slorkel.

I’m laughing at you from the couch
The new wine stain on your t-shirt
Travels all the way back up
To your pretty mouth
That is stuck in some twisted state of ecstasy
And as you roll on the ground yelling about
How you can’t breathe
And how your face hurts
I am painting a picture in my mind
Of you looking at me
From across the Scrabble board
With candlelight skin
And purple teeth
And midnight hair
Asking me if I really believe that
“slorkel” is a real word.

Copyright © Shonna Rae Bell 2015

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Dear Shonna,

How are you holding up? I hope you’re taking care of yourself. I know the days seem monotonous, like you’re living the exact same day over and over again. It may seem boring, but one day you’re going to miss the monotony – trust me. You’re going to miss having a routine and you’re going to miss the lack of pressure and responsibility. I know high school seems stressful, and it is, but it’s also the easiest your life will ever be. You probably can’t wait to get out of there and start your “real life,” but this is your real life. Believe it or not, the people you know now will be with you for a very, very long time. The memories you’re making right now will be talked about at parties, you’ll reminisce about “the good old days,” you’ll talk about how much you wish you could go back. Embrace your life right now. Enjoy it. Soak it up.

I know you feel lonely and sort of stuck. I know you’re watching all of your friends enter into relationships and you don’t understand why it hasn’t happened to you yet, and you’ve spent hours and hours analyzing every detail of yourself and wondering what’s wrong with you. I know you crave love and acceptance and it just doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards for you, but I’m telling you right now that your life is going to be filled with so much love. You’re going to make deep and honest and unbreakable connections with some of the people that are surrounding you right this very second. You’re going to share moments and make memories that will remind you what life is all about. You’ll wonder how you ever got so lucky. Stop being so hard on yourself. You are lovable, and you will see proof of that soon enough.

I heard about that boy you saw in the hallway, the one that made you stop in your tracks and wonder what planet he came from. He’ll become a big part of your life. You’ll fall in love with him and it will be one of the purest things you’ve ever felt – an honest, selfless, and all-consuming kind of love. And you will have your heart broken, but you’ll be okay. You’ve got to learn right now what you’re worth and what you deserve, and what this boy puts you through will make you question those things. But you’ve gotta fight and you’ve gotta focus on all of the love and positivity around you and you’ll realize that even though what you feel is real, he doesn’t deserve you. You’re going to hurt for a really long time, but don’t be afraid. This boy is going to teach you so much about yourself and you’ll be a better person when it’s all over.

Your parents are pretty intense, huh? So many rules, so many things you aren’t allowed to do, and I know it feels like you’re suffocating and you’re never going to escape. But they’ll ease up after a while and you’re going to go on so many adventures. You’ll travel and you’ll see different cities just like you’ve always wanted to do. Just hold tight, your time is coming.

One thing I can’t stress enough – keep working on your art! Keep playing guitar and singing – soon enough you’ll be writing songs and people will love them. Don’t question yourself, just put everything you are into what you create. Good things will come from it, I promise. You’ll find a confidence and a meaning inside yourself that you never knew was possible.

One final piece of advice: don’t wish your life away. Be present in every single moment, no matter how boring, painful, or pointless it may seem. Find beauty wherever you are. Enjoy your youth, celebrate it, exist in it, and don’t take a single second for granted. You’re going to experience loss in the worst way possible and you’ll learn how fragile you really are and how short life really is, but you can’t let that scare you out of living.

You’re only a teenager for a second. Make it count.

Erstwhile.

He’s here, and we’re at my favorite place. The tree that I’ve considered my foundation since childhood stands and waves like it’s welcoming us – the ocean singing and celebrating behind it. We keep our distance from each other, as we always have, and he walks ahead of me to take in the view.

“I can see why you love it here,” he says as I approach. I smile and let his presence consume me while I try to reconcile the fact that he has entered into the location of my most private memories, my sacred place, my home. I’m nervous because I know that if he leaves, this place will never be the same for me. It will be soiled. It will be darkened and I will never get it back.

We circle each other, calculate our moves to ensure we don’t overstep any boundaries. We are friends, but we are also very aware that our connection runs much deeper than that. As he glances up at me through his eyelashes, I’m reminded of the line that Edmund says to Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park: “Surely you and I are beyond speaking when words are clearly not enough.”

