by: Melanie Sue
I, like many people, sometimes look back on my life and find myself rather shocked and rattled by how much I’ve changed, and how often. When I read old words I’ve written, in journals or in notes to other people, there are times I can’t identify with the author at all. I actually question whether or not I wrote them, checking the handwriting or considering if someone else could have posted it. I wonder if I dreamt or made up certain events in my life because they feel so distant, but I know the evidence says otherwise.
There are many versions of myself that have lived, and while I acknowledge that in reality they’re all Me, they feel more like people who floated in and out of my life. I know everything about them, but hardly ever see them anymore. I wish we could have our own reunion when I’m pushing 90, and we could have a few moments where we reminisce and think about how we affected one another. I’ve only undergone a few monumental changes thus far, but I’ll probably be able to fill a hotel with versions of myself at that point. And although some of them are hard to face, I’m grateful for the time we spent together.
A past version of me thought that “handling my problems” meant turning them inwards on myself and not bothering anyone else. This meant disregarding my own health and happiness until others had to shake me awake and show me that my false composure was actually tearing me apart. This person had to learn that accepting help wasn’t weakness, it was an act of self-care.
There were several innocent ones who found everything funny, who lived for even a moment with the people they loved. They were warm and sought only to put more positive energy in the world. They’d do anything for someone who needed it. They were happy and creative, giving and adventurous. I love when I am able to get in touch with them again—I think we can learn a lot through living by the example of our younger selves.
However, there was a girl who chose cruelty over stretching her mind to accept other people. She acted out of impulse and the belief that her actions were ephemeral, forgotten when she was out of sight. She’s been the hardest to forgive, and sometimes she feels like that mess of a friend I’m always picking up after and sheepishly defending. Although I don’t excuse her words or actions, I can only say that she acted out of fear and hurt.
There was another girl who thought forgiveness meant condoning and forgetting, laying down so others could walk over her more easily. She held onto anger because she thought it made her strong, but it gnawed away at her, leaving her disempowered and tense. For a long time, she applied this same unforgiving rule to herself and anxiously struggled to achieve inner peace. But each new version of me has let go of this anxiety a little more. Self-forgiveness has been a challenge for most of them.
And as I have changed, my relationship to the world has changed. There have been fleeting dreams of mine that are now so far from what I’d want today. There were erroneous beliefs that were amended as I saw more corners of the world. There were songs and quotes and photos that felt like home, and now only retain meaning for me through the memory of loving them. There are words that have been redefined for me by either losing their power or becoming a declaration of freedom upon saying them. There were places I knew how to get to by heart that I can’t find anymore.
And there were people I could read with my fingertips like Braille, but now their skin is a language I can’t decipher. I’m not sure if it’s because the words have changed, or if I’ve forgotten how to read it, the same way I’ve forgotten how to pronounce most words in French. Maybe it’s both; maybe former versions of ourselves could read each other, but the new models are mutually illiterate. You can meet this with hate or indifference, but the best response I’ve found is gracious acceptance. It’s hardly ever instantaneous—relationships, friendships, and other forms of connection are difficult to let go of because they mattered. Maybe we’re lucky for any moments in which our souls overlap with someone else’s, whether they’re as brief as one shared thought or are linked together for years like paper chains.
There are several former selves I can re-personify and name, but there are multitudes more that resulted from incremental changes throughout my life. And I’m definitely not alone in this. Each of us is constantly being re-invented, second by second. There are past identities you can hardly understand, present identities you may or may not accept, and future versions of you that you can’t even imagine yet. Every time we’re reconstructed, we get one step closer to becoming who we’re going to be. Sometimes it feels like you’re moving backwards, but even negative changes can bring us forward—they’re just a harsher push into the future.
I’m sure one day, everything I am doing, thinking, saying, writing at this instant will seem personally outdated and even embarrassing. Truthfully, I can’t predict if and when those feelings will change—but I know one day I’ll be someone else. I can’t imagine I’ve hit full self-actualization at 21, or that I’ll ever stop growing. The most I can do is accept that this is who I am at this second, right now. And every laughter soaked memory, every problem solved, every deep breath, every quiet morning, every half-asleep conversation, every total meltdown, every safe space, every lonely train ride, every walk through the woods, every forehead kiss, every slow song on a hot summer night, every short-sighted mistake, and every moment of complete and utter happiness is shaping me, and all I can do is be the best version of myself right now, whoever that turns out to be.
Melanie Sue graduated from DePaul University with a degree in communication and media with minors in sociology and gender studies. Her biggest celebrity crushes are Edward Norton, Amanda Palmer, and the country of Iceland. In her spare time she likes taking photos, spending time with lovely people, playing with cats, collecting recipes, wearing dresses/neckties, and wishing she could play the banjo.