Afterward

In the morning, I get ready for school.

I brush my hair and do my Spanish homework and put on my makeup, but the whole time, I’m thinking about what happened to Gatsby. I want to understand the situation (the circumstances), but I can’t seem to get it figured out, so I stop trying.

This is actually easier than you’d think. I have a lot of practice at ignoring anything about school that I find upsetting. All year, I’ve been entertaining myself by pretending things, like the door to the math wing is really a portal to Hell, or time has stopped and if I can draw three perfectly round circles, it will start again.

Mostly though, I pretend to be someone else. Not like wittier or more confident or cooler, but someone else like Morticia Addams or Joan of Arc or Marilyn Monroe. I pretend to be Tinkerbell. I pretend to be Alice in Wonderland, because if this is Wonderland, then it doesn’t even matter that nothing makes sense.

I go to school as Queen Elizabeth I, because maybe her natural complexion is buried under an inch of foundation, but at least she knows how to run a country.

Later, things will sort-of/kind-of be okay. Gatsby will show up to US History—the scrapes on his face scabbing over, his bad arm strapped against his chest. He’ll smile around the room and joke about this being the only time he’s ever been arrested that resulted in him not being punished, either by the court system or his dad.

He’ll grin and say, “I guess that’s the big secret. I just have to stand there and get my ass beat.”

The morning is for worrying though, and wondering. It’s for impeccable deportment and Queen Elizabeth.

In art, I sit across from TS and Brody. The semester is almost over, and we’re working on our final sculpture assignment, chipping tiny pieces off blocks of plaster and sanding down the edges. Everything is dusty and the fact that my chisel is held together by duct tape is ruining my sense of monarchical dignity. I don’t like how the plaster dries out my hands.

I don’t like that something mysterious has taken place and I don’t have answers, but TS proves to be is an invaluable source of information. She was smoking in the back parking lot when it happened and saw the whole thing.

She said how Shark-Boy had come up and stood right in Gatsby’s face.

She said, “And that boy in blue, the one with black hair, he’s all, ‘Come on man, back off, cool it.’ And he kept saying, ‘Just talk to me, man. I’ll talk, but I don’t want to fight you,’ and shit like that.”

“P***y,” said Brody.

TS shrugged. “It really might’ve been okay, you know. Except, that blond guy was standing so close, like they do. They were all chest-to-chest, with their noses almost touching, and then some dick out in the crowd goes, ‘So, you f****ts gonna fight, or you gonna make out?’”

Brody laughed at that. You could tell it was the kind of thing he would have said if he’d been there.

“Well,” TS told us. “That’s when the blond guy hit the blue guy for the first time. He cracked him too, right in the face. But the blue guy didn’t do anything. He just kept trying to get out of the way. It was really sad to watch. The blond guy grabbed him by the shirt, started slamming him up against some of the cars in the parking lot, when all of a sudden, the blue guy goes, ‘$%&@, man, $%&@!’ And he kinda grabbed his arm.”

“Gatsby always was a p***y,” said Brody.

“Well anyways,” said TS, looking hard at Brody. “He started trying to back away, you know, holding onto his shoulder, and the other guy comes in and knocks him right in the mouth, so hard you could hear the noise it made, and you could just see him start to fall. I mean, you could see his head kinda snap back, and he was stumbling like he would go down, but he didn’t quite. He just stood there, holding his arm. Like he was waiting.”

Now TS was just talking to me, looking at me. “You know something funny? That blond guy could’ve beat the shit out of him right then. I thought he would, too. But he didn’t. When he saw that the blue guy wasn’t going to fight him, he just turned around and walked away.”

I felt suddenly transparent then, because it meant that Shark-Boy was still (at least kind of) Shark-like-a-person. It meant he still had some of that sense of fairness that I used to admire so much about him.

“They’re both $%&@ing p***ies,” said Brody.

I’m glad to have an eyewitness account, but I don’t really know what to do with it now that I have it. The story is upsetting. Also, this is the first time I’ve ever been truly mad at Brody, and it’s not even for the normal, obvious reasons, like his total callousness. I’m mad because he can never seem to see more than one facet of a person at any given time. But mostly, I’m mad because I want to be mad at someone, and even though the most obvious person is Shark-Boy, no matter how hard I try, I can’t quite do it.

