Fault In Your Stars

Has someone’s zodiac sign ever kept you from sleeping with them? Well, maybe it should have.

While it is your Mars alignment which speaks to your sexual nature, we’re more concerned with predicting someone’s prowess quickly, so we’ll just talk sun signs (the alignment that dictates general personality AKA the sign based solely on your birthday). After having consulted the powers that be (the internet and self proclaimed astrology experts), KAAST has come up with a break down on how the different sun signs love and fuck.



In bed this air sign displays the same free spirit they exhibit in life. Famously creative, they carry this trait into the bedroom, so I hope you’re up for an unconventional time. Their energy between the sheets is best paired with a Gemini or Scorpio.

In love Aquarians are notoriously uncommunicative, often coming off as detached. Not fans of telling you how they feel, being in love with an Aquarius requires some extra work. But don’t let their cool exterior discourage you, they ultimately make warm and intelligent lovers.



In bed a Pisces is a consummate romantic and occasional role-player. In fact, an atmosphere of fantasy and passion persist throughout all of Pisces season, and sex with them is often a tender experience. A sexual giver, a Pisces usually tends to their partner’s needs before their own.

In love this water sign is looking for a true soulmate, someone they can connect with emotionally and spiritually. Pisces are very intuitive and can often sense what you’re keeping from them. Their selfless nature can make you feel like you’re the only person in the world. 



In bed as in life, Aries are impatient, often wearing their lust of their sleeves. Sometimes this impatience means little foreplay, but don’t worry, once an Aries puts it down, they’re more than capable lovers. Passionate and aggressive, sex with an Aries is always high energy and almost always fun!

In love these fire signs are extremely difficult. Having dated a few, I’ve found the very same traits that make them exciting fuckers also make them problematic lovers. Prideful, stubborn, often combative, there’s very little room for error with an Aries. They expect a superhuman level of loyalty, but if you’re willing to put in the legwork, they’ll return the favor. Aries can make fierce life partners (just don’t, for heaven’s sake, contradict them)!



In bed this earth sign has a really stellar sexual word of mouth. Ruled by Venus, the planet of love and beauty, a Taurus is very attune to their senses. They’re usually a great lay. Their slow-moving nature translates to lasting and indulgent fucks. Essentially, you should be sleeping with a Taurus.

In love they’re drawn to beauty and stability. But they’re also possessive; a Taurus friend once equated being left by a man to being robbed. Earth signs crave security, which sometimes verges on materialistic. So if you’re broke, maybe you should lose that Taurus’s number. 



In bed a Gemini is playful, curious, and often a fan of dirty talk. They don’t take making love too seriously, which usually means you’re in for a fun and relaxed romp. They like to keep things fresh and bring refreshing versatility to the bedroom.

In love it’s often difficult to keep their attention. A multifaceted sign that excels at social adaptation, you need to be as dynamic as they are to keep a Gemini interested.



In bed — if you’re lucky enough to get them there as they aren’t the most promiscuous sign — Cancers are affectionate and caring partners. Be gentle, as these water signs are highly sensitive. Trust that once you’ve entered them, a Cancer fully expects you to hold them throughout the night afterwards. 

In love a Cancer will take care of you, but they’re easily the most emotional sign in the zodiac — so tread lightly! However, don’t mistake their tears for weakness; they are quite strong. To keep a Cancer, you must make them feel valued and safe. Cancers make fundamentally kind partners. 



In bed Leos expect you to worship them. Vocalizing your satisfaction is vital, one negative comment can turn a Leo off completely. But don’t worry, if they feel sufficiently valued, they’ll be sure you feel the same. Leos are as fun in bed as they are in life — just be sure not to moan louder than them — they need to be the star of this porno.

In love Leos need to be constantly reminded of your devotion. They operate best when showered with praise. Yet despite their need for attention, they make very loyal partners. The archetypal social butterfly, this fire sign enjoys being the focal point in group settings. This is true in their love life, too; Leos sometimes select less outwardly impressive partners so they shine brighter. But don’t be annoyed by their centrism, Leos are a riot! Invest in them, and your investment will be returned.



In bed this earth sign will expect you to have your technique down-pat, because they do! Not a fan of sexual surprises, it’s best to play by the books with a Virgo. A sign that lives in their head, it’s vital to put in the tongue work during foreplay to make them feel comfortable and ready for the deed.

