Below is a piece I’m working on. I don’t know how it’s going, but I’m having a hard time working on anything.
I like telling stories.
That doesn’t make me special. I’m a sometimes-writer and full-time English teacher. I have spent years fitting events into narrative structures: dynamic characters, dramatic tension, nuanced relationships wind through conflict and still end with a neat resolution. My world, most days, is spent somehow trying to craft something that fits into a narrative.
I thought this was just craft, something I did on paper or in the classroom until someone reminded of a small, white lie I had written about them. When I apologized, they simply said, “You like making things fit your story.” It wasn’t mean, they were just making an observation. At that moment, it clicked.
I have been telling myself stories for years.
Nearly every relationship I’ve had is subjected to hours in the tumble-dry cycle of day-dreams. I take the smallest tidbits, find the narrative and fill it with so much hot air it floats away with the rest of my imagination.
My narrative habit has been curling its way through my brain, around my heart, and into my actions since childhood. A gossamer string, my desire to adapt my perception of reality– then manipulate that reality to my perception– has been woven into my life since long before I could understand it.
It’s in adolescent journal entries describing, in excruciating detail, the real meaning behind my crush putting his hand briefly on the back of my chair as he talked to someone else. It’s being sure that, when his “ocean blue eyes, like a stormy sea” (a line, no doubt, purloined from some bad fanfic I had read on the internet) locked with mine, it was because he was seeing something deeper in me. It’s embedded into the fabric of time I’d spend skulking around corners at school, hoping to “accidentally” run into some guy.
When, somehow, I would convince that crush to actually date me– with obvious flirtation, with praises and pretty words– I was still creating storylines for them that would, eventually, end.
Storyline: A young Mormon missionary falls in love with a Catholic girl. He proposes. She says yes. He goes on his mission and, somehow, when he returns, they find a way to work through their religious issues and have a happy life.
In reality, six months after he left, the heady high of my first kiss and first love had worn off. I was sixteen when he gave me a ring. I was seventeen when I sent my missionary a Dear-John-email (we weren’t allowed to call or see them in person, or I swear I would have). He begged me to accept his God into my heart and make things work. I overlooked his messages. I returned his ring and most other gifts he left me.
He’s married now, I think. He blocked me on Facebook.
I did this a few more times in high school: the track star who tutored me in math and left me when he realized our time was up. I threw a fit (this was not part of my story) and sobbed, though deep down I agreed. The fellow thespian, who I badgered to go out with me my senior year. He wrote some nasty things about me, we made peace and parted ways. He recently married man in San Francisco
This, of course, is natural for many high schoolers. As a teacher now, I see myself in so many sixteen-year-olds skulking around corners, hoping to bump into someone. I see the students hoping to find validation in me as their teacher or their friends or some relationship, and sigh and tilt my head and wonder how anyone put up with me at that age.
What is more difficult to realize is that I didn’t leave the practice behind in my school like I thought I did. I see now that I have been weaving webs of stories and heartaches long past my graduation.