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Read the First 8 Chapters of The Other Side of Lost

Love inspiring stories about finding yourself, like WILD? Ever wondered what it’s really like to be #instafamous? If you’re like us, in which case the answer to both is a resounding yes, then today’s read is perfect for you! THE OTHER SIDE OF LOST is Jessi Kirby’s latest, and it’s about one girl’s journey to get away from her Instagram persona and rediscover what it means to really live unfiltered as she sets out to hike the John Muir trail—completely alone.

This read is equal parts relatable and inspiring, and its message to be true to yourself and prioritize the things that matter most is one we could all use a reminder for every now and then. And don’t worry—it’s not so much about putting down your phone as putting down all the props and worry that come with exaggerating your Insta doc’ing.

We laughed, we cried, and we planned an expert level hiking trip. We then had to re-evaluate our actual skills, and now we’re sharing the first eight chapters of this story with you!

 

Chapter 1

TWIN STARS

We lie on our backs on the trampoline, drawn into the center by each other’s weight. The universe stretches wide above us, framed by a ring of mountains. My cousin and me at its center.

Twin stars, as our moms always say.

They smile and laugh and get teary-eyed together when they tell the story. Every birthday, before the candles and the wishes. How their due dates were weeks away from each other, but I was late and Bri showed up early, like we’d made a pact to enter the world together. And just a few hours apart, we did.

Tonight, we are thirteen. A number that feels like balancing on the edge of who we’ve always been and everything we might become. Here, now, there is only one thing I know for certain: that we’ll figure it out together, no matter what directions life takes us in. I look at my cousin, my own true north, and I can’t imagine it any other way. In the pale light of the stars, she reaches a hand up to the sky like she might pluck one from its place.

“Look up,” she whispers, “or you’ll miss it.”

“Miss what?” I ask. I bring my eyes to the sky, and a tiny white light streaks through the darkness.

I blink, and it’s gone.

“That,” she says. “An extra wish.”

She takes my hand. “We get to make this one for us, together,” she says, “so I wish for us to always have adventures, and explore, and do all the things other people think we can’t, and be brave, and free, and happy.”

I laugh. “That’s a lot of extra wishes.”

“It’s our birthday, we’re allowed.” I can hear the smile in her voice. “Your turn.”

I look at the sky above us, and I think of today, with its special kind of birthday magic. My mom and me, rising before the sun to make the drive from the beach to the mountains. The crisp smell of the air when we arrived. The way Bri and I crashed into each other for a hug after being apart too long. A day’s adventure with our moms—the hike to a rushing waterfall, a picnic lunch on sun-warmed rocks. The four of us, holding hands as we made the jump into the clear, icy lake.

And later, dancing in the kitchen while our moms cooked dinner and laughed over stories of when they were young. Homemade cake, served on the front porch so we could blow out our candles just as the stars began to shine. The small, wrapped box containing the dreamcatcher keychain Bri had given me to match hers.

And this feeling. Lying beneath a limitless sky, and knowing I am exactly where I belong.

It’s hard to imagine anything better than this, right now.

“I wish for us to always be like this,” I say finally.

Bri squeezes my hand. “Of course we will.”

 

Chapter 2

LIKE THIS

I hear my mom talking in the kitchen. “I’m coming,” she says firmly. “That’s it. You can’t be alone today, not like this.”

In the hallway, I stop midstep. I know by her words and the tremor in her voice that it’s my aunt on the other end of the line.

I watch her reflection in the living room window, pacing the kitchen as she cradles the phone between her ear and shoulder. “No, I mean it. I’m coming right now. I’ll get Mari up, and we’ll get on the road right away. We’ll be there in a few hours, like—”

She stops, and I see her take in a breath. I finish her sentence in my head: like we used to.

But she doesn’t say it. Because it hasn’t been like that for a long time.

I take a step backward to slip away to the safety of my room before she can see me.

“Yes. I’ll tell her. Don’t worry about that right now, it’ll be here when we get back.” There’s a pause. “I love you too,” my mom says before she hangs up. And then she just stands there, perfectly still, in the middle of the kitchen.

