What Haunted Me at 17
I’ve posted about how Kat Rosenfield made her way onto my Writer Crush list. Well another YA author did so as well, Nova Ren Suma. I can’t say I absolutely loved Imaginary Girls or that I related to any of the characters on a deep level the way that I did with Amelia Anne Is Dead And Gone. The story was interesting, fascinating, captivating, but it didn’t wiggle it’s way to the favorites list. Nova Ren Suma’s writing style, however, did. I read and re-read sentences and then read them to friends who share my love of literature. Because I was that envious of her style, her ability to string a sentence together in a way that felt magical. So maybe that particular story didn’t grab me as well as I’d have liked… but her writing enchanted me, made me want to try harder with my own writing. And that’s something I cherish. So because of that, Imaginary Girls is on the *special shelf* and that’s where it will remain.
All that said, Nova Ren Suma has another book coming out this week, tomorrow in fact, by the name of 17 & Gone. And while I’m yet again unsure if the story will capture my heart, I want to read it just to feast my eyes on her words. She has a current blog feature about what haunted people at 17, and it made me think. I was severely haunted at 17, I have tons I could say. And I suppose I should.
— — —
At 17, what haunted me, consumed my every waking hour… was my obsessiveness, my self-destructive love for my abusive girlfriend, my depression, and most of all… distance.
I wrote intensely angry and depressing poetry, I hurt myself physically and then rebelled against anyone who got upset at me for doing so; I was a wreck and I allowed myself to stay that way. And I have no clue how I managed to have friends. The moment I started to be happy or content where I was… I lashed out. My friends were constantly made aware that no matter how much I loved them, or loved being around them, they were never enough; because thousands of miles away was a girl who treated me like crap and I worshiped her for it.
And aside from that, I was obsessed with the idea of running away and living as a boy. I thought if I could just get back, everything would be perfect. And so I concocted a plan… if I ran away, the police would be looking for a girl, so I would become a boy. I started practicing, which wasn’t that hard because I already had moments where I felt like a boy. I’d bind my chest with an Ace bandage and practice walking through my room with a boy swag. I’d practice sitting like a boy when no one was looking. And then… I’d start to forget. I’d get lost in a book or a movie or a conversation and forget I was supposed to be running, forget I was supposed to be thinking about a girl far far away, forget I was supposed to be in love. Until my phone rang and I remembered, she was everything to me and I was depressed and lonely because she was so far away.
Being depressed was a full time job. I wasn’t actually depressed simply because she was no where near me, but I made myself believe that was the source. Whenever I started to feel okay, that depression yanked me back down, and I sunk everything in her. I told myself if I could see her… if I could just see her everything would be better, I’d miraculously be better, her love would fix it all. Only none of that was love and if her love could have fixed it, it would have done so at 3,000 miles just as well as it would have from 3,000 centimeters. Love doesn’t really care about distance. But at 17, distance was the enemy. She wouldn’t have cheated, wouldn’t have done drugs, wouldn’t have berated me, wouldn’t have treated me like I was nothing without her and nothing with her and yet like she graciously chose to keep me around anyway… She’d have been perfect for me, if only it weren’t for that distance.
And through all of that, I did so much to keep busy. I had a weekend job at a major amusement park. I did theatre and dance and played piano. And all of these things required after school practice and memorization and dedication. In my spare time I wrote poetry. I played video games none of my friends were interested in. I loved all of the things I did to stay as busy as possible, well, except maybe that custodial job. It was how I coped, how I kept moving, how I allowed myself to be tricked into believing that the black cloud above my head would disappear one day… if that distance was gone and that love was real. Always in the back of my my mind was this ever looming pain, threatening to consume me if I stopped for a second. And when I did stop, everything hurt so bad that I had to try to cut it out of me. Sometimes I’d hurt myself even when I felt fine, because that didn’t feel real anymore, happiness felt false and confusing.
Then… she would call me, mad that I was a mess, pissed off that I missed her or didn’t miss her the way she wanted or wasn’t try hard enough to come home, to be a perfect girlfriend, to be a better version of me… her version of me. She’d call me stupid for crying, she’d go days without calling me at all because listening to me was too difficult, or because she wanted to teach me a lesson, or sometimes for no reason at all. She’d call me a bitch, call me crazy, tell me I wasn’t worth it. And then… when life started to suck at the marrow in her bones and she wanted someone to kiss it better, she’d find me and cry and I’d soothe it all away. Every single time. Like a fool.
When I read back on my poetry from 17 it’s angst ridden as you might expect, but there is anger in there, bitterness, intelligence. The style is crap mostly. I was either too blunt or too cryptic. However, every time I read one of those poems, I am struck by how aware I was that I was in pain, that my relationship was abusive and nothing but a dead end. And yet… and yet I stayed. Because it wasn’t about love anymore, no matter what I claimed. It was an obsession. I would make it work, I would make her love me like she should, I would smooth the rough edges, I would make the abuse stop, I would, I would, I would… by going home to her. And that plagued me constantly.
The sad part is, there were times I was keenly aware that I was in pain and it was due to her meanness, her harshness, her abuse. But I would tramp those feelings down, I would bury them between lies and tears and scars and angry drunk scrawlings in diary pages. I suspected that no one understood that she was my whole world and my love was utterly wrapped up in her and the distance, that hideous distance, burned my heart until it was a pile of ash in my chest. And sometimes I suspected I put her on this pedestal so high that no one could ever reach it, let alone her, and that I kept her there just to torture myself. Every time I felt like moving on, there she was, texting, calling, messaging. Sometimes it was to tell me she missed me. Sometimes it was to call me names and leave me a puddle of tears and blood on the floor. She knew the power she held over me, the power I gave her, and she used it whenever she felt lonely. And I let her. And that plagued me too. Distance and obsession and abuse… all under the guise of love.
— — —
I feel like this story needs a moral. But there isn’t one. I went home, not as a boy like I had hoped, but as myself. She wouldn’t have liked my boy self anyway; he was too assertive, too abrasive, too dominant. And once I was back, things only got worse rather than better. The emotional abuse got worse, and eventually turned into other kinds of abuse. And then, for a while, I grew to be haunted by 17 itself, by 18, by 19, by 20, by all the choices I made, or didn’t make; by all the scars, both visible and not. Who I was, what I endured in the name of an obsessive and abusive love, who I let myself become for other people, that became what haunted me after 17. But when I was 17, before I was willing to accept what love really was, I was haunted by distance and by a girl I wanted to love for all the wrong reasons.
I’m not haunted anymore. Those choices made me who I am today. And I’m not going to pretend any of that was easy. Some days I’m not sure any of that was worth it. But I survived, I learned, I grew, and I pressed forward. It’s not much, but it’s something. Perhaps it’s everything… surviving. I am happy now, I am with someone who doesn’t exploit my faults, doesn’t hurt me just to keep me under their control, and who knows that even if they wanted to… I never gave them the power to do so. Because I may have given them my heart, but I didn’t give them permission to break it over and over and over. I’m not 17 anymore. I don’t allow anything to haunt me these days.