We rarely speak. We communicate mostly by meeting in stares, or by the electricity that forms between our bodies if we stand too close to one another. I know his soul. I know his thoughts by looking at his face, at his hands. I’ve never known anyone as well as I do him. I’ve never shared as comfortable a silence with anyone as I do with him – a silence that somehow still says so much.

When the sun starts to set, and the blue green of the ocean is contrasted against the pinks and oranges of the sky, I pull out my disposable camera. I want to keep this moment forever. I want to be able to carry it with me. I beckon him over and we stand in front of my tree – his arm hanging over my shoulders, his cheek resting on the top of my head. I hold the camera out and begin to count, “one….two….three…” and the second before my finger presses the shutter release, his lips press against my cheek.

My face feels like it’s on fire, and the flames spread throughout my whole body but I’m frozen in place. I lower the camera, afraid to look at him because I know my cheeks are flushed, but I can feel him staring, trying to read me. I have to make a decision quickly before his closeness suffocates me: either I can acknowledge what just happened and make it out to be more than it was or I can laugh it off, call him a dork, walk away. I choose the latter.

When I raise my eyes to his though, I’m met with a patient intensity that I’ve never seen before. There’s a slight smile on his mouth. His eyes are sparkling. I can’t think of anything to say, I can’t think of anything save for the fact that not enough air is reaching my lungs. I’m not breathing. My heart is pounding so hard that it rings in my ears. I make an instinctive decision: I smile and roll my eyes and begin to step away, but his hand catches the crook of my elbow and pulls me back with enough force that I only stop moving when our mouths crash together.

I can feel every particle of his skin as his fingers touch my neck, cradle my head, get tangled in my hair – hesitant at first, and then hungry. My brain is swimming, my lungs are burning, my knees are buckling. I grab hold of his denim jacket for support as our lips break apart and he rests his forehead against mine. We just stand there for a moment completely still except for the quick rising and falling of our chests.

Suddenly, he begins to move. He takes my face in his hands, touches his lips to my forehead so softly I can barely feel it, and steps back, his cheeks flushed. He glances down at his feet sheepishly and all I want to do grab hold of him and never let him go. But I know what we are and I know that this is just another memory of home that I’ll be able to hold onto.

Our eyes meet for one last time and we both know that as soon as this stare breaks, this will be over and we’ll go back to how we used to be: circling each other, keeping our distance. I smile at him, making sure that everything about how he looks is burned into my memory – his hands in his pockets, his eyes sort of glazed, his brows slightly furrowed, and the sun setting behind him. It takes all of my strength to pull my eyes away from his.

I begin to walk back towards the car. He follows, but not too close.

beanie courtesy of @charlavail

The past week has been a wild one. I got some really exciting and potentially life changing news that I can’t really talk about yet, but the opportunity I’m being presented with is amazing in and of itself. I also just got home from visiting friends in NC, and every time I’m there I’m overwhelmed with this sense of gratitude and contentment – like my soul has been rejuvenated. I’m so hyper aware of how lucky I am to have such amazing people in my life and I can’t even understand why I’ve been so fortunate, but I think it all comes down to positive energy. If there’s anything I’ve learned in recent months/years, it’s that you really do get what you give.

Energy is so important. What you think and feel puts some sort of aura around you and it makes you glow, and that light attracts other people that feel the same way – like a moth to a flame. I’ve definitely hit some rough times in my life, times where I’ve doubted myself or felt bad for myself or felt frustrated and helpless… but I’ve always remained true to who I am, and that’s something that I’m really proud of. I feel like life just wears you down, it tries to strip you of originality or identity, it picks at you when you’re the most vulnerable and tries to change you into someone you don’t even recognize. It tries to make you cold and cynical, and it can become this void that you’re lost in where you can’t see the beauty that surrounds you.

It is crucial to shamelessly be yourself, especially throughout your teenage years and early twenties, because if you lose who you are during those impressionable years, the odds of finding yourself again are slim. Even if people aren’t accepting you or you feel like you aren’t good enough or cool enough or talented enough, you must always accept and embrace everything about yourself. Do everything with love and light, and it may take some time, but those things will begin to come back to you. I promise.

