This year, I ordered a bunch of zines in the mail. The ones from Mixed Messages included some cardboard puzzle pieces with words handwritten on the back. They read putting pieces of ourselves together makes us whole if you chose to arrange them that way. I did:

I guess that’s what I’m doing with this piece. This is a frantic, grateful act of reflection and recollection. I’m putting this year—my biggest, most important one yet — together as I go.

I have some reservations about this. I am nervous about sharing so much. I am nervous about how sharing so much might be perceived. I’ve spent this year narrowing down what I share, learning that some things are best kept to myself and the people I share those moments with, learning that it feels good and necessary to let thoughts rattle around in my head instead of spilling every last one of them out in pukey, broadcasted streams of consciousness.

But I also know that a great deal of this year was difficult, that a greater deal of it was incredible, that much of it answered questions I thought I’d be asking forever, that a lot of this would have given me so much hope if I had read it a few years ago. So I’m swallowing my pride and my fear and throwing this out there in spite of myself with the hope that it will help someone. Or help me. Or serve as a time capsule for years down the line: even if the person I am then is mortified by how candid I’m letting myself be now, I think she will be grateful. So here are some stories.

Before 2015, I only knew how to build years around solitary events: trips to Disney, journalism conventions, my first LeakyCon. These events were little escapes from a life spent trapped in my bedroom, so I threw everything I had into waiting for them. The other fifty-one weeks trudged along and I’d always grow restless in the denouement and then the next inevitable countdown.

I know how to look back at an event, how to spend all year preparing for it and then all year talking and thinking about it. Easy. But how do I even begin to look back at a year that kept happening — a year that changed everything? How do I make sense of anything when it feels like I just finished a marathon I didn’t know I was running and certainly never trained for?

I’m still not sure. This is me trying.

I don’t remember much about the time between January 1st and the April morning I left for Boston. It’s a lot like the way that I don’t remember much about the first eighteen years of my life. To the best of my remembrance, those months mostly saw me pouring my energy into things that I thought were vital at the time but don’t matter at all today.

Also: I watched a lot of Jurassic Park. I watched a lot of Parks and Rec. Parks and Rec ended. I started listening to old-news bands, upholding my perpetually-late-to-the-party reputation and finding their music was exactly what I needed at that point in my life. I bought tickets: to Boston, to see the Mountain Goats, to New York, to see Paramore, to see Neutral Milk Hotel, for my first work trip. I planned little escapes.

I was in school and then I wasn’t. Not going back to school felt like a rock-bottom failure then and exactly what I needed to do now.

I agonized over how to tell my parents I was going on a trip by myself. When I finally did, my mom said that she understood, that months earlier she’d told my father “One of these days, Claudia is going to leave and she’s not going to come back.” I rubbed her back, tried to comfort her, found myself longing for that to be true but still convinced it wouldn’t be a possibility unless some miracle scholarship came in the mail. I figured, to my mom’s relief, little escapes were all I had.

I left for Boston in April.

I took my first flight since the one that brought me to Miami a lifetime earlier. I saw the Mountain Goats. I took a bus to New York. Once there, I immediately got lost but managed to meet up with Jack. Less than a block later, we ran into our friend Alanna, who took us on an adventure to the Buzzfeed offices. Jack and I went back to his place and listened to records and listened to the Cephalopodcast and had a productive work day full of Wunderlist dings.

Jack told me New York wouldn’t always be as serendipitous as that first day, but few days later I had to text him about how he was wrong because Sarah, Kirstyn and I ended up seeing Curious Incident feet away from a #celebrity who was the entire reason Kirstyn and I became friends in the first place.

The photos from that first trip are the ones where I can finally start recognizing myself as who I’ve been this year. The ones from before that feel like they were from ages ago, from middle school, from before the world was big.

I got on a plane back to Miami. I spent the two weeks between trips reeling from my widening realm of possibility.