The low buzz of the refrigerator grows louder in the silence that follows. I don’t dare move. In the window, I watch my mom’s reflection. Her chin drops to her chest, and her shoulders begin to shake. She brings a hand to her mouth to stifle the sob that comes next. A lump rises in my throat, and all I can do is slip back down the hall, disappearing beneath the sound of grief that I don’t know how to share.

I am eighteen today. Bri should be too.

 

I pretend to be asleep when I hear footsteps in the hall. My mom pretends to be okay when she opens the door.

“Mari?” she says softly. Her voice is still thin, like it might break any second. I hear her cross the room, and then the edge of the bed dips as she sits down next to where I lie with my back to her. She puts a hand on my shoulder.

“Good morning, sweet girl.”

I feel a twinge of guilt at the old nickname, and I give in. Open my eyes. Turn to my mom.

She smiles a close-lipped smile, and her eyes blink back tears that I don’t want to see fall.

“Happy birthday,” she whispers.

I don’t say anything.

We both know that it’s not.

She takes her hand from my shoulder and folds it into her lap, then she presses her lips together and takes a deep breath, and I know what’s coming.

“I think we should go to Aunt Erin’s today,” she says.

I want to close my eyes again. Pull my covers over my head and disappear.

My mom reaches for my hand. “I just was on the phone with her, and she’s . . .” She shakes her head and sweeps a finger beneath her eye. Sniffs. “Today is so hard, and I don’t want her to be alone.” She wraps her arms around me and pulls me into a hug that is tight and uncomfortable. “Come with me?” she asks softly. “I know she’d love to see you.”

I pull away.

“I know this must be hard for you too, baby, but maybe it would be better if we were all together?”

I shake my head. “No,” I say, “I can’t.”

“Why not?” my mom asks softly.

Because I will only be a reminder to my aunt of what she’s lost. Because I can’t go and act like Bri and I were still close, and things hadn’t changed between us. But most of all, because I can’t imagine being there, at that house, without her.

“Because I have plans,” I say. “With Ian.”

A half-truth.

My mom frowns. “Can’t you reschedule? I’m sure he’d understand.”

“No,” I say. “He’s planned some big surprise—for my birthday.”

A flat-out lie.

It puts my mom in a difficult position, just like I know it will, and I try to ignore the pang of guilt I feel. Because I can see that she’s weighing her sister’s grief against her daughter’s wish to avoid it. It’s a losing battle.

“I really don’t want to leave you alone on your birthday,” she says after a long moment. “Especially this one.”

“I won’t be alone.”

“But I may be gone for a few days, depending on how she’s doing.”

“I’ll be fine.”

She looks worried as she reaches out and tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. “I just don’t . . . How are you dealing with this? With Bri. I’ve been so busy, and you have been too, and I don’t even . . . I don’t know if you’re okay.” Tears, again. “Are you okay, Mari?”

Her concern makes a tiny crack in me, one I can’t allow. I take her hand in mine. “I’m okay, I promise. Go see Aunt Erin. She needs you.”

She bites her lip. “Are you sure you’ll be all right?”

“Yes.”

“I’m so sorry,” she whispers.

“Don’t be sorry,” I say softly. “But please tell Aunt Erin that I am.”

 

Chapter 3

ALONE TODAY

I stand in the driveway in my pajamas and wave as my mom pulls away and drives slowly down the street. Even when I can no longer see her, I stay there, picturing each of the turns that will eventually take her to the long highway that leads to my aunt’s cabin in the meadow.

And all I can think is that I should’ve gone with her.

I should be in her car, heading north to do the hard thing and go be with my aunt today because Bri no longer is.

I look down at the phone in my hand and I know that if I called my mom and asked her to turn around and come back, she would. I imagine telling her that I don’t want to be alone today either, and that I want to go with her, and I want to be strong enough to be there for Aunt Erin. But I could never say those things. I’m not strong enough for any of them.

I’m weak. And hollow. And I can’t think about it anymore.

