Sarah Caulfield

To The Girl I Was:

I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I feel I failed you, through my own grievous fault.

I see you there, looking back across at me through the years, the memory soft and rippled, beach glass worn, and you are so young and so righteous. You are only fourteen. You do not see what is coming.

Here’s what I want to tell you; let’s sit down, woman to woman, because I wish I was half the woman you are, because you used to believe in what we could become, and I look to you for hope.

My spine is made of beach glass. It will withstand.

You grew up picking up stranded jellyfish to carry them back to the sea bare-handed. You didn’t care if it stung.

And I am not a prophet, I am not a messiah, I am a Catholic not a martyr: I am a rebel without a cause, James Dean railing at the catechism because anger is safer than admitting I don’t want to believe in a God who let us down like this,

like a spiteful child refusing to clap her hands, using them to cover her ears instead, chanting I don’t believe in fairies I don’t believe I don’t

So let’s sit down, woman to woman, and here’s what I want to tell you:

You will fall in love, twice, very quickly and violently, and then you’ll struggle to feel like that for a very long time after. You’ll tell yourself the gold dust of your love blinded you.

That’s a lie.

You will spend sixteen falling into misery and the next five years trying desperately to fall back out.

Let me tell you this, my love;

and I call you my love because despite everything I do love you

though it’s inconsistent and faltering, stumbling on weak legs, let me tell you this:

what those girls did to you was not your fault.

Let me tell you this: what you have been told was wrong.

You have never been inherently bad for anyone. You are not too much. You do not poison the earth by existing.

Your spine is made of beach glass and it will not shatter.

My love, we’re in this for the long haul and I will never abandon you. You are the girl who will get out of bed crying at 3am because the pain is too huge, because you take steps on ice and the ravenous sea of your sadness waits huge and black below, swirling beneath the hairline fractures. Your pragmatism will make you get out of bed anyway, scrub your eyes clean and sore, and open your textbook.

When they set up the breathing machines, you will hold your breath like they’re for you. And then you will take another breath, and another.

Being alive is going to be very hard. Do it anyway.

It will not all hurt. I promise you. I am Lot’s wife, a pillar of burning salt looking back to show you the way. Use me as a benchmark of how far you are from the dying city. Use me as a foothold to see how powerless the gates seem from here. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I can’t give up yet.

We’re going to do something extraordinary together, you and I. You just have to take my hand.

Sarah Caulfield is a final-year Education, English, and Drama student at Downing College, University of Cambridge. She has been published previously by Lethe Press, Autonomous Press, The Mays Anthologies 22 & 24, and Voicemail Poems. She was the 2015 and 2016 winner of the John Treherne Creative Writing Prize. The eldest of two children, she has lived in the United Kingdom, Poland and Germany and is from Blackpool, Lancashire. "To The Girl I Was" is from her upcoming chapbook SPINE, to be released with Headmistress Press. She tweets at @holden1779. Her Patreon is here