Songs

This is how I feel about a lot of people right now.

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This is how I’m afraid I’ll feel one day. I don’t yet, but someday I may.

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I like helping people, especially people I care about. It makes me feel better, for a variety of reasons: My friends’ happiness makes me happy; it reassures me that I’m a good person; I no longer feel like I’m trapped in my castle, unable to feel the rest of the world, unable to understand or sympathize or make a difference. Every time I’m able to make someone smile when they’re sad, it erases a little of the frustrated rage at never being able to protect anyone. Every time I help someone keep going, even if I only make the tiniest difference, the world becomes brighter. The future becomes brighter. My hope for my friends becomes brighter.

It wears me down. Of course it does; how could it not? Life wears you down, one way or another. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. My life is filled with joy and ease and peace. I’m lucky. I have options for my future and love in my present. I have so much. I’ve had my issues, like everyone else, but I was lucky to have them all be inside my head. The world wasn’t actually attacking me; I just had to learn to deal with the harsh, dangerous, crazy thing we call living. I do recognize that my life is blessed – well near perfect – and I do know that I don’t have anything ‘real’ to complain about. I’m not trying to belittle myself, don’t worry. I’m just.. apologizing, sort of, for all the fuss I’ve made over little things. They felt big to me.

I’m grateful for all I have. Truly I am. And all my life, my parents have taught me that when you have something in any abundance, you have to give it to others. Good fortune isn’t meant to be jealously hoarded, but shared with as many people as you can reach. Finally I’m old enough to try, and I’m trying as hard as I can.

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This song used to make me cry.

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My mom doesn’t get it. Or maybe she does, but she can’t stand seeing me in pain any more than I can stand seeing it in my friends, and it makes it hard for her to see why I need to do what I’m trying to do. She doesn’t want me to give of myself so much that I don’t have enough left of me to live my own life. I agree with her, but I don’t want to stop giving of myself. I have to find the balance, yes, the lines I need to draw between my life and other people’s so that my life won’t drown; but I don’t want to draw lines that are too thick just because I don’t know yet what I’m doing. I’d rather draw lines that are too thin.

Pain is a lesson, if you let yourself learn it. It’s like falling down. When you’re little, you run around at top speed, tiny legs hurtling you forward as fast as you can go, until you fall down and skin your knee. Then you wail at the top of your lungs as if your whole world had ended, because you’re not used to the pain. Fast forward a few years: now when you fall and skin your knee, you get up and keep running. You’ve learned to cope with the pain.

Parents want to protect their children from every pain in the world. They all have different ideas on how to do that, but most of them are forced to recognize that sometimes you have to let your children fall down and get hurt. A lot of knowledge and wisdom can be passed on from parent to child, but some lessons need to be learned from falling down.

I’ve stopped telling my mom about my friends’ problems unless they’re so big that I need to get them out immediately. I’ve stopped telling my sister. I never told my dad much, but now I say even less. It’s an automatic response, I guess: if sharing what’s going through my head makes them and me more unhappy than happy, then stop.  It feels like a very teenage thing to do, though I don’t know if it is. It leaves me with fewer people than ever to talk to.

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Sometimes it feels like this song takes what I’m feeling and wraps it up, like thread wrapped round a bobbin, so it’s no longer messy and confusing and impossible to deal with.

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I don’t want to be rescued. I don’t want to be saved. I’m not in any danger, and I’m not trapped. I’m not suffering any more than I choose to. I just want someone – someone who knows, who understands – to give me a hug. To hold me while I shake with held-back sobs, just for a little bit. Not give any advice, not tell me what I need to do or how far I can go or that I have to stop. Just hold me. I just want someone I can go to who believes I can do this, that I’m strong enough and smart enough to do this right, and who will give me a hug. That’s all I need right now. A hug.

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Sometimes this song calms me.

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Death

 
 
If I die young
Bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song
 

The first time I heard this song was in the car. I was rather sleepy, and the only thought I had was “If I die young? How morbid.”

