Overexposed: A Self-Love Project.

Overexposed: My Chapters, Part Two.

Chapter Four.

I went against wearing the summer dress I wore back in 2019 when I last saw him. Even though I doubt he remembers that this was the dress I wore with my new Converse sneakers and had just gotten my third tattoo; a hand holding a bouquet of flowers to symbolize Kelly Clarkson’s “Sober”; a song she released as a b-side on her third studio album, My December. In this particular song, she sings in the chorus, “picked all my weeds, but kept the flowers”.

On this particular day in early May, I now had a longer pixie haircut that I wore in a ponytail because we were slowly about to approach summer-like weather. I wore a blue floral maxi dress and white converse sneakers, and I was now covered in about 5 more tattoos since getting the flower tattoo in 2019. I rode the same bus that I used to ride years ago, going in the same direction I use to go in. I was nervous; I didn’t know what to expect from seeing someone that I haven’t spoken to in almost 2 years. I got off at a stop before the usual one, letting him know I was at the stop he told me he would meet me at. You got this, Liz. You are not the person you were when you last saw each other. I looked down the block and immediately recognized him. Two years older, hair a little longer, but mannerisms just how I remembered them.

“Were you waiting long?” Sounds the same. Looks the same. Feels incredibly different.

We traveled around the neighborhood, and it was our first time trying Milk Tea. He had told me that one of his favorite spots was a drinking spot called Mr. Wish. We then walked around and caught up, talking about our lives during the pandemic, where we’ve been for the last two years, and everything new for us. In some strange way, it felt like all this time has passed, but it was just how things used to be: simple.

“Tell me the meaning of your tattoos,” he asked me one night. He lifted both of my arms and began to examine the ink on them.

“Well,” I said. I didn’t really know where to start, but I started off with the last tattoo that he saw back in 2019. “This one is from a Kelly Clarkson song, in which the lyrics in it are picked all my weeds, but kept the flowers.” He turned my right arm and looked at the chemistry bottle on it.

“That’s dope,” he pointed at the ink. I looked down at it and smiled.

“That tattoo is from a song from my favorite Kpop group, the song is called The Chemistry and the group is named Victon,” I explained. “The key is also a Victon tattoo, and the carry on is from a song from my favorite member of the group, and the other members of the group wrote that song for him.” He nodded as I spoke.

“Yo, you’re really tatted up,” he smiled as he said. I laughed. I guess a lot has changed since our time apart, but even then I still felt like the same girl that used to sit in this spot back in the day. I was just older and wiser, and more mature. I was Liz, the individual; the one that had found her identity within the last year and a half up to this point. The one that had her identity together for once in her life due to space. Time. Growth. Chapters before this one.

Chapter Five.

“You will be scheduled for surgery on July 12th, 2021 at 3pm,” the surgeon called me a week before. My hair was still coated in seawater from the trip to the beach earlier that day. I began to get nervous; it was feeling surreal that the day that I prepared a year and a half for was finally becoming a reality. I had the rest of my week planned; I was wrapping up my last week of work before my medical leave, I was going to celebrate with a good friend of mine with food and drinks, and I was going to enjoy eating the foods that I would have to have to say to goodbye to for the next couple of months. The day of the surgery wasn’t smooth sailing as well. My mother was nervous for me, which made me even more nervous about my time in the operating room. My mom had to leave once I got into the OR; I was put in a wheelchair and pushed by one of the nurses down a long hallway on the fourth floor of the hospital. Once I entered the operating room, I saw the center of the large room had a single, operating table. I laughed to myself when I heard that Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More” was playing on the radio in the operating room. I got on the table as the assistants strapped me to the table and spoke to me while they prepped everything. I remember a guy talking to the surgeon and the rest of the other doctors and nurses in the room, stating the time and day and the routine that was happening. I took a deep breath before they placed the mask over my nose and the next thing I remember was me in the recovery room, getting fed ice from one of the nurses that were assigned to me.

I remember the first time I threw up my food after having surgery. I sat on the bathroom floor; sweating, eyes closed, and possibly white in the face. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to ever eat without feeling sick to my stomach again. I wanted to so desperately eat the food that the rest of my family was eating. Sitting at the dinner table with barely anything on my plate compared to the normal-sized portions felt unreal. I would sit there ad ask myself how did I ever eat that much food on my plate before and now I can’t even eat three bites without feeling sick to my stomach? I felt my connections with family through food were now challenging; I wanted nothing more to just be treated like anyone else in the room, but now that if I were treated like everyone else here, I wouldn’t be able to eat or drink anything that is served during the lunch and dinners of family gatherings.

It was like getting into a relationship with a person you didn’t know much about besides what was on the surface. You know their favorite color, their favorite food, music, age; the basic stuff; but never really knew what to do when they got sick or what they do after having a bad day at work. I felt like I was a stranger in my own body. I was learning new things my body did that it never did before, like getting full when eating certain foods or puking if I ate too fast, no matter how hungry I was before. I had to relearn body cues like I was a toddler again, knowing when it was time to stop eating the food on my plate and how many times I should be chewing my food before I swallowed. In the beginning, I questioned whether or not this decision was the best one for me.

But even in the beginning, I knew the answer to that.

