1) At age 8 you realize that someone you look up to might not be the angel they pretend to be. Sometimes you’ll have to hide in your closet, crying, because you can’t stand to hear his yelling anymore. Your sister will hold your hand and sing you lullabies as you fall asleep to your father repeatedly pushing his girlfriend into a wall.
2) At age 9 you find out that blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood. Just because someone isn’t your family, it doesn’t mean that they won’t love you the same. And when that person leaves, it will never be a final goodbye, even when the thought of your father brings tears to their eyes.
3) At age 10 you learn that no matter the age, children can be evil. They’ll put gum in your hair and push you down on the playground, just because you enjoy reading. When you come home crying to your mother, she’ll squeeze you tight and whisper “You’ll show them one day, my darling”.
4) At age 11 you come to the conclusion that women are very beautiful and have soft lips. You’re scared to admit it at first, but love is love is love. When your stepdad catches you kissing your best friend, he’ll forbid you from seeing her. But nothing will be able to stop you from realizing who you are and what you like.
5) At age 12 you’ll understand that leaving everything you’ve known can be the hardest thing to do. You’ll scream and cry and punch walls when your parents tell you that you are switching schools. You’ll lock yourself in your room and throw things to the floor, telling them how much you hate them and praying that somehow, someway, they will change their minds.
6) At age 13 you’ll understand that leaving everything you’ve known can be the best thing to happen to you. Despite people making fun of you for being the new girl with the funky haircut, you find a group of people who just get you and pull you out of your shell. You’ll start acting and singing and spend your weekends at the beach with some of the greatest people you’ll ever meet. You’ll find yourself for the first time in your life.
7) At age 14 you meet the man who will change your life forever. Your friends are his friends and you love the feeling of falling asleep on his shoulder. People tell you how much he loves you, he tells you how much he loves you, and you finally feel the sort of completeness you’ve been searching for since your father left you.
8) At age 15 you see the devil for the first time in someone who tells you that you are the love of their life. When he pushes you to the ground, you can’t help but think of when you were 8. You’ll fight and breakup and kiss and makeup, an endless cycle that’ll leave you completely drained. But after the third hospital visit in a year, and a night with him that leaves you scared of people ever touching you romantically, you find the courage to leave him for good. No man is with worth the anguish and heartbreak and hatred.
9) At age 16 you learn how to find yourself again. You cut your hair, join the cheerleading team, and toss all the toxic people out of your life. You let yourself try new things and experience a life without the grip of a malicious man holding you down.
10) At age 16 you’ll also learn how devastating loss can be. A wall of blackness will drown you in class when the principal tells you your friend is gone for good. You’ll blame yourself for not being there when he needed you and you’ll blame yourself for never recognizing how much trouble he was actually in. At the funeral, you tell his brother and father and mother you’re sorry and even though you’re not crying (because you haven’t shed a tear since your ex retched your innocence from you) you truly mean it. His voice will always be in your head and you’ll see him everywhere you go. You’ll learn that great men will forever live on.
11) At age 17 you learn the meaning of true friendship. It can come in any shape, size or form. It’ll come in the social studies teacher who taught you what it means to be independent and enjoy it. It’ll come in the friend you’ve had since 7th grade but never realized was your soulmate and best friend until you spend an entire month traveling together. It’ll even come in the stupid grey and white cat your family got after the previous one died (at least this one will fall asleep next to you).
12) You’re 18 years old now and things aren’t always the best. Some days are worse than the others and you feel like giving up completely. But you relish in the fact that you are getting an education at your number one school and have found a group of people who make you feel at home even though you’re 7 hours away. You never thought you’d make it this far; never believed that you had it in you to get away after years of begging to do so. Every trial and tribulation has helped you become who you are today. Every tear, every smile, every experience has led you to this exact moment. Take advantage of this beautiful privilege and never lose sight of what you want. You are a powerful woman who doesn’t need a man to help her believe this. You will do great things, just keep your head high and always remember the little island and people that helped raise you.