some words for #aceweek

So over on Twitter I talk a lot about the need for non-romantic non-sexual relationships in fiction. Like, a lot a lot. I just think that this idea that we outgrow the desire for friendship-centering character arcs when we graduate from middle-grade to young adult & adult books is…really sad. And infuriating. And boring. And sad.

I wrote an essay about this a while ago, but something about it never really felt right to me? It’s the first essay I ever wrote with the idea of publication, so that’s probably part of it, but in writing it I felt like I was standing at some kind of remove from what I was saying. Later I realized that’s because I really, really suck at writing about myself personally. Which is hilarious, given that all of my fiction is outrageously personal.

Clearly the solution is to make it more personal. So here’s my whole story, right in time for Asexual Awareness Week (Oct 24-30). This is about how it took me nine million years to realize I was aromantic & asexual, due to the zero (0) examples of strong platonic M/F relationships I saw represented growing up, despite shoveling books, movies, and video games into my brain basically as aggressively as humanly possible. And it’s about how I set out to write the books I wanted to see and never did, and how that was a long weird road, and how now I make it my mission to help other writers doing the same.

(IMPORTANT NOTE that this essay is in second-person because it is the literal only way I could trick my brain into writing about Personal Shit (no I don’t know why I’m like this), not because I think everyone’s aspec experience is interchangeable or that I presume to speak for anyone but me, &c)

This ended up running, uh, several thousand words longer than intended, and it took me a solid week to put together. If you enjoy it, please consider dropping a tip in my ko-fi, joining my Patreon, or checking out my books!

When you’re two years old, your mom will teach you to read. This will be relevant soon.

When you’re nine, you’ll have your first crush. It won’t be like your friends’ crushes. You won’t realize this until the interrogation begins. What will your wedding be like. How many kids will you have. Do you think he’ll be a good kisser. What would your dream date be. While all you’ll have imagined so far (though you’ll have imagined this at length) is the absolutely killer treehouse you and he will build together once you get up the nerve to tell him how you feel (you won’t). The way you’ll make this place between you, passing nails and hammers back and forth, the creation of your hands and his stretching up into the sky one vaguely pictured board at a time. (You won’t do that either. He’ll ask some other girl out and your friends will comfort you, misguidedly. On a scale of one to ten, they’ll ask, half schadenfreude half pity, how jealous are you? Zero, you’ll think. Eleven. Neither. Both.)

When you’re ten, you’ll already be an established loner. You’ll get along with pretty much everyone, but you’re finding that your priorities are different from your friends’ priorities. You’ll feel like there’s something you’re searching for. You just have no idea what it is, not really. It won’t be a conscious effort toward escapism when you settle fully into a life suffused by fiction. In your spare time you’ll read books, watch movies, play story-heavy video games. You’ll find there’s a certain character dynamic you’re drawn to, that speaks directly to your heart, and you’ll find that the depiction of it is always slightly off somehow, some kind of uncanny valley-esque sense of vague disquiet, and you won’t be able to make either of those things make sense to yourself, though you will spend the next two fucking decades trying. For now you’ll find yourself watching war movies, a genre you won’t even really care about at face value, just because that’s the only place you can find that pure clean hit of camaraderie that does not involve kissing. You’ll watch badasses fighting back-to-back against a sea of enemies, fall protecting each other, be slung over a shoulder and carried from the field of battle as bullets whiz overhead, to survive together or die in each other’s arms. You’ll watch all this, and rewatch it, and analyze, and study, and think, inanely, helplessly: this is almost, almost it.

When you’re eleven, your best friends will all be boys. Girls will ask you if you’re dating and side-eye each other knowingly when you say you aren’t. They’ll think you’re lying, of course, but will never be able to secure any proof, so eventually they’ll let it go. Meanwhile, you’ll be a chronic daydreamer. Girls will assume you’re thinking about all those boys you’re allegedly not going out with. Sometimes you will be, but not in the way they mean. You’ll never have fantasized about a kiss in your life. When boys live in your head rent-free, it’s exclusively in contexts that the other girls will already deem childish, and the boys will all be fictional, because that’s how you can always be sure to preserve those friendships, like beautiful insects in amber, where they’ll never have to either follow that prescribed evolution into either romance or devolve into just friends, romance’s failure state. You’ll pilot spacecraft together, fight off zombies, go questing, pull off heists. These daydreams will blatantly rip off the plots of all your favorite action movies. A vague but pervasive sense of transgression will set in at this point: not in terms of copyright infringement but in the way these mental action movies are cast. Because yours will always have a male/female character pairing, and they’ll never kiss, and there’ll never be sexual tension, and they’ll just have each other’s backs against whatever comes and never make it Weird. (Every time your family rents a weekend movie, you’ll hope with every atom of fervency you possess that this will be the one to finally, magically, permanently make this kind of pairing real outside your head. It won’t be.)