I used to know Shark-Boy, a little.

We had sophomore PE together and before he got suspended and then sent to boot-camp, he would always pick me for his team or smile at me, or tell me I did a good job. He’d remember my name and never call me Hey, girl like the boys from the basketball team did. He would say hello to me in the halls, and once he did it in front of Elizabeth and she looked like she might pass out. Later, she scolded me for hanging around with bad guys.

“I don’t,” I said. “Hang around with him.”

Once, when Angela and Catherine were arguing over who was the best-looking boy in PE, I said Shark-Boy and then immediately wanted to take it back. I only meant it in a purely objective sense, but suddenly it seemed too significant. Catherine nodded and said that he definitely had the best body, but that Timmy-T was a better dresser and Dill had a better bone structure. Angela was appalled, though. She told me I needed to find a different boy to like.

“I don’t like him,” I said. But I meant it in a crush-way, because as a real, actual person, I kind of did like him.

His best sports were soccer and floor hockey and any other game involving contact. Everything was always full-speed, charging forward, blazing towards me, no way to stop now. Then, just as he was about to plow me over, he’d grab me around the waist instead and swing me in a circle, laughing.

A few weeks after we started dating, Dill asked me why I talked to Shark-Boy. His tone was disapproving. The implication was that I shouldn’t.

“I don’t,” I said.

“But he’s always, you know, touching you and picking you up.”

“He does that with other girls too, though. And he doesn’t ever really talk to me.”

“So him grabbing you is better?”

I shook my head. I didn’t tell him that it wasn’t an issue of better—that I thought it was pretty much the same thing, and Shark-Boy was just no good at talking to people. He mostly seemed to take place in the physical world, like a natural phenomenon. Or a disaster. He was always pushing and hugging and grabbing on, because it was the only way he ever really seemed to communicate.

In PE, he was in trouble all the time, but our teacher, Winnie, liked him anyway. She sent him to time-out almost every day, but he never complained. You got the sense that he’d spent a lot of his life in time-out.

Shark-Boy’s favorite station in the weight room was a declined bench press with a fixed bar. One day, he loaded up the press and then told me to stand on the bar. I just laughed and shook my head, but Sean, who was noisy and daring and also roughly the same size as Shark-Boy, said he’d do it.

When Winnie came in, Shark-Boy was red-faced, breathing in short, terrifying bursts, while Sean teetered on the bar, waving his arms for balance every time Shark-Boy sent the press up again.

“Oh my God,” Winnie said, standing in the middle of the weight room. Then, “Stop. Right now. Sean, get down. That’s—not—safe—get—down.”

She didn’t send either of them to the office, but Shark-Boy had to sit alone doing curls for the rest of the period. And I liked that Winnie at least seemed to understand him. How he needed to constantly be in motion, maybe just in order to keep breathing. That every bad thing he ever did started out as him not being able to sit still any longer.

So I spend the morning thinking about these things, because the idea of someone being beaten up by Shark-Boy is scarier than being beaten up by almost anyone else.

Mostly though, I’m thinking how one afternoon two weeks ago, I wrote him a break-up letter. Only (obviously), it wasn’t from me.

I’d been sitting in the cafeteria during my off-hour, working on yet another failed portrait of Jane, and a girl had leaned around one of the decorative columns and called out to me.

“Hey,” she said, waving. “Hey, how are you?”

And I just shrugged and nodded, thinking she would ask to use my hairbrush or borrow a dollar.

But she’d gathered up her books and come over. “Can you help me write something?”

When I asked what class, she shook her head. She told me that wanted to break up with Shark-Boy and needed help.

I’d been writing break-up letters for about a month at this point. I’d even developed a little set of preliminary questions. An evaluation. How long have you been together? Are you sure a letter is the best way? Is there a reason you absolutely can’t break up in person?

She smiled, looking rueful. “If I do it to his face, he’s going to get pissed and be a dick and then I’ll get really nasty and he’ll punch something and it’ll just be bad. It’s like, in real life, I can never think of how to say what I mean.”

And this—this honesty—was why I helped her. I was bemused, and kind of enchanted with the idea that even beautiful, confident girls who looked they were cast in bronze sometimes didn’t know how to say what they really meant.