The night before I left for my first ever Harry Potter Alliance Senior Staff and Board Retreat, I drove two hours to see Paramore headline Sunfest. They were in the middle of their Writing the Future tour and the changes they made for the festival setlist were minimal — they still played Tell Me It’s Okay, they still played Daydreaming, they still closed with Future. All the songs I needed to hear were there. My friend and I ended up in the front row and I yelled along to Tell Me It’s Okay so hard that I lost my voice.

The next morning, I flew to Rhode Island and met up with some of my coworkers at the airport. I thought about how nice it was to have people to wait for and to have people waiting for you. We drove to a town in Connecticut and piled into a house we’d rented for the weekend.

There was a stack of Goosebumps books in the room I stayed in. We presented and listened to each other’s presentations and held meetings and thought hard about our organization, but we also went for walks and started Cephalopodcast fan blogs and got ice cream from Fred’s Shanty and shared really good meals.

We drove back to Rhode Island. Matt took the scenic route — his way of selling me on Providence if I ended up getting into the school I had applied to there. The acceptance letter never came, but I was already sold.

That night, we went to dinner in the city. My dread over the flight that would take me back to Miami in the early morning crept up steadily. I had no way of knowing I’d be moving into my first apartment just steps away from that restaurant before the year was over.

It’s easy to forget this part — to let it be buried by memories from the cons and concerts and life changes that happened after it — but dusting it off now places it as one of my favorite weekends ever. There are words and moments from those days that have stuck with me the whole year, changed me a little more every time I’ve revisited them. I came out of it feeling valued and capable and, even though I would lose sight of that in the coming autumn, I felt like there was a place for me out there. Like I was doing something right.

There is very little that makes me feel as invincible as scheming about how to make the world a better place with a group of people who make Parks and Rec feel like home videos. I don’t talk about it nearly enough here, but the Harry Potter Alliance is the very best thing to happen to me and I’m thankful for it every day.

I spent the first leg of my trip back to my bedroom in bleary exhaustion, but quickly devolved into an embarrassing crying mess during my layover. I missed everything — everyone — so much so quickly. I still feel bad for the nice older couple who had to deal with the sniffling girl sitting in their row’s window seat all the way from Philadelphia to Miami. They were just trying to watch HGTV on their tablet.

A few days after the retreat, Maddie and I saw Neutral Milk Hotel at a gorgeous theater in Miami. It was equal parts unreal and underwhelming.

Between sets, something happened that set off the grueling resolution to a shitty situation I had been dealing with since LeakyCon the summer prior. The ensuing days were difficult and necessary. I learned what closure felt like. I learned that closure didn’t mean I wouldn’t be working through the residual issues for a long time to come. I am still learning that.

In June, I flew to Austin to see the Mountain Goats with Manar. It was the final show of the American part of their Regional Heat tour. It was the very best non-wizard rock show I saw this year.

After the show, we spoke to John Darnielle. Manar took me on my first Denny’s adventure. Her car broke down in the parking lot. We talked while we waited for an AARP dude to rescue us. We could have talked forever.

I flew back to Miami the next day and waited for GeekyCon.

The day before I was due to arrive in Orlando for GeekyCon preparations, I went to a Harry and the Potters show at Mojo Books and Records in Tampa with some pals. It was good times.

Sometime after GeekyCon, I wrote this post:

