never had the chance to learn any better. And you would have. You would have figured out that you deserved so much more. You would have outgrown him. Maybe you already were. Maybe that’s why you’re gone.
I’m so sorry, Gabby.
But we promise you this, your legacy will be bigger and longer than your sweet, short life was. We won’t forget you. And we won’t let them. We will use your story to hold them accountable. All of them. Your tragic tale, and so many others just like it, will be passed down to the next generation of girls. We will teach them the warning signs. We will teach them to stand up and walk away. We will teach them they are worth so much more.
Today is your birthday. Eighteen years ago today you turned 18. It was 2003. The world had changed and now so would you. You thought you were so smart and so grown. As only experience and hindsight can prove, you’re now painfully aware that you were not. I wouldn’t go back and relive those years for anything in the world. But there are a few things I wish I could tell that girl. That intelligent, ignorant, confident, terrified child.
First things first, LEAVE YOUR EYEBROWS ALONE. The pencil thin brow is just a fad and a stupid one at that. Your brow should begin in line with the inside corner of your eye and taper all the way past the outside corner. This is very, very important. If you heed nothing else I say, please take this to heart. While we’re on the subject, wash your face every night, do not go to bed with makeup on and make sunscreen your friend right now. Nothing less than SPF30 on your face at all times. I can’t believe we used to slather ourselves in baby oil and lay in the sun like strips of bacon with a cancer wish. SPF15 all over your body no matter how long you’ll be outside and at least 30 from the nipples up. You will thank me.
I want you to remember to trust your gut. You will do some extremely stupid things in the next few years, many of which could be avoided by listening to that little voice that often sounds a lot like your mother. Your instincts are good and your intuition is strong. Pay attention to it. Don’t discount it because some rando says it’s fine.
I should reiterate here. When I say you’ll do some extremely stupid things, I mean some really ignorant, truly dangerous, life threatening shit. In the intervening years you will think many times, how did I not die?! The piece of advice on this is, never be afraid to call your parents. You will suffer through some traumatic, painful days all alone because you underestimate how much they love you. When they come pick you up from jail, their disappointment will take a backseat and they will ask where you want to go for breakfast. I didn’t know at the time what unconditional love actually meant. I wish I had known sooner what a solid rock of a sounding board my mom would be.
Anxiety and depression. Call them by their names. Putting a clear label on something takes away half its power because it’s no longer an unknown. Things are scarier in the dark so shine a light on them. The sooner the better. When you correlate what you feel with these terms that can be researched and understood, suddenly it’s just another manageable part of life. Once you realize you’re not alone, it’s easier to deal with. And when it’s still too much, reach out. Please don’t be afraid to admit your weaknesses.
Avoiding your feelings is only a temporary solution. Learn to sit with them. Understand, analyze and break them down. Figure out where they come from and why.
Your pride will be what hurts you most. You build up walls and keep everyone at arms length and act like nothing is important to protect yourself from being hurt. But all you’re really doing is missing out on some wonderful things because you were too afraid to fail or be vulnerable. This is where most of your regrets will lie.
The next thing I wish you knew is that you can walk away. From people, jobs, situations, anything that is giving you a bad vibe or not serving your best interests. As women, especially Southern women, we learn early to be polite. Go with the flow, don’t make waves, don’t make anyone uncomfortable. Except ourselves, which we hide with a smile. You owe no one your time or energy. You can set boundaries politely. You can also throw politeness out the window when the occasion warrants. And sometimes, even if you do nothing wrong you will make unreasonable people upset. But you know what? That’s ok. Sometimes unreasonable people deserve to be upset.
It will still be several years before you begin to realize that you can be a pain in the ass. That’s ok too. Self awareness is one of your best qualities and one that takes a lifetime to sharpen. Know who you are and what you’re worth and never forget it. You’ve already spent too many years trying unsuccessfully to be normal. Eventually you will learn that no one is normal and your specific brand of weird is a lot of fun. FYI, you’re currently carrying a purse with dinosaurs on it.
Your family is amazing, cling to them. Not just your blood family, the one you build from scratch. You will be blown away by the people who become important to you and how they end up in your life in such random ways. No matter the physical distance or how long it’s been, the people who matter will remain. Feel free to cut the rest out. No relationship has to last forever. Important during one period doesn’t buy a ticket to the rest of your life. Your time, energy and peace are precious. Don’t waste them on those who don’t matter.
Regardless of what all the graduation songs say, this is not the time of your life. The best days are still ahead. You will grow into who you are and love her more everyday. She deserves your patience and respect. She’s not perfect, not even close, but try not to be too hard on her.
I want to begin with a confession. What is likely to be the most controversial thing I ever say on this page, I do not at all care for John Lennon. (I can practically hear one of my friends losing it as she reads this right now. Sorry yo.) I have my reasons but that’s not what this post is about. Those lyrics just fit and coming up with titles is hard.
I vividly remember the moment. My first and maybe only ever true epiphany. It was my sophomore year of high school, circa 2000. Sitting in my bathroom sink one morning getting ready for school. Caking on foundation that didn’t match my skin tone and drawing on eyeliner thicker than my eyebrows. It was a different time. No you are not getting a photo. Suddenly it hit me like a ton of bricks that there were other kids all over the county getting ready for school just like I was. Kids that I didn’t know, who didn’t know me. Getting ready, going to school, going about their lives. Entirely independent of me and what I was doing.