The second time I really listened, and I started thinking about death. I don’t want to die. I have so much left to do. I don’t know what comes next, so I don’t fear it – I’ll figure that out when I get there – but I fear leaving. I’m not ready.

The third time I heard this song I thought about the bit toward the end where she says, “Penny for your thoughts – oh no; I’ll sell them for a dollar. They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner.” A while ago Squiggle and I had a conversation about just that: she remarked on how unreasonable it really is that a person’s words carry so much more weight once they’re dead. If this person’s opinions matter so much to you, you should have been paying attention already. I realize that there are emotional reasons – guilt, sorrow, etc. – for taking a person’s words to heart when you suddenly lose them. But I resolved that if a person was important to me, I was going to listen to their advice while they were still around to give it. I hope I manage to stand by that.

Squiggle once told me that one of the saddest things about death, to her, was being forgotten. If she could, she said, she’d be immortal, so that none of her friends would ever be forgotten. At the time I answered that I don’t need to be remembered by my name, my face, or even my actions; I just want to leave my mark in people’s lives, make them happier somehow, teach them something. That way whenever they follow through on that lesson, whenever they pass it on to someone else, however long it lasts – I won’t be completely gone.

It’s still true. I still want to remain in the world through good deeds that people do for each other. If I get to have a legacy, I want that to be it.

But if I die now – if I die young – then all my friends, my family, everyone I know will move on with life without me. I won’t be forgotten, but I’ll be gone. I’ll fade away, until I’m just a story people tell their kids, and not even a very long story. I didn’t expect that to bother me, but it does. I don’t want to be gone. I haven’t had “just enough time”. I’m still here, I still have so much to do, to see, to learn. I don’t want to leave the people I love.

The fourth time I heard this song, I thought about how, when it comes to death (and most other things), my life has been pretty sheltered. Not very many people I know have died, and most of them I wasn’t too close to and hadn’t seen in a while anyway. None of them were young, either – except one.

I tell people he was my cousin, because it’s simpler, but he wasn’t actually. I have a friend in Brazil whom I’ve known pretty much my entire life. Her mother and mine are best friends; her grandparents and mine are best friends; our great-grandparents used to go to each other’s houses for tea. He was her cousin, her uncle’s son. My sister, my friend and I spent nearly every waking moment of every summer together, but I never played much with him. I didn’t really see him much at all. All I do remember is him laughing and beating me at everything. I was a year younger than he and very competitive, and if he weren’t there I’d have been the oldest. It infuriated me that he always won, and that he sometimes cheated to do so, and that he laughed at me; but that laughter is what I best remember, and the reason I did actually like him even when I was busy being righteously indignant. He was fun – he was hilarious – and he was, sort of, family.

I hadn’t seen him for two years when, one spring, he put a gun to his head and shot himself. I’ve tried to understand how that laughing face could be so tormented that he would do such a thing, but I can’t hold the two pictures in my head together. I guess two years is a long time.

I was fourteen. I cried so much. I don’t remember much of it – my mind has erased a lot of the memories – but I remember lying on the couch in the living room with the door closed, my face stuffed into a pillow as I bawled as silently as I possibly could, because if my parents heard they would only be upset and there was nothing they could do. This happened… quite a few times. It hurt so much, and for once I didn’t even have the words to say why it hurt. It just did, even though I barely knew him, even though he probably hadn’t even spared me a second thought since the last time we’d seen each other, even though of all the people he meant to hurt, I wasn’t even on the list.

I thought that was why he’d done it – to hurt his parents. He shot himself right after a fight with them. I have to admit I never thought about it too much beyond that – I think because I couldn’t comprehend a burden so great that death would sound like a good idea. Not for a fifteen-year-old kid. Not someone real, someone I knew, someone whose dad had played hide-and-seek with my mom when they were little. What could possibly be happening to him that was so awful?

To this day I don’t know. I doubt I ever will. At the time, though, the effect of all this was that I hated him, and that my vague disapproval of suicide turned to avid loathing. For many years, that was how things stood.

