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 in the power of reflection in congruence with change.
I believe that I no longer recognize the woman who once headlined this very column, the twenty-three-year-old version of myself that was far from her best. While I still believe in extravagant balloons, over-frosted cakes, thoughtful exchanges, and handwritten cards, I no longer believe in all the things the young woman I once was, did when I wrote of “Twenty-Three Candles”.
Here is to this year’s twenty-four candles, for twenty-four new beginnings.
Over the past year, I have watched the reflection of a twenty-three-year-old young woman transform in her childhood mirror. Many days, she remained brave, holding out hope for a sense of stability. Other days, she was overcome with grief, mourning the loss of a unified circle of support, longing for her long-lost Lower East Side apartment. Every day, she ended the night looking into her big, bright, not-so-green not-so-blue eyes, asking herself if she was proud of her daily decisions. And while most days, she was, those nights where her reflection depicted a hopeless and distressed young woman, haunted her relentlessly.
She was born in a season of thanks. A season synonymous with the first snowfall, the first (now, reluctantly small) gatherings of loved ones, and the first bake of glutinous comfort treats. Regardless of these season heartwarming firsts, this year is far from the first of last time she will be wishing for self-forgiveness on a set of birthday candles. However, at twenty-four candles, she has found a softness, a gentle understanding that alluded prior wishes, a sense of acceptance regarding her inability to control the world around me, a sense that has blessed all too many of us this year. Just as I stated last year, my reflection is far from who I will be when I am greeted with twenty-five candles, and am far from who I was when I blew out twenty-three.
Nonetheless, the reflection I notice nowadays is of an independent, caring, expressive, confident, and passionate young woman, daughter, sister, partner, creative, writer, friend, and individual. She, along with every one of us, has weathered the storm of 2020. She has redefined her relationship with the woman in the mirror, respecting her gut intuitions, her mental and physical well-being, and her desire to chase dreams in a way she was previously unable to able. She struggles to accept the past and her ill-advised choices, but she is learning to welcome undesirable outcomes. Most noteworthy, the reflection depicts an individual who is confident of her identity while maintaining a successful romantic partnership. In the past, the reflection split her energy between chasing down romantic companionship and taking care of herself. Often, she would dedicate more of her love to her partner, foregoing the tender care she also requires. After twenty-four years, she trusts her heart to lead her into relationships that build her up rather than break her down. Fueled by self-appreciation, she found the strength to enter a romantic relationship that values her. For the first time in her life, she and I feel seen, heard, and loved in a healthy and respectful manner.
After time spent romanticizing her relationship with the voyeur in the mirror, she began to redefine the key factors that made her unique. When asked to strip away inconsequential and frivolous labels, who is she? What does she stand for? Where are her moral lines? What sparks her inner flame? What risks extinguishing her light? What does she need? What does she desire?
As she stares back at me in my childhood mirror, I can’t help but notice my pulse began to race, just as it did when asked my twenty-three-year-old self these same questions. Rather than my Lower East Side’s white porcelain vanity, my hands steady themselves on the cool stone of my parent’s vanity. Running the faucet, I splash cool water across my face, temporarily severing ties with the reflection. As droplets run down her face, I watch as she examines ours. The once, strong jawline, now softer, rounder like her overall appearance, juxtapose against her thin delicate lips. Severe eyebrows rise and fall in sync with her analysis of our appearance. The line of freckles stretching from her right cheek to top of her left lip. Her large eyes behind the long dark lashes, fluttering, a flicker of sadness flashes. This is our face, the face of twenty-four candles, and twenty-four reasons to be grateful for her growth.
Unlike last year, I will not slip into my favorite party dress. This year, I will step into a cozy outfit, locking one hand intertwined with my partner’s, with the other hand wrapped in my new puppy’s leash, on our way to a socially distanced dinner to blow out my twenty-four candles. We will sit on the back porch of our new favorite Italian restaurant nestled in the heart of Brooklyn’s residential neighborhoods. Sounds of the city I miss so dearly swirl around me, as a restaurant of distanced strangers sing the chorus “happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear…”. I will beam with joy. At the end of the night, I will wipe the makeup off a face that doesn’t yet belong to me, and call my beautiful friends that would normally be dancing in a dimly lit apartment with me. I will smile as my dear partner hands me a glass of celebratory wine, and kisses me on the forehead. This is a forehead that belongs to a woman who has come to terms with the mistakes of the past, accepting her flaws, understanding she is about to make a whole year’s worth of new ones. Neither my partner, my reflection, nor I hold the answers to our questions, and we both understand that this truly is cause for celebration. Regardless of what you may call it, this sense of self-forgiveness, self-satisfaction, and self-love is something I’ve been searching for all of my young life.
Regardless of measurable progress, it is necessary to celebrate growth, especially in a year so turbulent and decisive as this. When I recall writing “Twenty-Three Candles”, I reminisce on the sense of freedom and optimism felt for 2020 back in November of 2019. We all had no clue what was awaiting us, who we would become, what we would lose, the anger and confusion and fear we would feel. Yet, another year has come and gone in the stories of our lives. We have grown, some together, some apart. Our reflections coming in and out of focus, intertwining, jumping from mirror to mirror as we move, socially distance, remain remote, isolated, far from physical factors that define us. For me, my reflection now lives in my childhood mirror, a reflection that has been redefined over and over and over again.
I believe in the power of reflection in congruence with change. I believe in self-growth, self- reflection, and self-acceptance. I believe the power of twenty-three candles grows exponentially once they become twenty-four.