It was a good letter. Kind, clear, straightforward, I mean. The best you can really hope for under the circumstances.

After TS tells me what happened in the parking lot though, I can’t stop thinking about it—what the fight was about and what it means, and if any of this had anything to do with my letter, and how I should probably stop helping people break up with each other.

I know I didn’t do this to Gatsby. Shark-Boy’s anger management problems are his own, and the whole thing probably had to do with drugs and not at all with a beautiful bronze icon of a girl and a letter copied down carefully in silver glitter gel pen. It doesn’t matter, though. I feel guilty anyway.

I think how maybe Gatsby won’t go to the detention center for fighting, but it will be for something else. I’m thinking about his shoulder and his father, how this is not the first time he’s come to school with his arm in a sling. Thinking of how strong Shark-Boy is, how easily he used to pick me up in PE last year, swinging me in a circle or dipping me to the floor like we were dancing.

And because I know these things about both of them, when TS tells the story of what happened, I can almost see it. Almost hear the hollow thud of Gatsby’s back against a tailgate, up against a passenger window. Shark-Boy, not shouting, never shouting. Just breathing, rapid, hoarse, resolute. The way he has always been moving forward, like he can never slow down, like there’s no way to stop now. Like his whole life, everything has always just been inevitable.

*****

For discussion: Have you ever done something you thought was harmless and then felt bad about it? Not just writing other people’s break-up letters, but anything? (There are just all kinds of things that can seem totally isolated, until you realize that nothing happens in a vacuum.)

Do you ever pretend you’re Joan of Arc? Marilyn? Anyone else besides the you that gets out of bed in the mornings?

Do you totally suck at taking sides? (I do.)

24 thoughts on “Afterward

  1. Once in high school, my friend H had a boyfriend, LG, who went to another school. We all hung out together a few times, and H was absolutely crazy about him, which I heard a lot about because she and I caught the same train. So H told me about how much she really loved LG and how much she wanted him to say the same thing to her – we were fourteen at absolute most – and after this last time we all hung out, I somehow ended up with LG’s email address. So, thinking he was just being A Dense Boy (like in the movies) and that I was being A Good Friend (also like in the movies), I took it upon myself to send him an email telling him to tell H that he loved her, because it was what she wanted.

    Instead, doubtless taking this as a sign that she took things much more seriously than he did, and possibly even assuming that I had been instructed to write the email on her behalf, LG broke up with her. Only H didn’t know why, and I had to tell her what I’d done, and the look on her face when I did was absolutely heartbreaking. So I wrote out a note which was basically just the same words over and over again – ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m stupid, I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ – and gave it to a mutual friend to give to her. And, wonder of wonders, I was forgiven, because even with all the angst and the being approximately thirteen, somehow I think there was a sense that I’d somehow, accidentally, cut to the chase: that this of all relationships wasn’t going to be The One, and that I’d just hurried up to the inevitable. Even so, it was a lesson I needed to learn, and there was a lot of drama surrounding it.

    Also: I always read these diary blogs of yours, and I am always blown away. I was even inspired to go looking for my old high school diaries the other night, but I must have left them at home in Australia rather than bringing them with me to Scotland, because I couldn’t find them anywhere. (Rats.) But you make me want to write down old memories like this, only I hesitate to do so, because I don’t have the primary sources to rely on, and because part of me is convinced I’d be an utter copy-cat. I still love reading yours, though.

    • This is one of those stories that is just so typical and excruciating and heartbreaking and uncomfortable and sort of funny. I want to say I can’t even believe it. Except, I absolutely CAN.

      Also:

      So, thinking he was just being A Dense Boy (like in the movies) and that I was being A Good Friend (also like in the movies)

      Oh, the movies. Responsible for so much misinformation!

      I’m actually really impressed that at 13-ish, you went and told her what you’d done. So much of girl-adolescence (at least outwardly) seems to revolve around boys, when the fact is, a lot of it’s also spent learning how to be friends—real friends, grown-up person friends—with other girls.

