If you are new to LGBTQ+ identities or gender theory, or if you are struggling to label your own gender identity, this article is for you! I will go over several major gender identities and terminology, beyond their dictionary definitions. Most of these terms are perceived as being black and white or having very strict definitions, but many are much looser than what people perceive. If more information on any given label is desired, it is always best to look specifically to people who identify as such and are willing to talk with you about it. Many LGBTQ+ and transgender accounts exist with admins who are more than willing to explain their identities and experiences with their gender and labels they use, or their posts about the same information may be enough.
SEX: Defined purely by biology, typically male or female. Sex is determined by the sex characteristics a person has. Most frequently it is clear to determine, and these characteristics are the result of XX or XY chromosomes, but there are instances of chromosomes not matching someone’s sex - such as women who have XY chromosomes but are insensitive to testosterone and therefore never develop male sexual characteristics or organs.
GENDER: An identity that is culturally and socially influenced; often matches the person’s sex, though not always. Someone’s gender is not always obvious by their appearance, and only you can determine your gender identity.
GENDER BINARY: The social theory that gender is either male or female, and that everyone must fall in one category. The gender binary is still the most dominant theory of gender perpetuated in modern society.
GENDER SPECTRUM: The theory that gender is not a binary, but a spectrum between male and female, and that people can fall in the middle, shift around over time, encompass multiple areas of it at once, or not be on it at all. This theory is widely accepted in gender studies academia, yet some parts of the LGBTQ+ community do not believe it goes far enough.
PRONOUNS: The gendered pronouns we use to refer to a person have become increasingly more noticed as the transgender community gains greater mainstream acceptance, yet there are many who incorrectly assume that pronouns only apply to LGBTQ+ individuals. However, everyone uses pronouns - it is just that anyone who is cishet rarely needs to think about it. Typically those who are male/masculine aligned use he/him, female/female aligned use she/her, and those who do not feel more of one or the other use they/them (with plural conjugations for verbs: ex. They are kind). However, there are dozens of alternative gender/neutral pronouns, and pronouns do not always dictate a person’s gender. What pronouns one uses is a personal decision.
CISGENDER: Using the latin prefix cis-, which means on the same side as, this term is used to describe those whose gender identities align with their sex, i.e. a biologically female person who identifies as a woman.
TRANSGENDER: Using the latin prefix trans-, which means across, this term describes anyone whose gender is not aligned with their biological sex, and is an umbrella term for both binary and non-binary gender identities. In fact, the white stripe in the transgender flag is meant to represent anyone who does not identify with a binary identity. Many trans people physically transition or present outwardly as their gender identity, but some do not and their lack of outward presentation does not invalidate their identity.
ASSIGNED GENDER AT BIRTH (AGAB): Essentially, refers to the F or M on a person’s birth certificate. Most people’s AGAB aligns with their sex, however, individuals with unclear sex-characteristics also have an AGAB. It is common to see the abbreviations of AMAB (assigned male at birth) and AFAB (assigned female at birth) within LGBTQ+ accepting communities.
GENDER NON-CONFORMING (GNC): Anyone who’s outward expression of their gender identity does not conform with expectations of their gender. This term is inclusive of trans people.
MtF/ TRANS WOMAN: Anyone who was male or assigned male at birth and identifies as a woman/female. Likewise, FtM/ TRANS MAN refers to anyone who was female or assigned female at birth and identifies as a man/male.
NONBINARY: An umbrella term for anyone who does not identify as strictly male or strictly female. Many non-binary people simply identify their gender as nonbinary, wheras others use more specific labels. Non-binary genders have existed in many cultures across the world. Many individuals who are non-binary (such as myself) may also find a more specific label that describes their gender identity, but all can use non-binary as the label is intended to be encompassing of anyone who is neither male nore female, not as an androgynous third gender.
AGENDER: A term to refer to someone who feels no connection with any gender identity, or feels that they have no gender. Agender falls under the non-binary umbrella as it is neither male nor female.