I stare at my phone screen a moment longer, wanting a distraction from the knot of guilt in my stomach, and there are plenty at my fingertips. I tap the Instagram icon and get ready to see how many new likes and comments have come in since I last checked my Last-Day-As-A-Seventeen-Year-Old post yesterday. It takes a second to refresh, which makes me both hopeful and anxious, but then the little bubble appears and shows me my numbers at a glance:

Likes: 1,423
Comments: 112
New Followers: 47

Which brings my total number of followers to 582,419. Not terrible, but not as much as I’d hoped for with that post. I’d ridden my bike down to the beach just before sunset and set up the tripod, then held my hair above my head and waded out into the cold water up to my chest so that my skin would shine wet in the golden light. It had taken so many attempts with the wireless remote, and then even more edits when I got home, but the end product was a shot of me in the sunset, looking out to the ocean like I was looking out at my future, tanned body on full display in a bikini I would never actually wear to the beach.

I read the first comment, from @BohoFit81 Beautiful soul, and an inspiration to all of us!

My eyes trace the outline of my waist, where I’d used an app to take just a touch off each side, and then the “empty” beach, which I’d created using another app to erase unwanted things in the background—in this case, people. And of course there’s the light and color of the shot, which I’d manually edited for a more subtle effect than the standard filters. I feel a twinge of shame at the effort that went into the effortless-looking shot, but I answer her anyway:

@BohoFit81 Thank you so much! But it’s all of you beautiful souls who inspire me!

I add the smiley face with the kissy heart emoji and hit Reply. Then I look up and realize I’m still standing in my empty driveway, and that if I want to get my first post of the day up in time to be there when people reach for the phones on their nightstands, or while they have their first cup of coffee, I need to hurry.

 

Chapter 4

#BREAKFASTGOALS

In the kitchen, I arrange a rainbow of berries and nuts over a bowl of oats dotted with chia seeds. Once I’ve got it just so, I drizzle a thin line of agave syrup as artfully as I can over it all, then finish with a small purple orchid I pluck from the plant on the counter. Next, I clear off a space on the granite for the walnut cutting board I use as a background for food shots, and set the handmade bowl on top of it. I have to climb onto the stool and stand above the counter to get it centered in the frame, and when I do, I can see it needs something more. It is, after all, my birthday breakfast.

I pick the last of the flowers from the orchid and spread them around the bowl, hoping it looks like a celebration. It takes only a few shots to get the angle and perspective right, then I sit right there on the counter and get to work with the photo settings to find the right mix of light and color. Once I do, I add my caption and tags: Birthday breakfast of choice. Good food = a good mood. #birthdaybreakfast #whatieatinaday #foodshouldbebeautiful #veganrecipes #plantstrong

Finally, I double-check it all, push it out to my other accounts, and hit Post. And then I wait for the first few likes to come in. It’s only a moment before they do, and once they hit double digits, I climb down and dump the bowl into the sink, ignoring the empty gnawing in my stomach. There is no way to shave inches off my waist for video, which is what the next post needs to be, so food can wait.

 

Chapter 5

#FITSPIRATION

Upstairs, I text Ian to see if he’d be willing to meet me for lunch somewhere, then I dig through my closet for the yoga pants and bra that I’m supposed to do a paid post for. After I find and put them on, I stand in front of my full-length mirror and examine my reflection. The first thing I see is a hint of roundness in my stomach. I suck it in and pull my shoulders back, trying to lengthen my frame and practice looking natural at the same time, which only sort of works. At least the bright blue and turquoise of the outfit pop against my tan skin, and the top is padded, which gives my tiny boobs some much-needed help. My hair hangs loose and wavy over them, and though it bothers me to have it down during actual yoga poses, it looks better that way, so I leave it.

I open the laptop on my desk and switch over to the video camera that’s permanently pointed at the one clean corner of my room—my “yoga studio.” A bright mandala tapestry hangs against the white wall. Below it is a mat laid out flat on the hardwood floor, and framed by a set of artificial tropical palms. I step onto the mat and look into the camera, conscious of the blinking light that means it’s recording. After a few deep breaths, I shake out my arms and look, for a long moment, into the lens. Then I begin to move and breathe through the series of poses I’ve been practicing, working up to a difficult handstand at the end. My body feels weak and tired, but I try to focus on looking at ease and fully engaged in each movement and moment.