Yes this makes me sound stupid. To be fair though I believe there are a terrifying number of adults out there who have never actually realized that everything does not revolve around them. What that moment did do for me was create a tiny puncture in the bubble in which I had, to that point, lived my whole life. Not everything changed overnight. I was still an insufferable twit for many more years. But all at once I had gained the gift of perspective.
In the years since, that perspective has grown and evolved and torn a huge hole in how I think and the way I view the world.
In every corner of the earth, we all do the same basic things every day. We sleep and eat, work and love, laugh and cry. What distinguishes us from one another are the many different ways in which we each got to the places we are today. Childhoods, circumstances, experiences and choices. The things we’ve seen and been through. How can I hope to understand what the stranger across the street, or across the world, feels when I have no idea what they saw yesterday or ten years ago? How could I claim a person’s opinion on a subject is wrong when I can’t know what they were taught growing up or the experiences that led them to that position? In brutal fashion, I have become aware that “my way” isn’t the only way or even necessarily the right way. As us Disney kids learned from Mrs. Potts,
“Bittersweet and strange,
finding you can change,
learning you were wrong.”
Not understanding where someone is coming from is very normal. Writing them off because it’s uncomfortable making the effort to understand is inexcusable. The ability to set aside your own biases and preconceived notions is a skill that requires conscious effort and practice. It’s said that travel is the death of close-mindedness. If you have the privilege to see the world and experience different cultures, I encourage you to do so. But reading is another form of travel and a beautiful way to peer through someone else’s eyes for a few minutes.
It’s natural to feel strongly about your beliefs and opinions. And it’s ok to disagree, even with the people you love. The goal is to make sure you are thinking critically about the world around you, asking hard questions, and always taking the opportunity to learn from others. Even the stupid people. Sometimes you learn the most from them.
I am not at all sure if I’ve made any kind of point. I’m no longer even sure what point I was going for. I will probably touch on this subject many times again, likely after I’ve had to explain my position on John Lennon. But I want to leave you today with a quote from a former atheist turned born again Christian, a decorated and well respected scientist, director of the National Institute of Health and Dr. Fauci’s boss, Dr. Francis Collins.
“One must dig deeply into opposing points of view in order to know whether your own position remains defensible. Iron sharpens iron.”
This will probably be a bit rambling but I’d like to go ahead and set that as a precedent so y’all will know what to expect.
My grandmother passed away in January and I’ve been thinking a lot about all the things I learned from her. So many little things she taught me on purpose. How to make Southern sweet tea, which I can no longer drink because I enjoy closing my eyes and having a normal heart rate. How to play gin rummy and how to never lose a board game (don’t, keep playing until you win or everyone else is so tired they forfeit). How to make peanut brittle and Nanny’s Bread (TM pending). I learned at her knee that “thongs” is another word for flip flops. It was a question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire once and a very confusing moment for us both. But the most valuable lesson I learned from her she never even knew she was teaching me.
Nanny taught me that getting good sleep is very important and you can do whatever it takes to make sure you get it. You see my Pop, her husband of almost 53 years, snored like he was attempting to open a portal to the underworld, which I can’t say for sure is a noisy process but I have to assume it is. For my entire life and many years before that, Nanny had a separate bedroom. The moment my dad moved out on his own, Nanny peaced out of the master bedroom and moved into daddy’s old room. It was just normal for them to have separate rooms. Turns out, not everyone knows that if your spouse is snoring or annoying, you’re allowed to bail on them. There is no law that says you must remain in the same bed and be miserable. You can love someone but not sleep next to them. I took that to heart. It used to hurt the Boy’s (my husband) feelings when I’d disappear in the middle of the night but I’m a better person when I sleep well and not resenting the one you share your life with goes a long way toward making for a better relationship.
But as I get older, I’m realizing this lesson goes so much deeper. If something in your life isn’t working for you, it’s ok to change it. Your job leaving you stressed or unfulfilled? Look for a new one. A friendship been feeling negative or draining? Take a break from it. If something or someone is making you miserable, you’re allowed to cut them out. *Unless it’s your toddler, then you’re just going to have to push through. Unfollowing people in real life is a glorious feeling. Want to run away and join the circus? I would advise thinking through it long and hard and maybe talking to a therapist, but if traveling acrobat is where your heart lies, give it a shot. I realize all of this is easier said than done but the alternative is living a life you look back on with regret. If you’re truly unhappy with your life or something in it, dig deep inside to figure out specifically what that is, pray about it, talk to someone you trust or a professional, and figure out what steps you can take toward fixing it. You are the only person who can know what it is that you need and, no matter what it feels like, you are not stuck where you are.
My grandmother is not the only example of how to make your life better that I grew up watching. Both of my parents quit their jobs, went back to school and built new careers from scratch in their forties. At 15 I didn’t understand what a huge deal that was but now, at 35, I think about how scary and overwhelming that must have been. But in the scheme of things it was a short term struggle for a long term life change. And it wasn’t just their lives or our family’s life that changed. They now affect countless lives for the better every single day. All because they took chances, took scary leaps, and found the careers that were calling to them. I’m so proud of that I still tear up just thinking about it.
So now how do I wrap this up? Seems like we’ve gone a long way from sweet tea and thongs. If it hasn’t been clear, what I’m trying to say is don’t be afraid to take a chance and do something differently. Don’t be afraid to be a little selfish and think about what it is that you need sometimes. Everyone around you will benefit from that. Life is occasionally hard and scary no matter what but it will be infinitely worse if you are suffering through the status quo because you don’t think you have a choice. You do, I promise. So make that change. Take that leap. Join Cirque du Soleil. If nothing else, I will be proud of you. And I know my Nanny would be too.