1. The moment I saw the dress, I fell in love. It was a soft blue and sparkled in the light, so different from my usual uniform of t-shirts and leggings that the popular girl in my class always made fun of. I wore it proudly to school and smiled so hard it hurt when my classmates complimented me — for the first time in a long time, I felt pretty. Later at recess, I lost my balance on the playground and dove right onto the blacktop. My teacher fretted over my arms and legs that were scraped open, raw, but all I could see was blue stained dark red.
2. It had been a year since my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and I’d been told she was doing better. “She’ll be back to normal in no time,” everyone assured me. But the mother who had raised me used to laugh and sing and smile with her eyes, not just her mouth. That was a woman no amount of chemo or radiation could ever bring back.
3. He was all sharp elbows and knobby knees and a smile that set my heart on fire — I always blushed when I married him in MASH. It was the first real crush I ever had, and it was thrilling and terrifying and everything in between. Then one day my best friend went rogue, cornered him on the foursquare court and asked if he’d be my date for Valentine’s Day. Later she told me he’d shrugged and said, “If no one else asks me, I guess.”
4. I was 14 years old and somehow I felt everything and nothing at once. When anyone asked, I said I was fine, I was great, I was fan-fucking-tastic, but I hadn’t slept in months and was sneaking away extra pills and couldn’t stop thinking about dying. I almost thought I fooled them, too, until one day my cousin looked at me and said, “You know, I never see you smile anymore.”
5. It was the first time I had ever been in love, the big L-O-V-E, the kind where you can’t sleep and you can’t eat but somehow you feel better than you’ve ever felt before. Everything about him made me feel weightless and alive — frighteningly so. He asked me to hang out that night, said he’d call when he was ready, so I put on my favorite outfit and let my friend do my makeup as we waited, giddy, with my phone sitting between us. But then my friend had to leave, and it was just me and my phone lying on the mattress, and the clock on the wall was ticking past midnight, and my eyelids were growing heavy, heavy, heavy. I woke up the next morning in my favorite outfit, half my makeup smudged on my pillow, the phone still silent beside me.
6. It was my 22nd birthday and things were going a little too well. My professor bought me coffee and my coworkers brought me gifts and my friends threw a surprise party I pretended I didn’t expect. I smiled and laughed and drank and ignored the feeling gnawing deep down in my gut. Later that night at the bar, though, when someone pulled me aside to ask if I was having a good time, I started crying and couldn’t seem to stop. Everything about that day was perfect, right, except for maybe me.
7. He told me we wouldn’t work out, not because of our feelings but because of the circumstances. Or maybe it was sort of because of our feelings — we were too intense, too attached, too much. I said I completely understood and spent the rest of the afternoon riding around town in the passenger seat of his car, pretending my heart hadn’t just shattered on the floor of my stomach.
8. I was five years old and playing in my grandparents’ basement when I stepped on a needle that went right through my foot. “I’ll just pull it out,” my cousin assured me, but I started crying as I watched her slowly peel my skin off. I’d never known that kind of pain before, never felt something quite so acutely. When my mom finally showed up, she managed to work the needle out as I sobbed into her shirt. “Where does it hurt?” she asked, pulling the Neosporin out of her bag, but I couldn’t tell her. It was as if it had disappeared completely. I was too young to understand that sometimes the pain that tears you apart in the moment is the same kind you’ll look back on and wonder if you ever really felt it at all.