By Maggie Duckworth
To the Her of my Past. To the Her of my Present. To the Her of my Future.
Lying in bed recently, my gaze turned to the dozens of ratty journals shoved haphazardly on a shelf. Thousands of words scribbled over the decades into the encyclopedias of my life. It had been a restless night, and I reached through tangled sheets for one of the journals, flipped through some pages and wondered: “What would Past Me think of Present Me?”
I had been living nearly the same life for a decade—my career stalled, my bed still empty most nights, my bank account as dry as it ever had been. As I read the words of this young girl I realized the teenager in me was cheering for Present me. In Her wildest imagination, she never would have believed that I made it to New York City nearly fifteen years ago. Past Her dreamt of living in Manhattan, having a bushel of friends that were artists of all trades, taking classes at The Fashion Institute of Technology, attending tiny concerts of unknown bands before they were a household name, walking through galleries and meeting the artists, seeing more professional theater than anyone deserves. Present Her has experienced all those things with bonuses. As I turned each page I became overwhelmed with gratitude.
I chose a different journal and scanned the volume. So many heartbreaks that it seemed Past Her would never get over. Present Her has trouble picturing the face of the dude so many pages were devoted to. Things that had seemed life or death … It should have been embarrassing to look back and see how foolish Past Her had been with her heart. Instead I was relieved that it no longer mattered.
The morning was escaping me so I threw on my favorite dress, slipped a hat on my head, ran scarlet lipstick across my lips, and made my way to the French bakery around the corner. I hugged my waitress who sat me in my favorite table by the sunny windows. I ordered tea and a flaky pastry and pulled out the tiny red notebook I keep in my purse. I began reflecting again and realized: I focus too much on the past, in general. It was time to stop. I remembered what my wise cousin had said about my anxiety. She shared with me that she had stumbled upon a mindfulness philosophy that had been a great help to her—“the past has happened, you have no control of the future, you just have this moment right now and how you will respond to it. Breathe.” Unfortunately, I did not take this insight to heart. I have allowed myself to be weighted down by this ghost life. No wonder I felt like I had been stuck for so long.
I took a deep breath. On the manila page of the pad, in blue ink I listed all of the things I love about my current life: I am independent, I have a good relationship with my family, I have a loving and supportive community, I am a fighter, I am not a self-sabotager, I am an entrepreneur, I have creative outlets that I pursue and that are well received, I like myself…
I read that last statement repeatedly. “I like myself.” A wave came over me and tears formed around the edges of my eyes. For most of my life that was not something I could have said, and it be true. I had previously surrounded myself with friendships that only brought out the worst in me. I struggled silently with depression so deep I never thought I would be able to dig my way out of it. It was only after years of work with a team of people (my beloved therapist, my nutritionist, my spiritual director, my acupuncturist) that I was finally out of that cloud and out of those bad relationships.
Giving my brain a break, I put the pen down and checked Instagramon my mobile phone. My friend Nat had *just* posted a selfie in a t-shirt that read, “Don’t Look Back You’re Not Going That Way.” I giggled and said to myself, “Message received, Universe…”
The tears were drying up and I was wearing one of those obnoxious smiles that no matter how hard you try you can’t hide.
I sipped my tea and began to scratch out notes in that little book to remind myself to be more mindful. A few sips later I wondered: who do I want to become? I’ve spent countless hours in the therapist’s chair talking about how I used to be I never considered who I want to be.
At the top of the next page I scribbled, “Her. The person I want to become.”, and started free writing all of the things that came to mind…
“I want to become someone who can see the other side of an argument and not dig her heels in always needing to be right. I want compassion and grace to be my defaults. I want to be the her that finally finishes that fucking novel she’s been working on for five years. I want to travel everywhere and allow those experiences to help me engage more openly with people different from me. I want to become the her that dusts more, who wakes up early and prepares her own tea, and writes a few pages before heading out for the day. I want to be the her that doesn’t trip over her own feet in tap class. I want to become the person that leads well. I want to become the her that is not afraid to let someone see her cry. I want to live a life that is so full of joy I nearly burst at the seams. I want a dedicated space for creating words and art and clothes. I want to have a life bigger than my studio apartment. I want to be the her that is kind but doesn’t put up with anyone’s shit. The her that will ask for help as well as accept it when offered. The her that’s heart is big and receptive to love. A her that doesn’t shut people or experiences down easily. A her that is not obsessed with ticking off boxes of to-do lists. A her that finds value is being still. Who sees busyness as an obstacle to peace. I want to stop grinding my teeth. I want to be a person that looks hopefully towards the future but is mindful in the present. I want to high-five past her and move on.”
My waitress came by the table breaking my concentration. We shared a joke and I ordered another tea. I decided to problem solve: what steps do I need to take so I can be the future Her I wrote about?
Looking for inspiration I stared out the window at a man on the phone next to his matte black Harley Davidson. He was wearing black fitted designer jeans, a black tee shirt, black boots, and a large chunky silver cuff around his wrist with geometric cutouts. I could not help but admire his good taste in jewelry. I always love a good statement piece. He ended his call, put his helmet on his head and sped off. In my distraction, I wanted to make up a backstory about him. Write a scandalous tale about who he was speaking with and where he was going. Unfortunately, when I looked at my notes I remembered the task at hand. What can I do to move myself forward and not backwards, as if I were driving my own motorcycle? Most importantly I need to get over my past. It seems the only way to do that is to forgive it, all of it: me, the people and/or institutions that are standing in dusty pages still getting in my way. Easier said than done but I was ready.
On a new page I wrote at the top: “Goodbye to Her Past.”
I love you.
I forgive you for holding on to things that made you feel bad, only to make me feel bad. I forgive you for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I forgive you for making dumb decisions. I forgive you for allowing terrible people into your life. I forgive those terrible people. I forgive you for not standing up for yourself more. I forgive you for the debt that I am in. I forgive you for the things I wish you had said ‘yes’ to and the things I wish you’d said ‘no’ to. I forgive you for not being perfect. I forgive you for not taking better care of yourself. I forgive you.
With that I felt an overwhelming peace flow through me. I finally said goodbye to the girl I once was and hello to the woman I am. I paid my check and left the restaurant giddy with excitement, happy in the moment, and hopeful for Her future.
A version of this piece was published in Honeysuckle Magazine’s HERS edition, summer. 2017.
Maggie Duckworth is a fashion stylist and freelance writer based in Manhattan. She writes a monthly fashion advice column, “Let’s Ask Maggie!” and is creator of the forthcoming duo Sharron and Jerome—”two dinosaurs trying to live their truth.”. You can follow Maggie on Instagram: @maggieduckworthstyle or @sharronandjerome