In love Virgos will put in the effort! They’re extremely hard workers (Beyoncé is a Virgo), but verge on being perfectionists. Occasionally this correctional compulsion will extend to you, and Virgos can sometimes make critical partners. But never doubt this comes from a place of care, as Virgos are very picky and don’t enter relationships lightly. Love with a Virgo can be lasting, as they always want to make it work. 



In bed Libras are sexual chameleons. They’re mutable signs, so flexibility is their thing. A fan of setting the mood, wearing expensive lingerie and lighting some candles wouldn’t hurt.

In love you better watch these air signs, they’re easily the most charming sign of the zodiac. They crave romantic attention (and hate being alone), but in a much subtler way than Leos. Terribly indecisive, they’re used to holding many lovers at once. To be with a Libra you need a strong sense of self because they flirt with everyone.



In bed this sign is in their element. Notoriously the most sexual sign of the zodiac, their skill and intensity is well reported. Scorpios are very consuming, and while they definitely love a casual fuck (or any fuck, really), sex with them will feel anything but. Just be sure to not mistake their intensity for intimacy.

In love it’s best to avoid Scorps if you’re looking for something chill. They have a penchant for jealousy and obsession, and opt for whirlwind love affairs that usually end in destruction. But the highs are undoubtedly high, and a Scorpio is never boring. They respond to honesty and take betrayal very seriously. A fan of revenge, don’t cross a Scorpio unless you’re ready to see them fuck your best friend and livestream it.



In bed a Sag makes a passionate and impulsive lover. On the tamer end of the fire spectrum, their burn lives within. They’ll try almost anything once and don’t mind rough sex. But once you finish, expect a Sagittarius to wax philosophically. Try reading a steamy love poem prior to penetration to get them wet. 

In love it’s hard to pin a Sagittarius down, as they are the adventurer of the zodiac. But if you’re lucky enough to do so, hold onto them, because they’re easily the most well-rounded sign. Love with a Sag is often sunny, as they are eternal optimists. They are also romantics, so sprinkle in a few sweeping gestures to seal the deal.



In bed a Capricorn will always make you feel safe, but they can sometimes be a little boring. While they have a kinky side, their passivity requires you to draw it out of them. Thankfully, Capricorns are hard workers with a lot of stamina, so if you give it time, you’ll eventually find a fulfilling sexual rhythm.

In love you better impress a Capricorn. Bring your resume on the first date. They are deeply ambitious, and value the same in a partner. Often successful, they’re hyper-conscious of their social image and how they’re being perceived — be sure not to embarrass them. Big planners, Capricorns are always thinking ahead. Ultimately a Cap just wants a partner to build with.


So when you date and play, remember to look to the sky — it’s full of clues.


Cum First

I spent my adolescent years believing my sexuality was something to be given and taken. Having sex for the first time meant giving away my virginity. Participating in sex meant satisfying my male partner’s pleasure. I saw my body as innately sexual and tainted, made only to appease the masculine gaze. Quickly, I internalized this belief that I was only a pawn for men’s sexual desires; hyper-sexualized, yet stripped of my own sexuality. My understanding of sexuality was limited to a rigid binary: masculine sexuality was uncontrollable, desirable and powerful, while feminine sexuality was non-existent.

I began having sex when I was 16 years old. I had been taught that being pure and untouched made be a better woman, so my virginity was sacred to me. I justified losing my virginity by claiming that I was in love with my high school boyfriend. I believed I was going to marry him (stupid). In the early stages of my sex life, I didn’t understand the hype around sex. It felt uncomfortable, sometimes even painful. I constantly wished for my partner to cum so we could stop. I felt too ashamed to try new things and explore my sexuality. I accepted anticlimactic sex because I believed it didn’t matter what I thought or felt— sex was for men and I was just a tool designed to help them achieve climax.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when my beliefs began to change. As I grew older, I slowly started to open up to my sexuality. Maybe this change was the result of puberty, maybe it was education, or maybe it was just experience. It took time, but I slowly unlearned the slut-shaming and male-dominating ideologies surrounding sex that I had been carrying with me for so long. I started to recognize my sexuality as a vital part of my identity. It is not something determined by social norms and barriers; it is something free-flowing and natural. It is something controlled by me and only me. It is something I deserve to claim freely and openly.

As I grew into my sex life, I became curious about the mysteries of female orgasms. Most of the time, my pleasure was secondary in sex. My orgasms were not an expectation, but only a bonus. I could tell that everyone, not just my sexual partners, was intimidated by vaginas— my health teachers were uncomfortable teaching about the female reproductive system, my female friends knew just as little about their own bodies as I did, and my male partners were convinced female orgasms were more difficult to reach. Everyone blamed anatomy.