BIGENDER: A term to refer to someone who feels their gender identity encompasses multiple genders simultaneously. Also falls under the non-binary umbrella.
GENDERQUEER: A non-binary gender label that is often used by people who feel their gender is not neutral between male or female and cannot be pinned down on the gender spectrum.
DEMIGIRL/DEMIBOY: A gender identity that describes someone that somewhat identifies with a male or female gender, but not wholly.
GENDERFLUID: A label used to describe people whose gender identities are inconsistent and changing. Some genderfluid people are fluid only between two genders, some the whole spectrum. Genderfluid people can have both binary and non-binary genders, but do not need to have both. The rate of change for people’s genders is not set in stone. Some genderfluid people use multiple pronouns to reflect what gender they are at the moment, others use only one set of pronouns. I myself am genderfluid, but often do not use this label and instead opt for the more encompassing term “non-binary.”
INTERSEX: Someone who is not born with clearly defined male or female sexual characteristics. As many as 1% of the population are intersex, and many are unaware that they are. Intersex people can be cisgender or transgender, and have a binary or non-binary gender identity. PERISEX is the opposite term, used to describe people who are clearly male or female.
Hopefully these explanations helped you better understand the transgender commmunity. There is a lot of information online about gender identities, and unfortunately a lot of it is not helpful for people still trying to wrap their heads around what is what. If you want to learn more about a specific part of the transgender community or a specific issue that trans people face, feel free to reach out to us at TWE. We can direct you to some resources, or do an article of our own about a specific topic!
Coming out is not a one-time thing, but a process LGBTQ+ people go through throughout their lives in a million different ways. Sometimes coming out is simply correcting someone for misgendering you or explaining that the person you live with is not just a “very good friend.” Others it is far more serious.
I know this from experience, or, better put, experiences. After realizing my sexuality in the 7th grade and my gender the summer before high school, I have come out in at least a hundred different ways in the last five to six years. One thing I realized is that no two coming out experiences will ever be alike, even with the same people.
The first day of my freshman year in high school, I was asked something no one has ever asked me before: what are your preferred pronouns? I figured out my gender identity over the summer, and I was so excited to finally be able to tell people. I had lost my voice the night before, so I wrote on a piece of paper “my pronouns are they/them.” For the first time in my life, I was in an environment where people would see me as the genderfluid person I have always been.
As soon as I got home, I dropped my bag on the floor and left it there open for hours as I got to work on my assignments. When my mom looked for me to ask about my day, she found the paper instead.
Suffice to say, she did not react well. We screamed at each other for almost an hour. I barely recall any of it, except for one thing she said: “you do something like this again and I’m kicking you out.” I doubt she remembers this, but I will never forget it. I can never be the daughter my parents wish I was.
The next few years were terrible for my mental health. I got through it, but my relationship with my family never fully recovered. I turned to my peers for the support and acceptance I could never find at home. A friend from school gave me a binder for my birthday. My parents gave me a card addressed to “our favorite daughter.” I don’t have many regrets in life but leaving my backpack open is one of them.
I wish I could’ve come out to my parents properly, or that evening went over as well as when I came out as bi in the seventh grade. I would’ve sat them down, explained gender theory over time, and once I felt they finally understood, tell them who I am. Sometimes I blame myself for being careless with that bag, but my actions did not cause the poor reactions of my parents, nor my suffering. But I can’t control how someone reacts to my queerness, no matter how much I prepare for the moment. That part of coming out is not on me.
I almost never give concrete advice about how to come out, just vague specifics informed by the numerous occasions where coming out was no problem and this one moment where it was. Always be sure to understand what the other person is familiar with or what their views are. Go slow, and come out on your own terms. Ask them to listen first, then ask questions when you are finished. Explain the identity before coming out. Most importantly, only come out if you think it is safe. After that, there’s not much else you can do.
