to all the girls i've been before

July 7, 2021 / Clarissa Rodriguez Abrego

Old and young and definitely a teen girl.

Teen girls show us the depths only some of us are fortunate enough to get to and how undeniably capable a girl’s body is of ecstasy and rage in the same breath.

Some people can’t help but stare in awe at the dashes of pink blush, the white aura surrounding them, their effortless belief in the juxtaposition of prints while wearing their souls at the tips of their fingers. They look at the way these girls intertwine limbs with their best friends at the mall, their steps in unison, as if becoming everyone and one at once were a palpable possibility — and you might even start to believe it.

Others simply want to rip them apart — mock the screams they let out when their crush texts back, dissect the ways they dedicate their whole, small beings to the very things they love. Or, they mock the way friendship bracelets are like heirlooms, and plastering quotes on the back of their notebooks becomes a ritual. The names of those they thought would love forever somehow add up to a series of bright, bold hearts, jotted down with such devotion, the lines almost blur into a cardiogram. Their rooms, a shrine of what makes up the whole of them, are something more substantial than blood and tissue. How absolutely everything is big and important to them, how simple it is for them to go up, up, up — only to come crashing down all over again.
Then, somewhere in-between the lines, teen girl starts to fade. More accurately, she’s stripped away. Teen girl realizes her strength. Teen girl shrinks down. Teen girl feels or thinks ⁠— or is? ⁠— simply too much. Like the favorite top she can’t seem to get out of, her colors wash and stretch until there’s nothing but a piece of despaired fabric left.

As if in a regressive rite of passage, teen girl shakes and brawls inside the sharp edges of concealment. A leaf falling softly on her shoulder could’ve been a blessing, a miracle, or a sign of a good day, but now, it’s just a decaying limb.

Amidst all the push and pull that comes out of an almost ethereal existence, the blisters on the back of her heels can’t do anything else but roughen up. Her vocal chords, a souvenir of all she once said and all that will stay caught in the back of her throat for years to come.

After teen girl listens of the inadequacies of her nuances, what a load her muffled tears and loud giggles are, teen girl suddenly has no escape. Teen girl learns that she was always supposed to be tone-deaf to all that is around and within her.

The top is tucked away into the bottom drawer’s corner where all abandoned legacies must go to rest.

And so, teen girl comes out as all the girls you’ve ever known. She’s a good girl, bad girl, dream girl. Girlno one and all at once.

Girl is almost untouchable; Girl trained herself to know better than to disclose her insides. All the sadness, bliss, and fear patch up under the need to make it easier for people to live by them. A little less intensity, for her own sake.

But in the midst of wanting to be loved and special and cared for, even if it means losing herself, teen girl tussles back to life.

I’m not sure what motivates such an epiphany. Maybe she just got tired of the so-called cool numbness, the excruciating restraint. Perhaps she was just deep-cleaning her closet, and the dejected top whispered of a timeless, glistening glory. Or maybe she just got bored. Maybe, when enough time passes, she realizes there’s no point in locking herself up because teen girl will always find the trapdoor.

My teen girl hurls back whenever my older sister changes her voice’s tone when talking to her girlfriend on the phone, never afraid of showing how softly she loves. She’s in the way my best friend inadvertently told a boy he liked him and how he braided forgiveness into his hair after the boy wasn’t sure he’d love him back. She’s there whenever my mom sends TikToks and tells me not to “ignore” her. Teen girl is all the nights I’ve spent watching rom coms with my girlfriend, and was there to see her have the daylight-drenched love we talked about for countless hours.

At the end of the day, I go and try to bridge the gap between all the selves I’ve ever been. I’m 20 years old, but I realize that I’m still all of them. Or, at least, I’m still trying to make peace with them. In some ways, I'm more teen girl now than I was as a teen. By that I mean, I’m less afraid of showing I care. About everything.

Even now, I fight the bittersweet battle between wanting to unabashedly show myself and the rough ease of being unperceived.

In the meantime, I wholeheartedly embrace my love for Taylor Swift and make sure everyone I care about listens to her latest album. I share poems I like, I ask questions, and I laugh a little too loudly. I get used to crying over Zoom calls, and I say I’m not okay when I simply am not. I pour myself onto the people I love and say thank you for being here, for seeing me. For staying.
In many ways, being a teen girl is a practice. It is showing up over and over again for yourself. It is being stubborn. It is loving and hurting and being okay with being it — the whole of it all. ■

By: Clarissa Rodriguez Abrego

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