I got a sad letter today. All I will post is my answer:
Last night, you asked me why things matter, and frankly, I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I thought about it all day, and also I think I’ve been contemplating it for years.
Jesus Christ, I’ve been in some holes. I have laid down on the floors of showers and have held that coughy-sob in my throat like it’s the only friend I’ve ever had. I have felt so empty in a way that felt selfish for a girl like me, a girl that had hands and feet and could be used for tax purposes and lip plumpers and hi-lo sheer shirts and whatever the hell else. I have felt alone in a way that poetry could help and could never help. I have had all sorts of mascara on more sleeves and my own cheeks than I thought fair, had more panic attacks than whiskey gulps, and then I went through real tangible things and I discovered you can be kicked almost all the time when you’re down.
I have been 18 and 20 and 22 and 24 and forever, in two year spurts of new disappointments and new problems, wondered why I was put here to make and lose and mostly lose and mostly, I tried to put my hair in an appropriate bun. I have felt morning alarms like mountains, I have stared into toilets like black holes, and I am saying the past tense like it is over but here’s the thing: life is the fucking beast on your back that is waiting to pounce when you let it.
And mostly I am telling you this not because I am over it or better than you, but because sometimes life is an island and man is glorified as an island and sometimes you feel fucking alone, mostly. And I am telling you that you are not alone. When you wake up and you don’t feel beautiful, when some guy kicks you out of bed because he’s an asshole, when your family makes you feel like genes are a joke, you are not alone—a man is an island but there is a goddamn ocean out there, an ocean of people who feel exactly like you do. You are not alone and there is somebody out there who has pinpricks and papercuts and scars just like you.
And maybe knowing you aren’t alone isn’t enough. Maybe you want something more.
You ask me why things might be worth it, and I tell you that I don’t know. I write to you scared as I ever was. There are highs in life to look forward to: real fucking electricity from human interactions, a thing that feels like a myth when I type it out, moments that feel like heart bursts for a mostly still beat, gulps of air from lungs that stay stagnant. And I don’t know where to get those things. Romantically, they are from books or fingertips or thunderstorms. Realistically, they are from the victory of staying alive another day on the shithill you’ve made and built for yourself.
I don’t know where you get those “more things.” I think, though, that you get those things with battle scars and with your bare hands and your fight. Be ugly about it. Life is kind of ugly, sometimes, before the promise of something else. Bite it with your teeth. Taste it, too.
And still, you ask me why things might be worth it, and I only talk about the days I used to feel empty, feel empty, have been empty. There is beauty in the parallel, and there is beauty in the things you work for. And work for this, Penny: work to feel full. I haven’t mentioned it, but you deserve to feel full. You don’t deserve the hand you’ve gotten because nobody really does, but you deserve to get out of it. And that requires only you. To feel full. You deserve to feel full of food and full of life and full of experiences. The thing is, family, friends, lovers—they can all enhance your life for better or worse, but PENNY. You are your island and you are your ship. You sail that motherfucker because you are alive for now and only once and only you know, feeling rockbottom and lost, only you know that you get one shot at this. I already know you feel the panic of that one shot. Take it. You sail that ship because of the silly promises that love isn’t always a lie, and love isn’t always a life, either. Feel pain and high and heartbeat. Let that rain in, good or bad.
You are your own life. You are your own everything. So move, and smile, and release the things you need to and keep the things you have to and wake up every morning honestly being grateful for yourself. And walk up that hill until the sun breaks, forgetting anybody else but you and the things you carry.
Live, goddamnit. Please live.
You owe it only to yourself, and that is entirely enough.
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