Just as I learned the rough way, I hope that any LGBTQ+ person reading this realizes that you are not responsible for other people’s feelings and actions. As a general rule this can be difficult to accept, and in terms of coming out, it’s only harder. And if you ever come out and find yourself feeling alone, know that you aren’t. If not in body, then in mind and in spirit. Millions of people like you, like me, are all over the globe. We are here for you, and we are in this together. - Chandler/Ina
For those who may need it, below are sites with international lists of hotlines and numbers for any LGBTQ+ or mental health related support you may need.
The Trevor Project — Saving Young LGBTQ Lives
Suicide Hotlines - Suicide.org! Suicide Hotlines - Suicide.org! Suicide Hotlines
Support Hotlines | PFLAG
List of LGBT Friendly Helplines Worldwide | Lives in Transition
Crisis Text Line | Text HOME To 741741 free, 24/7 Crisis Counseling
Did you know that, on average, ADHD is diagnosed in three times as many boys than girls? This is despite the fact that there is no conclusive evidence that ADHD is less frequent in female than male demographics, only that its presentation tends to be different. Often, girls and people who are AFAB (assigned female at birth) present with greater inattentive symptoms, internalized hyperactivity, and less externally disruptive symptoms. They tend to develop anxiety and people-pleasing coping mechanisms to mask their ADHD symptoms, and their struggles get missed or mistaken. Even professionals fail to spot ADHD in women, girls, and other AFAB people, simply because most information and early research only pertains to young boys with the hyperactive type. My own ADHD went unnamed, but not unnoticed, throughout my childhood and most of my adolescent years.
Even still, I know I am one of the lucky ones: once it came, my diagnosis was quick and easy. I lucked out on a psychiatrist who believed me and supported me. I had waited years for a moment when someone would finally look at me and tell me “you have ADHD,” but the moment itself never actually came. After taking an in-depth patient history, giving me treatment for some other problems, and discussing the nature of my symptoms, I was simply prescribed medication. Weeks later I still questioned if I had actually been diagnosed. It’s silly, but it’s something that is so common for those of us with ADHD who are used to our experiences being dismissed. We always question ourselves because that is what the world has been doing to us our whole lives. Yet, as time went on, I realized that the diagnosis was real, valid, legitimate, and something that will influence the rest of my life - possibly as an obstacle at times, but also majorly for the better.
Before my appointments with this psychologist, I had already been struggling. Between gender dysphoria, body dysmorphia, stress, tense family relationships, disordered eating, frequent panic attacks and sensory overload meltdowns, and recurrent anxiety and depression, my mental health was... a boiling hot mess. But because I was somehow still excelling in my structured activities, no one thought that I could possibly have a neurological developmental disorder. And for a long time, neither did I. They did not dismiss the idea of it, more that it simply never came up. Why should it have? So, I started therapy, which I stayed in on and off for almost four years. It helped me get through the stressful four years that were my hectic highschool life with undiagnosed ADHD, but nothing from therapy seemed to make any lasting difference for my mental health or general wellbeing. Despite doing well, I was still struggling.
Now that I have that official diagnosis of ADHD - as well as diagnosis and treatment for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which was an underlying cause of much of my recurrent depression and anxiety - I am in therapy again. Though what I discuss and work on in my current sessions is not so different from what I would do before as far as I could remember, the manner in which we would go through things was completely changed. Before, I would simply discuss an experience, and the therapist would connect it to an idea and coping mechanism. The next week, we’d move on. Unfortunately, so had my brain. I couldn’t retain the information long enough to actually incorporate anything useful into my day-to-day life - thanks, ADHD. Now that I am working with a therapist who understands my ADHD, she gets that I may need more support and close working than with her other patients, she is able to work with me and my brain productively. I never realized how much support I could actually get from therapy until I noticed that I was finally able to progress through my sessions while retaining the information I’d learn in the past.
