Eight summers ago I graduated with an English degree and hours later moved across the country (talk about literary). With a suitcase stuffed full of old Anthropologie catalogues and poetry anthologies, I rode shotgun in the passenger seat of my own car through Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma, all the way down to the Texas Panhandle.
In the following months I found myself in an unfamiliar but curiously whimsical life, each day brimming with an equal number of untold stories and uncried tears. I was a character in some of the most poignant material I would ever experience, the star player in the reckless unfolding of my own independence. It was stuff even the cleverest writer couldn’t conjure up:
A dreamy post-grad drift to the South Plains.
Plotting backyard kisses with a boy I shouldn’t have been seeing.
Homemade pound cake and mix CDs in the mail from a very polite boyfriend, whom I probably also should not have been seeing.
Drinking an entire bottle of Boone’s Farm alone while sifting through grad school applications.
Buying a new dress every weekend to go two-stepping.
Storming off the dance floor when a guy I liked shuffled his feet with another girl.
Smoking clove cigarettes on the roof while my friends played guitar.
Catching a stray dog and naming him Artie.
Discovering myself. Losing my mother.
Discovering my mother. Losing myself.
The greatest lessons and losses of my adolescence greeted me in that place, pleading with me to preserve them. But instead I stood sheepishly on the sidelines of my own wild life, fearful of what heaviness or healing might be waiting for me inside of it.
If I would have known, I would have written. From the raw, from the fresh. From my fascination and disgust. From my one-hundred-twenty-pound self in a navy-striped dress. From the places I didn’t know I would never go again.
But I didn’t know. So I fought the pen and paper, and in doing so, mostly fought myself.
A good friend with a writer’s soul saw me playing the game — you know, the one where you tell everyone you’re a writer because it’s cute, but you don’t actually write. He looked me in the eyes and warned me, “You better write while you’re here. Because you’ll never be able to again.” Duly noted, boss. I scribbled his wisdom on the back of a receipt and tucked it away for later, for a time when a different version of myself might have courage to bust open the dams I’d carefully built around everything I felt.
It took me almost five years to oblige him, to oblige myself, to oblige my story.
Finally, now, I write (obvs). But every word I pen about my past — about my mom’s death or my own inability to grieve it for so many months — carries a little extra weight and a little less feeling. I can write only from retrospect. I’ve lost the smells and sounds and sights of such a formative time in my life because I was too afraid to try to enclose something so wild inside something beautiful.
So here I am. Asking you for a favor. But it’s not for me — it’s for you. The future you.
In a few years, you will wear many more hats. You will feel more complex things, but you will be responsible for so much more than your own emotions. In a few years, you might forget what you feel or pray or dream about right now. You might even sit at a coffee shop and laugh at the past you, wondering why you thought it was a good idea to buy a rabbit from a pet store with your best friend, just to take pictures of it all around town with a disposable camera. And I promise, you’ll wish you would have written about it.
Let’s make a deal. I think it’s safe to assume you are here because you care. You know your story and your soul matter a great deal, and you get to decide what you do with them. So will you write from where you are, right now? Like there’s urgency, like it’s your last resort? Because it kind of is.
Your story needs you. And years from now, you will need your story.