When I was growing up, I never dreaded the summer ending. I never panicked about going back to school. I was obsessed with the idea of a built-in fresh start.
I always started my year with lists of how I was going to commit to being “better” — a concept that, at ages 12 – 18, was often limited to how other people perceived me. As I got older, the type of things I wanted to change or approve upon, of course, changed, but my desire to find a reason to be better and to begin again never went away. Time passed, I graduated high school, then college — but I never stopped looking for a reason to start over, even as it started to sink in that I was at an age where those built-in jumping off points weren’t there anymore. I gradually accepted that I had to make those points for myself. And then, in November 2017, my friend died. And I realized that, when you’re an adult, it’s not that the starting over milestones don’t exist, it’s that they’re just easier to ignore. They’re painful, sharp. They are ugly. They are never, ever the way you want them to be.
When someone you love dies, you and your world melts down into something different. It’s still you, still familiar territory — but everything is a bit blurrier, harder to navigate. You can recognize parts of yourself and your environment, but everything has shifted — some things just need a little adjusting, others have been flipped upside down, turned inside out. Things that used to be innocuous give you anxiety. Thoughts that used to be blips in the landscape of your brain become minefields of guilt, or regret. That’s what happens when you go from someone who thinks they understand what it’s like to have someone plucked out of thin air, ripped away from their universe — to someone who knows this feeling in their core. To a person whose every cell gets it. It’s like your soul is trying to reboot, and for a good deal of time, all you can do is wait it out, see if you get back to You Before.
In the months after losing my friend, when the pain started to come in shorter, more familiar (and therefore bearable) bursts, a thought started to grow in the back of my head. First, a whisper, then a loud, thumping realization — like my heart had finally settled into its new shape enough to let me know that this was It. The It is the same thing I had been looking for all those years I was starting a new year of school. Every time I made a commitment to do things differently, and then inevitably gave up, or got distracted. It was the impulse to gather my soul up and make myself better. It was the realization that this was now my responsibility.
So, this is how you start over. How I’m starting over.
You take what has happened and let it wash over you. When it’s hard, you feel it. When it hurts, you don’t push it down. You feel everything, even when you don’t want to. You push through.
You take stock of everything in your life. You are honest about what isn’t working. You burn down anything that doesn’t matter. You annihilate thoughts that sound like: “But what will they think?” “But how will this look?” “But what if it doesn’t work?”
You tell yourself every day that you can create the life you want. When it sounds cheesy, you say it anyway. When it seems ridiculous, you say it again. This is the only thing that matters.
You are gentle with yourself when you feel selfish. You are brave when you feel ridiculous. You are patient when it seems impossible. You are forgiving when you think you don’t deserve it. You miss your friend every day. You remind yourself that’s OK.
And then you rebuild.
This post is the culmination of many weeks of self-doubt and fear, but also tiny moments of pure joy — times when I started to believe that the things I wanted, I could create. The moments I loved, I could build.
My friend dying destroyed the world I knew. Plucked me out of thin air, ripped me away from my universe. So in this new place, I choose to rebuild something different. And in every change I make, there will be my friend. And there will also probably be writing.
This type of writing — earnest, emotional, serious — isn’t necessarily comfortable for me, but something in me knows it’s necessary to heal. For a long time, I felt I couldn’t get back to writing for myself until a period of time had passed. It felt too indulgent and also, of course, too vulnerable. But after finally starting to write about losing my friend. After sitting down and taking stock of everything. After realizing what I want my life to look like now. I know now I can’t build any of that without being vulnerable.
While not everything I write going forward will be about loss, this post is a type of beginning. An acknowledgement that I am choosing to take the worst thing that ever happened to me and turn it into something that would make my friend proud. A commitment to rebuilding and creating and reimagining my life. An announcement that I will never be the same again. And that, for the very first time, I think I’m OK with that.
This is Day 1.