      I’m really glad you liked the high school posts. They’re a lot of fun for me to write, and they always make me think really hard—about what I was like, but also just about what it’s like to be a teenager. Having the primary sources in front of me does help a lot, but mostly because the select things I actually wrote down touch off other memories that I either didn’t think were important enough to record, or I didn’t know how to talk about. So, these blog posts are always kind of a hybrid—primary sources, and then total reconstruction from memory. And memory is not the most reliable thing. Though I do have the saving grace of having been a very factual teenager, so at least I can trust the journal entries. Mostly.

      Also, I would absolutely not worry about being a copy-cat, because I shamelessly stole this format from something (only) (slightly) different that Megan Crewe was doing.

  2. When I was younger (and even now), I always had this feeling that just being myself wasn’t good enough. That people would never like me for me, so one day in elementary school, this boy and his friend were picking on me and my friend and that’s basically all that happened. But for whatever reason, when we went inside after recess, my friend went up to the teacher and told the teacher that he had taken it too far and had become inappropriate. Well, because I wanted to have a friend so badly, I went along with it thinking that it wouldn’t hurt anyone. It would just get me noticed and liked. I didn’t realize then that that boy could’ve gotten in serious trouble

  3. Whoops. I pushed publish way too soon. Well throughout all of elementary school I kept perpetuating that lie feeling like I was being noticed and liked because of it. I got called on it and he got in trouble but as far as I can remember nothing too bad because I think the teachers knew they weren’t getting the truth. Then in middle school, I guess I didn’t realize how bad lying was and I lied about knowing these boys who had killed themselves because my friends knew them and I wanted to have something in common with them and be liked and noticed. By the end of ninth grade, the weight of my actions fell on my shoulders. I feel guilty every day of my life. I cry all the time over it. I’ve been punishing myself ever since. I dropped out of high school and have become somewhat of a hermit. I’ve been getting better but I still feel extremely guilty and that I’m an evil person.
    So those are some times when I’ve done something I thought were harmless at the time and then realized they were anything but.

    I always pretend I’m someone else. I listen to this anime podcast and I’m always thinking about having the voice actor’s lives. How cool that would be (that sounds really weird)

    I have a really hard time taking sides because somethings are just a manner of perspective I guess.

    Sorry if I shared too much and if you’re apalled.

    • Well, first off, I have to say that I’m definitely not appalled. (In case you haven’t noticed, it is pretty hard to appall me. And also, my whole life I’ve mostly saved that feeling for being appalled at myself.)

      I think what you’re talking about is actually really common. I’ve known a lot of people who’ve lied about things at different times for different reasons, but often it was because they just really wanted to be liked. The more I think about it, the more I feel like most lies (childhood ones, especially) are either for acceptance or self-protection.

      I’ll come right out and say, I’m not a particularly honest person by nature. This is especially apparent because my mom and my sister are both unbelievably honest. Like, if you ask them a direct question about something sensitive, they might tell you flat out that they’re not going to talk about that right now, but they are never, ever evasive.

      I really think that growing up around them has kept me much more honest than I would have been otherwise, but even in high school, I didn’t really know how to tell the truth about what I thought or felt. On this blog, we haven’t really gotten to the part of the story where I start lying yet, but we will get there. And for the most part, it doesn’t hurt anyone but me, but it’s still something I regret, and something I consider a pretty substantial character defect—although I do feel like it’s made me a lot more honest in the long-run, about everything.

      (Also, as a side-note, I sometimes have days where I feel just crushingly bad about things I did when I was 8 or 10 or 12, and it always comes out of nowhere. I think some people are just hardwired for guilt, but most of the time it is so unhelpful.)

      It’s weird to actually put this into words, but I think the measure of being a good person is not a matter of reaching adulthood without hurting anyone. If that were true, most people wouldn’t qualify. I think the important thing is to remember that growing up is not an all-or-nothing proposition, and we almost always get the chance to do better next time. What I mean is, life can be really scary sometimes. And frustrating. And confusing. But it’s not pass/fail.

      • Thank you so much. I’m sorry I’m being such a downer. I think I will always carry around some guilt. I guess it’ll always just be there for me in some way, but hopefully it’ll get better with time and with more and more people tell me that people aren’t the same as they were when they’re younger and that they have changed. It brings hope.

        Thank you so much for sharing your stories on here and listening to mine. I’ll try not to be so down next time :)

        • Don’t even worry about being a downer around here—I feel like these posts are good as a starting place to talk about things like feelings in a really analytical way, and that just makes me happy, because I love figuring out how things work.