Having a diagnosis, especially for conditions like ADHD, can be a life changing experience. A diagnosis brings along proper treatment, validation, external support, accommodations, and understanding. Though all of these are important, simply knowing you have ADHD - that new understanding of how your mind works - is possibly the most powerful part. Despite the numerous myths and misconceptions about ADHD that plague far too many people, ADHD is one of the most researched conditions in all of medical history! With the internet, so much of that information is accessible right at our fingertips. So learning more about what it really means to have ADHD and how to work with your ADHD brain has never been easier. They say knowing is half the battle: nowhere in my life has this been truer than with my ADHD.
In fact, even years before I finally was able to meet with a psychiatrist, I already embarked on this journey of understanding and working with my ADHD. The main obstacle I faced was not that people didn’t know about ADHD, but that a lot of people think they know what ADHD is so they never do any research about it. In reality, they are actually very misinformed, and at times may spread information that is wrong and harmful. Most of my life I had heard of ADHD, but only thought of it in the case of extremes and stereotypes. As I started researching it, however, I recognized much more of the symptoms in me. I am not so impulsive that I put my life in danger, or so inattentive that I do poorly in school, but the symptoms still affect me from my home life to the way I think. And there is so much more to ADHD than what the name or diagnostic criteria suggest. All of a sudden, looking back on my life, everything seemed to make a whole lot more sense. I’d been given glasses for the first time and I could finally see clearly.
The great thing about a buttload of information about ADHD being online is that there is also a lot of information about different ways to shift my life to work best with my brain. Slowly over the span of two years I began implementing these informal accommodations, and my life started to feel so much easier. Learning about my brain and why I act in certain ways allowed me to make peace with things that, until then, I had felt were only “flaws.” I was more comfortable with myself, and let myself do what I need to manage my attention and energy. I forgave myself for forgetfulness, and started learning how to organize my belongings in a way that works best for me. I flipped back and forth about whether or not I was comfortable saying “I have ADHD” because I had no professional diagnosis, but I was able to learn much more about my brain and how ADHD affects my life. I recognized that even if I didn’t have ADHD, I can still use any tips that help me, and there’s no harm in that. And any sense of self doubt vanished when all the extensive research I had done to increase my understanding of my ADHD brain helped me get my diagnosis.
Every day since that fateful appointment with my psychiatrist, I have been so grateful for my diagnosis. Even though I understood my ADHD brain, the people in my life didn’t necessarily. Post diagnosis, there was an adjustment, and it’s still in progress, but now my parents understand why I don’t seem to learn from my mistakes or their discipline, or how my room can never be organized with everything put away. With medication and proper therapy, as well as the support and understanding of my family, managing the challenges of ADHD has never been easier - in spite of everything going on in the world today. I haven’t taken any formal accommodations yet, but I may when we return to in person learning. And, most importantly, I am still learning about my brain every day. Reading about ADHD and learning how my mind works - how it’s always worked - helps me love myself a bit more and grow a bit every day.
From my ADHD brain,
For more information about ADHD, check out the links below!
(Apologies for the U.S. centric list, most of the well established research and resources for ADHD are U.S. based and centered. In fact there is an interesting niche in ADHD research about ADHD in the U.S. vs in other places in the world!)
If you are new to LGBTQ+ identities or queer theory, or you are struggling to label your own sexual or romantic orientation, this article is for you! I will go over several major LGB+ identities, beyond their dictionary definitions. Most of these terms are perceived as being black and white or having very strict definitions, but many are much looser than what people perceive, and none exclude or differentiate people based on whether or not they are transgender. If more information on any given label is desired, it is always best to look specifically to people who identify as such and are willing to talk with you about it. Many LGB+ accounts exist with admins who are more than willing to explain their identities and experiences with their sexualities and labels they use, or their posts about the same information may be enough.
A note before reading - for some people, their gender is not the same as their sex. Non-binary people and identities are real. The following definitions of sexual and romantic orientations are completely trans-friendly, regardless of whether an individual person who uses any of these labels is transphobic or not.