When you’re twelve, you’ll start writing fanfiction, but you won’t know yet that this is a thing people do, or that that’s what it’s called. All you’ll know is that you live your life steeped in stories, and that they inform everything you do, and that yet they’ve always disappointed you in some fundamental, as-yet-nameless way. Your friends will know you like to read—it’ll be obvious, you’ll carry a book with you wherever you go, in school you’ll get in trouble for clandestinely flipping through pages during class—so they’ll lend you books they’ve loved. You won’t want to offend them, so you borrow them dutifully, and you read. There’ll be a lot of Anne Rice. You’ll be into the paranormal shit, but the romance and the sexiness will be wasted on you, and you’ll feel, briefly, like a Bad Friend for not loving the books your friends loved, and more lastingly, like a Bad Human for not having your buttons pushed by these very basic universal human-button-pushing mechanisms. But you’ll get over it, or you’ll get around it anyway, and you’ll start writing stories of your own. They will all be Adventures. Specifically they will all be Adventures full of ride-or-die strictly platonic camaraderie undertaken by a thinly-veiled self-insert of you and whatever fictional character you’ve fixated on at the time. Because you will fixate. Hardcore. And this is the part that will confuse you for a while to come: it’ll always be male characters who are the object of your fascination. (Specifically: male characters who are not in onscreen or on-page romantic or sexual relationships and show no canonical interest in either. If they start to, you’ll either reverse-ship them out of those relationships or drop them altogether.) So you’ll spend a great deal of time trying to convince yourself that your interest is romantic and/or sexual, and that something about your mode of expression of these things is just malfunctioning somehow. Because what else could it be? You’ll search (and search, and search) and never find, never once, never in the quarter century that will unfold between here and where you’ll sit at a desk one night typing these words, anything in any book or any movie or any game or anywhere that reads the way you need it to, hits the way you need it to, to make you understand the way you are, the way you aren’t, and the way you’ll be eventually blessedly relieved to learn you never actually had to be.

When you’re thirteen, you won’t be angry yet. Just confused. This’ll be the 90s and you’ll have never heard the words aromantic or asexual. Your options, as far as you’ll be aware, will be Straight or Lesbian. You’ll be pretty sure you’re neither. Your interest in dating, in kissing, in the trappings of romance as you’ve seen them depicted, will be nil. Your interest in sex will begin and end with a vague, nearly-academic clearly this is a big deal to everyone, it must be pretty neat sense of mild-to-moderate curiosity. But you’ll be watching more adult movies now, reading exclusively adult books, so you’re getting it loud and clear from all sides that your failure to feel interest in these things is exactly that. Some kind of defect on your part. In school, kids will ask each other if they’re straight or gay, but it’ll be a trick question, because, again, this’ll be the 90s, where, at least in the shitty microcosm of your middle school, only one of these answers is acceptable. When pressed, you’ll think back on your fictional-character fixations: all male. All right, you’ll think. I guess I’m straight. But you’ll already know better. Whatever it is you really are, there are no words for. At least none you can see from where you’ll stand.

When you’re fourteen, you’ll start seriously trying to publish. This will still be the 90s, so “trying to publish” will involve you, a dog-eared copy of Writer’s Market, a truly unholy amount of self-addressed stamped envelopes, and more patience than you’ll heretofore have ever had to marshal in your life. All of your stories will be fairly dissimilar—you’ll be learning, trying to figure out what genre you want to work in, experimenting with your style, copying the styles of authors you admire, etc.—but with a common thread running through them. You’ll be essentially drawing from the same deep fierce aching well of longing that had you writing those Platonic Adventures™ fics a couple years ago. For all the thousands and thousands of stories you’ll have consumed by this point, literally zero have scratched this itch that you’re beginning to think is unreachable, even though it will seem to you like the simplest thing in the world: take that zero-romance war-movie kill-and-die-for-each-other pairing and make one of them a woman. That’s all. So you’ll set out to fill this void yourself. You’ll send out piles of short stories and get rejections—personalized rejections from pro markets, which you won’t understand the significance of until later but for now will feel like insult to injury—and they’ll all say basically the same thing. I really enjoyed the story and the prose is vivid but the characterization is just too unrelatable.