Now I have a friend whose life is so horrible that she has, multiple times, considered ending it. At first she told me that she had, in the past tense, wanted to kill herself. But slowly, before my very eyes, it got worse, and there was nothing I could do. She said once – in writing, to our whole group of friends – that she wanted to die, “and if you will hate me for that, then you are not good friends because this isn’t living. So why live?”

It felt like she’d stabbed me through the heart. Because in a way, she was absolutely right. Hating her would be selfish. I still don’t want her to die, but this forced me to think about why. I know why it’s important to me that she live. Why is it important to her?

She still has so much time. There’s still so much to do, and so much time to do it in. The world is huge, and life is long. If she ends her life now, her whole life will have been full of pain. If she waits – if she gives herself time, and fights on – she can fill it with joy. Maybe she’s right when she says that the wounds inside her will never go away, that the scars will never leave her. Maybe they won’t. But scars heal. She may never be the same, but that doesn’t mean she’ll never be happy.

That’s the best I can do. I don’t know enough to say why living is worth it for someone who doesn’t feel that way themselves. I’m not wise enough, I’m not old enough – I don’t know.

I used to worry that when someone walked out the door – my mother, my sister, my father, whoever – they might never come back. I didn’t have any logical reason for this worry, and I don’t have a Freudian excuse. I don’t remember when it started plaguing me, the terrible knowledge that anyone can die, at any moment in time. Life isn’t a story: people don’t just die at the most intense parts of the narration. Somewhere along the way this must have hit home for me, and suddenly every time my mother went out for groceries a spike of panic would lance through me.

I was never magically cured of this. I just learned to suppress the feeling, to tell myself that I was being silly. Besides, there’s nothing I can do. If a meteor falls on my mother while she’s buying broccoli, then that’ll be that. I learned to deal with my fear so well that I’d almost forgotten about it altogether.

When I moved back from Denmark, I was morbidly afraid that the plane would fall. Then I was morbidly afraid that Europe would be struck by the apocalypse and all my friends would die while I was over here. Then I calmed down, got over it, and moved on. Until Midnight said she wanted to kill herself. If she died, if I just turned off the computer one day and never heard from her again–

There were days when I nearly screamed with the panic, the frustration, the terror of knowing that I was too far away and there was nothing I could do and no matter what I said I wasn’t helping. There were days when I’d log off of facebook and curl up on the floor, shaking with fear and quiet sobs, praying that she’d still be there the next time I logged on. At one point she told Flip that she wanted to take a break from Mao, from us, from our group, and I nearly lost it. I’d been dreading for weeks that she might just not be there one day, and here she said she was going to do exactly that. She wouldn’t be dead, so it wouldn’t be permanent, but still I pretty much went crazy when I saw she’d deactivated her facebook account. She hadn’t even said goodbye! A short while later she reactivated it, and we had the biggest fight we’d ever had – the only real fight we’ve ever had. At the end of it she swore she wouldn’t ever do that to me, that she’d never just vanish like that.

She’s promised that she won’t kill herself. She’s said a few times that there were moments when she wanted to, when she was so close, but she didn’t. She stayed. She says she won’t do it. I have to believe her, I have to, because if I don’t–

I have to.

I do. She promised. She’ll stay. I don’t know what strength it is she finds to keep living when she wants so much not to, but I’m glad she has it.

A Slowly Kindled Light

An old diary entry, probably from April:

“You don’t have to be nice all of the time.”

I was Crash who said it. I don’t remember when; I dont’ remember what I said to prompt it. I just remember his voice saying it, and the force with which the answer rose from within me: Yes I do! Yes I do, or I might forget.”

I didn’t say it, though. I didn’t know him well enough at the time, and even now I don’t know if I would have. No point ruining a cheerful moment, and I suppose it would be a bit selfish – kind of making it all about me, and forcing everyone to deal with my issues without any warning. Not very fair.