I’ll be the first to tell you that anatomy is not at fault. The female body is just as capable of orgasms as the male body. Because we are taught that masculinity is inherently sexual, we start to believe those who don’t identify as this gender are less deserving of pleasure. When sex is viewed as a masculine trait, it becomes one-sided.

I fear that all too often women settle for unpleasant and unsatisfying sex because of the weight of social expectation. Women can be sexually active and simultaneously detached from their sexuality— too afraid to explore, too ashamed to feel. I’m a firm believer that we can learn so much about ourselves through sex. Sex has led me to meet strangers, new friends, and intimate partners. I have watched my friends grow in immense ways when they embrace their sexuality. There is so much to learn from knowing your body and connecting with another person through physical intimacy. And life becomes so much less confusing when you understand yourself, want you want, and what you deserve.

As women, not only do we need to unlearn the shame of sex, but we also need to internalize the belief that we are equally deserving sexual beings. Sex is natural, and it should be fun and pleasurable for all parties. Always make sure your partner sees you as their equal, and always make sure that you cum first. You deserve it.


A Beautiful Tragedy

I have fallen in love with people and places.

People that have shown me great amounts of gratitude, who have cared for me when I hit rock bottom, who loved me and left me with no reason, and who were only supposed to be a part of my life for a short amount of time. Places that have revealed a euphoric tinge in my soul, that have sparked excitement or safety, that have shown me mother nature’s tragic beauty. I have lived with every ounce of my being: moments where I felt nothing but purity, times where I thought I was invincible, and days where I thought I would never make it through this life without being broken into a million pieces.

It was not until the end of December that reality slapped me square in the face.

Death is something humans avoid, yet it is unavoidable. Death is something that an average human cannot fathom or come to terms with because so many things in this lifetime have been experienced, and we are able to idealize these experiences in our head. Since death is unexplainable and intangible, it is avoided by most. Through grief, however, I have come to understand the beauty in the simplicity of life under the stars— and have found grounding energy from the complexity death pronounces.

I first considered death on December 28, 2017, the day my life inexplicably changed. After several agonizing moments of fear, I realized there were two state troopers knocking on my door at five in the morning. When I opened the door, I received the most crippling news that has ever been delivered to me. I entered a state of shock and my body completely gave out. I could only hear and see white noise, all I remember was staring through the soul of these two state troopers. There was no possible way that it could’ve been my brother who had flipped across the median and was killed, there was just no way. They were not completely sure of identification yet, so while a tiny part of me thought that there was still hope, a large part of me was trying to grasp reality with my two hands.

I realized that my brother was truly gone when I felt like I had physically lost my power to move. I felt an immense amount of pain that surged through every joint in my body, something that was jolting me from side to side, reminding me that the other half of me has died and left this earth forever. Losing a loved one feels like someone cut your body in half— like someone amputated one leg, one arm, one half of your heart, and one ear— then covered you up again, poorly but decently, so that you can just barely smile and move forward with your life.

There is no little girl in this world who expects to plan her big brothers funeral. There is no little girl who expects to have to walk into a showroom of coffins and pick which one her brother will lay in for eternity. No little girl who wants to pick out which color the cloth inside will be. There is no little girl who expects to stand at a podium next to her brother’s open casket in front of hundreds of people and talk about the legacy of her own blood in her most vulnerable and tragic state of being.

These are the moments where I found strength— when I realized that I must go on, even if it meant that I would have days where food looked like cardboard, where people were my worst enemies, and when my number one confidants turned their backs on me because this was just too much for anyone to handle. In my earliest days of grief, I was not able to comprehend the pain that I was going through. A few months later, that a dull pain continued to resonate within me like a slow disease, waiting to consume my entire being. These are the moments where I continued to find strength. It is when most of the people around you forget, as they should, because they have moved on with their own lives. I do not fault anyone for this, as I believe it is only human for others to feel each other’s pain for a small amount of time until retuning their attention to their own emotional state of being, and continue on. As humans, we are neurobiologically connected to each other, which is why we feel pain when someone that we love is also in pain.

The idea of grief is misunderstood in so many ways. I struggled to fully comprehend it myself, as it appears in so many different forms. I never wanted to accept the fact that this is my new reality. While it’s not something that defines who I am as a person, it is something that I must grow and accept with raw emotion, delicately but beautifully. I learned that if I cannot accept this, I too will shatter like glass, epically and tragically.