I’m not, though. Thoughts of Bri and my aunt and my mom creep into my mind and throw me off balance so that I have to start over, again and again. Too many times to count. By the time I finally make it all the way through to the handstand, my heart is pounding in my chest, and my arms are shaking so badly that I want to scrap the video altogether. But that’s not an option, because I’m already behind on posting for this company, and I promised a peak time slot in my feed. I have to work with what I’ve got.

I sit down at the desk and check my phone for a reply from Ian—which there isn’t—then tap over to my feed to check on my breakfast post. The numbers are still steadily climbing, which is a good sign I got it right, as basic as that post might have been. I scroll through the comments, liking them all as I go. They’re mostly happy birthdays and emojis—heart eyes, smiley faces, the yummy smile. A few people have actually written the words yum or yummy. A follower named @peace_love_plants, who likes and comments on everything I ever post, wrote: Looks delish! HBD, beautiful!

Thank you so much! I type. And then I roll my eyes and put my phone down.

I sit there in the silence of my room, which feels emptier knowing my mom is likely making her way through the desert by now. It’ll be a few more hours until she reaches the mountains, but I picture her arrival. I know she and my aunt will wrap their arms around each other and cry together right there in the driveway before they go into the house. Maybe after a little while, they’ll decide to go for a walk or a hike somewhere and talk about how it used to be. They’ll sit on the deck and watch the sun sink behind the mountains. Maybe they’ll even lie on the trampoline and look up at the stars. No matter what, they’ll be together today.

For a moment, I let myself imagine being there with them. But when I start to tear up, I force my eyes back to the computer screen and get to work editing a half hour’s worth of yoga footage down to the best forty-five seconds I can find, making sure to include the handstand at the end. I watch it back a few times, and am surprised at how much better it looks than it felt. Satisfied, I caption and tag it:

Dreamy morning flow to celebrate another trip around the sun. Full of gratitude, today and every day, for what is still to come.

Bra and pants from @spiritual_luna all-new summer line!

I grab my phone and go over to my bed to take a break, but the sun shines in through the blinds, too bright where I lie. It shouldn’t upset me, but it does. I get up and yank the string to close them, and my curtains too, then I sit on the floor in the dark and the glow of my phone.

I glance down at it and see that my video is up to seventy-eight views already, but Ian still hasn’t texted me back, so I message him again, despite the fact that it makes me feel slightly pathetic: Hey! Let’s meet today for lunch—my treat—and a few quick shots for that lifestyle account.

Just as I hit Send, a comment notification pops up. I tap over to it, hoping it’s more than just an emoji.

@soulmagic Why are you so fake? You’re missing the entire point of a yoga practice. Don’t act like it’s a spiritual thing for you—just come out and say you’re trying to show off your ASSets and sell us something at the same time. And then eat something, for fucksake.

Another comment appears before I can answer, this one from @wildchel326:

@soulmagic Seriously? Mari comes from an authentic place every day, with every post. She chooses to share her life with us, so you need to lay off. Just because she mentions a product she likes and wears DOESN’T mean she’s trying to sell us on it. And what exactly is wrong with being fit and healthy? Go pour your hate elsewhere. Namaste.

I stare at the words, written in defense of me and my sincerity, and it turns my stomach the slightest bit. It takes a moment, but I type what I hope sounds like a genuine response.

@wildchel326 Thank you for being the positive energy that keeps me going. Amen, and namaste for beautiful vibes.

I finish it off with the prayer hands then hit Reply.

I’d like it to be true—that positive comments like hers are enough to insulate me from the negative ones, but it doesn’t work like that. Especially not when the negative comments have some truth to them that even I recognize.

My phone buzzes with a text from Ian:

Yeah, but can’t stay long
That’s fine. Usual place?
Sure
When can you meet?
5
Okay. See you there.

