The Way Home: A (Self-) Love Story

The Way Home: A (Self-) Love Story
Words by  Carmelita Cote

She tilts her head as she looks at me—left then right, up then down, in synchronization with mine. I begin to trail over every detail of her silhouette against a dimming window in the background. The arched shoreline of her brow is so demanding. My focus travels to the hill of her malar bone and into the valley of her concaved cheek. I follow her body like a sunset, looking at the colors go from the dark blue of her veins to the light yellowish undertones of her skin; lightly speckled with red where she tries to find a way out of herself. Most people stare at her and see a girl, but when I look in her eyes I see a story; a story I'll spend lifetimes in just trying to make sense. I can recall every inch of her body as if it is my home. It’s frightening, but exhilarating knowing you’re home—and yet having no idea where you are. Of course, geographically, she stands just before me, but her body seems like such a foreign, far-away place.

She’s covered in the kisses of angels, but her expressions say much more has touched her. Her lips, a dry and desolate desert in the heat of July, but her tongue sits just behind them soaking in thoughts, just waiting for someone to ask and release a waterfall of feelings. Her shoulders sit broad like the branches of a tree and she only hopes they don’t break under the weight of a nest filled with burdens.

She lives in a small rural community called Ranger in the far corner of western North Carolina. Much like her, Ranger is covered in hills, in holes—and it too, has waterfalls busting at the seams anytime someone cares to follow the dusty trail and look. The town is quiet like she was. Some say it’s because of the people in it, but I think it’s because of what the people have done to it. See, she wasn’t quiet because of the thoughts inside, but because people blazed over her and bulldozed the wondrous forests within her. 

Ranger had its trees—oh, the trees. Trunks the width of three children; she tested it. The shoulders of those trees didn’t break. They held houses together all the time for the birds. She wished to be like the trees, but her house crumbled when it split—she couldn’t hold it together like they could. The trees held her too, and oftentimes provided her with a temporary escape. At night, just before the sun would set, she would climb as high as she could on the willow tree to see all of the colors. She would watch as the light went away and her own skin turned from pink, to blue, to gray, until she almost couldn’t see herself. That was her favorite part. She didn't have to worry about fixing her hair or folding her jeans over the tongues of her shoes because nobody could see it. She would wander home in the dark just using her memory of the path to guide her. It reminded her of her thoughts. Most of them were dark, but if she wandered far enough, she would finally understand that she was home in this place no matter how dark it got. 

For a long time, I hated her. I didn’t know it yet, but it was only because I hoped that one day I would be able to look at her and she would know I was in love with every part. Unfortunately, that day didn’t come fast. I would look at her every morning trying to understand what it was about her that I was so fixated on. Why did I hate her? Why did looking at her make me unhappy with myself? Why did I constantly try to stand her next to others and point out what was different? Why did I want to run away from her? The truth is, she scared me. The thought of being comfortable when I looked at her…scared me. The thought of having to love her…scared me. Because I knew she was broken, and I knew that loving her meant dealing with that. I knew a lot of people would ask me questions about her, and that everyone would have an opinion, and maybe I wouldn't agree. Or maybe I would—and that would be the issue. Either way, the thought was terrifying. So, I covered up my obsession with accomplishments, titles,  and anything else that would distract me from thinking about her. I had everything wrapped around my pinky—yet I wasn’t happy still. Because everyday I would go home and be reminded of her and how I felt about her.  It didn’t make sense to me that she protected me, she made me feel loved, accepted, and at home, but I couldn’t love her back. 

She fascinated me. She had genius unmatched, and a smile that lit up a room. She had thoughts; beautiful ideas about humanity and love and religion. I had deep philosophical conversations with her because she understood me like nobody else could. Her favorite quote recounted that home “wasn’t a place, it was a feeling,” and some other gobbledygook about time and love. But the first part was all that mattered to me, because it helped me make sense of how I felt about her. If home really was just a feeling, it meant it was ok for me to “feel” like she was my home. She was and she is. 

Just a girl. Just a body. Just a place. Just in a mirror in the corner of a room in the backwoods of Ranger, NC staring back at me. Her eyes are like oceans of honey—full of sweetness, but thick with memories and visions of the past. They beckon me to jump in, but I’m scared I’ll drown in criticizing my own reflection like I have for the past seventeen years. One thing has changed though—I am deeply in love with the girl I see in this mirror, and she knows it. She doesn’t scare me or make me want to run anymore. She makes me feel at home. Her body is my home. She is fully me and fully herself for the first time. I found my way home, in my own body, and what a wonderful love story it is. 


My name is Carmelita Cote. I am a 17 year old student at Tri-County Early College High School in the far Western part of North Carolina. I am a daughter, a sister, a leader, a writer, a theater geek, and most importantly—a work in progress; as we all are. I live with that in mind everyday, because to me, there is no theory with more holes in it than the idea that a person can be “complete.” I strive everyday to work on my relationships, be it with myself or the people around me. And I pray that everything I create on that journey can inspire and remind everyone of their own.