“I spent most of LeakyCon 2014 being a total wreck. Then I spent most of the year between LeakyCon and GeekyCon working hard to get better. Now that GeekyCon has come and gone, here’s where I’m at: I’m still growing. I’m still learning. I’m still chipping away at what I’ve been taught to believe about myself. I have quite a ways to go and no shortage of tough stuff ahead of me, but for the first time in a long time I don’t feel useless or incapable in the face of all that. After spending a week feeling safe and happy and loved, it’s difficult not to feel invincible.
GeekyCon made me feel like anything was possible. It gave me moments I never thought would happen: songs I thought I’d never hear, friends everywhere I looked, a sense of genuine belonging and being understood. It gave me so much of what I needed at this point in my life: Lauren’s song about being a creator, constant rejection of the conventional, advice from friends and mentors who know a thing or two about going off the beaten path, the best crew I could ever imagine sharing a wizard rock show with. It gave me time with a team that works hard, dreams big, loves bigger and an environment actively curated to affirm, inspire, and empower.
Someone pulled me aside during closing ceremonies and told me “it’s like you’re Harry and the wizarding world is behind you.” I don’t know how much stock I’m willing to put in the grandeur of that, but I do know I had a lot of very Harry moments this past week. From escaping Privet Drive to being in Dumbledore’s Army to midnight laughs, weeks like these make me feel like Harry’s story isn’t just one my life is built around but one I can call mine.
I love this life. I love this community. I love GeekyCon.
If you were there this week — working to save the world, singing along to wizard rock, dealing with my blood and tears after the ball, keeping an eye out while I was asleep by the escalators, telling me you were in my corner, telling me I was going to be just fine, telling me you believed in me, goofing out, doing what you love, being yourself, fightin’ evil — I love you, too.
Thank you. See you soon. DFTBA.”

All of that was true. I meant it.

But there were also moments of incongruent difficulty in the mix. Moments of feeling unalone were followed by moments of nauseating loneliness. Moments of happiness interrupted but eventually gave way to an underlying sense of brokenness. I was frustrated with myself for still being so scared to speak up, for still defaulting to ostensible cynicism and snark as a defense mechanism, for not knowing how to be a person. I wanted it to be easy for me. I wanted to be able to make and keep friendships like a normal person. I wanted to be myself and I wanted to find out what that meant.

So I ended up crying in the corner at an after-ball party, telling my friend that snitchwich shades made good cry shields as she rubbed my back, trying not to worry Matt but feeling so thankful when he quietly told me “I care very deeply about you.”

None of those were problems brought on by GeekyCon. They were ongoing battles. Their context only served as a reminder that I had a ways to go. Recovering and unlearning and getting better all take time. This is a roller coaster — not linear, prone to breakdowns, but navigable once you welcome the challenge. I wasn’t there yet. I didn’t know where I was.

But it was good and it mattered and I meant what I said. All these things were true all at once.

Other things that were true about GeekyCon: We had a dedicated hummus shelf in our hotel room refrigerator. I tried the worst ice cream I’ve ever tasted. Jack, Joe, Sarah and I spent the entire bus ride back from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter singing a new song consisting of inspired lyrics: Oh, the bus goes to Hogwarts, the bus goes to Hogwarts, the bus goes to Hogwarts, yeah yeah yeah. I heard one of my favorite songs in all the world live when I least expected to. I said that the second wizard rock show was the happiest I’d ever been, and I still think that’s at least mostly true even if the Yule Balls definitely gave it a run for its money. We went on the water slide. We were very excited about the water slide. On the way back from one last dinner with HPA volunteers and some pep band kids, Jack and I ran through some sprinklers.

Riley’s recap videos always do a good job of summing up some of my favorite parts of my favorite week. You can spot me in parts of this. My favorite is when I catch a snitchwich in my mouth.

I was a disaster of a roommate, all my possessions — clothing, travel sized toiletries, badge ribbons, single shoes longing for their twins, jars of peanut butter I’d inherited at some point — scattered around the room. I always forgot something and I’d have to make the trek from the convention center and back. It took what had to be at least two hours to pack everything up on the last day. Jack and I made the best of it by putting on some music. We were done before we knew it and we met up with the parts of HPA staff that hadn’t left already so we could say goodbye.

I took a bus back down to Miami with the week’s lessons and songs and memories ringing in my ears. Less than a day after the idea of moving out was planted in my head in a hot tub hangout, I knew I was going to try. I had to. Less than a month later, I was packing my life into two suitcases and moving to Rhode Island.