I had, and occasionally still have, days where I felt like I couldn’t survive this pain, days where getting out of bed seemed too much. Where walking down my own stairs to sit on the couch seemed an unimaginable overexertion. Pain lingered and reminded me how much hurt I could take without actually killing me. I kept tricking my mind into thinking that I was in an out of body state, living in a nightmare that would soon be over, and I could go back to normal and go on with life. I reminded myself that this was a part of my new reality: I could not take too much at one time, and that was okay. I would eventually be okay.

This is when I begun to explore the idea of simplicity since I never cared too much for it in the past. I decided to accept all things beautiful, and reject toxicity. We have the power within to remove ourselves from the bustle of the environments that we endure every single day and give ourselves time to truly breathe and feel the energy of life and the earth that reverberate through the ground we walk on and in the air we breathe. We have the ability to get lost in ourselves and others, exploring the depths of those around us and how they interpret this life. 

I have learned through grief that it is ever so important to appreciate those who love me. My brother has guided me onto an open road that has shown me who cares and who does not, and this is one of the simple things that I needed most. What makes up this universe are millions of different pieces of debris that have lived years on end and ended up floating in the space of the stars, making up so much of what is misunderstood and forming conjunctions of solar winds and energies that reflect onto the earth. This debris ultimately connects us to all of the unknowns that we’ve questioned throughout our lifetime; challenging us to try to understand them as whole beings.

I believe that we need to break this debris down and understand them as the small molecules that they actually are, the simple core that makes up everything that is unknown and misunderstood. Furthermore, I have connected these unknowns to people and concepts regarding the heavy contrast between life and death, trying to explain what is beyond us to give us hope of some kind of afterlife beyond the stars. Understanding the beauty of life is crucial to our innermost sanity, especially when dealing with any kind of grief. How can we go on with our lives with little understanding of who we are and what makes up our most idealistic being? I sit back and bring myself to a simplistic arena in my mind. Sitting in a wooden chair on a small porch, overlooking fields of green followed by a lake that reflects the morning glow of the nectar colored sun that awakens the soul of billions of people that reside on this earth. We are all facing the same sun, the same sky, the same moon, but living such drastically different lives.

With strength and empowerment, I find myself able to move forward, with half of me intact, and the other half a bit weary and lost. Studying what simplicity is, and how I can apply it to my everyday actions, I learn how we can ride these waves, understanding that it is not what we have that defines us, but who we have with us and what we can do to bring ourselves into a whist of happiness, despite the tragically beautiful concept of life itself.


Uneven Breasts

When I was 18 I had a breast reduction. Most people’s reaction upon learning this is something like, “Oh, did you have bad back pain?” The answer is no. “Breast” is singular when I say breast reductionI had a breast reduction on one boob. One of my boobs was so much larger than the other that I got it reduced to make them the same size. I’m not talking a one cup size difference; it was like a clementine and a large, genetically modified orange that you see at the grocery store and wonder how the fuck they grow an orange the size of a watermelon difference. They were the life of the party and the bane of my existence.

I had been praying for boobs pretty much my whole life. Everyone cool had them—my babysitters, my older sister, Lindsay Lohan. Even my grandma had them. It felt like this exclusive club I wasn’t allowed to be in. I did everything one possibly could to get boobs: pretty much nothing. I tried that exercise from Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret that Margaret and her friends do to increase their bust size, but it felt like an antiquated move. I went bra shopping with my friend who had really big boobs hoping they would rub off on me, and I imagined myself with boobs a lot. I wasn’t like a pervy, tit-obsessed kid… just a normal tit-obsessed kid waiting for a day that I was convinced would never come.

At last, when I was 16 I got boobs. But when they came in it was like one came out to play and the other never got the memo to start growing. They were uneven from the start. My doctor said to just give the other more time to go, but as they grew bigger, they only grew more uneven.

I had a pair of mismatched boobs. It felt like either: a) My life was a teenage coming of age movie of which the cliché moral was “to be careful what you wish for,” or b) My prayers all of those years must’ve been unclear in some way, because here I was with one boob.

Fast forward through years of endless complaining to my mom, waiting for the other one to catch up like I was advised it surely would, nothing happening, and then somehow getting my parents to take this issue seriously enough to get me a consultation with a plastic surgeon.

