I have two photos sitting in front of me.
One is of a girl with bright red hair wearing a black tank top. She looks so young and happy, no makeup on her face, leaning against a man who she already knows every inch of, body and soul.
At least she believes she does. With youth comes naivety, and the golden dream of first love. She isn’t wrong though in knowing that what she feels will never fade. Never change.
Even she can tell when something reaches inside her, and shapes her soul, forever finding a place in the ink that runs through her veins.
In the second is a young lady, a bridesmaid in a bridal party. You cannot see the red in her hair. It is only glimpsed when her hair spills down around her shoulders, and the light catches the ends where it still has not quite faded…
Her hair isn’t down though. Curled up into a twist at the base of her neck, with only a few strands loose around her face, she is looking up at the groomsman her arm is linked with. Dark eyelashes go with cheeks brushed with blush. Roses are tucked into her hair. The smile on her face is careful, but true, her reaction to him measured in a way she once could not have imagined.
She is poised and beautiful.
And she is a stranger.
He is as well, that man who wears his suit with the ease of having grown up in one. Yet he is the first, and only one, to have made her look at someone like that since him. And she can forgive his strangeness for that.
They have one thing in common, that girl and that young lady. They have me.
But I feel like I have nothing in common with either of them.
That girl, not yet twenty but learning what it was like to experience something ageless? I can still feel her inside me. I want to stretch back into her, embrace her hope, fold myself into the warmth of her gaze.
But she does not fit me any longer, not since he left her out in the cold and the rain, and she shrank. Or maybe I grew, trying to swallow the darkness before it could swallow me. Before anyone could look at my smile and see it clenched between my teeth.
That young lady? She is too graceful for me. I could not hide my awkwardness in her curves. Nor my brokenness in the softness she carries. Where is the bluntness of youth in the tilt of her head? Where is the chaos of my mind in her self-contained presence? How could I ever pull the strands of who I am into the semblance of her? How could I ever look at him and find a friend, a lover, when he holds none of the raw passion, and hot, smooth skin, that that red-haired girl once found the world in?
I want to be neither, and I want to be both.
I want him back, want to feel my body entwined so naturally with someone else’s that I feel naked without him against me once more. And yet knowing he fitted himself with others, even though none fell so easily into him as I did, drives me from him.
And I want this man, this new man, who kisses me in the dark without warning, kisses me confidently, kisses me softly. Who I do not understand, who intrigues me and terrifies me. Who leaves my mind and body tingling in a way I have only ever felt once before… And yet I cannot imagine being addicted to his skin, or imagine our edges blurring together as we fall asleep. Where we are more comfortable hot and sweaty together than with any space between us.
I cannot go back to that girl. She is lost to me now, and I fear the man who lead her into the darkness is as well.
But this young lady… I do not know if I am capable of walking in her shoes yet. I’ve always wobbled in heels, only ever able to maintain balance for picture perfect moments.
And I’m not sure she is entirely what I wish to be, though there is much about her I admire.
But I know one thing.
I no longer want to see strangers in the photographs where I should be.
I want to see my smile, and have the muscles that made it twitch in recognition.
I want to be at home in my own skin.