Nothing Is Ever the Same As They Said It Was

The street shines glossy black after the rain. The sidewalk cafes are crowded, and vehicles hiss by—their roar constantly approaching, breaking off, receding. I watch them and hold my breath, forgetting to blink. I am alert, but null. The restlessness of the city mirrors mine tonight, and slowly softens it.

I’ve always enjoyed lights, sounds, and explosions. They came to me like divine permission to sit back and enjoy the ride. The world was happening. I wasn’t in charge of firing it up or holding it together. What a relief—to not have to be in control for some time.

The hours go by. I sit in the dark and hold time in slow gear. Either the experiment, or my sanity, will fail. They are eyeball to eyeball, waiting for the other to blink. I bet on being mad. It’s late, so very late for this. I should have started earlier. I should have started sooner.

I’m not surprised at how many insomniacs there are here, I’m actually pleased. This switch reminds me of how young I’m getting, and I’m almost, almost seventeen again; when the ice was melting and I was gently growing from its underneaths.

Raised by the street, with the sky blue and new above me, I knew how to roam free when I had to, and how to lie on my back in the tall grass and dream in the present tense when I wanted to. Nights were dark, long and hot, like the future I was both scared of and running towards.

Troublesome, perhaps, but intriguing, surprising and refreshing all at once, I was in my captain-of-her-own-rocket days; sweet days of stitching myself together out of wants and needs, with burning eyes and a heart that still held the right to the future.

When the temperature dropped and the future came running, I surprised myself by turning into this shadow of a person sitting together with her ghost in the car, wishing she could turn back time, or at least slow it down enough to find a way out without wasting all her young years.

Here I am, wishing it would all be over tonight. It’s a compulsion, a series of silent, desperate attempts with occasional flashes of rightness. I have always done it—fighting to gain more time to make things better—it’s just odd that it’s become my life.

I know; somewhere along the line, the pressure was too much and I just simply fell apart. I feel bad. I feel bad in every place and every part of me. I have no comforting thoughts to fall back on. Life has become days sitting in a chair, staring.

But the magic is in the hard. Hard is the new black. I speak to myself in a soft, kind voice. I know that I am still worth it. There is still a fire burning inside me that wants to be fed. This fire is worth it. There is nothing else that is worth more than this fire.

How many times has it been the first time? How many times has it been the last time? Bent under the burden, I can still smell freedom. I have not given up. I owe it to myself, despite not being that anymore.

Here she comes—striking, slightly eccentric, with her bizarre hat and toothpaste advert smile. She’s crossing the street hand in hand with a slim, hip young devil in ripped jeans and an oversized shirt. Her coolness is almost palpable. She does not bleed through another’s wounds. She owns the street. She owns the night.

I, too, would have eaten those hours of being in love whole. I squeeze my eyes shut and imagine what I would be like, innovative, unconventional, romantic, still. It doesn’t come naturally. All I get is a cynical longing for love, turbulent skies and the sad calm after the storm. The images are grainy, monochrome, and dark. I can not think of textures. I can not think of sounds.

My attraction to her is ambivalent. She has the power of hiding who she is while, at the same time, showing how she wants to be seen. It makes me jealous of the god-like heights she came down from, and tragically aware of the unknowability of another human being. I can despise her intense, hedonistic lifestyle all I want, but I’ll never know if that’s what she goes to bed with. Security blankets don’t always hold those who sewed them. They know where the holes are. They can see what they’re hiding from. They just keep on hiding.

I trace him out of the corner of my eye. I am not his type of girl, but close enough to his type. He would give me speed. I would give my all, but there isn’t much left. I’d trade him what I need for whatever it was from him that I’d want; that’d be fair. I do not blink when I look at them, who no longer matter but are just there, and them. My hatred is mine. It belongs to me. She is merely there. A click in my head cancels boredom. I know what I’m doing, because I’m always doing it.

After a heavy sigh, I allow myself to step into the vision. I am good at projecting myself on the outside. All my friends eat sunshine, and I train in speculative fiction. Sometimes I think I could be my own imaginary friend.