When you’re fifteen, two of your friends will invite you to join them in a threesome. You’ll have to figure out how to say no thank you without a.) causing offense or b.) outing yourself as a person who’s never had sex or so much as kissed anyone and has frankly zero real desire to do either. You’ll never be quite sure if you succeeded. After that you’ll go home and work on the novel you’ve been tinkering on all year, a big weird sprawling epic fantasy mess featuring a woman and a man in an allies-to-enemies-to-allies-to-queerplatonic-partners relationship, which is something you won’t have words for until much later. (The word queerplatonic alone will save you so much time and fumbling at explanations and helpless gesticulating, a decade hence when you’ll finally learn it and wish you could dropkick it back through time to hit your teenage self upside the head.) All you’ll know now is that to write it feels like how you imagine therapy to feel. Like you’re a boat full of holes traversing high seas and you’re bailing the water out, steadily, infinitesimally, one horribly inadequate word at a time.

When you’re sixteen, your friends will start to wonder (or start to wonder out loud) why you aren’t dating anyone. They’ll try to set you up with boys. You’ll learn to feign enthusiasm when they tell you who secretly likes you but hasn’t said anything because they’re also a little bit scared of you. (At this age, your resting bitchface game will already be the stuff of legend.) Just ask him out, they’ll say. He’s intimidated. You’re intimidating. But he’ll say yes if he sees you’re interested. Should I tell him for you? You’ll have gotten pretty good by now at turning down various offers. You’re probably not as slick at it as you think you are, though. You’ll already be developing a pretty solid reputation for being a little odd. You’ll be exquisitely, painfully aware that high school girl is a kind of costume you have to put on every morning in order to pass as the thing you’re supposed to be. You’ll fall in with the fantasy nerds and anime kids, because they’ll be the first people you’ll have ever met who understand the way that fictional characters can carve a niche into your fucking soul and live there uninvited. So you’ll end up reading some of their fanfic, which will almost invariably be of the sexy kind, and it’ll be well-written and well-thought-out and probably hot but you genuinely won’t be able to tell. You’ll make polite noises and attempt to write Sexy Fic of your own to share, as camouflage. Meanwhile you’ll conveniently forget to bring in any of your original fiction, which is absent all sexiness and full of fight scenes, mainly, and Saving The World and Unlikely Alliances and Enemies-to-Besties and Platonic Longing, which by now you already know from your tidy stack of publication rejections is unrelatable and lacking development in its character relationships and better suited to a children’s book. (You’ll still be trying to publish, and, recalling all those war movies, you’ll toy with the idea of rewriting one of your male/female ride-or-die platonic pairings to have two male characters instead, as an experiment. To see if that’s more palatable to the industry. But you won’t. You’ll already know the answer.)

When you’re seventeen, you won’t have outgrown any of this. You’ll wait to, and wait to, and wait to, and fail.

When you’re eighteen: ditto.

When you’re nineteen, you will meet a boy. You’ll tell yourself your feelings are romantic. You’ll bend the full spotlight of your focus on convincing yourself this is true. One day, a few months in, you’ll realize you actually have no idea what romantic feelings feel like. You’ll sit with this for days, thinking back on romantic subplots in books and movies, remembering what you’ve heard your friends say about being In Love, etc. You’ll conclude that romance is a function of marketing, invented to con people into buying Valentine’s Day crap. Nothing that’s always felt so fake to you could possibly be real. You’d know about it by now. Exhibit A: that boy you met. He’s a boy, and you’re a girl, so either what you feel for him is romantic or it’s nothing. And it’s obviously not nothing, so what other option do you have? See, here’s the other thing about you. You’ll always be this mix of introverted and analytical. The analytical will turn inward, self-examine. You’ve always known your heart quite well and always will. The introverted will mean that you’d rather punch yourself repeatedly in the face than talk about any of this to anyone. Besides, by this point you’ll have been getting weird looks from your friends for a solid decade when they notice how adamantly you deflect anything having to do with romance, dating, sex. You’ll still be writing, though. For a minute you’ll wonder if being In Love (?) as you obviously are (?) will seep into your stories, drip by drip, rusting all those forged-steel platonic bonds down to something more malleable, smoother-edged, easier for the publishing industry to swallow. Whether you’ll finally climb down off that hill where you’ve ill-advisedly decided to die and just concede and write a stupid fucking romance for once in your miserable life. (Spoiler: you won’t. You’ll stick to your mission. Your authordom niche will become: Battle Couples, But Platonic. It’s a lonely hill to stand on, but you won’t budge.)

