By Britteny Dee

The first time I remember seeing my dad cry, he was sitting Indian-style on his bedroom floor in front of his closet. I walked into his room to ask him a question and found him staring at a framed picture with tears filling his eyes and streaming down his face.

I didn’t actually need to see the picture to know what it was of — my mom and dad were going through a divorce then, and I already knew he took all their wedding photos off our walls and hid them in his closet.

My mom and dad got divorced when I was 6, just four short years after their wedding day, when someone took the above picture of my mom and me. I found my 24-year-old self studying this photograph and crying just like I witnessed my dad do on his bedroom floor when I was a child.

When I look at this picture, I don’t cry because I’m sad that my parents got divorced. I’m old enough now to realize they’re happier apart and a divorce was much better than the alternative. When I look at this picture, I cry because I’m scared.

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I went home recently for a birthday party my mom threw for me and two of my siblings. Most of my family was there, and more than a few times, I was asked by a grandma or an aunt when my boyfriend of almost two years and I are getting married. I replied as I always do — by saying the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind yet as I’m only 24 and have a lot I want to accomplish before getting married. But the truth is, I think about marriage all the time.


My parents looked so happy in those wedding photos I revisit from time to time, but knowing how they ended up makes the pictures seem unreal, like they were staged for an advertisement.


After living through my parents’ ugly divorce, and watching them struggle to find love time and time again afterward, I told myself I would never get married. I had seen too many seemingly perfect relationships crash and burn and had acted as my parents’ shoulder to cry on so often that I started to believe true love was something Disney movie writers made up.

But now, every time my boyfriend and I talk about apartment decorations, vacations we have planned months down the road or the puppy he promised me we can get one day, I return to the thought of marriage. When talking about the future with a serious significant other, it’s hard not to.

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In college, despite my plan to stay single until after graduation, I ended up in two serious relationships back-to-back. I loved each boyfriend more than I ever imagined myself being able to love someone, but deep down, I always knew graduation day would likely mark the end of our relationship, so marriage was never something I had to think about. We had different career goals and dreamed of living in different cities, so I enjoyed the time we had together and left it at that. No looming nuptials meant things were relatively simple.

Unfortunately, college doesn’t last forever. My current boyfriend and I don’t have an expiration date like graduation day, so marriage isn’t completely off the table. Not being able to see into the future and know how it will end is frightening beyond belief.

It might sound like I don’t really like my boyfriend, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. What I don’t like is the idea that marriages often fail, and one day, if we do decide to get married, our relationship that I love so much now could be destroyed. My parents looked so happy in those wedding photos I revisit from time to time, but knowing how they ended up makes the pictures seem unreal, like they were staged for an advertisement.

I know the man I’m with now wants to one day be married. He wants a ceremony with friends and family, and a woman he can call his wife, not his long-time girlfriend or life partner.

Which brings me back to this picture of my mom. I look at it and wonder if on my wedding day if I’ll look as happy as she did, and if, more importantly, I’ll be able to succeed where my mom and dad failed, and maintain that happiness until “death do us part.”

Britteny Dee is features editor of Fashion Times and lives in New York City.



By Brooke Hawkins

There are few things more indulgent than taking a really great picture of yourself. One that makes you unafraid to share — excited even — to post confidently. One that shows your summer freckles in the clearest light, one where the sun hits all of your features so perfectly that for a moment in the many moments of your existence you feel brave and whole.

But, sometimes, these same photos show other parts that you’d forgotten.

On those days, the same freckles that make me feel unique and proud remind me that I’ve inherited them from my mother — though mine more sparse than hers that covered her whole face and grew deeper every year. These freckles remind me of the woman who gave me life. She was the person who helped me understand the woman I would grow up to be. She was the woman who thought tough love was stronger than compassion. The woman who dealt hurt and pain, emotional and physical, and the woman I’ve been unable to speak to since I moved away from home, more than six years ago.

I hold my memories and history with her close — to avoid being named as a person who has suffered abuse, who has missed out on maternal love that many of my peers received and who continues to be haunted by her presence every year when I get a cryptic text that says she “prays for me.”  Another year will pass and we won’t talk or see each other. I am thankful for that space.


I wonder if my friends struggle with their own identities in this way: the same parts that make them feel confident about themselves simultaneously bringing confusion and pain.


I’ve worked really hard to overcome these experiences, and their lessons continue to impact me each year that I move further into my adulthood. Parts of my mother poke through in many things — in my romantic relationships I struggle to trust and confide in people that show me endless affection, as I wait for the day that they’ll have enough of my trust to cause me pain. I work hard socially and professionally, competing with people who have lived lives of Ivy League schools, who continue to receive support and guidance from their mothers, and who appear to have never felt the cold sting of a mother like mine.

I look at my photo and focus on the features that look like hers — the dark brown eyes, the skin that tans a deep brown in the summer, a mole that was lovingly referred to as a “beauty mark” that I now conveniently hide behind bangs to avoid its regular reminder.

I wonder if my friends struggle with their own identities in this way: the same parts that make them feel confident about themselves simultaneously bringing confusion and pain. How do they learn to look at those parts? How do they learn to be unashamed? Other days I convince myself that I’m the only one that deals with this — I seal myself off and push my insecurities deeper. I allow myself to separate from these parts of myself and forget.

As I get older, I try to become more intentional about finding ways to love all of these parts of myself. Even when I feel pleased with the superficial aspects of my appearance and life, sometimes these more unpleasant things rumble beneath the surface and threaten to disrupt my progress.

I look again more carefully at the picture of myself. Sun striking my cheeks, freckles glowing, proud in a living room in a big city that I’ve made home. I see a light in my eyes that’s mine alone. It’s a light of confidence and sureness that I’ve accomplished a great deal, and I still have a great deal to achieve. In these things I can steady myself and learn to love what’s really there. I have many facets, and loving the ones I’ve worked so hard to develop make the painful ones harder to see.

It’s important, I think, to be gentle with ourselves and patient. I remember to look for a few minutes longer at that photo that made me feel so confident, and to learn to be comfortable with the constantly changing image of myself.

Brooke Hawkins is a Chicago-based UX/UI designer, music maker and photographer.