Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I believe that we are all someone’s little songbird.
Watching the flickering shadows dance across their faces, I sat examining the two brilliant women sitting adjacent to me in the bar’s booth. United through our time spent studying at the London College of Fashion, I found myself drawn to the creative energy of the pair immediately. We have remained in touch after landing back on American soil many years ago. One found her way into my heart, and into my life, as the best friend I’ve never had. She understands and sees the real me, and in turn has transformed the way I communicate with the powerful women in my circle. The other, has acted as an artistic role model over the years, chasing her dreams of a higher education within the fashion world. It has always been clear to me she will achieve greatness, destined for a future filled with her beautiful creations. She is wise beyond her years and listens with open ears and an open heart. Together, these two women are some of the most inspirational creatives I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
As we sat in a dimly lit booth toasting to our friendship, the warmth of my whiskey, the aroma of the East Village, and the twinkling candlelight on our tabletop filled my soul. Laughing, crying, and reminiscing together, we found a common thread of romantic growth emphasized amongst the three of us. As we exchanged stories of personal pain and romantic regret, we couldn’t help but smile at the emotional growth we had all experienced over the past three years of friendship. Discussing cliche proverbs that have established clarity for her, the eldest amongst us spoke:
“Imagine you are in an open field. The sunshine beams down on your face as the song of nature engulfs you. The long grass slowly waves to you as a warm breeze tickles your bare arms. As you inhale deeply, the fresh air fills your lungs. As you squint up at the clear bright blue sky, you hold your arms upon your sides to embrace the pure immensity of the field. Swiftly, a songbird swoops down in your direction, landing gently on your extended hand. Up close, the small bird is fragile, with bright eyes and curious nature about it. You can make out the intricacies of the bird’s feathers, the sun reflecting off its small beak, and you can feel the connection of the bird’s feet grasping on to your finger. As you spend time admiring the bird, you feel an overwhelming urge come over you to capture the wild beautiful creature, to claim it for your own. Perhaps the bird can sense this desire, and as swiftly as the bird lands, it flies off. Rather than mourn the loss of the connection, you reflect on the time you spent together. Appreciating the moment for what it was, you cherish the bird for granting you the lesson of gratitude and acknowledgment. Nothing is permanent. While the songbird may have flown off, it is necessary to understand that this fact of life does not reverse the time spent together.”
While that night was a blur of sweat dripping down our faces as we danced the night away, this small story has stuck with me, outlasting the hangover and my friends’ visits in New York City. Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve found myself examining the ways in which I’ve healed and grown from my past and current relationships.
I have always been someone who chases.
Attempting to capture the songbirds, I have forced them into metaphorical cages, placed them on pedestals, and blinded myself to their true beauty. Ultimately, I’ve misunderstood them. I love, obsess, and idealize to a fault. My passion often hinders self-reflection. My weakness for hopeless romance often leads me to rely on those who will inevitably fail in fulfilling my unrealistic ideals.
Though I have admiration for happy endings, I am cynical, fearful of songbirds who wish to stay. Throughout my romantic experiences, I have learned lessons the hard way. I have been cheated on and I have cheated. I have been lied to and have lied. I have been the other woman. I have waited years for someone who will never choose me. I have taken others for granted. I have been broken. These feelings are not shared to garner pity, rather, it is to showcase my lack of innocence in causing pain. I am far from perfect, but I am not letting that stop me from trying to improve. Rather than succumb to self-doubt, I am attempting to be vulnerable with myself, honest and forgiving, for I make mistakes just as often as (or quite possibly more than) others.
For far too long, I had believed that I was weak if I experienced misery after a songbird flew away. I’ve attempted to keep myself distracted through vices and work, avoiding the inevitable wave of pain that was to wash over me following the most recent departure. Nonetheless, I’ve witnessed the detrimental destruction of silencing your grief and emotional healing, something that society notably demands too often from males fresh out of breakups.
Following the poor and untimely resolution of my last relationship, a two and a half year turbulent and valuable romance, I had no idea how to handle myself. He was my best friend, intertwining our lives in and out of our university life. Families met. Flights booked. Apartments shared. We shared friends, secrets, hopes, and dreams. While we were far from perfect together, we were good. He taught me how to appreciate the small moments, the unexpected sweep-you-off your-feet-to-dance-in-a-kitchen type of moments. He showed me kindness and appreciation and what healthy love should feel like. I will forever cherish the moments we shared, exploring upstate together, and challenging our preconceived notions of what entails a relationship, a game of chess, a strong whiskey, or a properly seasoned carbonara. I still smile fondly when I recall the way his eyes would light up when he figured out an answer to the New York Times Crossword, a habit we would fall asleep to on weeknights.
Graduating one year before him, I took monthly trips back up to our campus in northern New York State. He would board a bus down to the city, slowly warming up to the idea of calling this city his new home post-graduation. Before I knew it, our communication had unraveled, and our bond was broken. The intimate details of our relationship and our differences will stay between us.
Despite the pain and betrayal I have experienced, I have nothing but kind things to say about this songbird. I am healing, with most days better than others. Some days, I forget that he existed as a constant in my life, content with my individual self. Some days, I live with a vibrancy that has been absent in my daily routines and creative vision for months, even years. Some days, I fall in love with a version of myself who calls New York City her nest, and those who inhabit the city, future songbirds with lessons to teach. However, some days, I am a mess. Some days, getting out of bed feels as if I am being asked to summit Mount Everest. Some days, nothing goes right. Some days, I get drunk. Some days, I get really drunk and run into that very songbird who crushed my heart and act anything but ladylike. Some days, I cry a lot, regretting my past behavior, wondering if there was more I could have done to show my appreciation and love.
Despite my ability to often articulate my feelings through writing, the shared proverb of the songbird was able to summarize a healing process I have been unable to previously accept. I have found myself writing versions of this column over and over again, fearful to discuss the songbird. Though our relationship will remain between us, the lessons I have learned will be shared. This is my healing, far from linear and predictable.
As it goes, all will eventually end. The songbirds will fly away, taking with them the future, leaving behind the past. Memories are yours’, shared between the two. We shared love, and now, we are free to take the lessons learned from the connection and share that love with others. Rather mourn the conclusion of a relationship, I’d argue we must focus on celebrating the shared experience. While cliche, there is something to be said for the phrase “it’s not about the destination, rather it is about the journey” (don’t worry, I am rolling my eyes as well). Everchanging, our relationships reflect the personal growth we endure. Rather than attempt to control the moments, the proverb reminds us we must simply enjoy.
I am terrified to be this honest. I am discovering a version of myself I have feared for a lifetime: softer, more intimate and vulnerable. Previously, I have hid behind my hard exterior, presenting a false confidence and false invincibility. I have learned that by refusing to let the songbirds in, you will simply drive them away. In order to live vibrantly, I have accepted that I must allow emotions to process naturally. Bliss may surprise me just as often as a wave of grief. To live grey is to suppress these extremes.
It feels as if it is time to romanticize the process of falling in love with myself. It is time for my vibrant, messy, emotional, passionate song. I am far from perfect. I am far from easy. I am searching for the most intense connection I can find. While this may not be what works best for everyone romantically, I have begun to understand what I eventually desire in a partner.
For now, I want to cultivate those traits within myself; strength, patience, vulnerability, empathy, and loyalty. For now, all I need is myself. For now, I’m going to be my own songbird.
Feature Image via Jessica Golightly