I still don’t know quite how to talk about this next part.

I don’t know which of these fits best, but they are all true: I grew up in an abusive home. I was born to an abusive father. I am an abuse survivor.

I’ve written about some of it here.

In one tumblr post, I put it this way:

for as long as i can remember, i’ve been grappling with living in a place that made me feel small, stuck, and urgently unsafe. for the last several years especially, i fixated on the idea of one day getting out. i read and reread particular harry potter passages; i listened to the mountain goats’ the sunset tree — its liner notes read “dedicated to any young men and women anywhere who live with people who abuse them, with the following good news: you are going to make it out of there alive, you will live to tell your story, never lose hope” — more than almost anything else; i was a little too invested every time i am a wizard or these days are dark played on shuffle or at shows.

A few weeks ago, I watched Matilda for the first time since I was a kid and I ended up having a panic attack because seeing how Matilda’s father treated her felt like watching hidden camera footage from my life.

This was the year I escaped that. I left Privet Drive.

When I emailed Matt asking what he thought about me moving to Providence, he told me I could live with him and Lauren while I got settled in. I dodged the offer because I didn’t think I deserved it. He insisted. I caved. I flew in on September 2nd and moved into the room that is now Rory’s nursery.

For the very first time, I was home — not for a weekend, not for a week, not for fleeting moments in a crowd, but for two whole months. On ordinary days. We had dinner together just about every night. We watched movies and television and went to the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and went grocery shopping and went to Target. We went to the zoo and to food trucks and we marked the end of summer with a campfire I can still smell on the hat I wore. We played Dominion. We used the word family in ways I never thought would apply to me. Even in that first email reply, Matt told me I had “a family in Providence.” They’re still some of my favorite words.

Here is why I revisited Matilda in the first place: I remembered being so envious as a kid that she had a Ms. Honey, who mentored her at school and told her she was proud of her and became her family. I wanted that so badly. I wanted a half-giant knocking down my door. I wanted the Weasleys at my window.

Living with Matt and Lauren reminded me of those final scenes in Matilda and of Harry’s first summer at the Burrow. It wasn’t a little girl’s escapism anymore. It was real. I was home and I felt cared for and welcomed and supported and encouraged. I felt loved.

So I rented the movie and finally saw myself in every single scene, even the ones at the end.

Somewhere between arriving to Rhode Island and leaving for NerdCon, I found an apartment and put down my first month’s rent and set a date to move in. I flew back to Miami to pick up more things. I drove up to Ft. Lauderdale to see a Mountain Goats show with Maddie, Blaze, and Ryan. We wore wizard rock shirts and snitchwich shades — our own little event. I told John Darnielle that I was leaving my Sunset Tree home that night and he raised his hand for a high five. Maddie drove me to the airport in the middle of the night and I left for NerdCon, my broken house behind me and good things ahead.

But we’re not there yet.

The second weekend in September, Jack and Emma came down and Amber and Sam and baby Hope came over and we went to a wizard rock house show at Brian Malfoy Manor. I hung out with some of my favorite people in the world and we sang along to some of our favorite songs. Not for the first time, I realized that the decade I had to sit these things out was worth it if it led me to that moment. It was a perfect, magic night.

The next day, we went to Purgatory Chasm — a place I’d only heard about from countless voices recounting the same long-ago night—where Jack and Joe were shooting a music video and I went off by myself and in a fit of thoughtless adventure I found the highest cliff and sat at the very edge of it, legs dangling, stomach flipping. Instead of taking self-preservative measures, I took a picture and tweeted it to Olivia:

I could have died.

I know this now and I knew it then, the sentence ringing in my head as I sat there and as I lay on a hotel bed full of saxophones and Olivia later that day and as I recounted it in the ensuing days. Through every part of that, I knew I didn’t want to die, that faced with the possibility and l’appel du vide I couldn’t bear to nudge myself forward and the thought of accidentally falling off terrified me like very little else.

