On People and Pages

We connect over shared literary tragedy, words leaping from screen to screen, fingers rapid fire dancing across keys to spell out our heartache and worries for what is to come. We commiserate with one another, taking solace in our proximity to those who are following the same stories as we are. It comes easily to us. We recount moments of exhilaration, times when we outwardly cheered on our heroes. We lament over losses and instances where we cried so hard that we couldn’t breathe, entangled so thoroughly within the lives of these fictional characters that they may as well be real. We talk. We share. We express. It’s safe.
Our inability to separate fact from fiction and to withhold our empathy and investment is lightly teased by others. “Why do you care so much?” We don’t know. We don’t know how to stop. Usually, we don’t want to know. Sometimes we do.
With stories, we can take solace in the knowledge that it was only fiction. The ache is temporary, because there will be other books, and even though the intensity is overwhelming, we know that it will pass. The book follows a specific formula that we know all-too well. We may not know what all it contains, but we know its trajectory. We know that we hold it in its entirety. It is prewritten. We expect to find the unexpected, even if we don’t know exactly what will happen.
I think it feels good to leap headfirst into a story, to walk alongside our literary companions, to settle neatly into their lives, loves, and losses because of that formula. The unexpected nonetheless remains a certainty. There are no stakes. We can’t love them more than they love us. They can’t leave us behind because we hold their story in our hands. The ending of the story is a certainty rather than a question. We can trust in the prewritten nature of it, comfort ourselves with the knowledge that at least most stories have happy endings, and resolution is only a few pages away. All we have to do is keep reading.
What of reality? What do we do when the unexpected is yet undecided, where each action, each breath decides the fate of the next? How do we proceed where nothing is predetermined, when people or a person cannot be easily tucked between pages? We know when a book is likely to hurt us. People, though, are beautifully, terrifyingly, eternally unpredictable.
I watch those who grew up similarly to me, forever fascinated by the emotional distance they maintain between themselves and others. I see the ways they shove any semblance of feeling down and refuse to acknowledge it. I see them trying to keep themselves safe by claiming to be unfeeling, unattached, able to disconnect. Part of me is envious, even as I recognize the futility and danger of what they are doing. I wonder at what it must be like to not feel so strongly. I wonder at what it must be like to decide not to care for the sake of self-preservation.
I long ago convinced myself that people leaving is little more than an inevitability, brought upon by shining examples which haunt me even now. This could have instilled within me a cynicism that might have taught me to withhold my feelings. I distrust people and their eventual intentions less than I distrust myself and my ability to be worth staying for. I know they are likely to leave, but I view it as no fault of their own.
I wish that this was all it was. I wish that I was only hesitant of connection because I am, as I have written previously, a mess of contradictions.
I read a book last year which rendered me inconsolable with grief. I lay on the floor, crying with such ferocity that it physically hurt. And I knew it was coming from the beginning. It was inevitable. I felt as though I was being torn asunder from the inside, every part of me screaming that this isn’t okay. It’s not an uncommon occurrence for me. Because even though I know it’s going to hurt, I nonetheless leave myself open to it, arms spread wide, hands reaching for more and more and more. Give me something to feel, because it is in those moments that I am the most alive.
I approach the world in the same way. I know I am going to get hurt. I know it on such a visceral level that it has become a certainty rather than a fear. Still, I throw everything I am, everything I feel into the depths, hoping that maybe it will be enough this time. I can’t stop myself from trying, no matter how many times the world tries to tell me that it isn’t worth it.
With every beat of my heart, the words echo through me, resonating throughout my bones: don’t go, don’t go, don’t go, don’t go, don’t go. Even as I, myself, take a step back, begin erecting the foundation that could become a wall, my pulse flutters against my skin: please stay, please stay, please stay, please stay. It is only I who can hear it, because though my lungs fill with air and the words tangle against my tongue, there is no space for them to leave my body. They remain trapped, birds made of fear with clipped wings contained within iron cages.
I reach for people the way a child reaches for fire, knowing that it may very well burn their hands. I offer pieces of myself then pull back, filled with such shame in my vulnerability that I can’t possibly imagine doing so again. Is this it? Did I show too much? Being abandoned for not being enough is difficult on its own, but it does not hold a candle’s flame to being abandoned because of who I am. And yet I try again. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and I flip my cards over. Look at me, I think. See me for who I am. Accept me for who I am. Leave me for who I am, because at least then I know I have been honest.
I wrap the words around my lungs, reminding myself with each inhalation that honesty is better than fear, honesty is better than fear, honesty is better than fear. I am so tired of living a life of half-ways. I’m so tired of containing all that I am within my own flesh and bones. I am so tired of knowing that, if I had been a little bit more open, maybe they would have stayed. Maybe I would have been enough.
The alternative, in my world, is to go all-in, and it’s terrifying. I thrust my hand into the flames, hoping against hope that this time it doesn’t hurt. And I’ve read just enough fantasy books to know that, sometimes, it doesn’t. Sometimes, it’s safe. Sometimes, it’s okay.
Sometimes, though, it isn’t. And that fear curls between my fingers, making a home against the lines of my palm, tracing my lifeline and heart line, telling me that this? This is where it ends. This is where it falls apart. It settles against my skin, assuring me that I will never be good enough for someone to want to stay.
Then there are those by whom I have repeatedly done wrong. There are those whose texts and calls have gone unanswered for months, whose attempts to reach out have been met with silence and half-hearted apologies. There are those who have continued to try despite the distance I have enforced, who are fed up and tired but who still hold out a hand and remind me that, even now, they are there. And I find myself angry at them for allowing me to treat them in such a way. I gave them all the room in the world to leave me, and for some reason, they didn’t. And it hurts. Sometimes the worst part of believing that people will always leave is when I am proven wrong, because it is then, in those moments, that I have hope.
And it’s that hope that helps me reach toward the flames yet again. It’s that hope that, undeserved though it is, sustains me and my yearning for more for myself.
So, they twine together, hope and fear becoming one rope that I use as an anchor to the ledge off which I have thrown myself. Will I hit the ground before the threads pull taught? I don’t know. And that not knowing is more frightening than most anything could be. But the wind against my skin, the weightlessness as I hurtle earthward, it feels too good to forgo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.