It is 2009. You are 17 and you are on fire. You have hair that's cut as short as it will go, and it doesn't bother you when people tease you for looking like a lesbian because you know you're not. You wear bows in your hair and bright colors and dresses over jeans. You know a few things very strongly: that you want a boyfriend, that Jesus loves you, that you can hate the sin and love the sinner.
You want the world to see you and hear you, but you don't know yet what you are trying to say.
It is 2011. You are 19 and you are broken. You don't wear the bows or the colors anymore and you hate everything about the you from 2009. You don't know very many things after all, it turns out. You don't have a boyfriend. You don't have Jesus either and for the first time in your entire life, you're alone inside your mind. And one cold night, a girl crawled into your bed to stay warm, but you're not ready to think too hard about that yet.
You are trying to tell the world who you are, but they don't seem to understand. So you pick up a pen and you draw.
It is 2012. You are 20 and you are going to live forever. The world is infinite and it is all in your favor. You're sleeping on couches and meeting strangers and drinking beers you're not supposed to have yet and kissing boys, and it all comes so easy. You get a tattoo of a star and a boy you like tells you it means you're a lesbian and you laugh about that, but afterward you wear a bracelet over it.
It is 2014 and it is Valentine's Day and you are crying because you know that soon you will no longer have a boyfriend and not only that but you will never have another boyfriend ever again.
It is 2015 and you are 23 and you have been nominated for an award. You are the youngest person to ever be nominated for that award, but you find yourself crying in the bathroom. Everyone has been so kind to you and you don't want to disappoint them. You are tired and you are alone. Now when people call you a lesbian you don't correct them, but the word feels strange in your mouth. It turns out that kissing girls is just as easy as kissing boys, but for some reason you can't kiss her and you don't know why and you can't stop thinking about it.
It is 2016 and you are on fire. You hope you will be the one she kisses at midnight, but when she does, everything changes. You explode like a firework and your heart breaks violently and out of the pieces something beautiful grows. She folds little paper birds for you and you make bread together, and you've never been so happy. The world has never been brighter. The world has never been darker. You wear black to Pride and you cry uncontrollably at the joyful music. You worry that they will end it just as you are beginning.
The next day, you tell the world who you are, and you never look back.
It is 2018 and you are 26 and you are so, so tired. The fire keeps burning, but your insides have turned to ash. There are blisters on your feet and a rattle in your breath, and every night the end of the world plays out in front of your wide-open eyes. You are going to fail. You are going to let everyone down. Your rabbit heart is breaking against your ribs and you are starting to suspect that you will not survive it.
It is 2019 and you are alive.
The cells of your body are dying and growing again every day, and you are always in the process of becoming something new. You're not sure yet who you will be, but you are ready to find out. You know some things a little better now, and your rabbit heart has grown steadier, and you are learning to be gentler to that soft girl with the bow in her hair who is still somewhere inside of you.
This is her story. This is my story.