He doesn’t bother to answer, let alone wish me a happy birthday, even though I know he’s probably seen my posts. But we look like a happy couple on each of our feeds, which is beneficial to both of us, especially for companies looking to capture crossover accounts—and for a while now, that has been enough. At least that’s what I tell myself.

 

Chapter 6

#COMBINEDREACH

At 5:45, Ian steps out onto the back patio of the vegan café we use as our favorite, looking put out. He looks even more annoyed when he sits down and I take the birthday gift I’d wrapped myself out of my purse.

“Really?” he asks, eyeing it.

I ignore the sting of his coldness. It wasn’t always like this. “Really,” I say softly. “It’s my birthday. So it can be your gift to me, and it covers all bases.”

We’re both quiet for a moment, then he nods like that makes sense. “Happy birthday then,” he says. “Works for me.” He picks up his fork to dig into the plate of food I ordered that has long-since grown cold.

I reach out a hand to stop him. “Wait.”

He rolls his eyes and puts his fork down. “Jesus, Mari.”

I flag down the passing bus girl. “Excuse me? Would you mind taking a few pictures for us?”

“Of course!” she says with a wry smile. “Are they gonna end up on your feed?” The prospect seems to make her night.

I smile back. “Maaayybee.”

I hand her my phone, then put the wrapped gift in the middle, between our plates. Ian’s hand reaches for mine across the table, and I take it. We look at each other and smile like we’re enjoying dinner and each other’s company.

“Aw, that’s so cute,” the bus girl says. “I’m gonna take a lot so I make sure to get you a good one. You guys smile, just like that.” She backs up another step, and I hope it’s enough to get the whole thing in the frame.

“Open it,” Ian says in a voice that sounds like he genuinely wants me to. Like what’s in the box came straight from his heart.

“Yeah!” the bus girl agrees. “I’ll get a few of that too!”

I smile, like together, they’ve convinced me, then I tear the handmade paper I bought on the way over. She snaps away as I open the box and take out the necklace I knew would look perfect with the low-cut dress and push-up bra I’m wearing.

“It’s so beautiful,” I say, dangling it in front of me and looking at Ian as lovingly as I can.

“Here,” he says, standing. “Let me.”

He takes the necklace from my hand and steps behind me, smiling in that relaxed way he does so expertly. I lift my hair and dip my chin, and smile in that diminutive way that I do so expertly.

“THAT is adorable,” the bus girl says.

And I know we have the shot. A perfect candid.

Ian knows it too—I can tell by the way he starts fidgeting as soon as she stops taking pictures and hands my phone back.

“That necklace is so pretty! And you guys are SO cute. Hope I got you some good ones.”

“I’m sure you did,” I say. “Thank you so much! Want me to tag you, or credit you?”

“Really? Of course! I’m Kayleigh Bee,” she says, and I search for her name. “It’s k-a-y-l-e-i-g-h-b, all lowercase.”

I type it in. “Is this you?” I hold out my phone for her to check.

“Yep. That’s me. I follow both of you guys, so this is kind of—sorry, fangirling just a little.”

“Well, thanks again,” Ian says. I hope she can’t hear the edge of irritation in his voice.

“Anytime, seriously.”

The sound of glass breaking interrupts what is about to stretch out into an awkward moment. Kayleigh glances over her shoulder. “I uh . . . I better get that. See you guys next time?”

“Hope so,” I say. “Thank you.”

As soon as she turns around, Ian takes a breath and lets it out in a loud sigh. “We good? Cuz I gotta go.”

I nod. “Yeah, sure. I’ll get it up tonight.”

“Great,” he says. “Make sure you tag me.”

“Of course.”

“Happy birthday, Mari.”

“Yeah.”

He turns to go before I can say anything else.

I gather my stuff and leave some cash on the table before anyone can notice.

 

Chapter 7

#MAKEAWISH

The house is dark when I get home, and I walk straight through to the backyard, not wanting to feel the emptiness of being inside alone. Outside, I set the mini cake, sparkler candles, and lighter on the table and turn on the pool lights. I don’t bother with the patio light. The soft aqua glow and the candles should give off enough light for this last shot.

