I imagine myself pulling out a frayed old box from the closet. It has a film of dust on the top that I instinctively blow off. There’s a photo of me on the top—it’s from my 25th birthday. My two nieces are sitting on my lap, helping me blow out the candles on my McCain chocolate cake. It’s one of my favorite memories.
I take the box over to my bed and open it. It’s filled with puzzle pieces. I can only assume that it’s the puzzle of the photo on the top of the box, but as I finger the tiny pieces, I can see words written on them—phrases. It can’t be just that photo. It has to be more.
* * *
I’m sitting at the dinner table. My dad is seated to my left at the head of the table, my older sister to my right, my mother is across from me, my brother not yet born. I begin to tell a story about what happened at school that day, but I’m taking too long. I’m trying to find the perfect words to tell the story, but they’re having a hard time moving from my mind to my mouth. The story loses steam, a perfect opening for my sister to start talking.
I am INVISIBLE.
* * *
It’s six in the morning on a Friday. I’m sitting at the island in my parents’ kitchen, enjoying the stillness of the house. My brother walks into the kitchen, I feel like I never see him anymore, so I start to ask him questions. I know he’s not a morning person, but I continue asking anyway until he pulls a face and walks away.
I am CURIOUS.
* * *
I’m in a car with an older guy. I snuck out of the house to meet him. I think we’re just going to talk and flirt like they do in the movies. I want him to call me beautiful; I want him to tell me more about himself. I quickly realize that we have different ideas of how this night will go.
I am NAIVE.
* * *
I’m sitting in my bedroom. My mom painted the walls blue and white using a sponge technique. They remind me of clouds—I get lost in them. I pull out a notebook and a pen and fill the pages with stories made of fact and fiction. I gush about my crush, I vent about my family, and I dream about the future. My room is the sky and the key to feeling free.
I am a WRITER.
* * *
I hear the buzz buzz vibrations coming from the girl in the chair beside me. I’m 18 years old in a tattoo parlor downtown with my best friend and her brother’s older girlfriend. We’re getting tattoos. I ask for a heart on my lower left hip, close enough to my vagina that you can’t even see it in my underwear. My parents don’t know that I’m there.
I am a REBEL.
* * *
I’m in the car; my husband is driving. I say something silly in reply to a serious question. I see his cheeks lift into a smile, one that reaches his eyes. I hear his laugh start to rumble in his stomach before it reaches his lips and then my ears.
I am FUNNY.
* * *
I am STUBBORN. I am ANXIOUS. I am AFRAID OF CHANGE. I am IN LOVE. I am a TIA.
Those are the phrases on the puzzle pieces, as well as countless others. There are many that I want to leave out. For a moment I think that it might be better to have a puzzle filled with holes rather than the full picture. I am smart enough to know that all of those phrases are part of me. Some are part of my past self, while others are part of the woman I am today.
I am ever changing. Ever learning. Ever growing.
I am Vanessa.