The girl I was

She offered me distant cities, food that I had never tasted and the echo of words in alien tongues, but I chose terraced streets, white satin and packed lunches.  I see her still, shivering in a print dress, the lake reflected in her eyes.  ‘I could be your muse,’ she said, as I snapped the sketch book shut, capturing forever the hope and challenge in her face.’ 

The Girl I Was – Andrea Stephenson

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I wonder what the girl in this photo is thinking.  She’s around four years old, on holiday in Blackpool, secure in the grasp of her father’s hand.  I suspect she’s not really thinking at all, but simply enjoying the moment.  Just look at those snazzy sunglasses, that colourful dress, the celeb pose, one leg in front of the other.  She’s carefree and unselfconscious.

This girl is too young to know that others have dreams and expectations for her.  In her pose, there’s not only contentment, but also freedom.  She doesn’t yet have a concept of who she is or who she will be.  She hasn’t made any important choices or compromises.  She’s the girl that existed before should replaced could.  Before the opinions and actions of others made her question whether she was enough.  She’s the girl before disappointment, responsibility, grief.  Before life is mapped out to a destination.

She’s the girl I was.

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I’m fascinated by the lives I might have led.  I believe that in some other place a clutch of other selves live all of our possible lives.  I believe that every moment we have ever lived is still happening, somewhere.  I suspect that one of the reasons I’m a writer is because I’m captivated by just this: who we are and might have been; the choices we made or didn’t make; the paths taken or ignored.  Within all of these many possibilities, I think there is a childlike but steely little soul for whom any of these lives would have been the right one.  The trouble is, that powerful little being is easily buried.

As I get older, I move backwards, becoming closer to the girl I was.  No longer so distracted by forging an identity in the world, I can look back at myself with a sense of compassion.  I can accept that I’ll never get to do this all again differently and know that I wouldn’t want to.  I’m slowly re-connecting with the hopeful, confident little girl I was then.  And one day, I hope to be able to nod my head in wise agreement with Maya Angelou, when she said ‘wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now’.

The Girl I Was is my most recent published short story.  It was a finalist in the Aesthetica short story award and is available now in the 2015 Creative Writing Annual, which you can buy here.  It’s a story about the lives we live and the way we lie to ourselves about them.  This story is very different to Reckoning, the last story I had published, but both are concerned with the path a life can take.

In this new year, I’d like to propose a different kind of resolution: remember the girl (or boy) you were before you became who you thought you should be.  Embrace her.  Re-connect with her.  And live as she would have lived.

106 thoughts on “The girl I was

  1. I love the idea of coming full circle and reclaiming the child we once were. What a wonderful notion. And your passage from “The Girl I Was” is lovely. “the echo of words in alien tongues”—Such a beautiful sentence.

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  2. And it is beautiful, Andrea. Congratulations. You’re so gifted with short stories.
    Should and can’t … such harmful words. Throughout my childhood it was “can’t” — as an adult it was “should.” I can barely imagine what or who i would have been if those words were not inflicted on me. We tell ourselves what we should do. We tell anyone who’ll let us what they should do. Every media outlet tells us how we should look, what we should think. We go around shoulding all over ourselves! 😀
    Happy New Year. Hugs!

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  3. ‘The Girl I Was’. Wow. This resonates with me in a powerful way. What a profound story, just from the opener. Adorable photos, how happy and carefree you, that little girl, was with her dearly loved daddy. Oh this stirs up a great deal in me Andrea. So interesting too, as I wrote a post earlier in December while you were away called A Blue Coat for Christmas, Gone But Not Forgotten for a weekly photo challenge but what stayed with me, was the way others picked up on how confident my brother looked in the photo. I am older and taller but my expression is quite different. It reminded me that by the time I was that age, about 11 or 12, the hopeful, confident little girl was already buried. I can see too that this is why I write memoir – I’m somehow finding my way back to connecting with the little girl who had no idea what was coming but who was going to find a way through no matter what. This is empowering isn’t it?! And oh I love that Maya Angelou quote. It takes a lot of wisdom to come to that point in life but what contentment can be found in it. I, like you, hope to find it one day. Thank you so much Andrea for this, you help me on my writing journey more than you know. And one more thing, I have the copy of Popcorn and loved Reckoning…and once again, many, many congratulations on another wonderful writing success. You inspire me so much my friend.

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    • Sherri, thanks so much for your support. I’ve been back to read ‘Blue Coat’ and I see what you mean – the difference in pose is quite striking. I’ve no doubt that pictures of me at that age would be very similar – I was painfully shy by then – so different to the girl in these photos, who doesn’t look shy at all 🙂 These are my favourite childhood photos – which is partly about my dad, but also, I think unconsciously, because of who I was in them. It’s a painful journey back to that girl for all of us, but worth it in the end 🙂

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  4. The excerpt from your story is beautiful, Andrea. Congratulations to you! One of the many benefits of growing older, we stop worrying about what others think. When we do that we can be our true self and be more carefree. The photos are priceless…thanks for sharing.

