“Distance, like the stars from our Earth, the very same distance from my heart to yours.”

The twinkle in her eyes isn’t from stardust, diamonds or pearls; Her eyes shine from her own wonder, her curious nature for everything around her. A polished stone set in metals pales to capture the allure her eyes hold, for her eyes are to alive for such similes to hold a sliver of justice.

She is not a star, some solar entity floating in space, whose light takes lifetimes to reach those around her. She is home, in that comfortable sense of belonging to something that means everything. She is the familiar creak of decade old stairs in the way her smile crinkles around the edges of her mouth, she is both the soft touch of pillows you used to build forts with siblings and the firm cushion that captured so many tired tears…

A stare from her is the reflection you saw in the mirror when you were 10, before the world and the nightmares turned all thoughts dark and your image into a shadow, something to be feared and despised. She isn’t…she wasn’t just some pretty face, some human body to pass the time with, to float through life with. She was…brilliant in how she tricked a boy into loving himself, into thinking he had a real shot..I can never hate her…I can never hate anybody because she made me focus on me..and now I can’t look away, but I don’t like what I see..and she isn’t here to quell my demons, and I’m so tired of living in the dark…I’m tired of fearing death and fearing life, of being empty of anything aside from fear..I’m running on autopilot, and I just can’t do this anymore..I need someone to save me..somebody please tell me they can save me..

“I want to give you pretty things, like seashells, forehead kisses and promises I’ll never break.”

My smile isn’t what it used to be. I’ve managed to put some miles on my smile, which is inevitable for anybody who’s ever allowed another person into their heart. That sounds negative, but it’s a neutral fact of life. Honestly, if I were to meet an adult whose smile shined as if it had never been touched, I wouldn’t trust that person. Nobody would trust that person. We would all call that smile “fake” and take everything that person told us with a grain of salt.

A smile isn’t beautiful for how big or bright it is. A smile is beautiful for the soul behind it. My smile as a kid was a big, goofy smile, with every one of my teeth out on full display. It was innocent and genuine and reflected my good fortune to have amazing parents and siblings and friends. Now my smile is a thin line that barely curls at one end. I hate showing my teeth, or even opening my mouth, so I know my smile must look miniscule compared to when I was a kid.

But I’m still smiling. I like to listen to NPR in the mornings and at lunch, and after getting through the dense political stories, they always have a lighter piece that makes me crack a smile. I like listening to my coworkers talk about their kids, and when I see the pictures of their birthday parties or trips to the beach, I can’t help but point and chuckle and smile along with everyone in my office. I like watching stand-up comedians, and short skits on YouTube, and re-runs of Who’s Line is it Anyway, and since I’m often (always) watching alone, I laugh out loud, and my mouth can’t stay closed, so all my teeth are showing, and my lips are curled up, and I can feel my cheeks lifting, and my dimples showing, but I don’t even think about it in the moment, because I’m just enjoying the moment.

I don’t have a smile at work while I’m trying to make month end adjustments on my balance sheet, but I smile a bit when it’s finally done. I don’t smile when I’m prepping up dinner for myself, but I know that when I take that first bite of a new recipe, and it’s not a complete failure of a meal, I feel a sliver of pride, and I eat my dinner with a smile on my face. I don’t smile when I’m driving to and from anywhere. I don’t smile when I’m out shopping, or shoveling snow, or applying for new jobs. I don’t smile during Autumn, nor in the weeks following the New Year, and never, ever, on May 3rd. I don’t smile more often than I do smile, but the fact remains that I do smile.

So, my smile isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still there. It’s a bit smaller, and the moments when it comes are further and further apart, but it’s still there. And as more years are added to my life, I’m sure my smile will shrink and shrink even more…but it will never fully disappear.

My smile isn’t what it used to be, but I’m still smiling, still hoping, still living. I’m still here, and that has to count for something.

It takes some time, and then some more time, and even more time, and even more, more, more… I just have to believe it’ll get better in time.

There was a girl I loved, in a way I can’t really express in words. More than just pretty, beautiful, stunning; she was light itself, curving around galaxies to catch my eye. She had the kind of voice where you never deleted her voicemails – no matter what she had to say, it was something I wanted to live. I never felt like I had to pretend, so I would say every joke that would come to mind, and she would laugh with me and laugh at me. For the first time in my life I could smile to myself, knowing someone adored my terrible British accent and was impressed with my encyclopedic knowledge of all things Hayao Miyazaki.

Not every moment was perfect; fights happened, and we both cried, tore up our throats as we woke up every neighborhood stray, went to bed after a sunrise wishing we could take back those words, as if they were accidents. Words are deliberate, and nothing can be erased, but everything can be fixed. So maybe we weren’t always perfect, but every moment, the highs and the lows, as long as they were with her it was still magical.

Perhaps I’m placing those feelings onto high a pedestal, and maybe I’m just seeing things in rose-tinted glasses, but even knowing everything I do now, with 20/20 hindsight, I wouldn’t change the course of my life – Because if I did, I probably never would have met her, and everything else could have ended up the same regardless. So even knowing how this ends, I would still pick her all over again…I’d pick her over me Every. Single. Time.