When you’re twenty, you’ll be putting the final polish on the first draft of what’ll end up being your first published novel. (You’ll have written most of the first draft after busting both of your ankles falling down the stairs the summer after you graduated high school, and spending months stuck in bed with your laptop because that same ridiculous stubbornness that kept you up on that hill to die also, it turns out, keeps you from seeing a doctor.) It’ll have an ensemble cast, but the two main characters will be a woman and a man in an Unlikely Alliance that never turns romantic. (You will however make the concession of putting some minor characters in token romantic relationships because “realism.” This will be the first and last book where you make yourself do this.) Meanwhile, in the real world, you still won’t have figured out how to convince yourself that you have any idea what romantic feelings, well, feel like. You’ll have sex, because that’s what people in relationships do. You’ll initiate sex, because that’s what thoughtful caring people in relationships do. And it’ll be fine and good and objectively enjoyable, but it’ll always be something you could take or leave no problem. Certainly miles from the universal pinnacle of human relationships you’ve been led to expect. The itch you’re really trying to scratch will always run deeper, or farther off. In any case, elsewhere.

When you’re twenty-one, you’ll start answering the dreaded question so what do you write about? with friendships, but more so. There’s not a word for it that I can find. Usually the reply will be laughing, predictable: you’ve never heard of “more than friends?” That’s called a couple. And it’ll feel like the two of you are speaking different languages, like you’ve asked for coffee, but more so, expecting espresso, and they handed you a cup of tea. Around this time, or maybe a few years earlier, you’ll receive a short story rejection that you’ll realize, fifteen years later, you still have, taped into an old journal which otherwise contains mostly dreams. It will read, in part: Well, I just finished the story and am left completely speechless. I am still not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Yes it’s interesting and a little gruesome, but inaccessible. That last word—inaccessible—will be, by now, by far, your most commonly-received complaint. Often they will go on to specify that the thing that was so hard to wrap their minds around was the relationship between the characters. Is it romantic or isn’t it? you will be asked, like it matters. The loyalty and devotion between them is admirable but it’s a little bewildering to me that they stay friends. I expected their relationship to evolve. Which will infuriate you. How can an I-would-kill-or-die-for-you partnership be bewildering, or insufficient? When all those war movies you grew up on exist? Surely it can’t be only because one of the characters is a woman and that you outright reject the expected trajectory of that narrative setup. Except it can be, and it will be, and it always was. Each one of these you receive, and by now there are hundreds, will only strengthen your resolve, which by this point is fairly fucking adamant, even if it’s only your own head getting beaten against it.

When you’re twenty-two, the predominant emotion in your arsenal will be despair.

When you’re twenty-three, you’ll realize you’re pregnant. This will be funnier in hindsight. You’ll debate whether to keep the pregnancy and conclude it might be kinda fun to try something new. After all, nothing else you’re doing is working. (This will be an objectively terrible reason to decide this, which you will realize later once the depression isn’t leaning on you quite so hard, with quite so many elbows. But you’ll be incredibly lucky in that your kid will be stone-cold fucking awesome.)

When you’re twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, you will be everything you ever swore you wouldn’t. You will be married, with a kid, a house, a mortgage. The costume you put on daily will become indistinguishable from yourself. You’ll write a whole strange novel about a thwarted lady explorer and an airship that’s possessed by some kind of amoral entity from beyond the veil, and the Adventures they go on together. It’ll almost land you an agent, and then lose them when they decide the book is Just Too Weird and the relationship between the two main characters too Unrelatable. Still you won’t give up, or give in, or write something just a bit more palatable, as requested of you many, many times by now. You’ve drawn a line; now you’re fucking well going to hold it. Even if nobody ever notices but you. When you think of publishing, the mental image you have is something from a scary story you read, once, as a kid: a woman accidentally buried alive, only to be disinterred days later, nails peeled back, fingertips pulp on the bone, coffin-lid unmoved. But when you write, it will feel like reaching back toward yourself through a succession of mirrors, each of which reflects nothing you recognize. Like being exhumed.

