A Letter To Myself Pre-Herpes Diagnosis: One Year Later

*My Facebook and Timehop are flooded with memories and emotions of who I became last summer. the following is a letter 2016 Emily wrote to 2015 Emily as a reminder of how far I've come on my journey.* 

Dear 2015,

Congratulations on your recent graduation from college. You've dreamt of this day since seventh grade, when you proudly announced that you'd rather be applying for college than high school. I know it wasn't always an easy path for you, being the loner and all, but you accomplished so much during your undergraduate career. Your accumulated coursework and diligence gave you the necessary foundations to prepare you for ultimate success. You recently accepted your dream internship, in a position directly related to your major. The internship was not advertised, you sought it, you reached out, and you earned it. The thing about that internship though, the one you worked so hard to establish, you will destroy it, in the same manner that you will destroy yourself.

You treated your college years more like graduate school. You were never considered as a party girl, but you were content with that, you owned that part of yourself. Whenever your friends managed to yank you out of your bed and into the crowds, you wished you stayed home, and they wished you had, too. You can be somewhat of the Debbie Downer of your friend group. Your one-bedroom apartment was your safe haven, your sanctuary. People thought you were weird because you never had roommates, but you didn't care. You loved having a space to call your own. Instead of going out on weekends, you preferred to indulge in your favorite TV series with a glass of wine, or venture to your favorite Mexican restaurant in search of a house margarita and fajitas. Although you were immune to the stereotypical college experience then, you will soon begin to identify with those girls who dragged you out on weekends.

The bottle of wine will stare at you from across the counter and you won't even feel the need to pour a glass because you know it will disappear by the end of the night. You'll wake up in the morning in the same clothes, with lipstick smeared across your cheeks and a puddle of drool on your pillow. You won't know how you got there. This becomes routine. You walk over to your Keurig and tell yourself that today will be the day that you'll make it into work, but you already know the answer. It's not because you don't want to go to work, it's not because you don't like the work you're doing, it's because you don't like yourself. You don't know who you are anymore and you don't want to face your newly acquired identity.

A month from now, you will be diagnosed with genital herpes. Just as I'm sure you sense disbelief reading these words, you will feel that same sense of disbelief when you leave the doctor's office that day, except this time, it will be attached to an overwhelming sense of degredation. Out of everyone in the universe, you will be given this highly stigmatized virus. And the person who will transmit it to you, is the last person you will expect. He is not just some guy;  he is someone whom you feel a connection with, someone you hold a significant amount of feelings for, someone with whom you've expressed your true feelings with. You will want to talk about it with him. You will want to share in the experience of being shadowed by the shame in carrying an STD. You will want to know more. You will want to know if he knew, or had any suspicion. Well, the reality of it is, it doesn't matter if he knew, you will still contract it. Even if he does give you an answer, it might not be the truth, and that's something you will learn to accept over time. But accepting his response doesn't mean you'll come to terms with it. It may very well be a question you carry with you the rest of your life, just like herpes.

And that guy? He will leave you. But the truth is, he will turn his back on you the moment you share the news with him. He will start running from you then. There will be one day in September when you stay at a local winery from open to close. You won't remember, of course, but you'll make your way to a bar in town and continue to drink. You will take shot, after shot, of different kinds of liquor in attempts to numb the pain. It will have the opposite effect. For the first time, you will be honest with yourself. You will text this guy that you're struggling with your herpes diagnosis, and you don't know what to do, or who to turn to. So you turn to him. He won't respond. Not only will he not respond then. He won't respond for a full 24 hours. He's busy, his phone dies. These are his responses to you. There will not be an acknowledgement of your feelings. That tells you everything you need to know about his character.

I know you're probably cringing in denial as you read these words, you will become a grave of the woman you once prided yourself on being, you will see your hopes and dreams as unattainable, just like you will soon see your love life. You will wonder who will want you, who will love you, who will take the time to learn your body with this. Who will want to take the risk? I promise you, there are people who look past the stigma and see herpes for what it really is: an uncomfortable skin condition on an already stigmatized private place in the body. Someone will come into your life who proves to you that these types of people exist. Just as you relearn your sexual being in the context of this new man, it saddens me to say that your heart will become much colder from the experience with the man prior. It will be difficult for you to open up. It will be challenging for you to initiate any kind of intimacy: a touch, a kiss, a text, a compliment, a brush against his thigh. 

I know you think you have your life plan all figured out, but you still have a lot of growth within yourself that needs to be done before you can even think of moving forward.  Despite your upcoming downfall, these experiences will push you to pursue your wildest dreams. It's one year later, and you landed that job at the same place of employment as your internship. You started blogging and writing, hoping to reach more people, to be that person that you never had to share in this experience. You became the person you needed. You are more than the disease you will carry, so much more, and you will impact the world in a way you never thought possible. Keep your head held high, there is always a light to look to, a torch to carry forward.