I wanted to. It didn’t just rise up within me; it boiled up, scalding and bubbling and fluidly unstoppable. It’s been a part of me for so long, the knowledge that I have to be nice, that I don’t even notice it anymore. I’m not sure why it erupted just then, so violent and anguished. Perhaps because I’d started daring to believe that with them, I wouldn’t have to. Perhaps it was before I dared believe it. I don’t remember when it was, so it’s hard to say.

When seeking a name for my recent troubles, I once called them ‘a crisis of identity’. That’s not what they are, but it’s a decent name. In a way, what’s been happening has forced me to reevaluate the way I view myself. I don’t know if I’ve changed a lot, or if I’ve changed a little but only now noticed changes that have been happening for years; one way or another, I have to redefine the way I build my relationships and the way I protect myself.

A few weeks ago – maybe less – all this got me thinking about the last time I had what could be called a crisis of identity. At first it was just for comparison: “I haven’t been this confused and upset since I was twelve!” (Later, “I haven’t been this upset since I was twelve, and now I have even more in my head confusing me.”) But then (I should have seen it coming), I started worrying about the things that worried me then.

Or, well, not quite. Some of it really is settled and done. Back then I’d decided – or come to believe – or something like that – that all people are born with a certain amount of good and evil in their souls and, based on evidence, been forced to conclude that I was born more dark than light. By nature I am selfish, proud, vain, condescending, inconsiderate, egotistical, lazy, irresponsible, forgetful (even when it’s important), suspicious, bossy, unforgiving, arrogant, and apt to think that everyone should adapt to me, especially when I am having problems. This is not indicative of an abundance of goodness, and well I knew it (and still do). Indeed, a lot of the anguish and confusion I was feeling at the time left me when I finally admitted it to myself: I am not, by nature, a good person.

I don’t remember how I came to the next conclusion, the one that eventually saved me: I may not have been born bright, but I can strengthen the light within me. Nurture it gently, teach it to shine, hold back the darkness with all of my might. One thing I do remember clearly is a day on which I was walking a lap for P.E. and musing on this. I was disturbed by the realizations I was only just coming to. I was thinking on Septimus Heap – I don’t remember the connection exactly – and on how, if I hadn’t been raised by the family I have, I could easily have turned into a terrible person. I have the potential for good, which they have managed to bring out in me, but I have the predisposition to be very, very bad.

I distinctly remember the thought, curling through my mind, wrapped ’round a story as so many of my thoughts were (and sometimes still are).  I remember the frightening and inescapable weight of it. How hard it was to face.

I don’t remember any attempt to run away from it – I think once it had manifested itself so clearly in my conscious mind, I could never pretend it didn’t exist. I don’t remember it even being an option. I suppose the weight of its inevitability was so great that I knew it was true.  All evidence backed it, and so did my gut feeling. It hurt and it scared me, but it was true.

So I was born dark. Undeniably, irrefutably. Fine. I didn’t have to stay dark. If my family had changed me this much, then they would likely continue to do so, and I could further the process myself. I knew what I wanted to be: good. I had read enough books to know what that meant: compassionate, respectful, selfless, understanding, not a burden to others, and appreciative of the abilities of everyone. All I had to do, then, was work at it.

I did. It was hard. No surprise there, really.

I had to keep a tight clamp on any feelings of superiority, which half of my erstwhile classmates were making rather difficult. The real problem, though, was my mom, who had responded to all of their teasing by, basically, telling me I was awesome. When she realized how sarcastically I received this praise, or perhaps for some other reason that I just dont’ know, she started telling me in earnest that I am smarter than most people my age. More intelligent. A better brain, or at least more efficiently used. And all this while I was trying to be a better person and not look down on anyone.

I eventually realized/decided that I might be more intelligent than most, but that didn’t make me better because everyone had some talent or skill at which they excelled – everyone was better than me in some way, so it was okay for me to be better than them in this way. And besides, ‘most’ didn’t mean ‘everyone’. There were and are plenty of people at least as intelligent as I am and often more; if I kept that in mind, it kept me humble.