          Also, take it from me, people really do change a lot, but *especially* during the teens and early twenties. There’s just a lot of streamlining and refining and sorting out that happens while you’re learning about yourself, and it’s not all pleasant, but I think it’s very important.

  4. Your description of Shark-Boy reminds me of a character in Unwind, by Neal Shusterman. And it’s weird, because that kid has a shark tattooed on his arm. I find the parallel intriguing.

    I only meant it in a purely objective sense, but suddenly it seemed too significant
    I understand this so well. The thing is, my friends really don’t, and they don’t give me the chance to explain myself, so they come away thinking I actually have a crush on the person… when I don’t. Which is why I now keep these observations to myself and my younger sister, B. She and I can talk about (for instance) one of her (female) friends who is strikingly beautiful, and it isn’t weird, because we each know what the other MEANS, not necessarily what we SAY. (Plus, it’s true.)

    “I don’t like him,” I said. But I meant it in a crush-way, because as a real, actual person, I kind of did like him.
    I understand this too. When I started thinking about it, too, I realized that a few of the people I’ve had “crushes” on, I didn’t actually “like-like” them. I just wanted to get to know them better, become friends with them, find out how their brain works, how they think and act and live… apparently, this is not a usual teenage response. At least, not an articulated one.

    and how I should probably stop helping people break up with each other.
    This just made me laugh, just the matter-of-factness of it.

    Have you ever done something you thought was harmless and then felt bad about it? Not just writing other people’s break-up letters, but anything? (There are just all kinds of things that can seem totally isolated, until you realize that nothing happens in a vacuum.)
    I am trying to think, but I’m honestly coming up with nothing. If I think of something, I’ll come back.

    Do you ever pretend you’re Joan of Arc? Marilyn? Anyone else besides the you that gets out of bed in the mornings? Not at school, but when I’m alone, sometimes I’ll act like I’m a famous person giving an interview, and just make up a book title, and a story about the road to publication, just as a kind of character exercise, I guess. It’s more of a theatre-kid thing, though, since B does this ALL THE TIME. (Even though I’m just a wannabe theatre-kid, B is the REAL DEAL.)

    Do you totally suck at taking sides? (I do.)
    I don’t know what the distinction is between sucking at taking sides, and just REFUSING to take a side. I think I do more of the latter. It is far more likely for me to be the mediator after a spat than it is for me to be involved in it. It surprises me sometimes, how rational I am.

    (I realize that the format of my responses are somewhat different from the way everyone else does it, but it’s easier for me if I can see directly what I’m responding to. :D)

    I’ve started imitating you, a bit, writing down all of my observations from my morning classes in my 2nd and 3rd period classes, since I can without the teachers getting angry or my grade suffering. It’s so relieving. And even though I don’t have the guts to do it in an actual notebook (because that would be awfully convenient for me, to have my notes together, but also, if it turned into a Harriet the Spy sort of situation, that would be convenient for my [likely nonexistent] enemies) a sheet of school paper is bigger than a lot of my notebooks, and a lot less obvious, because then it appears as if I’m taking ridiculously detailed notes. Also, I realized today that at least in Physics, I can focus on what the teacher is saying at the same time I’m writing (as long as I’m writing right-handed), so it’s not as if I’m even losing class-time!

    You probably don’t really have to read that last bit. In summary: Thanks for doing this, because it reminds me that someday I’ll cherish these scribbled notes. And a question for YOU: Did a Harriet-esque situation ever happen to you?

    • Do you mean that Sharkboy is like Connor? Because I totally agree. At least, Connor at the beginning of the book.
      P.S. Is that the best book, or what?!

        • Oh! That’s what I thought first, but then I thought about how Roland is so… scheming. He’s vicious. I don’t think Shark-boy likes to hurt people. He just loses it.

    • Oh, Neal Schusterman! You know, I have read nothing by him, which is ridiculous. Now this means that I should probably start with Unwind. Every time I read the synopsis, I think “How have I not read this yet?”

      Until late in high school, I never had friends who really understood how removed I felt most of the time—so removed that typically, none of my opinions on things or people meant anything more than exactly what I’d said. So I spent a lot of time trying to dispel the conclusions people had made by reading too much into things. Except my sister, who is not a big reader-inner.

      we each know what the other MEANS, not necessarily what we SAY.