I didn’t want to die.

And then, a few weeks later, I wanted to die.

Or. That’s not quite true. It was more like this: If I had been on that cliff again in that moment, I still wouldn’t have nudged myself forward. But I would have wanted to. I would have longed for the strength to. I kept looking at cars blurring past Minneapolis streets and almost resented the fear of missing out and the million things I hadn’t done and the unwillingness to involve others — the people driving those cars and the people whose lives I was taking up space in — that kept me from lurching off the sidewalk. I stared down crumpled hotel bedsheets and thought about all the places in the room I could tie them to. I punched the hotel room wall and the hotel room table and spent the weekend rubbing my bruised knuckles like worry stones.

It was almost funny, you know? A dark sitcom running gag. I had this awesome life, I had this awesome job, I was the furthest out west I’d ever been, I was at a convention about things I love as part of my dream job, and I wanted to kill myself. There were auditoriums full of people laughing and listening and sharing in their love of story and I wanted to kill myself.

There are myriad chemical and psychological reasons why I wanted to kill myself, but in my mind it was because I was lonely and alone and I would never be anything but a burden, a bother, a babysitting job no one asked for in the first place and nobody really wanted me around and I added nothing of value to the world on and on and on.

So I spent most of what could have been — and in so many ways still really was — a wonderful trip thinking about how I wanted so badly to throw myself into moving traffic as I walked above it from hotel to convention center or next to it while en route to well-themed restaurants and two-story Targets and art museums. And I’d spend the first hour in that art museum blinking back tears and staring blankly at walls and still wanting — maybe more than ever — to kill myself, wondering how I’d gotten here again and wondering if it was going to be like this forever and wondering if this was all I’d ever be worth to myself.

But I kept going and by the time we were atop the museum, wind whipping my hair around, treasure appearing between cracks in the brick floor, I could breathe again and I didn’t want to kill myself. We left the museum for a backyard show. And that night was good.

It was only a momentary respite.

I got back to Rhode Island and had the worst cold of my life (Lauren was sick, too, and our cold merged into one big supercold and we went through an alarming amount of tissues) and slept for entire days. That’s not an exaggeration: I’d sleep and sleep and sleep and emerge for one hour during dinner and sleep some more. Matt told me there was a while there where they weren’t sure I was still alive. I felt weak and miserable, but it came as a break from consciously grappling with whatever was going on in my brain.

I was eventually able to stay awake for a few hours at a time, and then for most of a day, and my brain remembered itself. I kept wanting to die. I kept wanting to disappear. I kept living like all the terrible things my brain told me were true.

And then something broke and I decided I needed to do something about it, or at least tell someone, so I sent this e-mail, which was probably the most difficult and taxing thing I’ve written this year:

