Lying came easy from the beginning. “Yeah, mom, I like this dress.” “No, dad, I didn’t leave my dishes in the sink.” It felt as natural as my darkest curls against the back of my neck or my longest nights awake and angry.
I rarely lie to protect myself. Sometimes it’s for the sake of time. Most of the time it’s just pure, unattended habit. I pick the stupidest and smallest things to fabricate. I don’t weave webs, I sew the same lines.
Now, lying has nothing to do with trust. Just because I’m telling you what I want you to hear doesn’t mean I don’t have your best interests at heart. You can trust me. Weigh my words, and you can trust me.
I just finished watching this speech given by John Green last week at his alma mater, Kenyon College, in my home state of Ohio. The first fifteen minutes or so strike me with particular prevalence. Not because I don’t agree with the rest of the speech about genre writing and the darkness deep deep down, because on my elementary writing level, I do, but because those fifteen minutes or so speak to me not as a writer but as a human being. A terrified, terrified human being.
"You don’t have to go to law school," he says, as the audience erupts into laughter. Meanwhile, here I sit in my too-nice-for-a-college-senior apartment still avoiding conversations with my mother about how I have decided to bypass law school in hopes of achieving God knows what. "You don’t have to go to law school," he repeats to more chuckles and instantly I feel a combination of overwhelming relief and woeful guilt. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to handle the next two or five or ten years of my life. I don’t know how to adult. No one does, I know, I’ve been told before this very speech, but that doesn’t actually help at all.
In many ways, I’m still a teenager. Adulthood doesn’t begin at 18 or 20 or 21 or any other arbitrary age we assign to such transitions (as John implied, adulthood is not an event, but a process). I am still a teenager in that I fall in love too easily. I am still a teenager in that I value those very distractions in my life like Twitter and Tumblr and Young Adult Novels as means of distraction and means of purely egotistical soapboxing (this is where this post gets very meta, you see, because I am making this post with this express purpose in mind). I am still a teenager in that I still simultaneously want to grow up and stay this way forever.
I have a darkness deep deep down. Linearly, this darkness can be defined as my anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder or my just generalized (though shared by my peers) fear of finding meaning in my future. Complexly, this darkness deep deep down cannot be defined. Nor should it be. Definition implies diagnosis. It implies the need to cure. This darkness deep deep down needs not to be cured. It need not be overcome, but rather endured. Life is not about finding its own meaning, but rather learning to feel the absence of its meaninglessness.
That’s how I feel at 22. Ask me again at 23.
Do you believe in romance?
It’s an interesting question, much like asking “do you believe in God” because - while maybe you do, maybe you don’t - there are many different meanings to the word, depending on who you ask. It’s a question that requires an explanation. Here is mine.
I believe in a definition of romance. What I don’t believe in is the cliches. Love at first sight. Soul mates. Fate and Destiny. Those tropes often associated with romance have never interested me.
When you meet a person and decide to spend the rest of your life with them, that’s not the romantic endgame. A marriage or partnership or whatever you want to call it is hard work and based in a reality that includes bills and careers and sickness and change. This, I believe, is vital. You must exist in reality. If you don’t recognize the reality of your romantic relationship, you will never be satisfied.
However, I believe in a romance that is an element of a relationship. I believe in the feeling of it all. Love, if you will. I believe in the standstill moments and powerful washing-overs of affection. I believe in taking the time and dedication to nurture this pure aspect of a relationship. When you make that lifelong promise to someone, you are committing to keeping those romantic feelings alive. I spent a long time in a relationship with a person who didn’t believe this before I decided romance isn’t a choice for me, it’s a necessity. A small one; one I don’t need every minute of every day (Hell, I wouldn’t want it that way), but need nonetheless.
So, yes. I believe in romance. But I believe in it the same way I believe in a shot of whiskey: Warming, amorous, sometimes dangerous… But welcomed, in my weaker moments, as an old friend.
I don’t believe in meeting my heros.
My mother is one of those people who, upon finding out there’s a celebrity in the area, will drop everything in a wholehearted attempt to hunt them down. She doesn’t care who it is, necessarily, and I don’t really know what her goal is when finding them. I’ve asked her about it in the past, when she’s tried to drag me into a comic book store in University Heights to meet Chris Daughtry, or to the restricted area of a tennis arena in Cincinnati to chase after Roger Federer, or some similar situation. “It’s fun.” She tells me, trying to use the prospect of meeting so-and-so name in such-and-such place to tug at me like a leash. “It’s fun.” It’s fun?
To me, it’s just uncomfortable. The very process of going up to another person and gushing the “I’m a fan” expletive establishes this bizarre hierarchy which I don’t care to be a part of. “I put you on a pedestal, but I know far more about you than you know about me, so really, I have the advantage here.” I don’t want an awkwardly stoic and invasive photo or an indecipherable scab of ink on the back of a restaurant receipt or concert ticket. I don’t want acknowledgement. I don’t want anything.
