Sometimes I look back at old photographs and I miss that girl. Her look has the shine that only being 16 and in love will give a girl. She looks young and polished and skinner to boot.
I am still young though, still a teenager even, 19 for one more month, but boy does that 16-year-old girl seem miles away from who I am now.
The couple in those photographs have a secret shine in their eyes. They know that this night will be spent in each other’s arms, first on the dance floor at their junior prom and then in the back of his green Ford Explorer. I will never forget the way that one shaft of moonlight shone through the trees and into the car window at just the perfect angle so that I could see our bare shoulders touch as we clung to one another. I can remember telling myself, “remember this”; your life will not have many moments as picture perfect as this one. Even at the time it seemed more like something displayed on a movie scene—like that tender, pivotal moment in every chick flick.
I drift out of this memory and take a last look at those pictures and think, “I could be that girl again. What’s stopping me?” But then I realize there’s so much stopping me from being that girl…
…Because I can’t take back my first Halloween night at college when I neglected my commitment to that same boy and gave into the tempting, waiting arms of another
…Because I can’t take back the hurt and confusion that prevented me from forgiving myself even after he had long forgiven me for the mistake I’d made
…Because I can’t take back the selfish pride I had that kept me from admitting how much I missed him after that
…Because I can’t take back all the mistakes on both sides that led to our toxic breakdown
…Because I can’t take back my youthfully misguided decision to attend a party with that same boy and people who I thought were my friends
…Because I can’t take back how many drinks I had that night just over a year ago
…Because I can’t take back a night that I can’t even fully remember, spent in a drunken hysteria with that same boy who was supposed to be the one I could trust, a night that couldn’t have been more different than the night of our junior prom and every other night we’d spent together during our relationship
So I will take back tonight since I can’t go back and change the past. I can’t go back to the girl I once was, no matter how attractive she looks to me when I see her in those photographs in her zebra-striped mini dress, standing next to him, eyes shining.
That girl is beautiful, but she is gone. In her place is me, but I am beautiful too in my own way. Not because of the makeup and the dress and the hair though. Not because I have that unique glow of first love. I am beautiful because I am able to march with you tonight and stand in front of you now. I am beautiful because when I wanted to die the people that cared about me wouldn’t let that be an option, whether they realized or not that I thought it was. I am beautiful because the people around me are beautiful and the world is beautiful. So that really brings me to the point of what I want to say tonight. A good friend taught me something that I want to pass along to each of you tonight and it is this: “Despite all its sham drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”
~Originally written December 18th, 2011 and shared with members of the Warren Wilson Community at Take Back the Night, April 23rd, 2012~