When you’re thirty, you’ll start work on what will become the first of your books that more than five people will actually read. It’ll be about a far-future post-apocalyptic ghosthunter, the ghost of a near-future supersoldier, and their Adventure into the Underworld to find the ghost’s long-dead partner. It will center not one but two zero-romance male/female relationships, one of which will be a Battle Couple, But Platonic, the other of which will be Enemies to Besties. It’ll deal with themes and images and characters you’ve carried around in your head and heart for quite some time, unwritten into anything, like a heavy weight you’re unsure quite how to put down. It’ll be weird and raw and wholly imperfect, and you won’t ever really polish it to a shine the way you did your past efforts. It’ll feel like something that just came reeling out of you, just on the periphery of your control. This book is, you will recognize at the time, your last fucking stand. It will be a declaration of war that you fully expect to go unanswered.

When you’re thirty-one, this book will get you a book deal. But not after you’ve gotten rejections from every single agent you query. They’ll express interest, and ask for partials, then full manuscripts, and eventually come back to you with things like a YA book needs a romance in order to be viable and teens will find nothing to relate to in a friendship between male and female characters that does not evolve into something more and, once, memorably: you know, there’s a reason why people say sex sells. Occasionally, attached to these will be offers of representation contingent on a revise/resubmit. If you can just see your way through to making this one tiny little compromise. You’ll turn them down, every fucking one.

When you’re thirty-two, it’ll be published. You’ll expect it to vanish instantly, a rock dropped in a lake. It won’t. For the first time in your life, you’ll start hearing from total strangers who a.) spent time with characters who’ve lived in your head for so many years and b.) liked them enough to let them into their heads too. The lack of romance is so refreshing, they’ll say. I loved the character relationships. I’ve never seen anything like them in a book before. It meant so much to me to see friendships treated with that level of importance outside of a kids’ book. People—again, total and complete strangers who owe you nothing—will take time out of their day to thank you for writing the exact things you’ve been told for twenty years now would appeal to absolutely no one. Others will reach out to tell you about the zero-romance, zero-sexiness, platonic-relationship-centering books they’ve written, and the rejections they’ve received, all of which will look painfully, horribly familiar. You’ll have no way to help them, though you’ll wish you would. You’ll tell them that it’s hard, but it’s possible. That there will be people who don’t get it but there will be other people who have been waiting for their exact story their whole life. That they may have to be stubborn—breathtakingly, pigheadedly, irascibly stubborn—and walk away from offers contingent upon the demolition of all the load-bearing structures of the architecture of their whole story’s soul. They will have to draw a line, in short, and fucking hold it. And they may well fail. After all, you almost did. And probably will again. This won’t keep you from going immediately to work on a sequel, though. It’s not that you think it’ll be any kind of wild success—a sequel to a weird little small press book is no kind of money grab and you know it—but that’s not really the point. Your mission now is as it always was: to write the books you’ve needed all your life. And your mission now is different: you want to give future new writers a whole pile of precedents to point to when they write this type of book and then have to go to war for it, which they will. You are giving them ammunition. That’s your job now. At one point you’ll see a review of your book on a trade review blog, and you’ll just have to sit with it a minute. It’ll say, in part: there was no romance and yet this is the deepest love story I’ve ever read.

When you’re thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five, you still won’t quite have figured your shit out yet, not really. You’ll still be this super awkward combination of: intensely self-analytical, hilariously awful at accepting what you find there. By now you’ll have heard the words asexual and aromantic for a few years, here and there on social media, but still be just a little bit too dense to think to apply them to yourself. You’ll say things in book-promo interviews like here’s the thing about preteen- and teenage-me. I didn’t give a shit about romance. I still don’t. It’s just not who I am. And the concept of sex will still hit you in the same way as a super-popular movie or book whose hype you never remotely understood. Like a joke that everyone finds hilarious, whose punchline you cannot for the life of you comprehend. And yet: you’re in a relationship! You have a kid! You can’t possibly be aro enough to be aro, ace enough to be ace. Surely what plagues you is some bespoke malady, some other kind of curse, some kind of brokenness or mistranslation that feels like driving the wrong way down a one-way street, realizing your error, and just fucking flooring it anyway. Somewhere in here you’ll go through a period of maybe if you just have more sex, it’ll click eventually and you’ll understand. This will end as you’d expect.

