I won’t go into much detail about my dad or what it was like when I found out he wasn’t coming back, how they met or how young she was, not even what our relationship looks like these days except that it’s rocky, but improving. I will, however explain what it’s been like without a positive male figure in some of the most formative years of my life. The mistakes I’ve made are perhaps negated by the things I’ve realized. Or maybe it’s the other way around, who knows. But either way, a lot has happened.

First things first, I realized that for some reason I’ve developed an affinity for dried flowers. They’re everywhere — in vases, pinned above my bed, lying around here and there in books and on shelves. I’m not quite sure the reason. They have been severed from their stem, dried out, and now they exist delicate and misplaced. Maybe I found solace in them throughout my sadness and anxieties. Maybe I just needed a way to to adorn my grimy living space when I no longer had a room to call my own. But the fact remains that we dry things in order to preserve them. During times of change, the small familiarities become a totem of continuity when everything else seems uncertain and fragmented. I can’t help but wonder if my love for these dehydrated flora arises out of a certain comfort in having preserved a small memory, one tiny beautiful thing that I can actually keep — fragile, but constant.

At the same time, don’t live in sentimentality, you won’t get any sleep. I get nostalgic for the old times, but the first thing I’ve realized is that once things change, they’re never gonna be the same no matter how hard you try to re-create them. Upsetting, I know. I’ve tried through desperate tears to re-create a lot of things, but not once has it worked. It leaves you feeling empty and unsettled, so don’t try. Dry some flowers and put them in a vase or on the wall. They’ll be with you through the winter and you don’t have to water them. But also make new memories with people who matter. Embrace what’s next.

My mother is a beautiful creature with magical powers and she’s also cool as hell. We’ve been through so much, the two of us, and we’re even stronger now. We have this unified energy that is scary powerful and independent. I feel like we can cast spells at bad men who like to take things for their own selfish desires. I haven’t tried yet, but I’m planning on it. We’ve cried together and we still do. For the first time in my life I see her pursuing her own interests and passions and it’s exciting. I’ve noticed a radiance in her face that I’ve only heard stories of from my grandmother. It was drained for twenty something years, but now it’s coming back.

I can track my mental health through my changing style. It was very grunge for a while there in the wake of certain life events and at the deepest points of my depression. Big denim jacket, ripped tights, oversized sweaters, 90s sundresses. Then came the Lolita-esque angsty Tumblr girl phase which was pretty expensive — lot of American Apparel — and a bit of an emotional rough patch. After that I became bit more edgy and andro (think witchy Beat poet), which was good for the time. These days I feel like I’m finally starting to dress like an adult. At the same time, I’m beginning to actually understand myself. I still have to buy most things at the thrift store, but I’ve embraced my femininity and yet I’m androgynous when I want to be. I actually own culottes and a silk collared shirt and I even wear colors sometimes which is a new addition.

You don’t need a man to be fulfilled — or woman. I’ve considered myself a feminist for a long time, but for some reason I conformed to what men wanted of me and swept it under a third wave, sex-positive rug. Bad things happened that to this day cause me pain, things I knew were not okay at the time, but I chose to ignore. I blamed it on the “daddy issues” or whatever and it took me a good while to realize that I was falling into a sort of masochistic existence and that I deserved good things that I must first find within myself.

You can still explore your sexuality, but in a much healthier way. I pursued good experiences with good people. I put my personal well being first and confronted my own happiness (or lack thereof). It took me a couple years, but I think I finally got the hang of it. For a while there, I kind of thought I was doomed for either dismal relationships with good people or exciting sexcapades with bad people. I never thought I could have it all. But in the past year, I experienced real full-bodied, heart racing, explosive love for the first time with someone I would’ve never expected. We’re still figuring it out, but what we’ve had is something beautiful that I never thought I would be able to find.

That being said, don’t project your past experiences onto the people you love. Whether partners, friends or family, let people love you and know that you are deserving. Don’t hide behind your defenses. Don’t be a bitch, stop acting like you’re superior, and please be open. Write letters to people and put dried flowers inside. And even though you’ve been hurt terribly, don’t be afraid to love back.