Chapter Six.

I remember feeling like the walls were closing in on me even though my desk was located nowhere near the walls. I felt my face getting hot, which made me even more anxious because it was a hot summer afternoon as well. I looked around the office full of experienced co-workers that know how to do their jobs correctly. Me? I was still trying to prove myself to people who have been here for decades on end.

I saw my temporary supervisor’s office door closed; she must’ve been in a meeting since she always has her door open unless she was in an important meeting or on the phone with her teenage daughter. I have become quite comfortable walking into her office on Monday afternoons when I came in and just have a conversation with Christine. She would ask me how my weekend was and we would talk about the things that make up Liz outside of these office walls. I wasn’t one to talk about my personal life with those in the office; the age gap between me and the other ladies in the office felt too inappropriate to share my life as a 28-year-old. Some of these women have children around my age. Christine was one of the younger ladies in the office. She carried herself as someone who was highly professional, but relatable to the point where I was able to feel comfortable talking to her about the things going on in my life. On this specific day, I needed Christine to talk to me in order for me to leave my frustrations about the job at the office and not bring them home with me, as I have been doing since I started the job back in February.

I texted Christine that once she had some extra time, would it be okay to talk to her about some things. She texted me back almost immediately, telling me to come to her office. A minute later, she opened her office door and looked at me, in which I walked to her office and closed the door behind me.

The conversations in Christine’s office melt in my mind, as they happened frequently when she was my temporary supervisor. We spoke about concerns regarding the transcript area and our vendor that distributes the transcripts. We spoke about the new policies that were being enforced for students and instructors wishing to extend their deadlines to submit coursework for a letter grade at the end of the semester. We spoke about how to do things that I wasn’t properly trained in when my former supervisor was in the office. Lastly, we spoke about things that I never imagined talking to someone at the office about, like my friend group, my weight loss surgery journey, and my family; again, things that make Liz “Liz” when she’s not a college assistant from 12 to 5 on the weekdays. Christine opened up about things that someone my age wouldn’t be able to handle; to be honest, it was things that someone in their late twenties wouldn’t really experience unless you had the experience prior, y’know? It was interesting to hear her comparisons to the things she experienced to what I’m experiencing.

I guess it added to this feeling that Christine was seriously just an older version of me in a way. Sure, we were vastly different, but the way that we thought and handled things were freakishly alike, especially when it came to doing things at the job. It was comforting to hear Christine’s College Assistant story; she was the youngest in the office when she started and sat at the desk that I currently sit at, directly across the Historical Records supervisor’s office. She told me how she kept to herself for most of her days, and how at the beginning, she was also thrown into different areas at the office because her supervisor (who was my old supervisor at one point) saw potential in her abilities.

“I didn’t understand why I was getting placed in areas that I didn’t know much about, and that used to cause me such great anxiety. I thought was I even a good enough worker if I made mistakes in the areas I wasn’t familiar with. I thought, ‘well if they trust me to work on this, then I must be good at it and get it right on my first time. I didn’t understand that I was learning all these different areas because my supervisor saw that I was able to work on these different things. She saw potential and value in me, and it took me until I was able to apply for other areas in Registration to realize that. I will let you in on this reminder: people around here take mental notes, and they are seeing just how great you are in the work that you are given and the potential to become an asset in this office, or any office that you decide to transfer to in the future.”

I cried in her office more times than I can count. As a matter of fact, I’ve cried a lot in front of Christine, ad I was always grateful that she made me feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable like that. If it wasn’t for Christine’s support and encouragement in the time she was my temporary supervisor, I wouldn’t have stayed at the job. I would’ve given up and decided that maybe being in academia wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Talking to another co-worker of mine in records, Shelley, I told her that reflecting on the year I was here, Christine was really the one that taught me everything that I knew. It wasn’t until I realized the truth in that statement: she gave me confidence by supporting me at the job. I truly wouldn’t be where I am currently in the office if it wasn’t for Christine. This chapter of a new job and having to reevaluate my worth as a good worker after being a good worker at a different job took a toll on me. This chapter taught me that with the right guidance and support, everything difficult or challenging is a piece of cake.

Chapter Seven.

I am not the girl I was at the beginning of my chapters; in fact, those chapters feel like the first book of a trilogy of chapters depicting what my twenties were like. Maybe it’s because my thirties begin in less than a year from now; all of the things I loved or did or tolerated were different now. Some will say that my weight loss changed me; maybe I was now more of a selfish person than I was before. Maybe I allowed my weight loss to change me as a person.

Or maybe I was just transitioning into a different person, which requires me to change as a person.

I realized that there’s no possible way to stop your chapters from happening. I guess nothing lasts forever but at the end of the day, you’re left with just yourself and your chapters that make up the person you are. Chapters indicate progression; you flip the pages of the book and read through chapter by chapter to get the gist of what the entire story is about.

Chapter seven will be a challenging one. Chapter seven has already made me see things differently and lose a lot of people along the way because of my new views. Chapter seven is just the beginning of the end; the end of the 20s era that will shape how I enter my 30s in 10 months. I am currently writing my chapter seven; the armageddon, the climax, the first episode of the finale!

And eventually, chapter one of 30 will come to be because of it.

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