I learned to keep down my darker tendencies; to be constantly in control. Sometimes I would start feeling comfortable around someone and forget. Luckily, I only felt that comfortable around people I liked and respected, so I was never (as far as I know) accidentally nasty to someone; but sometimes I would catch myself being condescending, and sometimes I’d notice some deeply selfish thing I was doing or assuming or saying and not know how to stop myself.

Time is the greatest teacher. I eventually figured it out. I learned to think of others, to not say anything unless I was sure it was safe, and to not look down on people. I’m far from perfect, though. I still act selfishly, even if I’ve learned to think more kindly. I recently discovered that the reason I think so well of everyone is that I just don’t hold them to the same standards as I hold myself. That is hardly non-condescending, and it limits my pool of friends back to what it’s always been, because I can’t truly be friends with someone I hold to lower standards than myself.

This doesn’t actually bother me too much, even if it should, so I’ll deal with it when I’m not so preoccupied with so many other things. But it is proof positive that I’m not as good a person even as I thought I was. I have to keep at it.

So until I’ve become good, or until I’ve found another way I want to be, or maybe forever – God, I hope not forever – then yes, I do have to be nice all the time.

It’s Okay to Be Happy

Realistic fiction would have you believe there are no happy people out there. Everyone has suffered some deeply traumatic experience in their childhood, been hated by their parents, been abused, been bullied, been abandoned. Everyone has scars to cope with, however well they hide them and however they think they’ve gotten over them. No one is exempt, not by their age or social station, not by their kindness or by their pride.

It’s not true, though. Some people are perfectly happy. Not all less-than-perfect childhoods are the source of Deep Scars. I know I’m only eighteen and thus still young enough for a Defining Traumatic Experience to hit me, but most characters have suffered one or more by this age. I haven’t. Sure, I sucked at making friends and was teased mercilessly through all of middle school, but I didn’t really mind the teasing and I’ve learned to make friends. My parents are not only loving and fair, they also treat me like a person and always have, listening to what I have to say and never just ordering me around. I may not have had many friends when I was younger, but I valued the ones I had. I lived through a thousand adventures in a thousand worlds and learned all there was to learn from them, and far from losing track of reality, all those adventures have only grounded me more firmly.

On the second morning of the Harry Potter marathon, Ripple, Taz and I talked about our childhood schoolmates. Or rather, Taz and I talked while Ripple listened. Taz told us about the unpleasant people in his previous classes; I told them about my not-quite-as-unpleasant peers in middle school. Both of us remarked on why this group of Mao-people was so exceptionally special to us. Ripple was silent.

I have three theories as to why: she’s a very private person who would rather not share; she has her own dark experiences which are beyond anything Taz and I ever went through, and which she didn’t want to bring into the light; or she’s always been a reasonably normal, well-adjusted girl with lots of friends, who’s never gone through anything even close to real bullying, and she felt awkward saying so.

The first of those I believe is true regardless of anything else: she doesn’t go around blurting out her past to whoever will listen like I do (or like Taz, for that matter). As for the rest – from what I know of her, I think it’s more likely that she grew up happy and with plenty of friendship about her. I don’t think I’m being more optimistic than realistic in this assessment, either. I hope I’m being accurate, too, because I’m a protective person and I hate it when my friends have been unhappy.

Anyway. Point is, what with hearing about how insufferable our former classmates had been, I think Ripple probably felt awkward, worried, and maybe a bit shocked by our tales of woe. When I heard that Squiggle had gotten into fights – actual, violent physical altercations, in the plural – I was stunned. I was blown away. In the world I inhabit, this simply does not happen. I think something similar may have been going through Ripple’s mind as Taz and I compared bullies. Perhaps this was awful and unbelievable to her. Perhaps she thinks we’re tragically damaged now.

