Thoughts: essays galore


by Ariana Ortiz

I have a silver half-heart necklace studded with rhinestones, “bff” in delicate script engraved on its face. It hangs on a cheaply made chain, dug up from the depths of the closet in my childhood room.

It’s probably from Claire’s, circa middle or high school, when each day I wore a striped a-line skirt that cut into my abdomen and penny loafers that gave me oddly-shaped callouses on my pinky toes.

I imagine that whoever owned the other half must have thrown it out by now, along with other mementos—the sort that don’t lose their meaning in a dramatic and life-altering manner, but through a gentle, unassuming lessening. A lazy ebbing as the days roll on. 

You can’t expect someone to deal with this, I would tell myself as I lay on my thin school-issued mattress, in a dark room all to myself. My curtains were thick and easily blocked out the sun, and I avoided turning the lights on. I dreaded the possibility of catching a glimpse of myself in my slim, floor length mirror.

I became feral, forgot how to meet people’s eyes and smile. I had once fearlessly addressed roomfuls of my peers, had loved the small adrenaline rush of giving speeches and presentations. 

I forgot how to carry on conversations, although I usually felt well enough to make the effort. I was aware that people looked at me strangely when my act sometimes fell flat, when they instinctively felt something was off about me. Usually, I couldn't bring myself to care too much.

Some mornings I would rise determinedly, and go through all the appropriate motions in a rush; flick my eyeliner in sharp arcs and spritz perfume on my pulse points like my mom ingrained into me. I would think this is the day I start being okay, only to be halted at the threshold of the front door by some force, awash in fear and my heart thrumming in my throat.

I dreaded looking at my phone to avoid the accumulated missed calls and messages, but I felt the ones that were absent more sharply. I had come to this new, cold place with at least one friend, hadn’t I? It couldn’t be so difficult to meet halfway.

A small part of me yearned for someone to ask me, "Are you ok? Let’s meet for coffee?" while another, louder part reviled the mere thought.

With a roiling stomach I would chance scrolling through social media, my final connection to the outside. I naively believed it would, should motivate me to escape this drawn-out episode. These were attempts to harm myself into functioning.

I belong here, every smiling face, every cheesy description on Instagram said. I am happy, why aren’t you?

Negative reinforcement was never really my thing. I learned this about myself time and time again, wondered how a granddaughter of immigrants and migrant workers, a daughter of survivors, could be this fragile. I thought, maybe this is what people call natural selection.

Like many people, the experience of visiting my hometown is both nostalgic and sobering.  I was startled to find it is a similar sensation to that of being in an airport in a strange place. Just to pass through, every movement of my body sings in the fleeting moments when I am home. In each familiar area, I can see laughter or tears, or pangs of alienation that I sometimes feel have followed me like a shadow throughout my life. I think about what I must have felt like existing in the same space three, five, ten years ago. Most strikingly, I think of the people I laughed and cried with at those times, friends I had recklessly trusted with every fiber of my being. Friends who fell away with time, others who I had to sever my attachment to.

I have a tendency to over-assign meaning to objects, just as I sometimes do to people (to my detriment, to my pain). But even I know this necklace is empty, and as blank as my memory of the person I must have shared it with once. I’ve always taken relief in cleaning my space, throwing away clutter with almost reckless abandon, and in a way this has also applied to my relationships. My physical spaces are not for the accumulation of mementos, just as my life is not.

Closure is something I often yearn for, but not something I always receive. The reality of life is that sometimes, you simply don’t mean as much to someone. Perhaps it began differently, or maybe you clung to something nonexistent for years. A relationship that once added an extra layer of meaning to your life, your experiences, has morphed into something draining and more painful than not. You realize this, and begin the methodical process of snipping the connecting threads. Then you heal and move on. 

I’ve learned that healing isn’t a singular stage in life, a small space of time set aside for mending and then you’re on your way again. Some people never stop healing from even the most seemingly inconsequential offenses, and I’ve almost come to accept that I’m probably one of them. Each hurt, each worry I sustain is just an addition to the eternal process. But I cannot allow myself to become a collection of these wounds and resign myself to becoming a mausoleum of my own life. 

I throw the once-treasured necklace into a black trash bag, something like triumph in the line of my shoulders.