It went as you’d probably imagine. After sitting in the waiting room for an hour, I was shown into a room to meet a creepy, old male doctor with bushy eyebrows who was nice but not nice enough to distract from the fact that he looks at boobs all day. (Side note, why are there so few female plastic surgeons when the vast majority of cosmetic procedures are performed on women?) He drew all over my chest with a sharpie, and called my breast a “mutation.” We decided on a date for surgery and that was that. I would go under the knife only a few weeks before leaving for college, and thankfully it was going to be covered by my insurance.   

During the surgery they made three incisions: one in a long straight line along my underboob, another shorter straight line up to my nipple, and one cut around my nipple so that they could move it. Also, they lipo-sucked some of the breast tissue out via a tube in my side. The recovery was much worse than what anyone had warned me about. I spent my two weeks of mandatory bed-rest half conscious from pain killers, angry, and sad.

What did I just do to myself? I somehow hated my boob even more than before for of all the pain it was causing me and the thought of all of the ugly scars I would surely have. I hated that I needed my mom to change my bandages and help me shower. I hated how this was how I had to spend the last of my time I had at home before moving across the country to Arizona to start college. I wondered, did I just ruin my life? Questioning all of my decisions led me to have a full blown existential crisis and anxiety attack in my childhood bed.

But don’t worry reader, I am typing this today with amazing tits. It’s been almost four years since my surgery and after some overdue personal growth, I can say that I love my surgery boob just as much as my other boob. However, surgery didn’t immediately fix my problems and make me love my body like I thought it would. It took some time and I had to do some of the work myself. Undergoing the procedure helped change the way I thought about my body image, and eventually led me to embrace new elements of my femininity. My newfound body confidence complemented my pre-existing emotional confidence, allowing me to shine. 

When I look at my boob in the mirror I don’t feel regret anymore, I’m like yes boob! I’m proud of my decision to fix my boob and I’m grateful for the privilege to be able to do so at a young age. Having this surgery helped me grow into the person I am today—a person who doesn’t totally hate their body, who thinks it’s actually kind of nice.

I wanted to give an honest, candid, and realistic description of my experience for anyone out there that may be thinking about having something done to their breasts, especially teens. Now, I’m gonna hit you with some statistics: are you satisfied with your breasts? If the answer is no, you’re not alone. 70% of women say they’re not satisfied with their breasts, whether it’s regarding shape, size, etc. Which is probably why a breast augmentation has remained the #1 most popular cosmetic surgery since 2001 (and possibly before).

If you have uneven breasts, don’t worry—it’s normal. All breasts are different sizes, some more uneven than others. I didn’t know this; I just thought that everyone was supposed to have huge, perky porn star tits and that I was a gross mistake. In reality, everyone has uneven breasts. So don’t ever let an old, creepy doctor tell you that your body is mutated. Give your breasts time to even out because they generally don’t stop growing until age 18, and will continue growing throughout your adult life, especially if you have kids.

My advice for anyone thinking about getting a boob job/breast reduction is: do it for YOU. Don’t do it because your boyfriend, girlfriend, parents, or whoever makes comments about your breast size. Do it when you’re feeling emotionally stable, or whatever the closest thing to that looks like for you. If you schedule your procedure around a time of transition (i.e. going to college, starting a new job, moving, etc.) be aware of the emotional stamina this may require. Also be aware that the surgery won’t fix your problems or body issues, but rather give you the tools necessary to do so yourself. Your relationship with your body is not one you can ghost when it gets too clingy or says something weird; it’s a relationship you have to maintain for your whole life! Inevitably, so are our other crucial relationships, such as with our mental health and happiness. It’s all connected, baby. So whatever you call them—breasts, boobs, knockers, titties, your bumps, your humps, your lovely little lumps—take care of them.

And most importantly, you will need a support system. Though the boob jobs are so common it makes it seem like nothing, it’s a very serious surgery and you will need help. Plastic surgery isn’t the answer for everyone, but it was the answer for me. The pain and existential crises were a small price to pay for my overall happiness, a price I would easily pay if I had to do it all again.

Ava Answers: Survival Of The Fittest (Bush)

Ava Answers is new a column exploring the science of sex by Ava Mainieri, a PhD student studying women’s health at Harvard University. 