      This is *such* the best thing about sisters.

      a few of the people I’ve had “crushes” on, I didn’t actually “like-like” them

      YES. The number of actual crushes I’ve had in my life is very small, but I’ve been curious about so many people and wanted to learn all about them—everything I can, like solving a mystery or making a scientific discovery.

      apparently, this is not a usual teenage response. At least, not an articulated one

      That’s a good point about articulation—I’ve never been able to tell if other people just didn’t feel like that at all, or if they didn’t know how to talk about it, or if they simply weren’t making a distinction between an intellectual fascination, and a full-on crush.

      I’ll act like I’m a famous person giving an interview, and just make up a book title, and a story about the road to publication

      For some reason, I find this *hilarious* and I don’t know why. I think the closest thing I’ve ever done is to walk around the house reading a novel or a poem aloud and pretending I’m the person in the story.

      Most of the time, I really don’t mind how bad I am at taking sides, because I like feeling like I have kind of a panoramic view of a situation and I’m not missing anything important, but as far as principles or negotiating/arguing goes, it drives me nuts. Because I know what I believe, or what would benefit me, but (unless something really irrational is happening) I can still see why the other person thinks what they do and then I have a really hard time effectively taking my *own* side.

      Regarding Harriet the Spy, no. And I think that’s purely because when I say notebook, what I really mean is, “whatever looseleaf binder I had on hand for that class.” So, like you, I was writing out these things when I supposed to be taking notes, and that’s exactly what it looked like I was doing. Later, I would take out the pages and add them to a different binder that I kept in my room. Sometimes, I suspected my sister of peeking, but she never said anything, so I didn’t worry too much about it. She is remarkably tight-lipped.

  5. Why do you think Gatsby didn’t fight back? I mean, maybe he wouldn’t have won, but I probably would have fought back. Actually, I absolutely would have. Even if I deserved to get the shit kicked out of me. I just wonder what was going on in his head.

    Something that seemed harmless…
    When I was in seventh grade an older girl befriended me. My older sister and the girl didn’t get along, but neither did my sister and I. One day my sister and I got in a fight and I vented to the older girl in confidence. By that night the things I’d said about my sister (basically that I was scared she was turning into a crappy person) were all over my school. It was awful. I had to confess to my sister about it, and she was amazing about it, but even writing this makes me feel sick to my stomach. You just don’t betray family, and I managed to side against her AND start rumors about her.
    The only redeeming aspect to this story is that by the time she graduated the older girl was universally loathed for her evilness and treachery. Also, she’s a total crack whore. Just sayin’.
    Me, hold a grudge? Never.

    • Why do you think Gatsby didn’t fight back?

      Okay, now we’re moving into the realm of pure impression/speculation, but I always had the idea that it was because (fact) he was already on probation for fighting and any more trouble would almost certainly put him in the detention center, and (speculation) he’d decided he was willing to do what it took to avoid that. There *may* have been some sort of honor component too, but that part of the narrative is pretty thin. I never knew what the fight was about, but if he genuinely thought he was in the wrong—well, he was the kind of person who might just take the punishment and chalk it up to paying what he owed.

      Oh, your story about you and your sister gave me little shivers! I’m so glad you just went and told her what you’d done and that she was magnanimous about it. It’s the worst feeling, hurting someone in your own family. And yes, I’ve found that given a long enough timeline, everyone eventually starts to notice that the unpleasant people in the world are just really … unpleasant.

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  6. “I pretend to be Alice in Wonderland, because if this is Wonderland, then it doesn’t even matter that nothing makes sense.”

    I’m almost finished high school and this pretty much sums up most of the last 6 years; everything feels messy and complicated, and for a while I just gave up trying to understand it all by pretending to be someone else.

    I remember I met this guy, let’s call him C, at my old school, and we just clicked. C ended up becaming one of my best friends at the time [back then I had just gone through something so I tried to hide behind this fearless bravado to convince everyone, and to some extent myself, that I was okay]. Shortly afterwards C asked me out, and I didn’t really like him in that way, but back then I didn’t even know what that meant, so I went along with it, thinking it would just be a bit of fun.

