I miss my sophomore-in-high-school self. She was so effortlessly happy. A light in almost everyone’s life, but she didn’t know it. Her head was in the clouds and the books, only coming down or looking up to greet people with a warm smile. She was confident, not necessarily in her looks, but in her love. Love for others—friends, family, strangers—and for herself. No one did wrong in her eyes because to her, the world had a rose-gold tint. You could call this ignorance, but to her it was a second chance. Or a third chance, maybe a fourth, even a fifth in the hopes that people would accept the love she gave and perhaps give some back. Even though the latter was never really the case, and it was rare that the world loved her as hard as she loved it, she always had something to give. A smile, a laugh and a solid hug.
Now, four years out from the person I used to be, I have an empty feeling in my soul. Someone is missing within me, and I don’t know how to get her back. I’ve combed through every memory searching for the day she disappeared but have found nothing. She has left without a trace. Yet, every once in a while, I feel her within me. In late September, I felt her as I watched a friend of mine laugh from a distance. It wasn’t about something I had said, or even heard for that matter, but her happiness filled me with the most joy I had felt in a while. Again in mid-November, when the smile lines you could see over the top of my mask led to me receiving a smile from a friend in class, and I remembered how nice it is to see someone smiling because of your presence.
The last time I felt her within me was in early January. On a train back to St. Louis, looking through old journal entries, I was filled with the heaviness of knowing I’m growing up. Suddenly aware of my life passing me by. I was grateful for missing my family, but only because I knew I had somewhere to call home. Four years out from the person I used to be and 306 miles away. I left a lot of me at home and realized that, despite the person I remember, the changes I’ve gone through since her are what got me here. And even when I feel her through my experiences, it will never be the same as when she was me and I was her, but at least it’s something.
As I reflect back on the person I was, I can’t help but wonder if other people have the same experience. I feel like a lot of people have a version of themselves they prefer. A version that was somehow nicer, happier, smarter or just better in some way. For me, striving to be this person again isn’t a bad thing, but we need to remember that there is a reason for this change. Very rarely do people get up one day and decide to change who they are without something—a person, experience, feeling—sparking that need to change. While I miss the person I used to be, there are definitely reasons I changed into the person I am now. We need to honor the reasons for change in our life and be gentle as we become the version of ourselves that adapted to change-causing events.
Without change, my nice, loving, happy-go-lucky self would not have survived—at least not in a healthy way. As a way to protect myself and my relationships, I became a new person. There’s no shame in the need to change, or in the desire to be who I once was, and my younger self would probably be proud to see how well I took care of us.
Change is a good thing, but I really do miss her full presence. I know I can never fully be her again, but I can still strive for her greatness. And if I don’t get there, she can still live as a rose-gold memory, within my mind and my writing, happily untouched by the world that took her away from me.