Songs

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

.

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

.

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.

.

This song used to make me cry.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

Sometimes this song calms me.

.

.

.

.

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.

Saudade

I miss you.

It’s just something I say. Lately it’s been true every time, but I’m used to missing people. I’m used to being far away from the ones I love. Nearly all of my family lives in Brazil, and I only see them once a year, if that.

I’m also used to getting what I want. I don’t often want unreasonable things. I used to – I used to want to go on adventures and fight dragons and ride a horse and never do my homework. But I’ve learned, and I don’t often truly, desperately want impossible things anymore. I want cookies, I want good teachers, I want to learn languages, I want to read good books. I want things I can fetch for myself, or things that I can reasonably expect to get.

But I want my friends back. I want to see them, to hear them, to feel them sitting next to me. I want to hold them tight and feel their arms around me. I want to laugh with them. I want to know they’re there. I want to spend all night talking with them. I want them back.

My brain is nice to me. It blocks out painful memories, or at least it blocks out memories of pain. I don’t remember crying much when I moved to Denmark, although my mother tells me that I did. I don’t remember much from the months before we moved – I don’t even remember movies I watched then, which is a bit scary in a way. I don’t particularly remember most of these past two months. It helps that I didn’t do much – just sat around on my computer, read books, wrote stories, watched movies. I didn’t do anything. I even remember wondering how much of it I would forget.

I don’t remember how unhappy I was. In a few weeks I probably won’t remember today, either. I won’t remember that I’m crying right now.

I annoy myself. I’m so self-indulgent. I’m so used to getting what I want that when I don’t, I just sort of mope about, giving people pitiful, begging looks. (Usually this is when I want someone to make me food because navigating the fridge seems impossibly hard.) I know that I’m being ridiculous, so I rarely break down and ask for anything, and my family is not prone to giving me things just because I give them puppy eyes. So I’ve learned to get things for myself or go without. (Again, usually food.) And yet, because what I truly want is always something I can easily get, I still haven’t learned to just grow up and deal with it.

They’re so far away, and I don’t know what to do.

I knew it would be like this. I knew I’d be miserable. I’ve moved before, and these are the most amazing friends. I expected this. I even packed my biggest stuffed animal in my hand luggage for the express purpose of hugging him whenever I needed to cry.

The problem with forgetting my misery like this is that I don’t learn to cope very well. Every new misery feels almost as fresh as the last. And I haven’t been properly miserable in weeks, so my mind has presumably deemed it safe to throw out all the memories that could help me get some perspective right now.

I’m going to have to go through a year of this. Maybe a little less. Presumably I’ll get better at it. People do, I’m told. There’s no reason why I should be any different. I have been getting better at it.

It’s odd. A few days ago I was unhappy that I couldn’t make myself miss them enough to curl up into a little ball and sob for longing. I’m so good at pushing my feelings back, at distracting myself, at not missing people that I can’t cry for any extended period of time. My mind wanders over to other things and won’t let me.

They were all unhappy yesterday, for one reason or another. Or maybe it wasn’t all of them, but it felt like it. Mostly they just had bad days at work, or ran into unpleasant people. Maybe this is what’s making me feel this way. I want to be there and cheer them up. I do the best I can from over here, and sometimes I succeed, but I want to hug them and laugh with them and talk about random things until they’re smiling again. If I’m being honest with myself, there’s no reason I’d have been able to do it in Denmark, either; it’s not like I would necessarily have seen them just then. Maybe this was just a reminder of how far away I am. Maybe that’s why it hurts.

Every language has certain words that are untranslatable, and of which native speakers are often very proud. In Danish it’s hyggelig, which has many meanings, but mostly means a warm, happy feeling of being surrounded by good things, of being content. In Portuguese it’s saudade, which means that special longing for something that you no longer have. The sorrow of being parted from someone you love.

It’s a good word. It doesn’t have to be tragic. It doesn’t have to be permanent. It doesn’t even have to be serious.

It just hurts, that’s all.

Protected

My gymnasium had a sort of end-of-the-year party a few months ago. This is what I wrote in my journal the following day.

I miss my friends.

It’s always strange to go to a party, especially when I’m feeling so… fragile. Volatile. I kept needing to go off and be alone. What I really needed was silence, but I couldn’t find that, so I just fled to the most solitary places I could find. My friends kept asking if I was well, but it was nothing physical. The worst I had in that area was a headache, and it wasn’t really the problem.