I open it like a window and climb through. Inside it is home after being away for years. I’ve gone in search of an ideal, but reality has always failed to come up to the mark. I’ll always return. Suddenly, it’s me who went to a jazz concert with him and spent the night nodding along to soft tunes with eyes closed, sipping cheap whiskey. It’s got to be me. I’m the girl who lives on air and intensity, and I’d never turn away from hotter nights or bigger feelings, whatever turn they took. I’m with my madness all the way.

It’s summer and soon after dawn, strands of orange all across a turquoise sky. I’m up in the mountains, sitting in the front of the car singing along with the radio, my hair blowing in the wind and my heart still harvesting my baby goddess energy. The drive is beautiful, right along the river. I’m going to drink the ocean, again and again, and celebrate being madly alive. This has got to be me, too.

I’m reading paragraphs over and over again,because it’s too delicious not to. We have worlds we want the other to see. Somehow these very different worlds fit together. By writing down all the things he finds on restaurant napkins, under car seats, in her refrigerator, in between, in her wallet, by accident, too late, he creates a world of detail without frames or boundaries. I spend hours getting lost in it. It’s beautiful and crazy, like a miniature version of life without all the big problems. If you’re stubborn enough, you find something good to do on the way down. But the bizarre repetition in your eyes betrays your madness to others. Whatever. It’s me who reads him, who unwraps him, who sits long moments in silence with him. No one else comes close enough. It’s always me.

I’m moving forward through the day by small explosions of will. It’s utopic to find myself again, although so far from shore. I’ll rock every boat on my way here. This is the last thing left that makes me happy-hearted, warmth ringing true inside these bones when I come for it. It’s like all is right in the world because one heart managed, despite all the chaos, to get it right. And not just any heart, but my heart. Mine. It’s got to be mine.

We lie on our backs, intertwine our fingers and hold on tight once more, as though consistency could substitute for stability. I missed the girl I almost still am, the girl I will never be again. I’m always so glad to find her again.

The words come out much slower than I would like, but I say them out loud this time; papers and devices have only ever stopped my train of thought. I’ve cleared my desk and climbed on top of it. There’s only my breath left now, fogging up the window. There is no her.

Ageless and gorgeous, she is, one by one, 17, 27, 37. It does not matter. Whoever the girl crossing the street with her lover was, there is only me and smoke and mirrors in this world. She’s just the end of the rainbow I never followed, the person I did not become and hate because I can not love. And it would be so ironic if I tried to love my neighbour as myself, because of course most people hate themselves, and I am no exception.

X marks the spot where I took the other path—travelled or not so much, it does not matter. It led me away from the plans I did not even know I had for myself. My anger has since turned from hot and fast to a lingering cold. I see myself in other girls, imaginary and, occasionally, on nights like this, made of skin, flesh, bone and with stories of their own. The strange thing is, they never remind me of the person I see when I look at myself these days. They are always so very different.

I drink hot tea under cotton candy skies and think about the fleeting nature of me. I think I like that. Maybe in another life I will live roof-raisingly loud. In this one I am sane, painfully sane and aware. From behind quiet eyes I pause and caress each monster. I understand them. Putting love where there is none is a hard job. Slowing down time is even harder. I can only be bad, in the dark, as the seasons pass.

I often wonder how much of the people I make up is me. There are much crazier worlds on the other side of me; some are still unexplored, some are still works in progress, and some have already been used, abused, stretched to the limit. Fiction gives me the second, third, millionth chance that life, real, fleshly life, denies me. I cannot go every path, but I can play hide and seek with mine.

It was never my intention to create a new person whose skin I could then have quietly slipped into to finally be a million times better. I simply created; I still do. I still have it. I will never lose it. I have no reason, no intention, no master plan. I learned to feel by writing about feeling, not the other way around. I learned to love by creating characters that belonged to me, so I could love them without fear. This is how I learned intensity: firsthand, from myself, in my bedroom, in the car, in the classroom, at night, at 16, at my own pace.

I don’t like it when people get bored easily and frequently. This is an interesting planet—and when you have no more attention to give, you are a bright, playful, interesting person. I am who I am because of my imagination, and because of that, again, I am so much more.

‘And, like all the best quests, in the end I’m doing it all for a girl: me.’ – Caitlin Moran

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