I sink into the patio chair, completely drained. People are going crazy over the shot of Ian putting my birthday necklace on me, oohing and aahing over how cute we are, and how sweet he is, and how beautiful the necklace is, and wanting to know where they can get it.

It makes me want to throw my phone in the pool, but I put it down on the table instead and get the cake I bought on the way home out of its box. It’s too small for eighteen candles, so I settle on a triangle of three in the center of the cake and then grab my phone and try a few different angles that will include me blowing them out with the pool as the background. This one’s going to be hard, because it can’t look like a selfie. That would be mortifying.

But it so obviously is with every angle I try. I dig the mini tripod and remote out of my purse and get the frame set up so that my cake and I are backlit by the pool, both of my hands seemingly free. I sit there for a moment, staring at myself on the phone screen. I look as worn on the outside as I feel on the inside. My hair falls in soft waves over my shoulders, and the makeup I put on before dinner is still perfectly intact. But the effect of them can’t hide the flat look in my eyes, or the hint of dark circles beneath them—or my cheeks, which look too hollow in this light. None of it can hide the emptiness I feel in this moment.

I light the candles. Click my remote as I blow them out. I do this again and again, as many times as it takes to get the shot right.

I don’t bother to make a wish.

 

Chapter 8

SOMETHING TRUE

Up in my room, I watch my phone screen, my pulse ticking off the likes as they roll in. I try to feel the little lift they used to send through me, but tonight it’s long gone. Now I just watch with anxious expectation. There’s a pause, a break in the flow, and I feel the familiar tug of self-doubt. The heaviness of it starts to sink me lower than I already feel. I wait a moment. Wonder if I chose the right shots, if I posted too many. If I should just take them all down. I hold my breath, at the edge of tears, which I know is ridiculous, but I can’t help it. After what feels like forever, I see the little notification heart, and then another, and I breathe again. There are comments coming in too, and I scroll through the ones on my birthday wish photo. Sprinkled in with the celebratory emojis are a few actual comments:

HBD Beautiful!
My birthday wish is to be YOU.
BIRTHDAY GOALS
Hope all your wishes come true, forever and always.
OMG LUV U SOOOO MUCH!!!!!!
You are amazing and beautiful and OMG, if we ever met, I know we’d be INSTANT BFFS.
Make a wish! Perfect end to a perfect birthday!

They’re all so sweet, and I know I should go through and make sure to like each comment so they know I’ve seen and read them, but something in me rebels at the thought. I lie back on my pillows, close my eyes, and think about these strangers—my followers—and how they think of me, and feel like they know me because of what I show them. They have no idea that I am sitting here by myself in my room on my birthday, and that it is the loneliest thing I’ve ever felt.

My phone pings with an unfamiliar notification, and I tap it without thinking. Immediately, my stomach drops, and I wish I could undo it.

Erin Young tagged you in a post with Bri Young!

I stare at their names in shock. I’ve spent the entire day doing everything I can to not think about Bri.

And now she’s right in front of me.

I stare at the notification about my aunt’s post until the letters blur and float in front of me, then I do something I haven’t done in forever. Not even in the two months since Bri died.

I click over to her Facebook page.

The cover photo takes my breath away even though I’ve seen it before.

Bri stands atop a granite ridge surrounded by blue sky. Her eyes are closed, and her face is turned upward toward the sun. She reaches her arms up, open and wide as her hair swirls around her in the wind, long strands blowing over her smiling face. It’s the one my aunt chose for the memorial program, and I can see why. Whoever took it somehow captured her whole spirit in one shot.

Directly beneath it is my aunt’s post. It’s the picture of us from our thirteenth birthday. My throat tightens when I look at the image. Bri and I stand side by side, arms intertwined, grinning and holding our matching dreamcatcher keychains proudly in front of us.

My aunt’s caption reads: Happy Birthday, our twin stars. Keep shining your beautiful lights for this world to see.