At one point I put my head on Ripple’s shoulder and closed my eyes for a while. A bit later I put my head on the table and did the same.

Suddenly I felt a hand on my hair – Indigo, next to me. Then another – Ripple? – and a third – Crash, from across the table. I looked up and blinked in slight bewilderment at them; they all smiled back, half sheepish and half amused.

I put my head back down on the table and mused on the strange and unfamiliar feeling of being the one who is protected, who is small. No one has ever felt that way about me before unless I’d made them feel it – deliberately manipulated them into thinking so, and in the process hidden away a large part of who I am. (There’s family, of course, but that’s different.) I’ve always been the strong one – if not always the protector, then at least one who does not need protecting. I’ve never been the protected to anyone who actually knew me through and through.

It was strange, but I decided that it was also rather nice. These are people who know me, who know that I am strong but will allow me to be weak sometimes. Or maybe it’s really the other way around and I only think I’m strong. Either way, they know who I am and they want to protect me, without ever asking that I be anything but myself.

Strange, but nice.

Roses

There is a rosebush in my front garden. The picture that has been the screen pic on my phone practically since I got it was of a rose from that bush. The flowers are pink, a bright and fierce pink. I just went outside to look at the newly risen sun, and my eyes fell on that rosebush.

There were only two flowers that caught my eye: One, a bud, only just unfurling. The other, a rose in full bloom, the edges of its petals curled and dark and dry from age. The withered tips of its petals made it far more beautiful than it would have been whole.

I could read all sorts of poetry into this. New beginnings, the breathtaking beauty of fading glory. Time passes and we change, but beauty remains and flourishes no matter the difficulties it may face. All sorts of things.

The Last Day

We fly tomorrow. We’re leaving the house today. I’m surprisingly calm, which doesn’t mean I’m not jittery – my stomach feels tight and nervous. My mom is also surprisingly calm, which doesn’t mean she isn’t losing it. She’s just losing it in a very controlled way, which I find pretty impressive.

The movers are really sweet. There were three of them yesterday and I think four today; the big guy, who I think is the boss, helped me take my mattresses to the dumping place this morning, and was wonderfully friendly about it. The dumping place, by the way, is this piece of sidewalk around a tree, between parking spaces, halfway down the street that’s at the end of our street. For some reason there’s always dead furniture there; it’s on the way to a school, so perhaps the idea is that parents will see it and think “Hey, that looks nice!” and then take it home (or come back for it if they need a car to carry it). We’ve been leaving all our stuff there, because we don’t have a car and the Red Cross shop nearby (which is still more than twice as far as this dumping place) doesn’t want anything but clothes, which is what we have least of.

The stress of organizing the transportation of a family and all its worldly goods (except those which will be left behind – a careful sorting process) across an ocean is enough to make anyone want to tear their hair out (or other people’s hair; pain is a bothersome thing to deal with when you’re already stressed). My mom has managed to be mostly sane, and when she goes insane, she quickly stomps it down. She swings wildly between being her normal self and going into Berserk Mode, in which she has to forcibly restrain herself from throwing everything out the window; she worries that there won’t be enough room in the shipping container for all the boxes we have and nearly chooses to leave behind the whole kitchen, then resigns herself to renting a bigger container if necessary; she looks at things and says “I don’t need this, why am I keeping this? Here, Splash, give this to one of your friends. It’s a good teapot, they don’t make these anymore. It seems a shame, even, giving it away. They really don’t make these anymore, and it’s such a good teapot. You know what, never mind. I want this teapot, I already know that. Be consistent, be consistent. You wanted the teapot; keep the teapot.”

The truth is, though, that she’s organized everything spectacularly. I get the impression that when we get there we won’t find much missing, and we won’t find much extra. (There will always be something, of course; I’m sure there always is. But I think it won’t be much, and not vital.)

When we get there… This is going to be so strange. My dad is already there, waiting; he has been for a month now. He says he feels as if he’s in limbo, neither here nor there. My mom asked yesterday, half teasing, “So, what are your plans for the thirtieth?” My honest answer: Sleep. That desire is the only thing I feel I can accurately predict. Everything else… I have no clue how I’m going to feel. I don’t know what I’m going to think. I don’t know if I’m going to be lethargic and dreamy and detached from the world or bursting with energy and excitement. I don’t know if I’m going to be dying inside from longing or buzzing inside from the feeling of being home. And these are just guesses – for all I know it’ll be something completely different. I imagine I’ll probably swing wildly between all sorts of moods, but I don’t know how frequently is wildly (twenty times a day? once a week?) and I don’t even know for sure if I’m right.