“[…] I just want to get back to progressing and productively working instead of floating around in weird grossness made of anxiety and worries and depression, which is what it feels like, and I think letting you know some of what’s going on in my head is a good first step and I need to stop assuming everyone can read my mind and tell if something’s off at any given moment. And I haven’t really vocalized this anywhere other than abstractly in my head, so it’s probably good to map everything out and get it off my chest for at least a moment.
basically: I have no idea what triggered this, but as you partly already know sometime around the beginning of NerdCon I fell back into bad news bears mental health territory and I haven’t really been able to dig myself out. It’s like for the past yearish I’ve been in this bubble where — other than extenuating circumstances elsewhere in my life — things were swell and I was getting better and I felt like I was a valid, valuable person who was Part Of this amazing org/staff and Part Of these awesome communities and finally figuring out how to be a human with friends and potential and all that good stuff and then, for whatever fucking reason, that bubble shattered and I have no idea how to go back to believing any of those things about myself in the wake of it.
Even though post-NerdCon I’ve been able to shift back to “these things are probably, maybe, distantly possibly just your asshole brain lying to you” instead of “this is literally the absolute truth about your life” and I’m no longer having bummer suicidal ideation-y thoughts like I was having the whole time at NerdCon (this is the part that I always try to dance around and I really, seriously don’t want to alarm you and I want to stress that this is just strictly ideation and I’ve dealt with it a lot before — namely in high school — and I would never ever actually do anything because I want to be around too much and I couldn’t stomach putting people in my life through anything like that and a thousand other reasons, but if the whole point of this email is being honest then I can’t keep pretending this wasn’t a reality and I can’t pretend that the fact that it’s just a part of my thought process doesn’t make me feel like shit), it still affects how I feel and — most relevantly — how I’m approaching work and why I’m struggling to get back on top of my game.
Like at NerdCon, after whatever moment it was that I shifted from “this is the best and things are really working out” to “everything is terrible,” I immediately started worrying/believing that I add nothing of value to the HPA and everybody knows it and that I’m not kidding anybody and I should just do everyone a favor and quit and disappear etc etc etc and the reason that I devoted so much time to trying to write a post about the birthday and completely failed to write a post about the birthday and had a two-day-long panic incident about the birthday party was because I was convinced that anything I said would just effectively be me making a total idiot out of myself because nothing that I felt about the HPA was reflected in how other people saw my place at the HPA and I didn’t have a right to feel positively about it or feel like I belonged here or anything. Like, at one point I couldn’t type anything for a full hour because I was trying to write something about what the rest of staff meant to me and I panicked over how to say it because coworkers felt too clinical but I thought I would be out of line in saying friends? Like it would make everyone uncomfortable for me to call them my friends because nobody wanted me thinking that way? And these are worries that have lived under my skin for basically forever in one way or another, like they’re worries I carry around with me in the back of my head, but I never — or at least never in the past couple of years — felt them so intensely or felt them to be total truths.
And where I’m at now, after the worst of it but still in the wake of it, is that I still kind of believe all of that, still believe I’m just a nuisance who nobody takes seriously, and knowing that there’s a possibility that my brain is lying to me doesn’t cancel those feelings out in my mind’s processes or in reality. And I don’t know how to reconcile that with the fact that this — the HPA, this community, this little found family that means the world to me — is my absolute favorite thing in the world and the thing that has saved me so many times over and the thing that I want to pour my energy into and, like I’ve told you before, make the most of and be able to devote my potential to.
Like, that’s the crux of this: I’ve always always lived with many of the personal aspects of this, but they’ve never seeped into this part of my life quite this way and I’m angry and frustrated that it’s causing me to end up feeling sick and lost and unable to understand basic things and switching back and forth between tasks and just staring at the screen forever everytime I try to get to work because part of my brain is always on this loop of “I am the worst and I don’t belong here and I’m contributing nothing I don’t know what to do with myself.”
So what I guess I’m saying is that this is why. If I’ve come off as moodier or more detached or more standoffish or snarkier or more passive-aggressive or less engaged than usual, this is why and this is what’s going on. I haven’t exactly been trying to deal with this — just trying to make it through every day. But that’s obviously not working out and I don’t want to be any of those things. I want to be productive and I want to contribute and I want to just have normal conversations where I’m not trying to avoid something the other person doesn’t even know is there and I want to say things. I want the fact that I value optimism and kindness and positive vibez to be reflected in how I conduct myself. I want to stop only speaking up when it’s to say something funny in a meeting or criticize others in individual discussions. Etc etc etc. Even aside from my mental health nonsense, I want to be more assertive (but never aggressive or speaking over other people) and a better advocate for myself because the solution to frustrations I have with ways things play out or the fact that I feel kind of voiceless in the scheme of the HPA sometimes isn’t to wait until opportunities to be heard are handed to me.
And I don’t know how to start believing that I’m worth something, but I’m trying.
I think I’ve done this before. I think I always reach a point — or am at that point from the beginning — where I decide I’m the worst and worthless and nobody wants me around and I just leave. I isolate myself, I quit the club, I take over the newspaper, I eat lunch in empty classrooms, all because I decide that the certainty of solitude is preferable to always wondering when the other shoe is going to drop. I decide that pushing everyone away and dictating my insecurities about what they think of me as reality is easier than wondering if I’m just fooling myself in maintaining ostensibly positive relationships. And I end up by myself, doing nothing, scrolling through tumblr and making whiny posts on one of ten thousand blogs and reading fanfiction forever.
And even when I was at the worst of it in NerdCon and certainly now, even through all my weird destructive thought processes, the one obvious and unavoidable and immutable thing is that I can’t give up on this. I can’t enact the classic Claudia method of a downward spiral and eventual checkout with the HPA because it means too fucking much to me in too many ways and no matter what I do or do not believe about myself and my place in the world, I know I can’t disappear and I know I want to be here as long as I can be here. And I owe it to the HPA and you guys and definitely myself to give it my all, not this mid-mental crisis halfhearted nonsense, so I’m going to be honest with you the way I’ve been honest in the past when it’s been issues with my family or issues with school and then I’m going to work through it and I’m going to get better. I’m probably never going to be magically good and unbroken, but I’m going to give what I have. I care too much about the HPA, about you guys, about who I’ve become over the past few years and who I’m on my way to becoming and I’m not letting myself lose those things.
[…] I’ll try to be better about letting you know where I’m at. I’ll try to be better about speaking up and making space for myself. I’ll try to be less grumpy and resigned and passive-aggressive. I’m just going to try and keep trying.
Sorry this is so stupidly long and so all over the place. And I’m sorry I’ve been a bit of an asshole disaster for a while. I hope this explains that and I hope this is the beginning of the end of that.”

