Life has not been kind to you.
You’ve done what you need to: picked up the pieces of your life, smoothed over the sadness that keeps rising, tamped down the voice in your chest that told you you weren’t worth any of this. You decided that you would keep trying—go back to school, live in an apartment, talk to a professional, fit back into the grooves of normal—even though the future felt like the thick, still air on a darkening summer afternoon. Even as it started to fall apart again, you dug in your heels.
You’ve tried again and again to live up to your own impossible standards. You’ve compared your pain to others, played the “who has it worse” game where you always come out as the loser. You’ve said, “I don’t want to be a burden” and believed that you would be if you said more. Somehow, you are always to blame. Somehow, the only thing safe to be mad at is yourself.
Life has not been kind to you, but you are so unfailingly kind to it.
We attended the same school. I grew a circle of tight-knit friends, depending on them more and more as I got older. But when you talked about your day as we drove home, there weren’t particular names that came up. Instead, everyone would smile at you down the hallway. You would sit with anyone at lunch. You’d walk into any teacher’s classroom and make yourself a home, whether that meant spewing your frustrations at the 12th grade English teacher or talking nerd culture with the history teacher. I used to worry this meant you had no real friends—no one to sit with at plays or cheer your name on the field hockey field—but instead, you made everyone your friend. When you graduated, even the 6th graders applauded your name.
Life has not been kind to you, but you are so unfailingly kind to it, and I can’t stand that injustice.
I am mad that I still have to remind you that it’s okay to use hot water when you shower because someone told you not to ten years agao. That scolding, berating you for using up all the heat, still rings in your head. I cannot understand how you give everyone second chances—people in high school who made fun of you, siblings who overbear your life, roommates who leave dishes in the sink—and yet balk at the thought of forgiving yourself for even one mistake. Your first inclination is always empathy but never towards yourself.
I hate that you may use even this essay to justify hiding things from me, that you think that shielding your pain from my eyes is best and that everything will be better if you pretend perfection. I just want to be able to tell you that I’m mad at the hand you have been dealt but I’m not mad at you.
Sweet pea, I love you the way you love all other people: unconditionally. I do not understand why you refuse to lean on me, why you think that you cannot ask me to bear a piece of the sky you are holding up, but I love you still. I am learning that I cannot make this journey into the dark for you, and I cannot give you the map I’ve charted. The squeeze of my hand in yours is all I can offer.
My love—heart of my own heart, bound to me forever—I hope you find your way.
Alex Johnson (‘19) is a virtual computer science teacher and a proud resident of the Creston neighborhood in Grand Rapids. When she isn’t reading Young Adult fiction, she’s playing board games with her housemates, listening to podcasts, scrolling on education Twitter, and preaching the gospel of intentional community to anyone who will listen.