ASEXUAL: feeling no sexual attraction. Many people commonly believe that asexuality is the same as lacking a sex drive, but this is not true. Many asexual people, or “ace” people, do have sex drives, and may participate in solo, partnered, or group sexual activity. They simply do not feel sexual attraction to people. Asexuality is also commonly confused with AROMANTICISM, the lack of romantic attraction to people. Asexual people can be aromantic, or “aro,” but not all are, and same with aromantic people being asexual. Both identities are valid. A black ring on the right middle finger is often worn by aces to show their identity, and a white ring on the left middle finger by aromantics.
ALLOSEXUAL/ALLOROMANTIC: a person who experiences sexual or romantic attraction. This term refers to anyone who is not ace or aro, and is commonly abbreviated as “allo.” On the ASEXUAL SPECTRUM, a concept that sexuality is experienced on a spectrum of strength, attraction, and drive, allo people would mark the opposite end of ace/aros.
BISEXUAL/BIROMANTIC: feeling sexual and/or romantic attraction to two or more genders and sexes. Many people unfamiliar with LGBTQ+ identities often mistake bisexuality as meaning “male and female,” but that is simply not the case. Many bisexual people, throughout history, experience attraction to people of all genders or sexes. Bisexual does not exclude trans or non-binary people. This is also the most common non-straight orientation within the LGB+ community.
DEMISEXUAL/DEMIROMANTIC: only feeling sexual or romantic attraction after forming a deep, emotional bond. These identities are often seen as being in the middle of the ace-spectrum.
GAY: a term to express same sex / gender attraction. Often perceived as homosexual male, many other LGBT+ people describe themselves as gay even if they do not fit that exact description. Some use it as an umbrella term to describe all forms of same-sex/gender attraction, although that usage sparks controversy within the community, especially concerning potentially negative effects of erasing bi identities and experiences.
HETEROSEXUAL/HETEROROMANTIC: Attraction to the “opposite” sex or gender.
HOMOSEXUAL/HOMOROMANTIC: feeling sexual and/or romantic attraction to mainly or exclusively people of the same sex or gender.
LESBIAN: a homosexual woman or person who is connected to womanhood, attracted to people who are connected to womanhood. A very common misconception is that a lesbian is strictly a cis-woman who is only attracted to other cis-women: this is both historically and practically inaccurate. Many GNC, non-binary, and trans people identify as lesbians, and lesbians often find themselves attracted to or in relationships with such people.
OMNISEXUAL/OMNIROMANTIC: attraction to all genders / sexes. Many people who identify as omni describe that their attraction to a person is influenced by their gender, sex, and gender expression. Though this experience is not true for all, it is important to note as many use that experience to distinguish omni identities from other, similar identities that include attraction to more than one gender or sex.
PANSEXUAL/PANROMANTIC: attraction to all genders / sexes, most commonly attraction without regard to gender or sex. This definition is not used by all people who identify as pan, and there is some overlap with other labels. Such flexibility with these definitions must be accepted. One cannot “diagnose” another person’s sexuality.
POLYSEXUAL/POLYROMANTIC: attraction to many, but not all genders / sexes.
QUEER: an umbrella term, of sorts, that is non-specific to sexuality or gender. Any person who is LGBTQ+ in some manner can use this label. The word, originally a slur, was reclaimed by the community in the 70s and 80s, and only recently has there been an increase in thought that using this label is homophobic in such manner. Take caution when describing others with this term, however. Some people do not want to be labeled as queer, and that wish should be respected.
I hope that this short guide is able to provide some insight and help you better understand different sexual and romantic orientations, or help you understand your own. Years ago when I was questioning my own identity, I found that seeing these different labels and definitions layed out helped me get a better sense of what I experienced and what I did not, allowing me to get a better sense of what labels I most identified with. If you are questioning, feel free to try different labels to see what fits, or to not use a label at all. You are unique, and only you get to decide which label describes your experiences best.
photo credit: Kavindi
We’re all hoping that 2021 will be a better year than the last one, but nothing happens overnight. Valentine’s Day is shortly around the corner. It’s a day where couples normally itch for quality time together at home or out on a date, and for most people this year, that probably won’t - or at least, shouldn’t - happen. Not being able to see loved ones in person can be challenging, and sometimes it can put a strain on your relationship. If this is happening to you, I understand wanting to spend the day together. Yet being apart does not have to ruin your Valentine’s this year, or any date you want to have with a partner when you are unable to meet up in person.