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  5. Lovely reflections and writing, Andrea. Congratulations on another successful publication. It looks like from your comments that there are a lot of us looking back and seeking to connect with that little girl/boy in us. I think we’re beginning to realize it was a key part of us that we were supposed to carry into our adult lives. Looking through the eyes of our innocent child self would help us see the world in a completely different way.

    Maybe, we wouldn’t take ourselves so seriously and be more quick in finding the good in others and life. Maybe, we would be looking for the rainbow . . . and find it.

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  6. Oh, that pose!!! Love it! Congratulations on your latest publication, I look forward to reading it. And that is great advice, to remember the girl we were. It reminds me of the 7 up documentary series (are you familiar with it?) based on the idea that we are potentially already defined by the age of 7.

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  7. Ah! I just love looking at that little girl. She is everything you described. I must say, that i don’t ever dwell on the things that might have been. When i make a choice, i forge along my path and forget about the other options. It’s just the way i am. Even if i do look back, i think to myself, well, what else could i have done?

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  8. Congrats on being a finalist. This is a wonderful post, and great pics. I too am reaching a point of reconnection with the girl I was, and it’s awesome. Love the quote by Dr. Angelou, who is one of my favs.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

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  9. Excellent, well done Andrea. Love the Blackpool pics – for us Brummie kids it was there or Rhyl most summers. We used to pay a sailor man sixpence to look at the Tower through a telescope 🙂

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  10. I too have also thought of my other selves living other lives at moments when I have made big decisions in my life. I am glad to be where I am and would not change it. I CAN still feel the girl I was in there somewhere! Thought provoking post, Andrea, and congratulations on your well deserved publishing success 🙂

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  11. Such sweet photos. And congratulations on your published story. I think I am still the girl I was; probably no wiser just with more real and metaphorical weight on my shoulders. When I was about 7, my teacher said to my mother, “Are you sure your daughter hasn’t been born before? She’s so old and wise.” Ha! That does make me laugh but I always was a solemn little thing. Happily I have learned to laugh more in recent years.

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  12. There’s something to be said for coming around a full circle and reacquainting ourselves with who were are at our central core. It’s like unpeeling layers of accumulated dross and discovering some of the essential you is still in tact, while other bits can be re-salvaged. There are advantages to being older: hopefully a degree of wisdom, as well as a sense of running out of time and having to make the most of every day rather than keep looking back over our shoulders all the time.
    Well done with your story, Andrea, and wishing you all the best for 2015.

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  13. Ah, great news to start the year, well done you on another well deserved publishing success.
    I love the sentiments in this post. I think as we get older we do reconnect with the person we started out being – the real ‘us’ if you like – before other influences took over and got in the way! I’m with you all the way on this Andrea, good wishes for all your forthcoming writing successes and here’s to finding our original selves 😊

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  14. Congrats, Andrea! I can so relate! There was the girl who liked to catalog her seashells. The girl who wanted to uncover buried cities. The girl who wanted to write poems. Well, I’ve come back to them all but in different ways I could have imagined!

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  15. Congratulations on your lovely short story, Andrea! Beautiful writing; so thought provoking and soul stirring, so profound. As you so eloquently wrote, “I believe that in some other place a clutch of other selves live all of our possible lives.” I believe this, too. Like you, I move backwards discovering the girl I was. I like all of the ones I’ve unveiled and I am happy to be where I am today.

    As a writer you have the amazing ability to take the reader by the hand and lead them on a beautiful, thought provoking journey. You posses an amazing talent and great insight; kind of like an “old soul.”
    Beautiful!
    x

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  16. Simply beautiful and profound. You remind me of myself when I was in my late 40’s. i had decided to go to graduate school and to my joy was accepted. i felt I was standing on the shoulders of my young self who had been a good student. As I age i’m finding more and more the freedom to be myself. Finally. Congratulations to you on your accomplishments.

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  17. Wow, I found myself nodding my head as I read this post. YES, I think similarly. And YES, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve also (re)found the girl in me. It’s amazing how much I see her now, while I didn’t when I was in my 20s, 30s, even my 40s. Thank goodness she’s still there. (And yes, I also envision myself in other lives, in other levels of existence.) Congrats on being a finalist in the Aesthetica short story award. Fabulous!

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  18. Wow, this is very powerful and brought tears to my eyes. Made me miss the innocence of that girl you speak about. I especially loved the sentence “As I grow older, I move backward, becoming closer to the girl I was.” I wish I would’ve known about your short story when I posted my “what if” blog. I would’ve linked back.

    Congratulations, Andrea. I’m so excited for you. Your words moved me.

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  19. Andrea, this is poignant and oh-so-wonderfully detailed. Brava! Congratulations writing that was a finalist in the Aesthetica short story award, though I can’t imagine the winning story being richer in insights and perspective. Truly, this is excellent.

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  20. I love the photos complementing your writing here. I definitely resonate with this piece, even though I am closer to that childhood in my timeline than many people with such reflections. At this critical juncture of my professional, academic, and personal life, however, reflecting on what “I was” is helpful in determining the correct steps for “what I will be.” Thanks!

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    • It’s great that you still have that closeness and time to avoid making the choices that will take you too far away from that little girl! I’d like every little girl to know that they’re great as they are and should follow their passions (though they probably wouldn’t listen!)