I know I’ll be happy when I see Belle. I know I’ll be happy when I see the library, my old school, all the places I’ve been that have held meaning for me. I know I’m going to spend some amount of time curled up on the bed crying. I am bringing my biggest stuffed animal in my hand luggage for the express purpose of hugging it when that happens. I know it is going to feel surreal sometimes, looking at all the places I know so well and yet don’t. I don’t know how long it’ll be before that feeling fades, or if it even will. Maybe a year from now I’ll look at a street sign of the type I’ve looked at all my childhood and feel that odd déjà vu feeling of alien familiarity, and wonder where that came from.

We turn over the keys to the apartment at five. I’m seeing Squiggle after that, and meeting my mom and my sister at the hotel later. I’ve invited the rest of my Mao-people to dinner after; so far the only one to answer has been Ripple (who is probably the only one awake at this hour during a vacation), and she said yes, gladly. Most of my people have said they want to see me off at the airport, and were only slightly daunted when I told them the plane left at seven in the morning.

I haven’t cried from the sadness of leaving them, not lately, because I dealt with that a month or two ago. They gave me two paintings the last time I saw them, which was Tuesday – Taz made them, being the best artist in the group, and they are the most beautiful things in the world. I nearly did cry when I saw them. On Wednesday I took them out twice, once to show my sister and once to show my mother, and both times I looked at them and looked at them and ended up curled on my bed, weeping for sheer joy. These are the most wonderful friends.

I think I’ll probably cry at the airport tomorrow, for joy and for sorrow. I should take plenty of kleenex.

Sharing

Most people will only show their true thoughts and past to the people who matter to them and whom they trust. To the rest of the world they show those things which do not affect them too deeply, and keep everything else locked tightly inside.

I’m the opposite. I’m backwards. My walls and my armor aren’t built around my thoughts and past, but around my heart. I try to show myself exactly as I am, because most people can’t hurt me if I don’t let them. Not really. If someone dislikes me, even if they sneer and snarl at me, I just close the gates and decide not to care. It’s not foolproof – I can be taken by surprise – but it’s effective enough even then that I don’t particularly worry. Usually when I don’t tell people about myself it’s either because I want to protect their feelings (“the truth is, you’re just not nearly as important to me as these other people” is not a nice thing to say to someone who hasn’t asked for it) or simply because it doesn’t come up in conversation. I don’t usually mind otherwise.

Then there are the people who matter to me. The people who could actually hurt me if they tried, or even if they just thought ill of me, or sometimes even if they simply didn’t bother trying to understand me – if they decided it wasn’t worth it, for whatever reason. It is much, much harder to show myself to them. I try my hardest to keep on being myself and I think I succeed, but when my inner thoughts and secrets come up I have trouble telling them. When I think I owe them an explanation for the way I’ve been acting, it’s hard to give. Even when I just want them to understand me better, I have difficulty getting myself to actually tell them. I’m scared that they’ll think I’m strange, that they’ll think I’m whiney, that they’ll think I’m petulant and self-pitying and that I should stop trying to hide my short-comings behind flimsy excuses.

I don’t trust easily. Once I do, it takes even longer for me to believe that my trust was wisely given. Until then – and sometimes even after – I can’t stop worrying about these things.

Most people will only show their true thoughts and past to the people who matter to them and whom they trust. To show these things is a sign of the strength of their friendship – an offering they give to the other person, saying “Here is my true self and my weakness. I offer it to you so that you may understand me better and so that we may grow closer, and I trust that you will keep it safe and never use it to tear my heart out. I offer it as proof of how important you are to me.”

But I’m backwards. My willingness to share my self isn’t a sign of how close we are, but of how close we aren’t. The more I care for you, the more I fear sharing my self, because the more I know you can hurt me with it. I’ll still do it because of the first part – the strengthening of a friendship, the growing closer and the greater understanding – but I’ll be afraid to. It won’t be as easy to share with you as it would be with some person I happened to fall into conversation with while waiting for the bus.

I worry sometimes that my friends might see that I am more willing to share things with others than with them, and that they might take it to mean the opposite of what it does. It’s hard, but I try to share with them as much as I can – I try to be myself around them, after all, and that is part of who I am around others. I try. I hope it works. I hope they understand.