It kind of was. Telling someone was the right idea — it usually is. The reply to that email helped more than I can say. I started getting better. I’m still working on it.

I moved into my first apartment.

Some small stuff has been rough. It’s lonely. It’s not fun being an outsider again — being made fun of by roommates and roommates’ friends, being whispered about, doing most things by myself — and I’m never quite sure this part isn’t forever. I’m in lowkey-but-still-so-stressful credit card debt and I don’t think I’ve eaten a vegetable in months and I end up with seven dollars to my name for as many days way too often. I’ve learned my father can still make me feel panicked and unsafe from thousands of miles away. I don’t know what I’m going to do when the Real Cold and Real Snow come.

But there’s a coffee shop and a bookstore within walking distance and there’s always a show right around the corner and dandelions line the path I walk almost everyday. I get to listen to records and water (or forget to water) plants. There’s always something left to discover. I’m learning how to be a regular at places. I’m working up the courage to explore new ones. I’m never too far from the friends who encouraged me to move here — or anywhere — and who have helped me out in ways big and small. I get to hang out with them more often, going to shows and yelling songs in cars and writing over coffee or on my dining room table. It’s good. This is good.

It’s not home. Not yet. Maybe not ever. But it’s not Privet Drive. It’s never going to be Privet Drive again.

I went to Book Riot Live in New York. We found a perfect bookcase on the side of the street moments after lamenting we didn’t have a bookcase for the Apparating Library; I gave away my first business card to an author whose work has meant quite a bit to me since my most fragile tween years.

I saw Downtown Boys and Speedy Ortiz and the Providence Holiday Sax Choir. I did not see Star Wars. It’s on my list.

I went to my first ever Yule Ball(s). I spent Christmas at my friend Alora’s house along with Jack. Every part of that week was so good and so happy and it still makes me smile big, goofy smiles when I think about it.