Truth is, in my case at least, I consider the whole experience to have been useful, educational, and wicked fun. It honed my wit and taught me how to understand social groups in an almost instinctive way, at least in regards to who was friends with whom and where I fit into the structure. I never found it anything more than infuriating, even at the worst of times – none of the people who taunted me was ever important enough to actually hurt me. So Ripple has nothing to worry about on my account. Taz, on the other hand – well, one of the advantages of being a girl is that people don’t hit you. If they do, you can scream like a baby without blemish to your honor. (Dignity, maybe, but not honor.) Eventually Taz got so enormously tall that people stopped messing around with him, but even being this tall, he’s not a violent person. I think he’d put up with a lot before lashing out, and that’s not always a good thing. And I think I took it all better than he did, mostly because I was older when it started. So maybe Taz’ story isn’t as carefree as mine, and maybe he’s not as confident as I am after it all, but I think he’s turned out well enough even so.

I wanted to tell Ripple not to worry, that we were fine. I also wanted to tell her that she was allowed to have been happy. We wouldn’t have been angry or jealous or anything silly like that – we’d be happy for her, that’s all. I didn’t want to pry, in case I was wrong and she really does have some horrible Dark Trauma lurking in her past, but now I see I should have just gone ahead and said it. If I’d been wrong, she’d have answered with some meaningless piece of nothing and we’d have moved on, but if I’d been right, I might have been able to make her feel easier. I try to make a point of not poking my nose into people’s business, but sometimes silence isn’t as golden as it’s cracked up to be.

The other thing she might have been worried about was how Taz and I both kind of painted these Mao-people as pretty much the only real friends we’d ever had. That’s not true, in my case at least, but this is the first time that I’ve fit so seamlessly into a group. It’s to be expected that I’d be rather enthusiastic about it. That’s probably not the way Ripple sees it, though – this won’t be the first time for her, and she probably has other friends that she values as highly as us or more. Perhaps she feels guilty for that sentiment, now that she sees how important this is to us. Perhaps she thinks she’s betraying us by not caring as much as we do.

She’s not. She shouldn’t feel that way. If she’d told us this it would have been a bit hard to hear, but in the end it’s fine. She’s allowed to have friends, after all. If we held that against her, we would ourselves be unworthy of her friendship.

If I’m wrong about Ripple and she was just quiet because she’s a private person, well and good. (If I’m wrong and she has a terrible secret in her past, well, I’m probably going to be furious and depressed when I hear about it, but I refuse to expect it.) If I’m right and she felt scandalized and awkward as we told our stories, then I should have told her that she doesn’t have to. She doesn’t have to worry and she doesn’t have to feel embarrassed of her own happiness.

Your friends don’t have to be just like you. They don’t have to have a similar past or all the same interests. People don’t have to have gone through what you’ve gone through in order to understand you or stand by you. Friendship usually rests on a similar outlook on life and a fondness for and understanding of each other; everything else is extra.

A Quick Update

If there’s anyone out there who actually cares, I’m sorry I haven’t posted in so long. I’ve been alternately busy and worn out most of last week, and what little time I spent writing here went toward a diary-entry-style post which is really, really long and which will take me a while yet. Perhaps I’ll split it into parts, because it is seriously enormous.

As for what’s been going on, well, I had a lovely week of vacation just now, interspersed with an annoying amount of homework. A few of my friends and I are planning on performing at my school’s Bandfest, at which any student or students may perform any song they please (I do think you have to run it by the teachers once, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I were wrong – this is Denmark, where people are much more laid back about Appropriateness and Correctness). We intend to play Resistance, by Muse. It is the Friday after next, though, so I’m not sure if we’ll be ready. I think so, though. What else? My Danish teacher has decided that my class will be writing an online newspaper now. Huzzah. I get to be a journalist. I have always hated writing newspaper articles, but I have a nagging suspicion they’re good for me, so I’ve decided to bear it all with a heavy air of martyrdom and try to get as much out of it as I can.

One other thing. I found out from facebook today that a girl from my old school committed suicide. A lot of my friends have put up memorial posts, saying what they remember her for and why they miss her. It’s beautiful and sad, and of course I wish it hadn’t happened. I don’t think I ever knew the girl, but I must have gone to school with her at one point, and if I’d stayed in the US I’d probably have met her and perhaps even grown close, considering that she got on so well with the people I got on well with.