My partner and I have been dating for just over 6 months. Sometimes we are able to meet up in person as he gets regularly tested for Covid-19 through our school, but when he is with his family, the risk to either of our families is too great. We had to celebrate our first major anniversary apart. We both thought this would be hell. Even though we started dating before being able to meet up in person, both of us have physical-touch and quality time together as our main love-languages. To both of our reliefs, our date-night was really fun! I sent him a dessert set, and we ate desert together over Zoom. He also ordered me flowers, so I put them in the frame too.
Figuring out how you want to celebrate can be difficult. My partner and I decided on a more traditional, romantic-type date to mark the occasion, because we mostly have informal calls and binge-watch tv shows on Teleparty. If that type of traditional date is common for you, figuring something different that both you and your partner may enjoy will help make the occasion memorable. Here are some of my favorite ideas for Virtual Valentine’s (or other occasions) dates!
Hopefully, you and your Valentine date are able to make the most of the day! Staying apart from each other has been exhausting, but it definitely has forced me to find joy in activities I otherwise wouldn’t consider. And remember, no two couples are alike, and you and your partner get to decide what your romance looks like. As long as everyone is having a good time - and hopefully able to have some conversation - it doesn’t matter if a date is “conventional” or not. You give it its meaning.
Love well, and Happy Valentines!
“Where’s Grandpappy?” I asked my Grandmama. She sat in a wooden chair that rocks when you lean, watching the flames of our fireplace.
“Gone,” she answered, focused on her knitting.
“But gone where?”
She sighed. Her hands stopped and she looked up at me. Her eyes that always sparkled like the amber in our trees became a dull, trampled twig on the ground.
“Nowhere. Grandpappy’s dead.”
A part of me knew this. I even remembered it.
I had gotten angry at Grandpappy. I wanted him to carry me on his shoulders, as he used to before, but he refused to pick me up and would not tell me why.
“I thought you loved me and wanted me to be happy!” I had shouted, stomping away with tears streaming down my cheeks. I was not sure if I heard a weak “I do.” All I knew I heard was a thump on the floor, and Grandmama screaming. She had me help her get him on a bed, and I helplessly sat as she tried to heal Grandpappy. The sun rose and set twice as I watched her put glasses of water to his mouth, drape cold towelettes on his forehead, and rub various medicines on his chest. As the sun rose for the third time since Grandpappy collapsed, he was squeezing my hand. I remember it was clammy. A second later the pressure was gone, but I refused to believe that he was too.
“So make him not dead.” I watched as she motioned me towards her. The glasses resting on her nose reflected the fireplace, but her crystal eyes did not shine through the light. With a now shaky hand, she removed her glasses.
“Come here,” she said, opening her arms. I stood in confusion, but then took a slow step forward, letting her pull me onto her lap. We just sat there, in the shallow warmth of our fire. It crackled away, laughing at our misery. I hated the fire.
Suddenly, Grandmama moved her arm from around my shoulders to grab a golden chain that hung from her neck.
“Do you remember why they destroyed pictures?” she asked me with a shaky voice. I nodded my head. At least I thought I remembered it right.
See, when I was very young, the entire world had changed. All stories were erased, and all pictures were burnt. “They are too dangerous,” people used to say. “They are blurring the lines of reality. People spend so much time escaping from the real world, they get stuck in one that does not exist.” A world without stories and art sounds bleak, but that is not what the world had been. There still is art and stories, only no printed photographs or books written in cursive. Apparently, something about writing in cursive brought stories to life in a way that print cannot.
