“What happened to seven-year-old me when I turned eight?”
Yeah, try fielding that one from your child. I’m telling you, my parents were saints for the weird conversations they had to deal with.
“What do you mean?” my mom asked, looking toward my dad. He just shrugged.
“Where did she go?” I asked.
“She’s right here,” my mom replied, still confused, “You’re still her.”
“No, I’m not,” I replied, “I’m eight now. I’m taller. I’m smarter. I’m different. I’m eight.”
“But seven-year-old you just became that. Seven-year-old you is now eight-year-old-you.”
“No, I’m different. She’s different.”
My mom’s eyes opened wider, then she looked toward my dad again, handing the responsibility over to him.
He sat up a little straighter, gave one quick laugh, shook his head and said, “Baby, I get what you’re saying. I just don’t have an answer for that one.”
He said this because he did understand. He knew that eight-year-old me was more than just the evolution of seven-year-old me. He knew that we don’t evolve without losing part of us too. He knew that somewhere in that year, things changed, died even. The girl sitting in front of him would never again be the same girl who sat there the year before.
There is beauty in this fact, this change. There is growth and maturity in life, and it’s actually damaging to stunt it, to create a Catcher in The Rye like syndrome. But there is still grief. There is still a dying-like process involved in this change. It’s not even remotely measurable to the grief of losing someone altogether, losing all of the ages, all of the chances at new ages. But it is something that you’re allowed to get a little melancholy about—especially around New Years.
I don’t know what triggered that thought in my mind all those years ago. But I do know that it pops back into my head sometimes, even now that eight-year-old me has been buried by life, and pain, and many, many years.
I thought of her yesterday, eight-year-old me. I remembered her, grieved her, even. I grieved for her innocence, her security. I grieved the fact that she had no clue on that day how much would change in life, what dreams she would develop, and which ones she would be forced to lay down. She had no clue what it would look like to become nine-year-old me, and then ten-year-old me.
She didn’t know that at nineteen, after years of declaring zero interest in the art of romance, she would fall crazy in love. She had no clue that at twenty-three she would marry that man, and she certainly had no clue that at twenty-five she would watch him take his last breath.
She had no clue how much of her I would lose over the years, but she also had no clue how much of her I would keep.
She had no clue that on News Year’s Eve of her 26th year, I would be asking that question again. I would be asking, “what happens to 2020 Alycia when she toasts that bubbly into 2021?” She had no clue that in this transition she would be leaving two of the most important people in her life behind in 2020, and that fact would hurt.
2022 me will look different than I do now. I know that, because I’ve seen it happen for 26 years now. This fact doesn’t bother me. I think what hurts is the fact that neither my dad nor my husband will be any different next year.
What hurts is that 2020 had post-marked memories that they existed in, and no matter what, 2021 will not. Neither will 2022.
We evolve into our newest self every second of every day, and in this we lose some of what we were before, the exact person that we existed as before the change. We evolve through every conversation we have, through every relationship we pour into, through every book we read, and every song we hear. We are constantly changing, becoming a newer version of the person we were the minute before.
I love this fact. I drive it forward with a ferocious hunger for life, and words, and facts, and philosophies.
But I love it so much more when I live it in parallel to my people. I love moving in a forward motion next to those whom I adore. I love seeing how my mind evolution pour into theirs, and visa versa. And with this love, this desire, comes immense pain when one of their roads cuts off early. It feels so strange to continue into 2021 when two of my most diligent and valued companions on this life jounrey exited the highway in 2020.
Exit- October 12.
Exit- December 7.
And just like that, I’m driving without them, changing without them, evolving from a girl they loved into one I like to think they’d love just as much, but she is different, and they don’t know her.
And so I ask again, what happened to her when they left? Where did I leave the girl they loved?
Where did 25-year-old me go when I turned 26?
Where did Andrew’s wife go when she became a widow?
Where did Mark’s daughter go when she lost her dad?
Where does 2020 me go as we roll into 2021?
We, as humans, are ever evolving, and in this we gain, and we lose.
Tonight, I sit alone, and I recognize the utter prevalence of my year’s aching losses.
But tonight, I can also sit with a heart filled to the brim with thankfulness in a world of life, beauty, love, and relationships that I gained, that I grew, that I still get to exist in, that still get to help change me, form me.
Tonight, I grieve the losses of 2020, but I feel so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to keep driving forward on this road with those still parallel to my life’s journey.
Tonight, I am different than I was in October when my husband kissed me for the last time.
Tonight, I am different than I was in early December when I had that very last phone call with my dad.
Tonight, I am different than the girl they left.
Where does she go? And is it okay to both miss her and move further away from her?
What happened to seven-year-old me when she turned eight?
I have no clue.
Who will I be, what will life and experience have formed me into by the day that I get to run through those gates and back into the arms of the men that I lost this year?
I have no clue.
But I pray she makes them proud.