But maybe that’s just a coverup. Maybe I’m afraid of being met by disappointment. Maybe I build these people up in my mind to be tragic heros, and lovable losers. They’re characters. And I love characters. Hell, I’m a writer. I make people up in my mind all the time. I assign personalities and play with names. I give adoration and hate, fear and faith. I make them dependent on me. Breathe for me. Maybe I don’t want to ruin that. Maybe it would break my heart to find out that real humans are only human.
My ex-boyfriend and I used to play this game. It was like sort of like MASH. You know, where you’d write down lists of potential husbands you’d marry and types of homes you’d live in and numbers of kids you’d have and you play this number game to figure out what your life would look like one day. It was a game I used to play with Abby Carlson in third grade, when she wanted JC Chasez, a mansion, and four kids, and I wanted Billie Joe Armstrong, an NYC apartment, and one son.
Anyway, so my ex-boyfriend and I used to play this game. We wrote down the name of all the big law schools in all the distant cities I could ever dream to live in and he would ask me to pick two numbers. “Four and fourteen,” I’d say, because I liked symmetry and had a strange disdain for any multiple of three. “Michigan and Texas Tech,” he’d read, and it would be my job to pick immediately from my gut, giving no thought. “Texas Tech,” I’d reply, because it was summertime as we played this game and I loved the idea of living somewhere that always allowed me to feel this warm. He would cross Michigan off the list, and then ask me more numbers, until only one school remained.
We played this game many nights that summer, laying entwined on the wicker furniture of my front porch. We were going to live in Michigan and Texas and Oregon and Georgia and Maine and have four kids or two kids or twelve. We’d live in crowded cities and in country towns. Our future was never set, except for the fact that it was ours. It was always ours, and where we went and how many kids we had and what kind of house we lived in didn’t mean one single goddamn thing.
I just really like her and him and this movie and I truly do wish I looked like Lily Collins.
I think my answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” changed every time I was asked. The earliest I remember was wanting to be a veterinarian, because Zaboomafo was my favorite kids show and I never shied away from needles. When I got a little older, I wanted to write TV shows. There’s a RubberMaid bin in my parents basement with mountains of scripts typed in Comic Sans and edited in purple gel pen. I wanted to be a sports reporter, an music journalist, an optometrist, an author, a talent scout, a chef, and, when I hit high school, a lawyer. That one stuck for awhile, but even then, I didn’t know what kind of lawyer I wanted to be. I could do contract work for the New York Yankees. I could be a trial attorney in some big city like Phillie or Chicago. I could work in copyright for a major publishing company and spend my free time reading unreleased books. None of it ever sounded particularly disinteresting, necessarily, but none of it ever felt quite right either. My usual M.O. when I thought about these sorts of things was to tell myself “you’ll figure it out. You’ll know what’s right when the time comes.”
Well, the time has come, and as I write to you right now, I feel like I’m drunk and dizzy and throwing darts at a board just to see what sticks. Law school fell off the radar the moment I didn’t even have the heart to crack open my LSAT prep book because the very idea of spending the next three years reading dusty case after case after case in an ear-splittingly quiet library all hours of the day made the words burned out sting on the back of my neck. After that, it was a sports management masters. Or maybe an MBA. Or maybe I should just suck it up and not hide inside a classroom any longer and throw myself out into the so-called “real” world (which, I hypothesize, is no more-or-less “real” than the world I exist in now, albeit with less Keystone Light, more bills, and maybe a dog).
Everyone around me - friends, parents, professors - start by saying “there is no wrong choice,” immediately before launching into why there is, in fact, many wrong choices and no real right one. And I look at my friends who have passion and drive and wild ambition when it comes to their careers and I feel sad, because I don’t have that. Or at least, I don’t have a direction for it. I want to work hard and be successful. Always have. But I can’t run the race if I can’t find the track.
I think I’ve talked about this before on here, but I’ve always had a habit of writing letters I’ll never send. Sometimes I do it out of basic boredom, other times I do it to contextualize my feelings. Most of the time I do it because I’m too shy and silly and scared to tell secrets to someone other than my Macbook.
I stumbled across this particular letter today while looking for a different document and it resonated with me. I wrote it when I was 18, a freshman in college, blinded like a lost moth swimming around a porch light. I wrote it to a good friend of mine, who happened to be my then-boyfriend’s best friend, about the feelings I happened to be experiencing at the time.
Looking back at it now is almost like watching myself predict my own future. The confusion I was experiencing, the simultaneous longing and fearing change, would all end up shaping the remainder of my college experience - and, ultimately, shaping the way I look at love.
It would take another year and a half for me to break up with that boyfriend. The friend was long gone by that point. Oh well. Maybe in another life.
The letter is below. Names are fictitious.