I rang in the new year at a wizard rock house party, surrounded by friends and music and a community I had spent so long only knowing from afar. We sang and laughed and I put the pockets in my dress to good use. When the bands were done, a handful of people kept jamming and a handful of people watched. This went on until 4AM and we talked and we found stretches of carpet to sleep on. I couldn’t sleep. I had songs stuck in my head and I kept thinking about how grateful I was for that night (even the parts that stung for silly reasons), for all the friends I’d gotten to share that night with and the ones scattered around the world, for the ways they’d all made this year brighter, for this year, for the one ahead.

The next day, Danielle and Michaela picked me up and we drove to Providence. We ate at Harry’s. We said bittersweet goodbyes. Even though I felt — and, writing this days after I had hoped I’d finish, still feel — like 2016 ran me over on its way in, I had a very good time. I still marvel at the good times and how often they come these days.

So where does this leave me?

I‘m still hardwired to think most people must hate me, must only tolerate me out of pity or politeness. I still break plans or never make them or sidestep what might have been invitations because I am convinced people would never really want me around. I have silly schoolgirl crushes I don’t think I will ever pursue because the idea that anybody would ever like me is so foreign. I don’t know how to make friends. I don’t know how to maintain friendships. I can’t shake the feeling that there are certain kinds of loneliness I will never escape, that the tyranny of distance — physical, emotional, within me and from me— will always win out. I still don’t know how to talk to people without feeling like I’m bothering them. I still don’t know where I stand with most people. I still don’t know what it feels like to be important to someone.

Sometimes I carry my emotions like a child hiding the bug they plucked from their yard, fearful I’ll be reprimanded if I let myself be too sentimental. Sometimes I feel like I’m one slip of the tongue from being the kid who called their teacher “mom” in gradeschool. Or the kid who nobody corrects when they say “friends” but has one person — their cousin — show up to their birthday party. I’ve spent much of this year frustrated with myself for defaulting to fake cynicism and empty snark as defense mechanisms. And maybe instead of shouting “I’m not April Ludgate!” every time someone makes the reference, I should stop acting a little less like April Ludgate, a little more like Leslie Knope.

There is an ocean between who I am and who I want to be, between how I act and what I’m about. But there is also an ocean between who I was at the beginning of this year and who I am now.

I’ve grown and learned and lived more this year than I have in years and years before it combined. I talk more, laugh more, do more — never as much as I’d like, but more and more every day.

I understand why people call entire years of their life whirlwinds now. That’s how it felt in the thick of 2015 and that’s what it feels like in this incomplete recollection. I’m sure I’ve forgotten parts of it and I’ve certainly omitted plenty — largely because there are so many memories I want to keep shiny and shining as long as I can.

I’ve gotten into the habit of writing down moments like those all the time. Now, as I look back on the lists from this year, I found I’ve forgotten some of the moments but never how they felt. That’s the part that stays in my bones, keeps me going, lives between the lines. They feel like when your lungs fill up on a good breath inward, like smiling over at your friends during songs you’re both singing along to, like all these songs, like the constant privilege of seeing your friends have momentous and difficult and transformative years alongside you, like diners and how much fun you had the night you told your friends you wouldn’t be a lightweight only to find yourself unable to stop laughing as you roll around in the back of a van two hours and two — just two — sips of rum later, like the opening notes of This Year by the Mountain Goats and like you might just have fulfilled those pledges you took on all your favorite nights.

That might be the best testament to how this year has changed me: I no longer feel like I’m lying when I sing or say the words I’ve always wanted to live by. I made it through this year and the bad ones before it; none of it killed me even when it could have. I have sung and I have danced and I have yelled until I’ve lost my voice and I’ve gone out and found it and I’m trying to use it to make change in this world. I am surrounded by love and friends and magic — things I never thought I was cut out for. The it’s-like-I-got-my-Hogwarts-letter feelings have only ever gotten stronger. The world is bigger and brighter beyond Privet Drive and, like Harry, I’m finally learning I can do anything. I’m finally learning I don’t have to do it alone.

It’s 2016 and I pledge allegiance to this year.