When you’re thirty-six, thirty-seven, your sequel will have been out a while. Enough people will have read both—especially the first one—by this point that you’ll have received a wide range of responses. Some will have misinterpreted one or both of the main character pairings as romantic, which of course they have. You’ll have expected that. This conditioning is insidious, and it runs deep. You won’t mind their misreads on principle but at the same time you want to make sure that people are aware that intense relationships do actually come in more than the one flavor. So you’ll start to talk about this stuff on social media. A lot. You are allergic to social media, talking about yourself gives you hives (a couple years down the line you will write a whole essay in second-person just to trick your brain into letting the words out. The essay will break five thousand words, so maybe that trick works too well?), but you’ll learn to make it work as best you can. It’ll put you in direct contact with the kind of readers who were emailing you years ago, and you’ll start hearing from a whole lot more of them. Years will have passed since those first sporadic emails landed in your inbox, but the refrain of these messages is much the same. Please please please tell me how you managed to find publishers for books like those without having to rewrite the main relationship. You still won’t have a good answer. A lot of it was luck, as a lot of all publishing is luck, and a lot of it was sheer fucking you-will-die-holding-this-line-with-joy-in-your-heart feral intractability, but not in a way that you want to ever come across as Just Work Harder Like I Did™ because it isn’t that at all and never was. But you will hear such horror stories, and you’ll offer what support you can, and you’ll know every time it’s not enough. Meanwhile, you’ll be busy writing what will become your first book published with a big-5 publisher. The larger advance is helpful, of course, but your real master plan here will be to take the same type of story you’ve always told and bring it to a wider audience, in the hopes of normalizing it further. You’ll write the main character as aromantic asexual, because you’ve finally concluded that this is what you are, and writing a character whose feelings are your feelings is a lot of how you’ll process that (although, if you’re honest, your characters’ feelings have always reflected yours, and yours have never, ever changed).

When you’re thirty-eight, your latest book will come out. It’s been derailed a year by a literal fucking pandemic, because that’s the world you’ll live in now. A pandemic which, among so many other larger problems it causes, will chew up book launches and spit them back out. It’ll feel petty, being upset by this in the grand scheme of things. But this book was what you viewed as your one chance to bring your shit mainstream and clear a path for all those other writers in your inbox asking you—you, of all the fuckups on earth—for advice. You’ll get emails about how your book is “only selling modestly” and read reviews about, first, how “underappreciated” and “obscure” you are as a writer, and second, how if you’d just stop writing such “niche” relationship types you’d be better known; and other reviews about how “unrelatable” and “creepy” and “weird” your protagonist is for having a platonic crush instead of a romantic one, and you’ll get, if you’re honest, a little despairy there for a minute. You’ll console yourself by yelling your head off on Twitter about other people’s zero-romance books and aromantic/asexual books and friendship-centering books, asking people about classic romance tropes they want to see flipped platonically, etc. Just so you can prove, with hard evidence, that there is demand for these things. On the other hand, you’ll start getting a new kind of email and Twitter message. These ones will say things like I just wanted to thank you for writing the exact kind of relationships you write. They helped me realize that I don’t have to write romances into my books if I don’t want to. Sometimes they’ll even say Your books helped me realize that I’m definitely somewhere on the asexual spectrum, which I never really considered before but which explains pretty much my entire life up until now. I wish I’d seen it represented like this in books when I was growing up. Me too, friend, you’ll think. Me too. And, of course, you’ll start writing another book. And another one. You’ll actually have three in progress, simultaneously, which is two more than you’ve ever had in progress before. And, unlike when you were growing up, there’ll be a small but growing array of books out there that reflect at least a little bit of what you feel when you feel things. All you can hope is that your books do the same for others, and that someday, between all of your stories and everyone’s, someone, somewhere, will be able to patchwork together a reflection that shows them their heart perfectly.

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