In the last year, I’ve really tried to be the best version of myself. I’ve been actively not letting myself dwell on negative things, I’ve only been celebrating the good. I’ve let go of people that have had a negative influence on my life, who have used me and taken me for granted, and I’ve been focusing on people who truly love and appreciate me. When you rid yourself of toxic relationships and live your life with a kind and loving heart, bad things can’t touch you. They just can’t. The light you give off illuminates the darkness and the monsters can’t get to you. It’s an amazing feeling that I can’t really put into words. It takes a while to climb the mountain of positive thinking, but once you get there, the view is like nothing you’ve ever seen. Once you accept the hand that the universe has dealt you, and you recognize all the beauty in every single day that you’re given and have faith that everything happens exactly the way it’s supposed to, life becomes so much less scary.

For the first time in a while I’m really excited about what the future holds. I feel the winds of change blowing and they’re pushing me towards the path I’m meant to be on. I’m excited for this journey and to see how everything unfolds. Not only for myself, but for those that I love. Things are changing, life is happening, and we’re all headed toward somewhere so beautiful.

twenty-six.

My eyelids shiver lazily and
open to find you driving
in the middle of the night as
the moon kisses your face,
making you look like a boy
and a man
at the same time.

There’s an old woman rasping
on the radio
and you haven’t noticed that
I’m awake.

So I just watch you and think about how I
was just a broken little girl
until your hands,
worn and strong and gentle,
put me back
together
without hesitation or
sympathy.

And as the cool air
turns my hair into a wispy
tangled mess,
you smile without glancing
over and say
you love me too.

Copyright © Shonna Rae Bell 2015

twenty-five.

What is it that makes us unhappy? What is it that makes us feel like we’re stuck? That we’re nothing more than hamsters running as fast as we can but no matter what, we can’t break free from that wheel of everyday life? Of monotony and boredom?

I have often found myself reflecting on the year 2013. A lot of people who know me have heard me talk about how that was the best year of my life. I got to travel to so many places and experience so many things and it was a year of growth and freedom. However, in the background, my personal life was in shambles. The year that I have often thought of as the absolute best it will ever be was also one of the darkest, most taxing years of my life. I was lost in so many ways, but I also think that that year taught me about miracles. That every single time you feel like giving up, something beautiful happens that reminds you why you’re alive, and why you’re lucky to be. 2013 taught me that instead of trying to run from darkness, I should just carry a flashlight.

That flashlight is positive thinking. Over the last few months, I have felt the earth shift beneath my feet. I made a conscious decision to be happy, to always be sure to find the beauty that is surrounding me because it is there – we just sometimes turn our heads away. It is okay to be sad. It is okay to be upset about things, to be frustrated and afraid. But when that sadness and fear becomes overwhelming – when it starts overtaking who you are and affecting your day to day life – you need to make a drastic change. And that change can happen in a second, like the flip of a switch.

For a long time, I suffered from that horrible habit of comparing myself to others. I won’t lie, I still catch myself doing it sometimes. I still feel envy and I get upset that I can’t have the things that I want. What I’ve started to do recently when I find myself feeling that way is I begin a countdown of all the things I’m thankful for. I make a mental checklist of all the people that I have in my life that love me, and do so more than I could ever deserve. I relive happy memories and let myself relish in the fact that I will have the opportunity to make more of those memories. I think about spending autumn afternoons exploring used book stores and I think about soy mochas and I think about that one song that just sets my heart on fire. I think about all the things that have ever made me happy, and I’m often overcome with this incredible feeling of gratitude. All of the envy is washed away, and I realize that if I wasn’t who I am, I would probably be jealous of me.

I know that seems sort of like a self-centered way of thinking, but sometimes you have to do that to put things into perspective. I have stopped taking anything for granted. I very often realize when I’m experiencing a beautiful moment, and I’m not afraid to verbalize it. I can’t even count how many times I’ve turned to a friend and said, “I’m so happy to be in this moment and I’m so happy you’re here with me.” I remember being in Washington D.C. with my friends Kate and Amy early last year. It was night time and the moon was shining and we were standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial and I stopped what I was doing and I said, “I just wanted you guys to know that this has been one of the best days and I’m so glad I’m experiencing it with you guys.” I don’t hold back anymore. I’ve realized the amount of love I have in my life and I feel like if I don’t release a little bit of it back into the universe, I might explode.