The words land in the center of my chest. I want to send them away, to close the page and act like I never saw it. But below Aunt Erin’s post are more words, more birthday wishes for Bri, and I can’t help but read those too.

Happy 18th birthday, my friend. I think of you every day. I feel you in the wind and see you in all things beautiful. Love and miss you every day.

Thinking of you today and your adventurous, free-spirited, humble, and kindhearted way. I promise you I will try my best to live life to the fullest, just as you did, to honor you and our memories. Love you always. Happy birthday, Bri.

So many tears today. I miss you and your sweet smile, your beautiful voice, and your powerful spirit.

You had a wild heart and a gypsy soul, and I know you’re out there somewhere, exploring the great beyond and shining your light down on all of us. Happy birthday, beautiful angel.

They continue on like this, as far as I can scroll down, these heartbreaking birthday wishes for my cousin, from people I know and don’t. Each one strikes a chord somewhere deep in my chest, and my own tears begin to fall as I read them.

Tonight, I don’t have the strength to fight it.

I think of us, and how we used to be. Of that last birthday we celebrated together—our thirteenth—when the possibilities for everything we could be were bright and endless. And together, we were invincible. We could do whatever we wanted, and the two of us together were enough. That’s how she made it feel.

I think now, of the wish I made on that birthday—that it would always be like that with us.

It was so long ago. Before I screwed everything up.

Before my dad left, and my mom got so wrapped up in making a new life for herself that she forgot I was still trying to figure out how to live mine. So I looked elsewhere for help, and I found it online. First, it was a girl on Instagram who posted pretty pictures and inspirational thoughts, and I clung to them and the escape they offered me. And then I started to find more accounts like hers, of all these girls, living out these perfect, inspiring lives that I wanted so much. They were beautiful, and happy. They spent their days eating healthy, and doing yoga, and going to the beach with their friends.

So I watched these strangers’ lives from a distance, and it didn’t take long for my envy to turn into emulation. I studied their poses and posts, memorized quotes and hashtags, read articles on how to build a following. I went through my own account and deleted the photos with the fewest likes, and the ones that didn’t fit in with the overall image I wanted to create—that of a blissful, balanced life. A life that was better than the one I was actually living. This image couldn’t include shots of me in my Halloween costume as a ten-year-old—or filthy and sunburnt after a day of adventures on my thirteenth birthday with my cousin. I felt guilty about taking that one down, but I did it anyway. And when Bri noticed and asked me about it, I lied and told her how sad I was that those posts had somehow gotten lost. She sent me the pictures again, but I never put them back up.

Instead, I composed pictures I thought more people would like. Other people, who didn’t actually know me. And when I posted my first bikini shot, it worked. Almost overnight, strangers started liking my posts, and commenting, and following me. Bri had messaged me asking what was going on, and if everything was okay, like she could see right through me—which I hated. That first picture, and the response it had gotten, had made me feel good when nothing else did. And I didn’t want her to take that away from me.

So I posted more like the bikini picture, and every single one widened the distance between us. I didn’t want to hear her question me, or be worried, or call me out on something false I said or showed. She knew the real me, and that was not the one I wanted everyone else to know. So I’d stopped calling her. Made excuses not to visit. It’s hard to face someone who can see the real you, so I didn’t. I let her go. And eventually, she did the same with me.

A lump rises in my throat, and Bri’s Facebook page goes blurry through my tears, and all I want is for her to be here right now. To celebrate our birthday together. To talk to her. To pour out the loneliness of my days.

And to confess the meaninglessness of the life I’ve created for myself.

Maybe that’s what makes me get up from my bed and sit down at my desk, in front of my laptop and hit record.

My image comes up on the screen, and I sit there in my pajamas, face streaked with mascara, eyes puffy and red. And for once, I don’t care. I stare at the unblinking eye of the lens, not knowing what to say. And then I picture Bri on the other side, listening. I think of us, and of the summer of thirteen. The last time I saw her.

“It’s our birthday today,” I say. “And there’s something I need to tell you.” I pause. Stare at the lens again. And finally, for the first time in forever, I say something true.

 


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