The part I feel worse about, though, isn’t even the awkward feeling that I ought to know her. It’s the fact that I despise suicide. I find it cowardly and cruel. This is due to personal experience and is no reflection on this girl, but I can’t keep a bit of my disgust from spilling over onto her, and I think that’s wrong when I didn’t know her and I don’t miss her. You see, the reason I call suicide cruel is that no matter what you may think when you do it, you are hurting more people than you can possibly imagine. You are hurting your family and your friends, but you’re also hurting your classmates, your teachers, your neighbours, distant cousins you haven’t seen in years, people in your band/sports team/after-school club, people who met you a few times and thought you seemed a bit sad but never asked how you felt because they didn’t think it would be polite. All of these people will hate themselves now. They will cry and scream into pillows and feel guilty. They’ll be sure that if only they’d been friendlier, kinder, quicker to notice, you wouldn’t have done it. If they’d known how depressed you were, they’d have done something to help. All you had to do was ask! They’d have helped, of course they’d have helped. But now they spend weeks, months, and sometimes even years wondering why you hated them and yourself so much. And yes, they will feel you hated them, even when they tell themselves it’s not true. What else can they think, when you deliberately caused them such pain?

None of this is the case with me and this girl who died. I didn’t know her, and if I did I don’t remember (and believe me, that – not knowing for sure – is more than uncomfortable enough). It’s sad, of course, and I do feel sad, but in a distant, abstract sort of way. I feel no guilt and no personal attachment, so it’s not fair for me to hate her, even if it’s not really on purpose. Part of me – the angry part – is snarling “Why shouldn’t I hate her? She wasn’t thinking of anyone but herself. She’s just cruel and stupid.” My friends have all written wonderful status updates, all of which make her sound like she was a really wonderful person, and that helps, but I still despise her just a little. I keep re-reading these status updates, hoping they’ll convince me to be more forgiving, but I don’t think it’s working.

Other People’s Families

How do you defy someone else’s parents? How do you stand up for someone against their own family?

It’s not like I have any right to do so, after all. I know I have no business telling other people how to raise their kids. But sometimes they drive me mad.

My Mao-friends and I are going to have a sleep-over and Harry Potter marathon this Sunday. And now, all of a sudden, Midnight can’t come. Her dad has been in the hospital – nothing critical, I am given to understand, just a small problem – and has just come home, and she herself says “There’s no way he’d let me leave two days after his return.” Implied is the much more straightforward “There’s no way he’d let me go.”

She said earlier that she would be implementing a grand master scheme of deception to ensure that she could come. Apparently her father’s return ruins this plan, and now it’s hopeless. I don’t like that she had to implement such a scheme in the first place. It’s not her whole family that’s difficult, she says, just her father; but she was going to deceive people if she was going to come. I don’t know the details, but still – that’s not right.

I will never be the one to encourage anyone to lie to their parents. I think I did it once, by accident, in ninth grade – it just sort of slipped out – but I am opposed to doing so on principle. Still, sometimes the temptation is so very, very great.

And while I would face down any number of bullies, teachers, principals, generals, presidents and kings to defend my friends, I cannot face down their parents.

I have another friend, Shard, whose mother is . . . She drives me crazy. Every time I go to Shard’s house (and I’ve been there often), her mother compliments me on my grades and berates Shard for not getting better ones herself. She says things like “Maybe it’ll rub off.” She scolds Shard for not offering us something to eat, for not knowing how to cook, for not studying enough, for spending too much time on the computer, for everything. I can’t stand it! Everything within me screams against just standing there with a sour little smile on my face as I just let someone abuse my friend like this. I want to answer her back word for word, I want to rail at her for not only not supporting her daughter in front of her friends, but actively putting her down in front of people who are important to her! How dare she!