I was only three years old when a man in brown uniform barged into Grandmama’s cottage. I remember him sticking his large nose everywhere it could fit: in closets, drawers, cabinets, under furniture, even in my bed. He walked out with a flat thing that hung above my fireplace and a couple of objects that rested along a hallway. I can also remember the tears. I had never seen Grandmama cry before, and I never saw her cry again.
Grandmama then slowly opened the pendant hanging from her neck.
“Shhhhh…” she placed her finger on my mouth. “Yes, my dear, it’s a picture of your Grandpappy. I’ve been keeping it close to me, keeping it safe. And it worked, because what kind of officer would dare lay a hand on an old woman like myself?” I was shaking with laughter, snorting a couple of times as well. Grandmama’s eyes began to sparkle once more. That’s better.
“But why are you showing me?” I asked. I thought I knew, but I had to be sure.
“How did you put it,” she mused, “making him ‘not dead.’” I grinned. Perfect. The universe heard my wishes after all. I snatched the pendant in one swift motion, but a strong hand caught my arm mid-way.
“A-a-ah,” Grandmama scolded. “You must listen very closely. You have never been inside a picture, and they can be quite dangerous. You mustn’t stay long, or else I might lose you forever.” I gasped.
“That’s horrible, Grandmama! No wonder they were destroyed,” I replied, pouting. Grandmama chuckled.
“Don’t you worry. Just follow these directions.” I nodded.
“Good,” she smiled, clasping my hand. I watched her very carefully as she took a deep breath. Whatever she would tell me, I was ready.
“You probably know how to enter the painting, right?”
“You look at it for ten seconds!” I exclaimed in excitement.
“That is correct. But do you know what happens once you’re inside?” I furrowed my eyebrows. I had no clue what happens when people enter paintings.
“Well, your body sleeps, and your soul is what travels. That is why nothing in art can physically hurt you. Inside the painting, you can speak with Grandpappy as he was. This image was captured when you were only a year old, but I have no doubt he will know who you are. There, you may say what you must. But remember to be brief. I wouldn’t want to lose you too.” I hugged her tightly.
“You will never lose me, Grandmama.” I felt a gentle hand rub my back.
“And I know I won’t because you are quite the smart girl,” she beamed. I pulled back from her hug.
“So… how do I get back?” Grandmama grabbed my hands and placed them over my heart.
“You put your hands here like this, close your eyes, and…” she trailed off, lost in thought.
“And, you think of me. You do that, okay? That will bring you safely home.” I nodded. “Think of me, and only me. As much as you will want to think of Grandpappy, when the time comes, you mustn’t. Can you do that?”
Could I? I always thought about him. How could I let him go when he would be right beside me? But I nodded.
“Good.” She let go of my hands and unclasped her necklace. She handed the pendant to me with an extended palm.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
Grandmama opened the pendant and I looked inside. Grandpappy did look a bit younger than I remembered, but I could see the same glint in his eyes, stronger than when he was lying in bed during his final days. His fluffy white hair was like that of a puppy! If I could-
Sunlight hit my face and I opened my eyes. I was in some kind of garden, and an old man was sitting in a chair, smiling to himself. I was in the picture, with Grandpappy.
“Mira, mi nieta, Esperanza!” he cried, opening his arms. I ran to him and jumped into his lap, and we both laughed. Grandmama was right. He knew exactly who I was. He placed a big kiss on my head.
“Hi Grandpappy!” I said with a grin.
“Oh, look how big you are now! How old are you, seven?”
“NO!” I said laughing. “I’m five, silly!”
“Five? You sure? You could’ve fooled me. Oh, look at you,” he said, pulling back from our hug. I reached out to his hair and ran my fingers through it: fluffier than my favorite fur coat. No wonder people got lost in these photos, it all felt so real!
And then it hit me: none of this was real. That wasn’t really Grandpappy, just an echo of him. Wherever this garden was, I was still in the cottage with Grandmama. How did I forget so quickly?
“I have to make this fast, Grandpappy,” I told him, looking away. He was going to be sad, and I didn’t want to see that.