For those of us with vaginas, ripping, tearing and shaving our hair with pink Daisy razors has had a long history— the ancient Greeks found body hair so distasteful that artists molded their figures of women sans pubes. Trendsetter Queen Elizabeth I removed all the hair from her eyebrows to make her forehead appear larger, while Michelangelo and Manet both painted hairless vulvas. There was even a study in the 1890s that linked excessive body hair to female insanity. But according to evolutionary biologists, that curly mound that thrives beneath your underwear is probably there because it was once considered irresistibly sexy.

The main purpose of body hair on animals is to retain body heat. But around 3.3 million years ago, humans started running long distances across the savanna plains. Without central air conditioning or handy bottles of water, hair on our bodies just made us overheat. Therefore we biologically morphed from being covered in a head-to-toe carpet to a mosaic of hairy and less hairy parts.

You can’t exactly use your pubic hair to floss your teeth, but it is noticeably thicker than the hair on your legs. Estrogen, the main female sex hormone, morphs the hair follicles in that region into a large oval shape that causes the hair to grow thick and curly. This creates a nice barrier protecting your vagina from bacteria and dust floating around in the air. It also regulates moisture around your vulva which decreases the chances of yeast infection. But more importantly, biologist Robin Weiss believes that the thicker and coarser it grew millions of years ago, the more attractive you appeared because of all the foreign particles inadvertently trapped in your bush. Pubic hair acted as an attractant to grooming, a routine illustrating affection that usually leads to sex in primates.

Our great ape relatives created social bonds through long grooming sessions, picking bugs and dirt out of each other’s fur. Humans, too, habitually groom themselves and each other. Removing parasites is undeniably hygienic, but the associated rubbing in the genital area would have been pleasurable for both parties (personally, I can’t think of better foreplay). Grooming also releases endorphins, those awesome hormones that make us happy and lower our heart rates. It is not a stretch to assume that some fondling would have led to sex— obviously advantageous for the continuation of our species.

As such, pubic hair would have functioned as a sort of blinking sign indicating sexual maturity on our naked and frolicking cavewomen ancestors. Weiss postulates that when humans started walking around on two legs, the vulva became hidden from obvious view and pubic hair remained as the main indicator of completed puberty. The basics of pubic hair in both men and women suggest that it evolved as a sexy characteristic: it grows under the influence of reproductive hormones, becomes noticeable when you’re biologically able to have a baby, and acts as a visual ‘come-hither’ sign.

From the position of smell, our pubic area is full of apocrine glands, the organs that release the stank that makes us smelly seductive beasts. When your pubic hair lifts the sweat from your skin in order to keep your genital area dry and refreshed, it gathers bacteria. That musky smell comes from normal bacteria living on your skin mixing with the sweat. As long as you are someone who showers a few times a week, there is nothing dirty about body hair. Some scientists like Randy Thornhill even speculate that pheromones— the odorless molecules you release when you’re horny— get trapped in the short and curlies. Pheromones may act as a subconscious signal to potential mates that you’re ready to get it on.

Not only does having pubic hair increase your raw biological appeal, prevent germs from entering your vagina, and act as a cushion protecting thin genital skin during sex or exercise, but it could also save you a lot of money. A 2008 study concluded that an American woman who shaves will spend more than $10,000 over the course of her life removing unwanted body hair. Maybe we could take that beach vacation instead of fashioning our pubes to look like Barbie’s bits?

Before you schedule your next Brazilian bikini wax, remember that evolution wants you to be whoever you are, whether you shave, pluck, or let your carpet grow.

Mourning The Loss of Someone I Never Knew

My grandmother, Betty Utendahl, passed away in July of 2017 and despite “knowing” her for 25 years, I didn’t know her at all.

No one teaches you how you deal with grief, especially when it is for someone you barely knew. I never really had the opportunity to get to “know” my grandmother, not because she wasn’t around, but due to the circumstances placed in front of us. My grandmother suffered a stroke before I was born, leaving her partially paralyzed and unable to speak. We communicated through expressions, embraces and hand squeezes, leaving us connected through touch, but entirely unaware of each other’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

For years, I struggled with my feelings and connections to my grandmother. I struggled with having so many questions that would forever be left unanswered. My understanding came from the stories told and retold, and from the people who knew her best. For 25 years of my life, she was very much alive, yet very much dead. She existed in a body that was no longer her own, and was a person whose life story was left dependent on the ones her loved ones decided to tell.