I’m not saying parents shouldn’t rebuke their children for egregious behavior, or for not making sensible choices in life. But I was raised with the notion that a family ought to present a united front, and that my parents were and always would be my staunch defenders against the slings and arrows of the world. It’s a large part of who I am today, and I am more than adamant that parents should support their children and encourage their self-esteem, not tear it down.

I try to avoid Shard’s mother when I can. Shard has noticed, and I’ve told her it’s because her mother scares me a little. It’s true that she’s very overbearing, so Shard believes it. I don’t know if she’s guessed the truth – that I find it unpleasant to be around her mother, because I have to be polite to her no matter what she says about Shard. I refuse to agree with any of her such statements, and I end up frequently belittling myself to counterbalance her denigration of her own daughter. Conversation with her is tiring.

Because I can’t say anything, and I know it. I want to go on being Shard’s friend and seeing her regularly and such, and that won’t be possible if her mother dislikes me or thinks I’m a bad influence. So I have to just grin and bear it.

Midnight says that it’s not possible to live in her house without lying. She says it’s hell now that her father is back. What am I supposed to do with that?! What am I supposed to do to fix that?! Why can’t I fix it??! It’s not right. I should be able to make life easier for my friends. I shouldn’t just be sitting here, hating that she lives like this and wishing I were the kind of person who hits things when they’re mad, so at least I could release some tension that way. Aaargh. Why is it that no matter how ready I am to stand up for my friends, it’s never that easy? Why is it I can only offer comfort and support, when what I want to offer is a tongue-lashing of the run-away-crying-for-mommy-and-doubting-your-own-fundamental-philosophies-of-living kind? Why don’t my friends just have bullies I can eviscerate, instead of complicated family problems I can’t meddle in? Why does it have to be so hard?

Cheer Up

I wish I were better at cheering people up. I want to be the kind of person others come to with their problems, because I want to be the kind of person who can help others. But I don’t know how. The best I can do when someone tells me their problems is listen with what I hope is a sympathetic expression. I try to be supportive, I try not to ask indiscreet questions – I try to make the person feel better, but I know I’m failing. Honestly, the best I can be is a place to air out your troubles. While that’s frequently helpful, there are other people more worth talking to.

Today Squiggle was less boisterous than usual. I don’t know why, and was unable to ask tactfully. She and another friend started discussing how Midnight (who wasn’t in school today) had seemed rather down the previous day, especially in the morning. I didn’t even notice. I felt so inadequate.

Yesterday, Indigo, Midnight and Squiggle got out of school just after lunch. Indigo and Midnight stayed, playing cards. Halfway through my next class, during the ten-minute break, I went down to talk to them. I found that Indigo was deeply unhappy, and asked why. “The usual,” she replied.

I didn’t know what she meant. A year and a half of friendship, and I didn’t know what she meant. Hating that I had to do it, but knowing that it was better than abruptly displaying my ignorance halfway through the conversation, I asked what ‘the usual’ was.

The usual was family. Indigo has a myriad of family issues which she has introduced me to in a haphazard sort of way. I do know that she has problems with most of her family, and even what several of these problems are, but I just didn’t think of it.

I sat there feeling like a jerk and an idiot as she sketchily touched on what the problem was this time. Midnight led the conversation in a slightly different direction, and I tried to lead it even further away without seeming to jump at the chance. I don’t know if I managed, but I don’t even care. That’s not the problem. The problem is that I’m so stupid.

How can I forget this kind of thing? Am I blind? Am I insensitive? Am I so desperately airheaded? Am I too self-centered to remember? What’s wrong with me?

This is why I will never be the one people go to with their problems. I don’t have the insight to see what it is that’s troubling them; I don’t have the skill to painlessly draw out the stories that need to be told, and I certainly don’t have whatever it takes to say the right thing afterward. I wish I did, but I just don’t.

If only – I don’t even know what to wish for. If only I didn’t mind? If only I knew that there was something else I was offering, something only I can do, that might make up for my shortcomings? If only I knew that someone else was ensuring everyone’s happiness, so I wouldn’t have to worry about them. They’re my friends, after all – I do worry. I want them to be happy.

If only I were a better friend.