“I see,” he said quietly. “What brings you here, then?” I could hear the frown on his face.
“You- you’re gone.”
“I’m right here, Esperanza,” he reassured with a smile. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“But you’re dead. In the real world.” He simply nodded. I played with some loose strands from the fabric of his chair.
“Before you were gone, I wanted to play with you. I wanted you to lift me up and carry me on your shoulders like we used to. You said ‘no,’ and I got angry. I said you didn’t love me.” I looked up at his face. At least he wasn’t frowning.
“I’m so sorry for getting mad at you, Grandpappy. I know you love me no matter what.”
“It’s okay, Esperanza. I will always forgive you. And you know what?” I shook my head. Grandpappy had that silly glint in his eyes that meant he was about to do something Grandmama would scold him for if she found out. He waved at me to get off of his lap. In one swift motion, he lifted me by the waist up over his head. I was flying! We laughed and shrieked in happiness.
We both tumbled to the ground, laughing.
“Why don’t you stay a while, Esperanza?”
“Of course!” I cheered. “Why would I want to leave?”
We spent the afternoon playing together, and everything was perfect. My hair was all tangled in the wind, but that didn’t matter. Grandpappy let me make him a flower crown! As I started to get tired from the day, Grandpappy told me great tales of his adventures as I curled up on his lap.
“Do you want to hear the story of how I met your Grandmama?”
“Where is she?” I asked, afraid of the answer.
Grandpappy just laughed. “I’m right here with you, and that’s all that matters. This is perfect, right?”
“You’re not him.”
“Sorry?” He asked, with a smile on his face.
“My Grandpappy always cared about Grandmama. You’re not him.”
“I’m not me? I’m not real? No matter. soon enough, you’ll be here forever.”
No wonder these pictures were destroyed.
“NO!” I screamed, jumping up. He fell backwards, but pushed himself upright, still smiling.
“Oh Esmeralda, always so stubborn. Why not just let go?” I felt something wet slide down my face.
“I can’t leave her,” I said quietly.
“And you can leave me?” He replied. Still, he was smiling. How could he be smiling?
I thought of Grandmama, back home in the cottage, all alone. Grandpappy was gone, and I had to get back to her. None of this was real. As perfect as it seemed, I had to get home. Perfect isn’t good after all.
“Yes. I have to.”
I shut my eyes tight and thought of home. Of Grandmama.
“You’ll hate yourself for leaving me,” an echo of his voice cried. His hand caught my wrist. I didn’t dare open my eyes.
“I want to stay with you, Grandpappy. I do. But this isn’t real. I have to go home. You’re right, about one thing. I need to let go.”
My hand slipped right out his grip, and I placed it over my heart, just as Grandmama showed me. With one last thought of home, the world seemed to melt away. I was cold, terribly so, and I felt sicker that I can remember.
“Esmeralda, you made it,” she said, so quietly I barely heard it. I opened my eyes and looked around. Back home. The pendant was still in her hands.
“Destroy it,” I whispered. Grandmama did nothing.
“DESTROY IT!” I screamed. “It, it…” I couldn’t find the right words.
“Alright,” Grandmama replied calmly, handing the pendant to me. “You do it.”
I stared. “Why me?” Grandmama looked away, like I did with Grandpappy in the picture. She didn’t want to see me sad.
“You know why I held on to it all these years? It wasn’t for you. It’s because I never could let go. But you? You see things more clearly; you can let go.”
I nodded, not really getting her point. I slid off her lap and opened my palm. The pendant fell heavy in my hand. It was heavier than I thought it should be.
“Sorry, Grandpappy,” I whispered.
I walked over to the fireplace, which was still crackling. I was wrong about the fire: it wasn’t the one hurting us, it showed us what we were still holding on to that hurt us the most. I reached over the fire, and I let go.
I write articles because I love writing, and I use it as an opportunity to reflect on my own experiences, find what I can learn, and share it with others.