According to my family, prior to her stroke, my grandmother was a lifelong victim of heartbreak. Before she could blink twice she became a divorced single mother, and never fully recovered from being left to her own devices by a man she so helplessly, devotedly, tragically adored and loved. Her big jovial smile was a mask for deep pain and sadness. She played Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” on repeat for decades, with a glass of whiskey in her hand and a sense of hopelessness that she was never able to overcome.

For most of my life, I never understood her heartbreak. I couldn’t grasp how she was never able to surmount the pain of being left by my grandfather. For so long, I naively, stubbornly, selfishly found her 50 plus years sorrow to be slightly pathetic. I resented the stories I heard of her drinking and disposition. At times I’ve blamed her for my addictive personality, as I have had my fair share of leaning into vices, hitting rock bottom, and picking myself up again. For so long, I was desperate to find something to blame for why I needed to spend my early 20s eliminating experiences that most people my age could inconsequentially enjoy.

What I failed to recognize until her final days was that my grandmother was a victim of her circumstances, and that I was horrifically ignorant and inconsiderate to fault her for falling into a trap that was set for her from the moment she was born.

I forgot that she was once a 25-year-old woman like myself, full of dreams and desires that were not afforded to her due to the fact that she was both female and black in 1950s America. I forgot that after the divorce, she had zero opportunities to make a life for herself, as an African American woman, completely uneducated and inexperienced in the workforce. She was a victim of arduous circumstance in a time where both her gender and race were an uphill battle to a degree that my privilege has shielded me against.

It was in her final darkest hours that I was reminded that there was a time before my grandmother became a mother and a grandmother… a time that means more than just a series of photos with stories, told time and time again. There was a time when her dreams and aspirations were as big and robust as mine. There was a moment where her love for her partner and her children was so deep it could move mountains. There was a moment, a moment I experienced many times but overlooked, when she looked into my eyes and without words told me that I could live out her dreams. It is in her passing, that I remember her gaze, the gaze I saw for 25 years, and never understood. It is in her passing that I can feel her grip, her grip holding my hands so tight, assuring me that I inherited her strength. It is in her passing that I can feel her embrace, the embrace that reminds me I am loved and will be loved by her forever and always.

Mourning has a funny way of showing its true colors. It’s been a journey that has taught me more about myself than I could have ever imagined. It’s a foreign feeling to feel closer to an individual posthumously than during their lifetime. It has been six months since my Grandmother Betty passed, and with each day, I am reminded that I have a responsibility in life that is so much greater than I could have ever expected. While I may never know the answers to the thousands of questions I wish I could have asked her, I have her gaze, I have her touch and embrace, reminding me to live out her dreams, my dreams, and all the things left unsaid.

Bread Bowls And Break-Ups

He broke up with me while we sat inside of our college campus Panera Bread.

The location was ironically a staple in our relationship. The place, where a month ago, we enjoyed breakfast sandwiches and smoothies while laughing about our drunken night together. The place, where a few weeks ago, he bought soup and tea for me when I was sick. We sat across one another at a table, while he tried to explain to me why he didn’t want to continue our relationship. The place, where I watched our relationship blossom, now the gravestone for what was between us.

I took him home on the last night of my senior year fall semester. We kissed at a mutual friend’s house party after a night of flirting and drinking. We held hands while walking back to my apartment in the frigid December air. The impending doom of graduation made me hold tightly to the fleeting familiar lifestyle surrounding me: college hook-up culture. College is the only appropriate time for casual hook-ups, or so the media tells me. I felt the incoming pressure to be serious about relationships and dating when I entered “the real world.” The post-graduate world seemed prescribed to my uncertain, naive undergrad self. Graduation was only a pit-stop on the road to success. Success, not only being categorized by career, also meant marriage and family. Anything less implied failure and unworthiness. Not being good enough.

With limited days of socially-acceptable singularity, I wasn’t looking to form a deep relationship during my senior year of college. After our one-night-stand, we exchanged friendly snapchats over our winter break during the months of December and January. Social media tends to be the outlet my generation uses for flirting. It was a casual way to stay relevant in each others lives and it landed him back in my bed the first night of the spring semester. My intentions were only to hook up but I couldn’t help connecting with him over our late night pillow talk. I found comfort in our easy-going connectivity, which helped me block out his underclassman status and the knowledge of my diminishing undergrad days. Soon enough, he was coming over almost every single night. He started staying longer in the mornings and asking to see me throughout the day. He began texting me at random hours with well-wishes. He started walking me to class and kissing me goodbye when we separated. We told our friends about one another and agreed not to see other people. He even told his mom about me. It wasn’t until the end of March, when our peers started to label us, that we finally acknowledged we were “in a relationship.”

