Superheroes hiding their tortured inner lives behind primary colored-masks and hilarious one-liner comebacks.
Normal girls who were actually princesses, but didn’t act like other girls (or other princesses). Space wizards with stupid haircuts.
No one understood them, but I did.
I knew all their tragic backstories,
their hearts’ deepest desires,
the ways that they were, like, rejected by society and stuff.
I gushed over their bonds of friendship that could never be broken, not by intergalactic politics, ancient feuds between magical species, or the infinite varieties of mind control.
I totally supported them when no one else could.
I reread the most heart-wrenching pages over and over again,
my fingers bubbling the plastic dust jackets and my toes clenching in my mismatched socks.
I couldn’t just wade in these worlds—I baptized myself into them, staying under the shallow water for hours without taking a breath.
I could never quite feel enough. I squished my eyelids shut, trying to conjure up the tears that my heroes deserved.
Behind my wrinkled brow, they lived.
Morphed themselves together into an ever-present consciousness, answering the questions I asked to no one.
I talked to it out loud some days, when I was especially alone.
Sometimes, I would see these friends out in public,
on a graphic tee in the hallway,
or a backpack in the classroom.
I would always greet them enthusiastically.
“I love your t-shirt! Book four is the best!”
(With a warm, sweaty face way too much nervous laughter)
“That’s such a cool water bottle! Which Avenger is your favorite?”
(Hands clutching hair, leg bouncing)
“I… like your sketchbook!”
(Hopeful smile, averted eyes)
And we would talk to each other (!)
About our shared interest and have a fun conversation (!)
For a few minutes.
I’d talk to them the next time I saw them, too.
And every time we were in class together.
Then I hatched a daring plan.
My mom offered permission and a date,
my dad offered pizzas and the basement TV,
and I extended to my friends
No one came.
The assignment that sparked this one was "Poetry of Witness," which usually refers to reporting the lives of tortured political prisoners, victims of famine, refuges... things like that. I've never lived through anything like that, but I've lived through middle school, which is pretty similar.
Joking aside, I'm glad that I wrote these experiences to share this reality, and to speak for all the kids who are still living the way I grew up. Loneliness is an epidemic in this country (if not most of the developed world) and I really wanted to make the connection between obsessing over fiction and loneliness. Fiction can definitely help distract from the pain, and at best it can bring people together, but it's very easy for fictional narratives to take up such an important place in someone's heart that they stop trying to build their own life and develop relationships.
This is part of the story of me growing up, but it isn't the whole story. I don't like dwelling on just the worse things in life (part of me LOVES this, but we're trying not to), but I ended the way I did because I wanted this to be a powerful cry of a hurting person. The whole truth is much more complex.
There were plenty of people who (intentionally or unintentionally) rejected me as I was growing up, and that really effects my worldview to this day. However, there were also people who accepted and encouraged me. There were parties I planned where people did show up, just not the "popular" people who I thought were most important to please. In fact, at times I was blind to those around me who felt more rejected than I was. If I was less self-focused, I probably could have had better friendships.
But what can I say? I was 13.