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For the past week, I’ve been visiting family on the east coast. As part of that, I’ve found myself wading through the debris of my own history: photographs, greeting cards, college papers, journal entries. It’s wild to track myself through these glimpses of who I was, which really, confirm on some level that I’ve always been, fundamentally, who I still am. A girl who loved to run around and read and write and eat sweets and cuddle with dogs and hang out with her friends and be close to her siblings has, unsurprisingly, turned into a woman who loves the same.

Still, I wonder at the child, at the teenager, at the 20-something who wrote about feeling trapped in an air-conditioned office job instead of being outside. What circumstances changed the course of who I’ve become? What other events would have taken me in an entirely different direction? Even if my personality, if my preferences, were set at a young age, what skills and interests would I have chosen to invest in differently?

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I marvel, for example, at the papers I wrote while in undergrad. “The New Europe Negotiations: A Turkish Study of Environmental Issues,” “The Fallacies of Americanism,” and “Pornography Through the Feminist Lens” each earned me an A. At the time, I chalked that up to being a strong writer; I remember thinking that by my junior and senior years, I’d figured out something of the game of college, the way to power through. Yet I remember those papers, that research. I had something to say, and I cared about what I wrote.

I go farther back and I find a picture of my boyfriend affixing a corsage to my wrist as we prepared to go to prom. I was 15 years old. My hair was long and curled, my body so tiny it seems like I could snap, but of course I didn’t; I was an athlete then, too. I was stronger than I knew, physically and emotionally, but I remember deep sadness about so many things. People who talk about adolescence in only glowing terms had a different experience than I did, though I also recall the lightness I felt, the optimism, the belief in absolutely every good thing I wanted to believe in.

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It’s rare, when I look at the true childhood pictures, to find ones of me by myself, though I know that even then I liked my time alone. In most photos, I’m with my brother or my sister or one of my parents. I found only one picture with my family of five all together, smiling, looking at the camera, and of course I wonder how happy we were, really. But my grandparents were around too, frequently, and sometimes my cousins; Easter again and again captured us hunting eggs with elders alongside us, as we dashed around in stiffer clothes than we normally wore, fresh from church, warm in the Texas sun.

Together, it gives me this feeling that I’m proud of many things in my life, reflected in all of this flotsam I’ve left trailing behind me. I love seeing notes from friends I still adore, knowing that I’ve played a part in nurturing those relationships. I like that my feminism and my liberal politics come through again and again. I talk about France, and about writing, the things I wanted around both, which I still desire. I still care about politics; I still advocate for women; I still am idealistic, though perhaps softened by time and experience. My family remains paramount in my life; finding hidden things remains one of my true loves

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And so I imagine all of this will be true in the future, too. I wonder what I will make of myself decades from now, when a future version of this same person looks back on these days, remembering the inner monologue I had, knowing there were parts of myself still waiting to unfurl. What will I know then, that I do not yet know?

I feel no rush to find out. I imagine it is all coming to me, as it should, in pieces and in people and in love and in fears and in accomplishments and in decisions and in failures and in adventures. In reading, and in outside, and in the company of people who mean everything, I trust this universe to show me just where I need to go, exactly as I am, little by little filling my life with ever more.

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