I feel like as soon as I switched gears in my brain, everything else fell into place. I started putting faith in the universe and I began truly believing that everything happens exactly the way it’s supposed to. You get what you give. If you block yourself off from positive and happy possibilities, they won’t come to you. They are always trying to, though. Positive experiences are around you constantly, you just have to open your eyes and see them. For the first time in my life, I am totally content with where I am. And more importantly, I have learned that you don’t have to do these huge, pretty, flashy things to be happy. You don’t have to travel the country and have all these crazy experiences to be happy. Every single moment is filled with so much fun, joy, and love.

Now, instead of having some goal that I need to be happy, I find happiness in the tiniest moments. I find happiness in staying up all night watching weird horror movies with my friend, Macie. I find happiness in playing with my friend Steph’s beautiful twin baby girls. I find happiness in watching Netflix and crafting with my friend, Taylor. I find happiness in dancing to Taylor Swift with my friend, John. I find happiness in thrifting with my brother. I find happiness in having lunch with my friend, Ashley. I find happiness in taking my mom to see her favorite dancer. I find happiness in curling up in the cafe on campus and reading a book. I find happiness in watching The X-Files while I put away laundry. I find happiness in falling asleep with my cat, Max.

I find happiness every single day because I choose to. Will you?

twenty-four.

If I’ve learned anything the last few years, it’s that you can’t chase happiness. You can’t build something up inside your head and think that if you ever get it, you’ll finally be happy. 9 times out of 10, you’ll end up disappointed. Trust me, I know from experience. Happiness must come from within oneself.

I’ve spent a long time chasing happiness. I’ve moved to different places, I’ve gotten jobs that I always thought would be the coolest jobs to have, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time loving people that could not or would not ever love me back, all in a desperate hunt for that elusive happiness. The whole time, though, I don’t think I ever understood what happiness is. Sure, I’d felt it. I’m really good at making a conscious effort to be entirely present when I feel happy, to completely be alive in that moment. But those moments always seemed to be fleeting and it was never absolute. In my day to day life, there was always something missing. There was always some piece of the puzzle that wasn’t in place, be it my location, my lackluster love life, my job or my school or whatever. If something was off, then I wasn’t happy. I couldn’t be. Everything had to be exactly how it was in my head. I had to be at my dream school and be dating the love of my life and I had to have my friends near me and I had to have an awesome job and I had to be in Virginia with my family and the list goes on and on and it is just absolutely goddamn unattainable and I knew that, but it didn’t matter. I needed all of those things to be “happy.” I somehow managed to condition myself into thinking that way. So yeah, I’d have good moments, but that’s all they were. Blips of good fortune on the radar of a rather bleak life. This way of thinking leads to a pretty sad and unfulfilling existence, if you can imagine.

Over the last few weeks, things started culminating. It seemed like everything I ever wanted was finally coming my way. I wanted to live near my friends, I wanted to try, once and for all, to win over the guy I’d been pining over for years (my first mistake, really. If you have to “win them over,” it’s not fucking worth it. I know that, now.), and I wanted to get accepted to my dream school. So, I moved down to North Carolina and applied to my dream school and I felt like maybe this was it. Maybe this was finally my chance at true and complete happiness. Well, a bit of time has passed and not only did things not go the way I wanted them to, they went in the complete opposite direction. I’ve watched some of my most sacred relationships crumble before my eyes. I was rejected by the only school I have ever wanted to go to. Oh, and it turns out dudes are dicks. So yeah. I didn’t really achieve the blissful happiness I craved. Or did I?

I’m only realizing now, after having an eye opening and life changing couple of weeks, that happiness truly comes from within. I’ve heard that song before, but I never really understood it. I’m still not sure exactly what it means, but I think it has something to do with realizing that everything is as it should be. You may not always get what you want. You may not always have those amazing things you build up in your head. You may get beat down and you may get dragged through the dirt and everything you believe in could be a total fucking lie. But just rest easy. You will always have everything you need.

I feel the winds of change blowing. I know that even though things may not have turned out exactly how I wanted them to, they happened the way I needed them to. I’ve learned so much these last few weeks about myself and about life and about growth and change. I’ve learned that sometimes you need to let things go, even though you’ve been fighting for so long to hold on that your knuckles are turning white. Sometimes things need to change and that’s completely okay.

I’m ready to go forward in my life with no expectations, with no “visions of how things should be.” I’m ready to take each day as it comes and see what happens.