I nervously packed my bags for my Portland weekend trip. Should I pack heels? What about a dress? I need a hot dress. Maybe I should straighten my hair? My mom always said I looked better with straight hair. If I keep it curly, maybe I should wash my hair tonight so my curls look extra nice for the trip.
My stomach fluttered with butterflies, the kind you only get when feelings are involved. I was headed to Portland for the first time ever, for both business and pleasure. For business, I was covering a women’s soccer game for a news outlet. For pleasure, I was taking a weekend girls’ trip with a friend from L.A.
Then, in a momentous, destiny-calling kind of way, an opportunity presented itself to connect with an old friend who lived in Portland. This old friend, to be exact, was my 8th grade crush who saw me in glasses, pigtails and all the awkward phases that a kindergarten through 8th grade school entails.
We’ll call him Austin. Rumor had it, Austin had a crush on me too. (His best friend told my best friend. You know? The usual means of communication in middle school.) Austin also happened to be one of my cousin’s best friends, and his dad lived in the same suburban neighborhood as my cousin’s family throughout our entire childhood. While I hadn’t seen Austin in 10 years, I occasionally would hear tales about his adult life from my cousin or my aunt whenever I came home.
A few days before my trip, my cousin text me his number. I sent a nervous yet bold text asking Austin for the best places to go to and sights to see in Portland, and the deed was done. Austin was gracious and agreed to meet my friend and I for lunch and show us around. I ended up spending every day of my trip with Austin, every single day. I was enamored with the idea of him yet and still, and I spent the weekend hoping for something more than friendship.
To my inner child’s dismay, I realized Austin had not really changed, for both the good and the bad. Between the long talks, laughter, jokes and insults we exchanged, I realized it wasn’t so much him who I had admired all these years but the idea of him. I romanticized who I thought he was or who I wanted him to be. I made the middle school crush who I cried over at the end of 8th grade (yes, I was an emotional kid) out to be more than he actually was.
He was still the good-looking, funny and sweet guy I remember. Unfortunately, he was aware of all these things, his good looks, his charm, his confidence with the ladies. The same guy who every girl liked in middle school was now sitting across from me at a restaurant over drinks checking out women and asking me to be his wing-woman to pick up ladies. Some habits die hard, and I think being the popular, athlete who all the ladies want is one of them. He was still the same person, not ready to grow up or settle down.
The real struggle from that weekend wasn’t about Austin at all though. It was an internal battle within myself. A battle of whether or not I would allow the popular guy in school to unearth me the way he did when I was a kid. The nervousness. The shaky hands. The fast heart beat. It all came back to me.
As Austin scanned the bar for women, I began to look at myself and question if I was enough. What about me? I wondered. Am I not good enough? Why don’t you see me? Why not me? I stopped, gathered my thoughts and began to counteract the insecurities trying to surface.
You see, I am not the little, straight- A, shy girl from middle school anymore. That girl has transformed into a twenty-someting woman who has scars from heartbreak that have healed with time. She has wisdom lines on her brow from the mistakes she has made and the lessons she has learned. She has miles under her belt from the states she has lived and the countries she has visited. She has laugh lines on her face from times spent with friends who have become more like family. She has muscle from the hours she has spent serving others and learning to enjoy the moment.
Eighth grade me is gone. Although parts of her make up the mosaic of the woman I am now, that little girl grew up and is now a woman who knows she is. She is confident, strong and knows her value, and no guy, not even the hot middle school jock, gets to challenge that knowledge.
Everyone gets older but not everyone grows up. Growing up requires doing the work to learn, to change, to better yourself. Austin hasn’t grown up and reconnecting with him taught me that trying to force someone from your past into your present doesn’t work. The pieces won’t fit.
Sometimes, oftentimes, you can’t go back to the past. You might be able to revisit it momentarily or for a weekend trip to Portland, but you can’t stay there. You aren’t meant to. Life is about moving forward, letting go and accepting the now. Austin and I got older and went our separate ways, and I really believe it was for the best.
My blast from the past brought laughter, moments of self-doubt and most importantly a revelation that I am good enough, who I am now, present day me. Our last day in Portland, Austin dropped my friend and I off at the airport, and I haven’t heard from him since. I walked away from the experience knowing it’s OK to grow up and not look back. You simply have to trust the process and let go of what you thought life would look like and accept it for what it is.
This post originally appeared on Hello Giggles.