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  21. Congrats, honey! Holy smokes, you were/are the cutest thing. I’m very jealous of those sunglasses.

    Funny that I just wrote the post I did about reconnecting with my inner child yesterday, right? It’s something that I have thought about often, how important it is to return to our truest selves, to keep things simple and do only what makes us—and nobody else—ridiculously happy.

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  22. Another great post that really resonated with me, Andrea 🙂 I used to draw all the time as a child and about a year and half ago started that again and it felt like a homecoming 🙂 Congratulations on your story I am looking forward to reading it.

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  23. This is wonderful, Andrea! It’s so true that as we grow we are squashed under expectations of others and our dreams start to seem either too far away to reach or not ones we ‘should’ have… You give us much to ponder here!

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  24. That’s wonderful news about the publication, Andrea! And I love the idea of reconnecting with that inner child in us all, the one for whom the universe was full of possibilities. I suspect she’s behind the stories I’ve written, and I’m back on the path toward working with them—and her—again.

    May the new year bring you ever closer to the girl you were.

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      • I saw your like come in as I was commenting on yours! “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio….”

        When you mentioned in your post the idea that all our possibilities are lived out somewhere, I thought of my first manuscript, which centers on that very idea. Synchronicities like that tend to stir my creativity. I think 2015 is off to a good start. 🙂

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  25. Congrats on the short story. I find that I am thinking more and more about who I was and who I wanted to become. I try not to think about it with regret, but rather with the sense that the possibilities are still there. I just have to go after them in a different way.

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  26. OMG! That girl has style!! Absolutely love this cutie and I believe that no matter what other lives she could or wished to have lived, the life of a writer becomes her more than anything or anybody else. It’s funny but I do reflect from time to time on what my life might have become if I had taken another turn or decision. Fascinating how one can speculate and fantasize on this. On a personal level such a reconnecting and resonating post that is stirring up a lot in my own introspection journey at this moment. Remembering our true essence, remembering the dreams we had planned for ourselves and finding a way to give expression to that is something I deeply wish for everybody ‘before’ even we have come to a full circle. Beautiful writing as always and congratulations on the publication of another lovely short story, Andrea.

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    • Thanks Karin 🙂 I like to think she found her way, even though she grew up. That thread of creativity never left me one way or another, so it was meant to be. And you’ve just had one of those big changes, so interesting to see how you’ll adapt to that new branch of your path to stay true to your dreams.

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  27. Oh jeeper’s…I’m crying like a baby sat here at the computer station at my local library. I wondered why I took a greedy three napkin’s off the counter when I went to get my morning coffee and now I know why! Thank you SO much for this post Andrea…for the stunning, necessary and beautiful contribution that you have made to my day…I am experiencing several revelation’s right now…..it’s awesome…xx!

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  28. Andrea I just could look at that gorgeous little girl all day. What a stunning picture and reminder to you to always hold your head high and believe in all possibilities. Stunning post, there is no doubt about your writing and the magazine published pieces are a testament to who you are and what you can achieve.

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  29. “I move backwards, becoming closer to the girl I was.” Love this (and the photo, precious for the glimpse of both daddy and girl). Love the contentment in your voice, Andrea. And again, congrats on the published stories.

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  30. “I believe that in some other place a clutch of other selves live all of our possible lives.” Ah, the awesome multiverse idea! I can’t think of a more musical or pleasing way to express it than a “clutch of other selves.” As a duck-mom, I have to appreciate the egg metaphors. I see you seem to have had a (re-)invigorating winter solstice filled with some creativity (for which we readers reap the benefits). I love this idea, too–“The girl I was”–except I feel I’ve blotted out a lot, which I kind of regret. And, then again, I partly don’t. In any case and not to ramble about me, congratulations once again on your publication for “The Girl I Was.” What a sparkling way to begin ’15. Yea for you, Andrea!

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    • Thanks Leigh. I’ve got a very poor memory of my childhood – I can’t actually remember being that girl, but I do know that she was the one that existed before the things I’ve blotted out! Which is why I want to remember her 🙂

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  31. You are the original diva! Now I know where these wannabe divas got their pose from. That pose is very beautiful, confident and makes the little girl look like the ultimate diva. (Forgive my ‘cool’ language – I could not help myself) 🙂

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  32. Love (and share) this perspective Andrea, a thought-provoking post and reminded me of a similar self with her resolute camera smile, kitted out in remarkably similar dress and sunglasses walking hand-in-hand with my father at Mablethorp before life blew me on its winds. Wouldn’t ‘take nothing’ for my journey now, either!

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  33. Belated congratulations on this achievement, Andrea.
    What a captivating post––pictures and prose. It’s fascinating, even if sometimes a little disconcerting, to “see” changes come into our lives, moving from carefree, true-to-ourselves children to becoming the persons others mold us into. And then finding our ways back!
    This is such an inspiration to reconnect and retrace! Thank you.

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  34. How utterly beautiful, Andrea. And now I am drifting off to so many thoughts. I can’t even capture them myself let alone the tome I would have to write to express them. Thank you for this lovely and so very true reflection. So happy to see that your work is being published. Jeanne

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