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Imagedear mariama,

i have this dream. it has many variations. always some sort of disaster. an earthquake shakes my childhood home. a fire burns it slowly to the ground. a tsunami swallows the whole neighborhood in one big gulp. the world around me falls and i spring into action. always there is another girl inside the house. sometimes she wears the face of my sister. my mother. my best friend. i go to her. grab her. whoever she is. by one long braid. or one small wrist. hoist her over my shoulders and run. out. away. to higher ground. safe house. and just as we make it. catch our breaths. stunned to be alive. i wake up. and i am a woman.

you can’t see it now but you’ve been saving yourself from the beginning. some will call you an angry brooding secretive child. they will not understand your stoicism. your ability to retreat into yourself and watch the world with quiet empathetic eyes. they will not understand that you do not yet know your anger. that your self isolation and quiet acts of martyrdom are all faulty tools of navigation. that the mirror does strange magic on your heart. even though they love you. tell you you’re home. you know you belong more than one place. but where else? you dream of another woman who smells different. like you. you wonder: what else is a home but a scented body? you feel safe inside your own small growing one. so you stay there when you are scared. confused. hurt. angry. happy. in love. you keep to yourself. you hold every emotion on the shelves of your shoulders where they cannot be broken or lost or taken away. this is how you survive. by holding yourself closer than anything anyone else. by becoming a safe house. higher ground. shelter of your own making.

i wish you knew then how strong you are. how brave it is to be a girl living in the undefined territory of her own shape. conjuring ways to love herself.

and beautiful. you are. even at twelve years old. with your uneven shaved head and one pierced ear. even with your brace face smile and inability to keep your mouth closed when chewing. even in your ren and stimpy t-shirts and baggy overalls. stunning. gorgeous. and no one will tell you this until high school. and no one will show you your beauty until college. when you begin to believe your skin’s wealth at the hands of a lover. when you lose that lover and still manage to go on. when you find words. your voice. a way out of yourself.

and although it is 15 years later. and you are still learning to speak. to love. to let go of the things piled on your shoulders. you are still the same girl. resilient. observant. thoughtful. border-less. brave. how did you know? even then. as a child. you had plans for us. even then you knew. how to take a body and build it right. sturdy. open. questioning. expansive. even then you knew. when to build walls. and when to bust holes in them.

all this time. i thought i was saving you. maybe i dream. maybe i run into the house. grab you. or some version. maybe i do it. to remember. i am still alive. because of you. because you made me a home out of nothing. and never left. never left me alone.

love always,

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Mariama J. Lockington has over thirteen years of experience working as a K-12 educator in the nonprofit sector and currently works for the University of Kentucky’s College of Education. She enjoys teaching hands-on writing workshops and speaking with young people about their stories. Learn More