Our official relationship began with agreement. There were no grand gestures. We never went on romantic dates. We never changed our Facebook statuses to publicly claim one another and define our relationship. We never expressed “I love you” to one another. We definitely weren’t perfect for each other, with arguments and disagreements here and there. Yet it all felt natural. It never felt like we had to prove anything to other people. What was between us was solely between us. We found ourselves in a relationship without all of those distinct public actions that tend to pave the pathway for one. His presence brought me happiness. He didn’t offer chivalry or romance; the things I often looked for in relationships. On top of common interests, he was reliable, understanding, and attentive. He was everything I needed during that small period of time. It felt right, even though we both knew our days were numbered.

By the end of April, I was still unsure of what was to come of our casual yet intense relationship. Classes were ending and finals were approaching, and then graduation would quickly follow. I was choosing to move moment by moment, day by day. On the other hand, I could tell he was starting to get overwhelmed by the shift in his demeanor: he stopped texting me frequently and sleeping over as often. Consciously or not, he was creating distance. When he asked to meet at Panera Bread, I was already prepared for the worst. 

Although I saw our break-up coming, it did not make it any less painful when he told me he didn’t want to stay with me past graduation. I stared blankly at my chicken Caesar salad, while word after word poured from his mouth trying to form some sort of explanation.“I understand,” I finally expressed to both his and my own surprise. An expiration date had lingered in the back of my mind through the entirety of our relationship. I was understanding of our break-up because I knew, just as well as he did, that we weren’t meant to move past graduation.

My friends came over expecting to console me, but were surprised to find me dry-eyed and level-headed. I was devastated and hurting, but not in a distraught and uncontrollable way. “Guys are just scared of commitment. Sometimes, it just takes a little convincing,” one of my friends suggested. But it felt like persuading him would take away everything we had between us. Our relationship felt effortless up until this point. Convincing him to stay would’ve felt antithesis to the foundation of our relationship.

We didn’t have a clean break after our Panera Bread break-up. There was anger and bitterness on both ends. But I think it came out of confusion that we had to divide onto separate paths. Nothing dramatic happened between us. I’d like to think neither of us lost appreciation for one another. There were no lies or deceit. The reality was we both saw the defined finish line. I was about to enter a whole new world, while he was going to remain in our small liberal arts college. Although together we were happy and cared about each other, we did not see eye-to eye on many things needed to sustain a long-term relationship. What we did see eye-to-eye on was choosing to temporarily turn a blind eye to all of the red flags. The red flags could not be hidden any longer after graduation. We both knew this. He was the one who was brave enough to admit it.

There’s no denying I had nights where I laid awake, wondering why we couldn’t continue our relationship. But each night ended in the same conclusion—we couldn’t fit in each other’s lives anymore. Every time I would think of our blissful and uncomplicated past, I would remind myself of the implications and energy that would have existed in our future. How could I force someone to exert energy when they are so full of uncertainty? The best feeling was knowing our relationship was progressing from our independent yet coinciding desires.

We stopped talking after graduation, but I still see him from time to time on my social media newsfeed and timeline. It is a strange feeling to have a front row seat to the window of the life of a person who has fallen estranged. He seems different now. I am different now. Seeing his face always causes a quick moment of pain; a reminder of what was once alive between us. But I still manage to find happiness for him whenever he posts about his life. Whether it be about family, friends, school, or even the new girl he has been seeing. How can I resent someone who used to bring me so much happiness? It would be self-centered of me to wish him misery in my absence.

I only considered myself to be “in love” twice in my life previous to this relationship. At the time of my relationship during my final semester in college, I never claimed I was “in love.” I just thought I was happy. I knew love was a magical and indescribable feeling, yet from my previous experiences it seemed as though it came alongside with strenuous labor. Love meant giving your all and never giving up. Love didn’t seem easy to me. It seemed irrational and consuming. No one ever asks for a boring, unmoving love.

Now, months after our break-up, I think the acceptance of the end constitutes as the most real romantic love I have experienced. Because to me, convincing someone to stay is an act of selfishness. Letting someone go and letting them be happy in your absence is true love. As we grow apart and in different ways, our relationship remains dear and untainted to me because we chose to acknowledge the finish line. Our relationship was ephemeral, but not illusive. Because of that, I will always love him for the person he was when our timing was right, even if that person and relationship does not exist anymore.