Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"All of this happened, and I'm still here."

Two books I read in the last couple of weeks have been living in my head ever since.  I'd been struggling to write a blog post about the first one when I read the second one.  That's when I realized they go together.  Different stories, different voices.  Here is what is the same: Loneliness.  Bullying.  Shame.  Identity.  Saving yourself.

So I've tried to write about these two books.  They feel important.  I hope you read them.

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
The first thing I think of when I try to explain this book is the scene in The Breakfast Club where Andrew (the Jock) asks Allison (the Basket Case) about her parents.

So what's wrong? What is it? Is it bad?  Real bad? Parents?


What do they do to you?

They ignore me...

Anna tells herself the story of how it used to be, when she and her mom lived together and were the whole world to one another. Before her mom was dating one man after the other and stopped coming home. Now Anna lives in a big house in a nice neighborhood. To fill up all that space she leaves on the television and all the lights. She covers the walls of her room with magazine pictures of happy families, happy girls.  Then she discovers that if you do things boys want, they'll stay around.  For a while, anyway.

You don't have to have used sex to find love to understand Anna.  You just have to have been really alone.  So alone that you'll be what someone else wants, risk losing yourself.  Or maybe you think what you are isn't worth very much.  Isn't that why you're alone?

Love is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do.  What Anna wants most -- a family -- seems so simple to ask for.  It's the commercials on TV, the ads in magazines.  It's the beginning of all our stories.  So why, like love, should family be so hard to find?

The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door by Karen Finneyfrock
The summer between 8th grade and freshman year, Celia turned Dark.  Every day she puts on her Darkness like armor.  Celia isn't going to be what she was in the 8th grade: someone who did what people told her to do, someone who went along with the popular kids.  And she's going to get revenge.

What Celia doesn't plan for is a best friend.  Drake says he isn't in town for long, only until he gets off the waitlist for an art school in New York City.  Celia dreads Drake's departure, or worse.  She worries that he will find out why she has no friends.

I finished this book on Friday.  On Saturday I read it again.  I thought, from what I knew about this book when I started it, that I would be in tears at the end.

That's not what happened.  Instead I remembered.

I switched schools in the middle of 7th grade.  You know 7th grade? by the middle of the year everyone's got friends, has a group they're a part of.  I was quiet and dressed in my imagined version of Victorian London, using my mom's old clothes.  I couldn't be more uncool, for 7th grade.  Unless I stopped bathing, maybe.  Those next couple of months were among the worst of my life.  I tried laughing off the names people called me.  I tried ignoring them.  I spent lunchtime in the library.  I begged to go back to my old school.

I was Celia.  In so many ways and in the very worst way (if you read this book you'll know what I'm talking about) I was Celia.

I wasn't as brave as her though.  Things died down after those first couple months.  I changed how I dressed, though it was still a while before I got it right.  I found a group, not the cool kids, but friendly.  And I never stuck up for anyone who was tormented after me.  I never thought about that until I read this book.

This is how we start to go Dark.  This is when you get angry and anger never really leaves you.  You don't even know you're carrying it around all the time, but you are.  There isn't a single person on this planet who hasn't witnessed some version of this and I'll bet all I have that most of us are bystanders.  If you aren't, if you can do what Celia does, then you're amazing, because speaking out is incredibly hard.

It shouldn't be.  It should be like family, like love -- something so simple, so basic, it should be easy to open your hand and give it away.  Can something be easy and necessary at the same time?

Maybe first you have to save yourself.  Write the poem, draw the picture, tell yourself the story of how you want your life to be.  Become the person for whom alone does not mean lonely.  Then you'll be able to help save someone else.  It's still hard, but I hope it gets easier.


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