    We were together for about a month until C got cocky and tried to do push things a little further than I was comfortable, especially in front of his friends. I tried to keep him in at a distance, though I didn’t really know what I was doing, or if this kind of behaviour was normal since I had ever actually gone out with anyone until then, and I couldn’t ask my friends because they were just as in the dark as I was.

    One particularly bold incident was witnessed by my older brother, who was with his friends, so he just laughed and pretended not to care. However, we ended up having a massive fight about it that night. We weren’t exactly the closest of siblings back then, but this drove a wedge between us that lasted years, in which we couldn’t really speak to or look at one another [everything is fine between us now, just in case you were wondering].

    I broke up with C about a week later, and we agreed to try to stay friends, but it didn’t really work. Breaking up with him was excrutiatingly difficult. Not because I felt that I “needed” him, but because: “It’s like, in real life, I can never think of how to say what I mean.”

    • I didn’t really like him in that way, but back then I didn’t even know what that meant

      Oh, god, boys were like this Whole Other Thing for me when I was in high school. I never knew what to do or how these things worked.

      and I couldn’t ask my friends because they were just as in the dark as I was

      Exactly. And even when my friends did have ideas or opinions, they were often so at odds with my personality, or what I wanted (thought I wanted?) that in the end, none of it really helped.

      (I’m glad you took time to mention that things are good now between you and your brother. I’m so fascinated by sibling relationships and always just want them to go well.)

      Breaking up with him was excrutiatingly difficult. Not because I felt that I “needed” him, but because: “It’s like, in real life, I can never think of how to say what I mean.”

      Yeah. Just … yeah. Despite all my practice with other people’s break-ups and their letters, when I actually had to do it myself, face-to-face, I didn’t say any of the right things, or the things I should have said, or even what I really meant.

  7. Do you totally suck at taking sides? (I do.)

    I think that is a very good thing to suck at (with a few exceptions). If people were able to see both sides as easily as you did, and the nuances of each person’s character and conflicts, I think we might have a lot more understanding in the world. (And now I want to like Shark-Boy too, based on how you described him. But we know that my bleeding heart belongs to Gatsby.)

    • I actually am really happy, most of the time, not being a side-taker by nature. It’s good for personal relations, and it’s really good for writing, but sometimes I do get bothered by myself, because I have a really hard time standing on principle. I can argue a point and do it effectively, as long as it seems casual or like a game. (Also, the rest of the time, I am the worst devil’s advocate and I have no idea why. It’s like a nervous tic.) As soon as it’s someone’s core belief, I immediately find myself trying to understand it, even if it’s something that ordinarily, ever fiber of me would disagree with, and then I start feeling like I lack conviction.

      Although, after thinking about it for a few days (as was/is my nature), I did decide that while Shark-Boy had many admirable qualities, I was still incapable of inventing any kind of situation where he absolutely had to hit Gatsby. So, that’s something.

      • Although, after thinking about it for a few days (as was/is my nature), I did decide that while Shark-Boy had many admirable qualities, I was still incapable of inventing any kind of situation where he absolutely had to hit Gatsby. So, that’s something.

        I think that definitely counts as taking a stand, even if it took a few days. As I’ve gotten older, I have been increasingly able to see and appreciate other people’s perspectives, even when I disagree strongly with the principle at hand. It’s one of the few things so far that I have truly liked about aging. (Ack, I just referred to myself as aging at 32.)

  8. I think I’m completely the opposite (as far as taking sides)… I was just describing it to someone and, basically, I believe in unforgivable things. Once someone crosses a certain line I am completely and totally done with them.
    I tend to overthink the consequences of all my actions… not that that stops guilt from at-the-time harmless things, but it cuts it down. My favorite was usually just better versions of myself, though.

    • I believe in unforgivable things. Once someone crosses a certain line I am completely and totally done with them.

      While I’m usually pretty content with how I am as far as being able to detach and see a lot of sides to something, there have been a few times where I really wished I was like this—about the unforgivable things and just being able to shut that door and then lock it. Intellectually, I’m completely on board, but I have such a hard time finding my resolve and then sticking to it. I think it’s because for me, it takes actual effort, and when you get right down to it, my work ethic can be really questionable.

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