So, I started to telling this story with the intention of sharing it here. It was full of pure metaphors and no actual details about me. It seemed easier that way, and I told myself that it was because leaving out the details would make it more relatable, but it turned out to be the opposite. I saw no words that jumped up and cried for companionship. Nothing that would cause someone to stop and say, “Yes! Someone found a way to say it! That was me too! I had that struggle!” It really was just a story. A piece of fiction that I was pretending was going to shed some light, tell some truth. So I changed it. I promised myself more vulnerability in my life, and that’s what I’ll give. I’m keeping the course on this journey and letting you see me, even if it looks like a small step it feels big, and I hope it means something.
Loving people can be hard. Sometimes you start out and it is so amazing because you have this person to share things with, who likes what you like and encourages you and brings you joy. Occasionally, as time goes on, you grow together, and you don’t realize that you’re becoming entangled. Or you see it and think it’s a good thing, or that this closeness is meant to be. Your branches become entwined and you’re no longer standing alone. When they’re not there you lean into where they were, and when the wind blows you feel raw on that side, weak from where they used to to be.
You’re dependent on their strength. On their support and resolution and steadfast reminders that you’re worth it. I had a friend like this once. Not a significant other, although this can most definitely apply to that, and I think many people will identify with that. I felt supported and important and full. I felt necessary. We were leaning on each other, and I thought that was good. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t until we weren’t leaning anymore. I didn’t realize that we were helping each other to stand, but not to grow. I never saw that I was changing my shape for this person, until I wasn’t anymore.
We get so tangled up in people sometimes that we can’t tell where they start and we end. And the thing is, they aren’t meant to stay so close. I think they’re meant to teach us something. To show us strength we never thought we had when they rip themselves away like Velcro, one molecule at a time, and we are left with an empty space.
This hasn’t been a one time thing for me. I still remember it, and I continue to see people that I know now are in line waiting for a chance to mix me up. I think I have been in other’s lines too, whether I meant to or not, trying to force a relationship into what I thought it could be, pressing in farther with an overzealous desire to connect. It happens. It’s gonna keep happening. It’s a work in progress and I’m aware.
I’ve been teaching this outdoor creative writing class for kids, and trees keep coming up. I don’t know why, but I keep imagining them alive, how they would see and act and be. The self-consciousness they feel when they’re not as tall as a neighbor; the heartbreak when a friend falls.
People are like trees. We plant our roots, we grow near others; sometimes things happen and we lose a friend or a piece of ourselves. Sometimes we pretend we’re stronger than we truly are. We grow upwards without focusing on depth, and when something shakes us we realize that we haven’t sunk down deep enough for when the real weather hits. I want to be like a tree in so many ways. In their resilience; in their beauty; in their unchanging unwavering appearance of faith that everything is OK even during hard times.
But we aren’t trees. When a storm hits and we have neglected our roots, we fall. But we don’t have to stay down. We have the choice to get back up and rebuild. We have others who will give us strength and pull us back into the light. When people get too close and twist our appearance, leaving behind an empty branchless void, we are given a chance to fill in the holes.
Life is full of people who are wrong for us. It’s full of tricking ourselves into thinking we deserve less than we do. It’s full of departures. But it’s also full of people who are just just right. People who will stay. People who, instead of becoming tangled up and changing us, will simply stand by us. Who will offer protection when the winds are high, but won’t shelter us from all the necessary struggles that will strengthen us and help us grow. Who will share light without greed, but also keep regard for their own growth alongside us. People who won’t make us feel guilty for taking the nutrients we need, because they will do the same for themselves. Who will give us space to grow without getting tangled up, without altering each other’s shapes to match.
With these people we’re meant to thrive. Our roots will deepen and cross, strengthening each other from underground but never imposing shape or stifling growth. We will give and take and struggle against the wind together. Our branches will stretch and our leaves will widen, so that we can bask in the sunlight that we are privileged to share, next to the ones we rarely realize are the reason we have been standing for so long.